FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 35: Dream Theater – Images And Words

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 35: Dream Theater - Images And Words

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 35: Dream Theater – Images And Words

This is the thirty-fifth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.
This time I’ll be listening to Dream Theater’s second studio album, and first with LaBrie, 1992’s Images And Words.

This is the second Dream Theater album that I’ve written a First Impressions article about, the first one being their Metropolis Part 2 concept album. Those in the know may note that Images And Words has a track on it called Metropolis Part 1.

Those doubly in the know may note that I didn’t really like Metropolis Part 2 on first impressions. It wasn’t heavy enough, it was inconsistent in tone and it felt more like a collection of stolen Pink Floyd, ELP and Rush parts than a set of new songs containing original music, lovingly made.

On first impression that is. Since then, I’ve went on to listen to it six or seven times in its entirety, and listen to select tracks from it one or two times more. I like it much more than when I first heard it. I like it more each time that I heard it. I’ve also got their cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘To Tame A Land’ in my iTunes library, which I’ve listened to precisely once, I have their track ‘On The Backs Of Angels’ which I’ve heard about four times, and I’ve got their Live At Budokan Blu-Ray which is absolutely fabulous quality, but which, for reasons of inaccessibility, life-busyness and a semi-broken PS3, I haven’t watched as much as I should have or would liked to have.

That Blu-Ray really made me like ‘Beyond This Life’ from Metropolis 2 a lot more. What I enjoyed the most however was the material from Train Of Thought. I wonder if that’ll affect my chances of liking Images And Words?

Since the Dream Theater First Impression my knowledge of early Progressive Metal has changed a bit too. I’ve since become a massive, massive Queensryche fan, a reasonable Savatage fan and I’ve checked out material from Fates Warning, Psychotic Waltz, Symphony X and Pain Of Salvation. I’ve also heard some very progressive moments in Helloween, Gamma Ray and Stratovarius’s music. All of that should help me understand, and make my ears and brain accustomed to the sounds and tones of things like Images And Words.

However, since then I’ve also gotten massively into Riverside, into Porcupine Tree and a bit more into Opeth, all of which may serve to make Images And Words seem dated or outdone.

I was planning to, for over a year now, buy Dream Theater’s Original Albums Series boxset, which features the first five LaBrie era Dream Theater albums, but never got around to it. I ended up buying Images And Words on its own for £3 in HMV’s closing down sale, but seeing as I also bought Alice Cooper’s dreadful School’s Out album for £3 in that same purchase, and had been planning to buy his Original Albums Series boxset too, maybe this Dream Theater album will be equally cack, and I’ll have saved myself some money.


The album opens up with the famous single ‘Pull Me Under’ which everybody seemed to know about but me, until some point in 2010 when I saw it was in Guitar Hero 4 and that it was jokingly referred to in the title of their greatest hits compilation as their only hit. I then watched the music video on Youtube. It didn’t strike me as special.

I’ve also seen it performed like on the Budokan Blu-Ray and it didn’t strike me as special, so I guess now is the test.

It opens up with some shimmering guitar that sounds a bit like Puppets era Metallica or early Annihilator but with some nice Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Echoes sounding keys. It sounds more ‘Metal’ Metal than anything off of Metropolis 2. I like the chunky riff, it reminds me of the first half of …And Justice For All.

I really appreciate the ‘watch the spell falling’ vocal only bit followed by an Anthraxy riff. That’s my sort of thing. The little solo afterwards reminds me of Stratovarius. So does this recurring key driven pre-chorus.

I don’t much care for the chorus itself, but the Dimebag-esque bendy riff afterwards is cool. The hi-hat and splash cymbal bit with a synth lead over the top seems like its going to be cool, but then my iPod freezes and completely dies!!!


Ok. Back to the same point in the song. Yes. That bit is cool, so is the very desert sounding lead that sounds like it should have the same video as Judas Priest’s ‘Turbo Lover.’

Then that justice riff again with some very hammy but charming synth orchestra-whacks. It sounds like a robot dinosaur boss in a SNES game. Then it ends abruptly as hell.

Then a track with a sexy 80s powerballad feel starts in instead. There’s some very emotive singing. It reminds me a lot of Queen. When the saxophone comes in however, it reminds me of 80s British pop music in the background of a sad scene in Only Fools And Horses. The drums and some of the key work saves it from being a mushy moment, its just got enough Rush style credibility to stop it feeling like a sort of sell out (like Annihilator’s ‘Phoenix Rising’) but I would have hated it passionately if I’d have heard it in my age 13-16 hating ballads phase. (like I did with Annihilator’s ‘Phoenix Rising’)

Next up, some Tony Levin sounding bass and a fun build-up. A keyboard solo that sounds like ghosts in a SNES game. A surprising time sig. Freddie Mercury vocals in a Mindcrime rhythm. This song is fucking awesome.

The ‘its time to take the time’ bit has all of the power and fun of a Kai Hansen song and the bit that follows up reminds me of the best Rush tracks.

So many brilliant little touches on the keys. A song that finally shows off Mike Portnoy and such great little bunch of Yes sounding flourishes every now and again. But in a way that doesn’t seem like cobbled together theft. Hey, that funk part sounds like the new Riverside title track. Huh.

The song is about 8-and-a-half minutes long but it sounds about two minutes long because its so engaging. At 6.30 – how fucking much does that sound like Queen?
The ‘find all you need in your mind’ bit reminds me of the main hook in the aforementioned ‘Beyond This Life.’

Next up, ‘Surrounded.’ It opens up reminding me of Styx, Boston and Journey plus 80s British Christmas songs. The little wood block sounding percussion once the drums kick in reminds me of ‘The Trees’ by Rush but the rest of it reminds me massively of Misplaced Childhood by Marillion. Its kind of a cool song thus far. Its 100% prog and 0% Metal though. Not that that’s an issue I guess, just an observation. Its cool when the tom roll bits thwump forwards. The solo reminds me of Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams. It ends in the Christmas mode again.

Ok. Next up is Metropolis Part 1. I’m excited. Ooooh. It opens up like The Saw Doctor’s ‘Claire Island’ mixed with Marillion’s ‘Pseudo Silk Kimono’ only with a decent chug coming in.

Some very nice squeals, dives, and chugs. The bits not described remind me of Jake E Lee era Ozzy. Oh. Great stomping chugs when the vocals come in. Very Queensryche moments, I can hear touches of ‘Walk In The Shadows’ and ‘Before The Storm’ in here.

Nice flappy double-kick farts. The bit under the really long hanging ‘afraid’ is so massively Queensryche sounding that I finally get how the two bands got stuck together in people’s minds. The superfast solo is impressive but really out of place. Mike’s drumming is very Neil Peirty, its production emphasis is cool.
That massively interesting lead bass moment is cool as hell. Then the song takes a weird circus tone that sort of spoils the tone but it makes it up when it goes thrash afterwards. Huge ELP moment at 6.32. Then it reminds me of Sikth of all people. The last minute or so when the vocals come back in is cool. Reminds me of Rush’s Hemispheres.

Speaking of Rush. Rush’s ‘Witch Hunt’ comes on next, only its ‘Under A Glass Moon’ by Dream Theater and some fun double kick rhythms give it a unique identity. This one reminds me of Distorted Harmony. The main straight riff reminds me of Countdown era Megadeth doing Scorpions-esque guitar ballet in a country line dancing way while covering ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ – a thing that never happened by the way. It does have moments that sound like Rust era Megadeth jammed in a few times though, so, umm, that all fits? – Nope! But at least most of the song reminds me of cartoon vampires and Bark At The Moon’s video.

This song is a really consistent one and I think it shows off what Dream Theater are about kind of well. From what I understand. The drum build-up with the hi-hat chupping and snare rolls is very fun. Chupping.

The next song is the Camel meets Trick Of The Tail/Wind And Wuthering sounding piano shagging of ‘Wait For Sleep’ –it’s the most tasteful ballady moment I’ve ever heard from Dream Theater so far.

The albums closer ‘Learning To Live’ comes in next. The first minute or so is in the same spirit as ‘Metropolis’ then it goes into a cool moody bit with very Tony Levin sounding bass, very Queensryche sounding guitar shimmers and the best vocals I’ve heard from LaBrie so far. Also more of Portnoy actually sounding talented.

The riff after he shouts ‘No More To Give’ is so frustratingly fun. Its like Neurosis’s A Sun That Never Sets in that its defying of your expectations is challengingly fun. Only instead of not-speeding-the-fuck-up-ever it doesn’t play out in the 4/4 version of the riff it half-promisese to do.

There’s a lot of cool moments. It goes into a medieval sounding bit at one point. It goes into a lot of Rush and Collins-era-Genesis parts, a sexy Spanish guitar section over what is essentially a drum solo’s backbone, a lot of lead guitar moments. A fun bit that sounds like Jethro Tull’s ‘Kelpie’ through a Metal filter. Nice. The vocal pattern on the 9-10 minute bit reminds me of Keepers era Helloween and is awesome.

The bit that follows is the best section of music I’ve heard from Dream Theater, its absolutely magnificent. It closes out the album without devolving into some stupid circus music too. Good.

Good album. Way better than Metropolis.

Hmmm. Damn. I finished it without having anything humerous or unusual to say. Ummm…. Moon-boobies? Fuck it. That’ll do.

Peace out bitches.


  1. I listened to a lot of DT last night on headphones while Plat hunting and the snare on this album really grates during rolls. Here, listen to the version of ‘Pull Me Under’ from the Greatest Hit album as well, as it’s been remixed and sounds less contemporary. Actually, so has another song from this album, but I can’t remember which.

    Also, Deborah as a child on the cover. Or you’ve not seen the professionally-taken photos of her all over her folks’ house… but that’s EXACTLY what she looks like in all of ’em!

    Ooh, yes, and it was Live At Budokan that got me into Train Of Thought that led to m deepening interest in the band. o there next, I reckon.


  2. What surprises me most about this album is that was their second full-length, and their first with James LaBrie. In later years, when I had fully initiated myself with all things Dream Theater, I went back and discovered their first album. There is a definite and stand-out contrast between this album and their first, in pretty much everything. Could this be put down as Dream Theater’s best album? I don’t know, there are many albums they released afterwards which came close…but none which could topple the imprint this album left behind.

    Metropolis is an interesting but yet confusing album at both times, and their worst has to be “Six Degress of Inner Turbulence”…it may be just me, but I’ve never gotten into that album. Horrible.

    Images and Words, however you look at it, is definitely their best album. By a mile.


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