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Old 03-01-2006, 04:40 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default My Awake Review

Arches Review of Dream Theater's Awake (1994)

Opening Comments

For better or worse, Dream Theater had decided to drastically change their tone for this record. Because of the relatively shorter song lengths in general, many feel that this was an attempt for commercial breakthrough for the band. If this is indeed true, then it would seem that the band works best when they aren't constrained to the confinement of others' control - as we would soon see after with the commercial and critical disappointment Falling Into Infinity, and then the stark contrast success of the brilliant progressive masterpiece: Scenes from a Memory.

A darker tone than of the previous two records is evident throughout Awake. They achieved this through use of darker lyrics, LaBrie's tonal change and the use of bland chords. The album is probably best described as plain heavy metal; it simply is a lot less progressive than the previous two albums. Images & Words had the monster progressive metal epic: “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper,” as well as several other classics which this album seems to be missing. Consequently, it doesn't really feel like a Dream Theater record at all...

Tracks

1: 6:00

The album starts off promising with a killer (but unoriginal) drum fill by drummer extraordinaire: Mike Portnoy. He then plays solo for four bars in an interesting odd time signature. Soon after, guitar hero John Petrucci enters with a slightly elegant arpeggio riff. After another four bars, enter master bassist: John Myung, who plays the two root notes on both the on beats. This is an interesting musical ploy, but becomes redundant quite quickly after repeated listens. Gradually adding layers is a somewhat over-used musical technique and has thus lost its affect on the general listener. When the keyboards (Kevin Moore) come in with bland chords you're left wondering if the chords are actually going to go somewhere instead of appearing to just stay in the same three-range notes. And so this gives the listener only one perspective of sound to hear. By the 50th second it does indeed change, but the change is interrupted by extremely annoying voice over samples repeating “6:00 on a Christmas morning.” Other equally annoying samples are also taken from from the film "The Dead," which is a failed attempt to give the song any meaning. “I know all about the honor of God, Mary Jane,” is one such example of an inappropriate voice over. The song isn't about religion or God, it's about Moore's suffocation and pain - and by bringing in irrelevant names, it is just likely to confuse the listener. The consequence of adding in annoying artsy samples doesn't give the listener an actual impact on what the song's about, it just proliferates irritation.

After another four bars comes in excellent singer: James LaBrie. As soon as he sings the first word the listener is probably left wondering: “Why oh why did you change your singing style James? It was perfect on Images & Words!” LaBrie now sings (as mentioned previously) in a more darker tone by slightly snarling particular words (thankfully this doesn't last the entire album). Meanwhile, the rest of the band members repeat the earlier simple riff. After the first verse, there's a reprise of Petrucci's first riff which is accompanied by the others playing the same as before. However, this time it repeats a second time and Petrucci adds an interesting harmony, which is probably the highlight of an otherwise uninteresting song. Next is the bridge in which things get changed up. LaBrie sings “I may never get over, but never's better than now, I've got bases to cover.” This line is somewhat confusing, and the ending of it seems almost childish.

Verse two comes and leaves quickly followed by bridge two where the lyrics are slightly changed to “Once I thought I'd get over.” This is yet another simple musical technique which has lost any artistic value over time no matter how conveniently placed in the context. So far it seems Dream Theater are pulling clichés out of the hat helter-skelter and have taken a complete swing on everything which blasted out of Images & Words so successfully.

The vocal melody line is quite simply non-apparent until we hit the chorus. The notes LaBrie hits when he sings the lyric: “Melody” is a good example of an interesting and varied choice of notes. Prior to this moment the melody line contour was clustered and didn't really advance.

Things repeat like this in an ordinary traditional verse-chorus structure and more annoying samples are again added to conclude the forgetful track.

Throughout the track there is no feeling evident nor is the track compelling musically. Repeated listens doesn't do much for it either.

Rating: 3.2/10


2: Caught in a Web

Again it's easy to notice a huge change in Dream Theater's tonal colour in this track. Even Petrucci's seven strings on this track doesn't give it a solid texture. The intro is abrupt and devoid of life as it weaves in and out of eerie (Arabic sounding) chords and a repeating one bar of 4/4 and then one bar of 2/4, rhythm. This time there is no gradual build-up as each player gets straight into it. Moore plays us the melody but the simplicity of it and the few amount of notes doesn't add anything to the eerie chords underneath, especially with the thick and low bass sound being employed. After this, there's an attempt to add more texture through use of strings courtesy from the keyboard. A short riff is used and repeats which feels like an eternity – as LaBrie comes in - and continues underneath. Meanwhile, Portnoy plays ordinarily by use of playing on the beat, but does his trade mark double-cymbal hit as an attempt to make his beat more appealing; it failed. Once again, LaBrie sings in that dark tone which again lacks any real melody line – even adding harmonies and unisons to this line does it no good.

The structure is similar to “6:00” but there's an engaging pre-chorus which comes in at around the 1:04 mark. Each instrument suddenly changes modes and thus changes the entire feeling of what has come earlier. Sadly though, this is the only section of the track that makes it listenable because it seems as though the chorus comes out of no where. The listener is given a treat with the progressive pre-chorus but it might as well go to waste because of the horrible chorus following. It's like showing a toddler a chocolate cake and just as he's getting his hopes up you let him know it's poison. Well maybe that example is a little extreme but the chorus of this track sticks out like a sore thumb and the entire song seems to slow down for it. The melody line is quite good on lyrics such as “Web” and “Thread,” but the contour doesn't fit in with the underlying chords.

As it continues on, the chords underneath do get more appealing (added with arpeggios) but this is taken away from it all because of LaBrie's almost rap-like singing. The singing is an attempt to again give the song more meaning, adding to the dark lyrics.

The solo section comes in as usual after the second chorus and is mostly based on ascending chords but it begins with the earlier haunting riff and slowly builds up to make way for a two chordal two note (octaves in the bass) arpeggio pattern with Moore and Petrucci in unison followed by a 'hit-as-many-notes-as-you-can-with-no-meaning' sweep by Petrucci.

The solo section is followed by a reprise of the Arabian chordal theme and this takes us to a final verse and two more choruses. The outro implements nothing new except for an annoying ascending keyboard effect. It then ends as abruptly as it began.

As well as the aforementioned reasoning outlined above, the track fails the same way as its counterpart “6:00” failed the best part of five-and-a-half minutes earlier.

Rating: 2.1/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:41 AM   #2 (permalink)
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3: Innocence Faded

This is classic Dream Theater at near their best. This track is the untouched highlight of the album and is a joyous timeless listen.

The intro of this track is without a doubt one of the best intros in the entire rock genre. A quick snare fill takes us into the onslaught of Petrucci's real mastership with the guitar as he blasts out enthralling major chords, both musically and emotionally. This, and the way Petrucci bends and slides the notes just in this intro already surpasses the first nine minutes of the record. No matter how many times you've heard this intro it's almost guaranteed to get your heart racing each time.

Shorty after, the music breaks down smoothly with the guitar and keyboard fading out slowly which leaves the drums and bass on their own. This is a beautiful way to introduce the first verse where LaBrie is thankfully back to singing his best. Portnoy interchanges between the on and off beat which is accompanied by Petrucci playing chords on a different beat and Moore playing a high root note slightly after that. It's a remarkably effective technique which is also accompanied by beautiful lyrics and a soothing melody. The notes LaBrie sings during “The rest remain misled” is simply breathtaking and a perfect way to enter the bridge.

The bridge is something that can't even be described with mere words. The strings are amazing, the melody is perfect and the cowbell is a nice touch. Petrucci's broken descending/ascending minor chords fill the gap left by the bass (as do the soft strings) wonderfully. This takes us to the pre-chorus and unlike “Caught in a Web,” it's simple, but the lead up to the chorus isn't painstakingly out of place. The top line is played by a more focused melody from Moore.

The chorus fits in almost magically and contains in it tasteful vocal harmonies singing “Aaah,” which is a common musical technique used by Dream Theater, but it's always effective in creating the right atmosphere. Verse two enters immediately and is much like the first except that LaBrie seems to transcend even his own talents when he sings the remarkably high notes in the lyrics: “Condescending...Not intending to end.” As a build-up to this climax the music underneath gradually gets heavier which also adds to the beauty of the climax. LaBrie holds the “End” note powerfully for a full bar and even slides down a semi-tone. The return of the bridge undergoes a huge change in the use of changing keys. This is when the same pre-chorus also returns followed by the chorus.

The song then makes it structure a tad more complex than the previous two tracks by adding in changed verses. The underlying notes and chords are more complex than what may first appear. And it ends with a beautiful sustaining high note with the lyric: “Wheel.” This is yet another fine way to lead into the chorus (which is also accompanied by a lovely descending pattern played by Moore). The chorus this time ends with augmented notes on “Find you.” LaBrie then continues to bellow away more sustaining high notes using his mastership with melisma and his breathing techniques. A high note from Petrucci takes us into the solo section/outro of the track (after a return of the intro) which is the probably the most rewarding listen so far. It starts off with Huey Lewis & the News-esque chords and progresses from there. Petrucci's solo is one of bliss because not only is it extremely complex but it's hard not to associate warmth with it. It's complete with harmonies and wonderful accompaniment from Moore. And just when you thought it was over, Petrucci goes into overdrive until finally the song comes to an abrupt halt almost as if they're saying “You can't possibly take anymore of this beauty, so we'll stop now.”

Rating: 8.3/10


4: Erotomania

This ambient instrumental piece is the first part of the three-part epic “A Mind Beside Itself.“ For those of you who don't know, erotomania literally means: excessive sexual desire. And by the end of this track, you're left wondering why.

Moore gets us started with his goofy 80's sounding keyboard patch playing in 5/4 and soon after we're joined by a walking bass line and a semi-inspired arpeggio pattern from Petrucci in unison. The 4/4 changes work nice as it increases the interest maintained; Portnoy does a good job here. Things stay the same for a while but changes to a higher register. To signify the end of the section, Petrucci gives us a little harmonisation. This leads into a slower (longer notes) descending pattern still maintaining the 5/4 (with one bar of 4/4) rhythm. Moore plays in a higher register and seems to be inverting broken chords which works effectively. This is followed by a repetition but this time played softer (use of dynamics) and there's a change in roles. But this is short lived and soon we're back into the main groove which began the track. The difference this time though, is that Petrucci plays a mini solo on top, shredding away towards the end which works well as a build-up to what's to come shorty.

The next riff brings to mind early Rush or perhaps Queensrÿche and suits the mood tremendously. Moore lightens things up towards the end by adding in major notes. The link to the next section is nothing short of amazing: chords are merely ascending but Portnoy slows down his riff and he works beautifully in tandem with Petrucci by trading rhythms, ending with two lovely triplets. The section repeats briefly followed by a break-down section where Petrucci shines playing inspiring chord progressions. Towards the end, things slow down which brilliantly sets the stage for the next section. There's a major (no pun intended) change in tonality (from dark to pleasant) which is contributed mostly by Moore's chordal melody. After a repetition, Petrucci takes over (although things still stay the same underneath) with a killer melody line, finishing magnificently with classic shredding. He holds the last note and it fades out into the next section. The mood stays the same here and acts as a pre-build-up-build-up to what turns out to be a legendary climax by anyone's standards.

At 4:23 there's a return of the descending pattern although this time Petrucci adds in a descending guitar-effect. This is where things get out of control but there's still a stabilising aspect evident. Petrucci utilises faster and faster note lengths. More use of dynamics are implemented with Petrucci playing on his own briefly before being accompanied by the rest of the band in short bursts, displaying energy. Things then slow down bringing us to the legendary climax but not before a nice call and response moment with Myung and Petrucci. Without a doubt, the climax is one of Petrucci's finest moment as it displays the epitome of musical proficiency mixed with pure emotion. Not many guitar solos have come close to this magical moment.

After another short break-down the first theme is reintroduced and eventually slows down and becomes thinner which takes us to the end of the track – complete with chimes and all.

Rating: 7.9/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:41 AM   #3 (permalink)
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5: Voices

The popularity of this piece isn't justified; the chorus is dreadful, the solo is a mess and to put it plainly: things just don't work in this track.

It begins softy, where “Erotomania” left off. Nothing goes wrong until a massive shock wave of distortion hits the listener directly in the face. The production here seems to be lacking; the bass is too low (the bass line is quite impressive here), the distortion is too high and the keyboards sound terribly out of place. Musically, Dream Theater have cleverly taken the time signature changes from “Erotomania,” but this time doubled them up making it one bar 5/8 and one of 4/8.

When LaBrie enters he's only accompanied by Moore (playing simple melodies and chords) which is another use of dynamics but the abrupt change doesn't suit too well. LaBrie sings the first verse beautifully which depicts a story about a schizophrenic who hears Voices inside his head. After the verse there's a short passage where Petrucci slides weird notes conveying a spacey feeling. LaBrie then continues on and the melody here is actually quite refreshing. This is slanted however because of the chorus which follows. Again, like “Caught in a Web,” the chorus is awkwardly out of place. But this time it's made worse because of how everything fades out and by Petrucci adding in a spacey guitar-effect.

It's not that LaBrie is singing particularly bad in the chorus, it's mainly horrific because of the bland chords and amount of distortion underneath. After the chorus, an earlier theme briefly returns and leads into a very Metallica-esque riff. This doesn't add anything to the lyrics, even if LaBrie is singing darker now. The riff is a simple one and doesn't advance. The chorus then reappears with different lyrics but this doesn't help its cause. What comes next could have been an interesting section musically, but samples are added on top which are somehow more annoying than those on “6:00.” Who would have thought that listening to a rap-artist recite to us doesn't exactly add anything to the meaning of the track? Schizophrenia has nothing to do with what is or isn't immaterial and therefore makes the samples just more artsy dribble. There's a lovely 5/4 build-up pattern underneath but it could have been the masterpiece solo section from “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper,” and it still would have been terrible because of the annoying voice over.

Once again, things fade out and LaBrie soothly sings the next verse. Things remain the same except for the use of backing vocals (also LaBrie) adding to the texture. When yet another verse is added, the music underneath is heavier (a trade-mark Dream Theater technique). LaBrie sings higher and higher until we're hit with another long note and fade out - and then comes the solo section. Petrucci starts off playing nicely (with bends and all) but it rapidly turns into just a Steve Vai solo clone. It's ultimately just another forgettable 'hit-as-many-notes-as-you-can-with-no-meaning' solo.

The lead up verse to the final chorus undergoes a huge change becoming a lot heavier and with a thicker texture. At the end, LaBrie's long note on the lyric: “Darkness” is a nice touch. But it's a shame it leads into the dreadful chorus – even if it is slightly different again. The ending seems quite rushed and out of place, but the concluding Petrucci riff is a good way to take us into the final part of “A Mind Beside Itself.“

It's hard to describe the main underlying reasons of why “Voices” fails overall. It's the first track so far that is lengthy but there is nothing special about it whatsoever in comparison to other lengthy Dream Theater classics. Awake started off as just a metal album filled with short tunes but now with “Voices,” Dream Theater have proven that they still love writing progressive metal music. It's a shame that this track hardly progresses whatsoever from start to finish.

Rating: 2.9/10


6: The Silent Man

The final part of the three-part series feels strangely out of place compared with the other two. It's a short ballad, and a good example of a Dream Theater ballad gone wrong.

There's no intro in the piece; it just goes straight into it. LaBrie almost immediately starts singing and is accompanied alone by Petrucci who plays the acoustic to lighten the mood. With nothing really happening to interest the listener for a whole verse, Moore tries to change that by making a subtle appearance in the second verse by playing high notes softly. Petrucci's chords are somewhat pleasant and he plays diminished and minor chords to add some variation. Because of the simple structure and the ever-repeating feel of the track, no amount of nice chord changes would work here.

Before the chorus, there's a slight pause in an attempt to perhaps make the chorus more powerful. The chorus does nothing to add anything to the ballad. Aside from adding layers (cymbals, shakers and a guitar counter melody) and turning up the keyboard, nothing the least bit interesting happens here. It seems as if the song is actually yet to change at all. The time signature does switch into a 3/8-3/8-2/8 feel though, and the backing vocals (sung by producer John Purdell) aren't bad. The main failure so far is the atrocious lyrics and the fact that nothing has progressed yet – for the listener to be able to actually feel some emotion trying to be conveyed here.

Once again, the melody is quite decent and LaBrie does a good job varying particular notes as he usably does. After the second chorus there's a mini build-up to the short solo section and it isn't effective even the least bit. Even if the solo section was brilliant (which it isn't), the build-up would have ruined it. It's almost as if Dream Theater are filling in pointless gaps and just want to get this bland piece of recording over already.

After the final uninterested bridge (in which nothing changes, of course), this time there is a longer pause before the final chorus. This is an almost lame musical technique from all perspectives. What makes it even worse is that the chorus is still the same musically, aside from LaBrie singing the lyrics:“Tonight, he's awake” a little higher. This does add some emotion but any emotion that could have been created was destroyed long ago. A key change would have fitted perfectly here (even if it is a tad lame), which is what happens during the live rendition.

Rating: 2.1/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:42 AM   #4 (permalink)
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7: The Mirror

After a quick excursion, the metal returns on this track and is perhaps the heaviest piece yet – and for good reason too. The song deals with Portnoy's struggle with alcoholism (a subject matter also apparent in several other Dream Theater tracks).

Beginning with headache-inducing repeating triplets (started by Petrucci and Portnoy soon joins), the track gets off to an horrendous start. The listener is purposefully filled with angst emotions but once again the distortion is too high (making it awkward) and once the bass and Moore come in, the real track-wreck begins. Moore plays on top with an extremely drab melody which seems as if he's trying to elevate the music - it sounds like something a child would play hitting randomly on a xylophone. The music underneath is of course dark, and Moore's melody line is in a major key; this is simply dreadful.

Petrucci continues playing the dark and heavy triplets (Portnoy changes to a straight-up beat) and you almost pray that it's going to stop soon. Unfortunately the triplets persist but now in a faster tempo; perhaps trying to sustain the heavy riff already introduced. Moore switches to playing chords now and this is a major relief: the eerie chords fit almost perfectly, who would have known? Next, Petrucci decides to take the melody (complete with almost non-stop bending) and this just acts as a fancy introduction for LaBrie. When LaBrie enters with more annoying dark vocals, the music underneath just repeats the headache-inducing triplet riff that started this whole mess. The second part of the verse sees Moore trying to add to the atmosphere (with sustaining minor chords) and would have succeeded if only Petrucci decided to change his rhythm.

Then this whole thing is repeated again, so it wouldn't matter if you started listening to the track now. At 2:45, things still haven't changed but Moore is playing slightly different chords. When LaBrie sings “I spent so long trusting in you,” ( with particular emphasis on “you”) it works beautifully adding to the mood (even though there is no advancement in creating the initial mood). Sadly though, Dream Theater have once again decided to add in pointless voice overs to their music. This time it's Meryl Streep and she repeats “What are you doing?” It almost as if Dream Theater have decided to add in clips from their favourite films just for the sake of it.

Now it's time for the chorus (so apparently Meryl Streep acts as a pre-chorus) which does have a catchy aspect to it – but, presumably, this is hardly what Dream Theater wished to achieve. The song is meant to remain dark (Portnoy's struggle continues on) but it feels as if the chorus takes on a completely different theme, thus destroying everything that has previously come. The guitars make use of syncopation here and Moore plays an almost comic-relief descending trill pattern - which, of course, wasn't what was intended.

When the breakdown section starts, more voice overs from two other films are added in. But luckily nothing much is happening musically besides predicable chord changes (which were already implemented earlier). The next verse is more of the same but thankfully the annoying repeating triplets seem to be gone. Things then slightly change in the bridge which begins with the insightful lyrics “Reflections of reality are slowly coming into view.” This takes us to a quick build-up and then LaBrie takes his menacing snarl into overdrive with: “How in the hell could you possibly forgive me? After all the hell I put you through?” LaBrie slides down a semi-tone (perhaps over-used) with the last lyric which takes us into the familiar pre-chorus (complete with Moore's embarrassing melody) before the chorus. When the final chorus comes in, it's still more of the same except for an interesting theme at the end (which makes a reprisal on “Space-Dye Vest”). Its significance is unknown.

After this, the track continues on with an earlier riff only added with guitar-effects (and again with weird ascending notes from Petrucci) and is seemingly slowing down. If Dream Theater are trying to make us become less interested as the track progresses, then they have achieved this quite well. The outro then segues into the next track - The Mirrors' counterpart: “Lie.”

Rating: 2/10


8: Lie

Interestingly, the track begins the exact same way as “The Mirror” (with a little pitch bend from Petrucci), because both songs are linked by the same subject matter. So this track could be seen as a continuation of “The Mirror.” Even though the tracks are linked in various ways, “Lie” is a much better listen than its partner.

The opening riff is less in your face and Petrucci's pitch bends work quite nicely to build tension, as do Moor's haunting sustaining notes. Verse one comes quickly upon us and LaBrie nails it with a fine melody and tone. The music underneath still hasn't changed though, and after the first verse Portnoy takes us to the break section with a quick and basic snare fill. The break is just a repetition of the intro except with Moore playing slightly different notes. This brings us to the identical verse two and a nice Portnoy fill takes us to the chorus.

Things still don't musically change in the chorus except for the the melody line. LaBrie's vocals don't appeal much here because of the drab melody and repetitions. The distortion is not entirely outro of control here.

In the next verse LaBrie now continues singing darker but other than that the song is still yet to advance. As the chorus now repeats and when it ends we're taken into a bridge section where Petrucci fades out, but this doesn't last long before LaBrie comes in. The music slowly becomes heavier and louder (with Petrucci playing effective arpeggios) and then LaBrie sings louder, higher and cleanly.

This takes us into the solo section where a powerful rhythm is accompanied by a rampaging Petrucci solo which seems to ascend forever. Then there's a short pause and Petrucci starts pulling out slides and bends all over the place. He then heads into a quick and beautifully executed shredded melody. The final chorus then hits us but besides a soft Petrucci counter melody in the background, things haven't been improved.

And just when you thought the song was coming to a close, there's a low and quick build-up riff and the unthinkable happens: a reprisal of the annoying headache-inducing triplets from “The Mirror!” And not only that, but also the spacey riff makes a reprisal as well. However, Petrucci advances the simple riff to the next level with a gripping climatic solo that was sadly taken out of the single version (because it became too long). However, towards the end it does feel like Petrucci seems to be just repeating himself over and over. It then all comes to an abrupt end.

The track is indeed an improvement on “The Mirror” but there are still too many flaws and in the end there aren't enough catchy hooks to keep the listener absorbed. The track certainly doesn't earn any repeated listens - except for maybe the first solo.

Both songs are around the same short length (“Voices” is still the only lengthy track thus far) so the listener is probably left wondering what happened to the old styles and sound of Dream Theater by about this time.

Rating: 3.9/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:42 AM   #5 (permalink)
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9: Lifting Shadows off a Dream

Don't wonder anymore, fellow listeners because it's time for another ballad (Images & Words had a few, so why not?). This ballad is a perfect example of a Dream Theater ballad gone...Right!

The song is simply amazing and is the perfect wedding song. The lyrics were written by Myung and appear to depict two people who have overwhelming love for each other. Just about everything in this track works right: the lovely strings playing the melody, the gripping introduction with Myung making use of a very wide range, Portnoy takes us there with nice cymbal hits and a bass drum at the start of every bar, and not to forget Petrucci's wonderful job of playing a soft counter melody to Myung's.

When LaBrie enters, the feeling of the song is the same but boy, do things advance! Even if it is only subtle, the change is fantastic. Petrucci elevates his role by playing complex arpeggios with ascending chords that are hard to follow. Meanwhile, beautiful low staccatos are being implemented by what appears to be a string quartet. And it is the strings that make use of passing notes that flow superbly onto the chorus, and you can't help but feel warmth as the chorus begins.

In the chorus, Portnoy starts playing more on the bass drum and quick bursts on the toms, but other than that the music is the same apart from the melody of course. And because the melody is so beautiful, it doesn't matter that the music underneath hasn't changed – well it has a bit with Petrucci adding a layer by frequent acoustic strums. The next section is much like the intro but we're soon taken into verse two which is completely different: Myung is playing drones, Petrucci's rhythms and chords have changed, and LaBrie is singing with more passion. The bridge builds upon what has been already been but Portnoy strengthens things up with frequent bass drum beats which is in tandem with Petrucci's now changed rhythm and ascending arpeggio pattern. Here, LaBrie sings the touching lyrics: “Moved by desire and fear, he takes a few steps away,” and holds the “away” note which segues perfectly into the return of the chorus. This time, LaBrie sings the chorus with more feeling (louder and fuller) and it ends with the bridge which appears to be mystifying with its first brief introduction of the lyrics: “And she listens openly...”

After this comes a strange change in tonal colour as we head into the solo section. The notes used here by Petrucci are the darkest yet but also bring along an aspect of mysteriousness to them. And here is where the 4/4 time signature used throughout is changed into odd time signatures. Myung follows Petrucci's melody which takes us all over the place. Towards the end of the section, things slow down and become less dark. LaBrie sings in the pre-chorus which uses the chords carried on from the end of the solo section.

This is where the track really becomes amazing. The lyrics: “And she listens openly...” returns but undergo a huge change from LaBrie and are repeated twice; with the second time being completely exuberating and once again a segue is used. “Openly” segues into the final chorus which is accompanied by a beautiful ascending scale by Petrucci and the strings. The final chorus is sung brighter than ever and the listener is undoubtedly left with a feeling of warmth. Beautiful vocal harmonies are also used when LaBrie repeats “Lifting shadows off a dream” towards the end.

The track concludes with more beautiful string work and a return of the very first theme introduced. This might suggest that love ends the way it begins. The ballad obviously has its moments but repeated listens will dampen its enjoyment (more so than Innocence Faded, for example) mainly because of the quite simple structure

Rating: 7.1/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:43 AM   #6 (permalink)
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10: Scarred

For the most part, Scarred is yet another huge disappointment. With it being the second and last epic on the album (it's the longest track, clocking in at 11 minutes), the initial anticipation is huge, but sadly it doesn't deliver.

Beginning with help from a ride cymbal, Portnoy plays solo for two bars creating the mid-to-slow tempo. Petrucci and Myung then join Portnoy with Petrucci playing one strum of four ordinary chords at the start of every bar, and Myung fills the gaps playing a few repeated notes. This sets the mood as being a peaceful one and soon Petrucci adds another layer of sound by playing spacey high pitched bends.

Oddly, Petrucci gets straight into a solo which seems to be just a fancy introduction for the first verse. Things didn't seem to be doing anything at all, so adding a little something is necessary here, but a solo at the very beginning of a peaceful introduction is definitely and utterly too much.

When LaBrie comes in he immediately delivers a fantastic performance and a lovely melody line. The lyrics are a little too artsy though, and the repetition of the lyric “To” isn't an effective technique. Throughout the first verse, Myung remains playing the same riff over and over and Portnoy isn't taking anything away from - what appears to be an attempt to create an emotional moment - by not playing anything fancy here. Petrucci has changed though, but he's just playing octaves acting as 'something-to-just-add-in' underneath.

The second part of the verse has LaBrie singing with more passion with a higher melody line and here we get the notable introduction of Moore. Moore adds a nice touch here with kooky high arpeggios but it is difficult to hear him. Then there's yet another pointless non-progressive break session before the next section (which has happened in almost every track so far).

The second part of the Jam acts as a build-up to verse two. The riff gives perhaps a 3/4 feeling but stays in 4/4 and then changes to 3/4 when it becomes heavier. The riff brings to mind the annoying riff in “The Mirror” once again and it sets the stage for the next thirty seconds or so. Here, Myung and Moore's sound are totally lost amidst Petrucci's distortion. But Moore isn't doing anything to make you listen up anyway; he just holds single unoriginal notes for a measure.

Then we're spontaneously taken to the bridge which feels almost more out of place than the choruses in “Caught in a Web” and “Voices.” The mood changes here, which is needed but the change is far too discommodious. Then the riff makes it reappearance and we're taken into more of the same verses. If you're still paying attention at this point, you're doing well. To make things varied, Petrucci changes his rhythm but all chords and melodies remain prosaic. When the second bridge returns you're just about ready for the chorus and at this point you're probably thinking “It has to get better.”

There's all this talk about things “not fitting in” and “being out of place” a lot. And that's because the most important thing in music is to make things sound right. Obviously each listener has a different perspective or interpretation on what sounds right, but so far the majority of the album is a general let down in that department. And what's to come next is not only one of the worst moments of the album so far, but probably the worst chorus in the history of progressive music.

Firstly, once again it comes from out of no where. It's almost as if they didn't know what to do at this point so decided to start a new song halfway through, starting it with a chorus - but then later decided that they wanted to create an epic for the second last track of the album. Secondly, the chorus is just plain terrible. The harmonies are awful and the tuneless melody is overly embarrassing, as are the pitiful lyrics: “Blood, heal me, fear, change me...” It's almost enough to make you nauseated. Thankfully, this takes us into a lovely little highlight.

Again, the transition into the next section is awkward but LaBrie starts singing back to his normal greatness and the melody has now also improved. This should be the chorus! It's addictive and catchy and the lyrics are somewhat compelling. The recurring themes of spiritually, truth and hope are conveyed so well here with: “And how come you don't understand me? And how come I don't understand you?” Although they are a tad cheesy. The music slowly builds up underneath becoming louder, fuller and more dramatic which takes a back seat to LaBrie's powerful melody. By the time we reach the climatic lyrics: “My soul exposed, it calms me to know that I won't,” we're taken to another world courtesy from the brilliant final high sustaining note on “Won't.” So much emotion has built up to this point...But then...

Torture! Dream Theater have done a marvelous job of creating emotion in the previous section but what they do next is the most atrocious thing imaginable...The return of the chorus! If it was out of place before, now it's in a different parallel universe. It drags the listener so far down after hearing the lovely emotion-building ride that it has now destroyed the only good part of the song thus far. They could have perhaps made the chorus more meaningful for this section, but it's more of the same.

After a quick return of the bridge the solo section is now upon us. If starts off with the previously used heavy riff which has now officially become tiring and irritating. And when it ends, it only gets worse because of Petrucci's excessive pointless note hitting. He is just ascending and ascending until we can't take anymore. But there's a nice link into Moore's first and only solo of the album, which is extremely unmemorable both technical-wise and compositional-wise (putting on any Jordan Rudess solo after it is laughable). Next, Petrucci takes over yet again. It soon reaches a point of almost hilarity when he seems like he can't stop shredding away ever so meaninglessly. There is only one emotional part throughout the entire solo section which occurs near the end but before the silly sweeping that leads into the final cringe-inducing chorus.

The chord changes and rhythms throughout the track are predicable, dull and not the slightest bit interesting. And the same goes for the track as a whole except for the already mentioned section which was destroyed afterwards. The outro encapsulates the entire piece; it's repetitive, boring and you wish it would just end already. It eventually does by fading out.

Rating: 2.2/10
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Old 03-01-2006, 04:43 AM   #7 (permalink)
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11: Space-Dye Vest

This is the final track on the record which is another ballad and is solely written by Moore. It's yet another non-progressing tune and the use of even more voice overs makes it easily the worst track on the album.

Beginning with an extremely predicable and consequently boring melody, the track doesn't get off to a good start. The chords and melody just keep ascending to the point that it becomes immensely irritating. And after that's over it then repeatedly reverses and descends – no it's not a joke. This then repeats twice and of course it ends back where we started; the root note. It's a tune that could be played by a student that just took up the piano and has simple pedal changes as well.

So the intro is simple but does that take away from the emotion Moore's trying to convey here? Well, of course it does. Just by going up scales doesn't give your ballad emotion, it just fills it with cheese, and it doesn't matter how appropriate the key it's in is.

After the repetition, effects and cymbals are added in the background as Moore changes rhythm and plays only chords for a short while. Then we're taken into what becomes the main melody line (which made its first appearance in “The Mirror”) and is accompanied by more eerie effects and a lower than normal bass drum. Soon LaBrie joins in and does a good job in expression, however, the melody doesn't seem to really do much as it only comprises of a few notes repeated over and over. Also, the reverb is a bit much here. And underneath, Moore repeats endlessly.

The next section brings backs the same chords and eerie effects from earlier but placed over the top is yet another voice over. This time it's from the film “A Room With a View” and the comparison to the lyrics this time is appropriate and it takes nothing away from the music - nothing much has been happening anyway. The song is about lost love and desperation, portrayed by obscure lyrics. When the long sample ends the second verse begins and is almost musically identical to the first. The differences are the introduction of backing vocals singing: “Oohs,” which works quite well, and more of Petrucci's distortion (this time it's just static acting as a drone and continues on almost throughout the entire song). The fact that everything else stays the same means that adding in additional layers right now doesn't achieve much.

Then we're hit with more voice overs. Since the song is written in the first person, it's presumably a personal rendition about Moore. This is relevant because of the next sample used; it's of a young girl who talks about how she was too young to work. Now this can't be personally relevant to Moore for obvious reasons, and if it's about the girl he lost (or similarly the one he found) then what does that have to do with anything?
With the next sample, Moore ridiculously compares his angst-ridden saga with OJ Simpson's, ending with “No one can say they know how he feels.” Well this could obviously be true for Moore's case but making it in comparison with OJ feels almost as if he's taking too big a slice of the cake here.

Even featuring the hilarious Conan 'Obrien doesn't make the next sample any better. It's more obscure than the rest and thus it also makes no additional impact on the listener. When that ends, Moore plays more of the same melody line and the sound becomes thinner because Petrucci's static is now the only thing accompanied. As this is happening, even more samples are added but this time they're almost inaudible: “If you're not in this house by nine o'clock, then you'd better find some place to sleep.” But wasn't this ballad meant to be about loss love, and not about someones childhood? It seems quite apparent that Moore isn't capable enough of composing music to convey his emotions, so he ineptly uses many samples - which in turn makes it an agglomeration of voice overs appearing on the entire album.

Petrucci's static eventually fades out into nothing but makes its reappearance during the final verse. It begins with a crash from Portnoy and the introduction of Myung playing drones. When LaBrie sings the well known line“And I'll never be open again,” Portnoy and Petrucci finally join in pointedly. This is an attempt to act as a pre-climax. Portnoy doesn't do to much and Petrucci just follows the main melody played by Moore.

During the climax/ending of the piece, Portnoy starts playing a straight-up beat, the backing vocals reappear and Petrucci plays the same chord at the start of every measure with his distortion seemingly even louder now. When LaBrie finishes singing, Moore takes over with more of the same and the introduction of strings finally makes the texture a lot thicker. It seems as if the entire ballad has been building up to this point, but yet with only around 30 seconds to go the listener probably feels cheated.

Then it simply just stops. But soon, Moore starts playing again and the ballad ends exactly the same irritating way it started. In the end, “Space-Dye Vest” serves as a mediocre ending to a mediocre (at best) album.

Rating: 1.5/10


Final Comments

Awake is probably a record just for metal heads that are into the mainly tuneless Metallica or perhaps Megadeth. The production and the transitions between tracks are mostly good; it is the music and song writing that is the huge let down. The lyrics could have been better and probably seem better in comparison to the incredibly poor song writing. The poor song writing exceptions are the fantastic and memorable “Innocence Faded,” the mind-boggling and perhaps the only true progressive track: “Erotomania,” and the uplifting “Lifting Shadows off a Dream.” Hardcore Images & Words fans that anticipated the album would have been greatly disappointed on the first listen and would probably only have enjoyed the previously mentioned tracks if they enjoyed “Another Day” or “Surrounded.” After the first listen - excluding aforementioned tracks - it would prove to be an almost impossible task to be able to distinguish any of the tracks or recall any stand-out moments. It's probably just as well that this album was Moore's last with the band, as things start to get a whole lot better soon thereafter.

Dream Theater have somewhat alienated their fan base hoping to create new fans by making their sound heavier and more commercialised but at the same time decided to throw in several ballads in the mix for variation. Awake is a disappointing effort and is among Dream Theater's worst recordings. It's certainly not recommended for progressive metal or progressive rock fans, but Dream Theater fans would definitely appreciate several track here and there. But nevertheless, Awake was a superior album for its time but doesn't quite hold up by todays standards, nor does it hold up at any musical level.

OVERALL RATING: 3.7/10


Miscellaneous Personal Comments:

When I seldom put it on I skip each track except the three stand-outs and maybe “Lie.”

When playing the vocal melodies on the piano it's easy to notice the drab use of notes in comparison to every other Dream Theater album.

Playing along to the tracks on guitar isn't as challenging as most of other albums. When attempting to play something I write down the notes and say “Okay so a simple ascend here and then a bend there...” but when I'm trying to write down a solo or rhythm part from Scenes from a Memory, for example, it becomes quite difficult. And the same goes when playing on the piano.

And the thing is, when I'm reading the notes on complex solos I don't say “Wow this is complex so therefore it's good,” I say “Well that's interesting, it probably should be a 'c# ' there instead of a 'd', I wonder why he did that.” And then when you learn the solos you understand that every “out-of-place” note becomes beautiful and adds emotion and if you were to change even one single note it'd all collapse. This can't be said about the mostly boring Awake solos. But this isn't to say that an entire song or album revolves around solos. But for me, intricate solos and layering are vital in adding heart to the music, and Awake failed here. Later on it becomes apparent that Petrucci has now completely mastered his craft, whereas on Awake, it's obvious that he still has a long way to go.

In no way did I decide that I hated the overall sound of Awake so therefore just nitpicked on everything. My opinion was formed from the moment I first listened to it and more or less stayed the same throughout. And the same is true for albums I love too; I wouldn't just put every little aspect in positive light just because I enjoyed the album overall.

I have obviously missed out on commenting a vast amount of musical elements, but I tried my best to include what I believed to be the most important aspects of the album.


Notes:

Took four days to write.

Word count of review: 7,951.

Estimated number of listens of the entire record: 10-15.

I don't hate all samples, I love them in “The Great Debate,” “Home,” etc, because they add meaning to the concepts and don't take anything away from what's happening musically.

Analysis of lyrical concepts were mostly omitted because the reviews were getting too long. And also because lyrical conception is more so a personal interpretation than the musical elements.

I hope that even Awake lovers will enjoy reading the review because they might find several things that they previously missed.

The above review isn't in anyway trying to insult anyones opinions or to offend the band in any way. The above is of course entirely my opinion even though I refrained from writing in the first person because that's just bad reviewing.

And finally: feel free to ask me to review any song, if you like.

By Valon Archimedes aka perfect tension
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Old 03-01-2006, 05:41 AM   #8 (permalink)
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christ almighty, that's gotta be the most indepth review in the history of music, someone has too much free time?
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Old 03-01-2006, 05:48 AM   #9 (permalink)
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yeah like four days, for like an hour a day?
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Old 03-01-2006, 03:37 PM   #10 (permalink)
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That is a fabulous effort. How did you come to such accurate ratings like 7.9?
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