This album is from Dream Theater’s pre-fame visionary days, when they were still looking for a definite sound. While this sound would not fruition into delicious goodness completely until the next album (spoiler alert for the Images and Words review!), we do get some of the main course elements in this not-all-that-bad entrée. I will not take you song by song; just tell you what’s good and what’s not. That might involve some mention of the songs. So I won’t be contradicting myself. Damn, the lawyer me just came out. Moving on…
It’s great to see non-riff based songs. By that, I mean it’s nice to see that songs are treated organically rather than in segments and variations of the same riff. If this were 1989, I can imagine what a welcome change this would have been from the look-how-fast-I-can-play shred era. It does retain a lot of it, but puts it in the context of, you know, music. This experiment isn’t entirely successful and occasionally it misfires, giving us amorphous songs that sound tacked together from various ideas. Like ‘Light Fuse and get Away’ and ‘The Ones who help set the Sun. What aggressively shitty songs. With aggressively shitty names. Shapeless and ridiculous. Avoid.
Also, the pacing needed in a good prog album just isn’t there. Unrelenting headbanging type persons, switch to Slayer. To alleviate this problem, DT decided to put the best songs at the beginning. Which makes a great impression with classics like YTSE Jam. Its perfectly symbolic what makes DT so good. Young John Petrucci (guitar) gives a performance worthy of making Yngwie think twice, with well thought out solos and catchy riffs. Incendiary stuff. Bassist John Myung is (for once) a completely separate identity from Petrucci rather his quiet little Korean cousin. His digressions are fast, numerous, and delicious managing to use chords, harmonics and the full range of the bass. Kevin Moore (keyboards) doesn’t really do much here, choosing to stay mostly on synth strings and the occasional organ tone reminiscent of Rick Wakeman in Close to the Edge.Which sounds annoying and repetitive. And stale. And worst of all, a bit 80’s synth pop. Erp. YTSE Jam also tells us another story. It tells us that the band has always been at their bestwithout a vocalist. LTE is further proof of that. James Labrie should read this.
Next, we come to the lyrics. Now, looking for great lyrics on a DT album is like looking for 30 minute songs and soaring solos on a Bob Dylan album. It’s just not the point. Nevertheless, I shall review them. They are largely lame and pseudo-gothic, especially when Petrucci decides to pen them. He should stick to being guitar god and not try to be…well…Bob Dylan. Moore is the best of the bunch, but that’s like saying Diarrhea is the best of the digestive diseases. Sometimes, the phrasing of the lyrics gets truly atrocious, like in ‘The ones who help set the sun’. Thankfully, the vocal melodies are tidily resolved.
Overall though, given the vision and breadth of what DT strives to achieve, this album is a great start. Young DT deserve a thump on their backs. Is it worth a try? I’d say yes. There are several glorious moments on this album, especially in the first half. Granted, the second half is bad enough to turn anyone off Prog Metal for a long time and the 80’s production might give you nightmares about men in tight spandex with teased hair. The first part though, holds its own. That definitely sounds right.