The Arc Light Sessions - Perchance To Dream
Perchance To Dream ... Only To Awake (10:16), There Will Come A Day (5:30), Through These Years (2:58), Please Let Me Know (5:51), Eye Of The Storm (3:30), The Old Man And The Sea (7:12), The Ghosts Of Winter Past (3:37), Jigsaw (3:00), Deception Days (6:00), Misunderstood (4:06), Over The Horizon.........Till The End (11.51).
That symphonic vibe begins with Perchance To Dream ... Only To Awake, which includes elements of other classic bands such as Camel andMike Oldfield with a Rick Wakeman-like piano solo also in the mix. There Will Come A Day contains a distinctive, piping synth solo, a flowing guitar, flute and piano, while Through These Days has a hymn-like quality.
Most of the album continues in a similar symphonic vein, with the stand-out track being The Old Man And The Sea, which contains several twists and turns in its instrumental passages, switching between keyboards and guitar, along with another gorgeous piano solo.
Leading on the vocals is Chris Chirilla, who presents his parts with great passion, but I have to say that I am not over keen on his voice. Alarcon steps up to the vocal plate for The Ghosts Of Winter Past with Nathalie Buddo on backing vocals, and again it is an extremely pretty song. Elsewhere Misunderstood is a slightly darker song and Till The End is one of several charming instrumentals on the album.
This is a highly listenable album, with lots of lilting melodies and classic influences coming through in the mix. It is certainly worth investigating, as one of the lesser known releases of 2015.
Alison Henderson: 7 out of 10
Cherry Choke - Raising The Waters
Rage On (7:14), Mindbreaker (4:51), Black Annis (3:12), Used To Call You Friend (3:50), Hypnotize Me (2:01), Where The Sun Rises (5:12), 6ix & 7even (7:26), My Mind To Lose (4:59), Discarded Hearts (5:11)
The opening track, Rage On, does exactly that and is a statement of intent for the rest of the album. Played with passionate commitment by Simon Beasley (bass and vocals), Daniel Lockton (drums), and Mathew Bethancourt (guitars and vocals), it overlays distorted, fuzzy guitars and a whacking drum sound above a winning acoustic melody and very strong vocals. Add in a hook-laden chorus, and you have some top-notch rock.
They wear their 70s influences on their sleeves but entirely make them their own, even choosing to record on analogue tape, which adds warmth to the sound. Cherry Choke up the intensity on the two most obviously hard rock tracks, the Zeppelin-like Mindbreaker and the forceful Used To Call You Friend. They add colour to their palette with psychedelic touches, string-bending blues guitar and bass-driven rolling funk on tracks such as Black Annis and My Mind To Lose. Both of these tracks come over like lost Black Sabbath classics.
The best track here though is 6ix & 7even, with its fabulous Hammond organ work and a dirty, sticky guitar solo, coupled to a rhythm section full of light and shade. The only thorn in this album, to my ears, is the overextended sitar drone, Where The Sun Rises, which just goes on far too long.
This is a fine album that comes over as a cross between modern-day garage rockers The Black Keys and 70s power trio Budgie. It does have a low prog quotient in terms of tricky time signatures and long instrumental passages, but Cherry Choke more than makes up for that in the inventive and intense reworking of garage psyche tropes and their winning way with a tune. If you have a penchant for the bands mentioned in this review then investigate this.
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10
The Dreaming Tree - Silverfade
Yesterday's Tomorrow (3:41), Heart Shaped Bruises (5:24), Yours to Find (3:23), Forever not Forever (8:05), Cherry Winters (4:42), Autumn Haze (5:20), Higgs (3:52), Jaded Summer Long (1:39), Every Minute Lost (4:25), Loose it Off (3:39), Song in 7 (5:11), The Ocean (3:16), Kosovo (5:45), Zero to Type One (7:39)
The Dreaming Tree is a song on a Dave Matthews Band album and apparently was picked as a band name because it did not tie the band into any particular musical style; something they successfully have avoided so far.
Silverfade is The Dreaming Tree's fourth release and comes out five years after the previous album Progress Has No Patience. The band had the chance and took the time to properly road-test the songs by playing them live before they got recorded, and by and large they took care of the production itselfthemselves. The mixing was done by Karl Groom. I am not sure whether it is a coincidence or not, but slight reminiscences to the melodic prog metal of Threshold can't be denied in some of the songs. The line-up, which has been fairly stable since the founding days, consists of Chris Buckler (vocals), Dan Jones (guitars and backing vocals), Neil Ablard on drums), keyboardist Steve Barratt and bassist Neil Simpson (the only one not being a founding member). According to comments made by the band, the 14 songs on Silverfade, most of them being in an airplay-compatible three to five minute range, were written over a period of several months, with each of the songs being treated as a separate entity. Only when the musicians looked at the completed entirety, did they realise that the lyrical themes of each song seemed to be associated with beginnings and endings.
So what does the music sound like? The announcement of the release of Silverfade speaks about "genre hopping music", and that describes it in a very appropriate way. On the basis of something one would call art rock with prog leanings, the songs meander from hard rock to prog, and from funky to bluesy influences. Obviously, this can be interpreted in different ways: positively speaking as varied and versatile, negatively speaking as undetermined and inconsistent. Given that The Dreaming Tree's music is entertaining, relaxing, catchy, and straightforward, I clearly tend to the positive perception.
The overall nature of the music is melodic hard rock with prog elements interspersed here and there in the form of interlaced rhythms or slightly more complex riffing. The song structures remain dense and catchy. Upon the first impression, Dan Jones' guitar playing clearly superimposes the other instruments. Whilst this appreciation still proves true, it needs to be reckoned, after repetitive listening, that Steve Barratt's keyboards play a more important role than originally perceived. They are very well dosed and purposefully deployed, to provide for the proggier aspects of The Dreaming Tree's music.
Going through the album song by song, I consider the first five tracks to be particularly strong and varied, especially Heart Shaped Bruises and the long track Forever Not Forever, the proggiest song of the album. As the band has made a point not to be associated with a particular style (see the way they picked their name), influences are not detected so obviously. Besides Threshold, I hear similarities with Saga, Rush and the later Tubes (such as on their The Completion Backward Principle release). The middle part of the album is less appealing to me, coincidentally it is where the hard/blues rock and AOR influences are the most obvious and where you find the two ballads; Loose it off and The Ocean. Comparisons here can be drawn with Journey and Toto. Towards the end, I feel the band pulls itself together and closes with two very strong songs, the haunting Kosovo and a Deep Purpleish Zero to Type One.
I must admit that I had not heard of The Dreaming Tree before, and to me it seems that the band so far has somewhat fallen through the cracks concerning their recognition in the prog world. This might be due to the fact that prog purists may consider their music as too simple and straightforward, whilst it may be too varied and complex for the common mainstream rock music listener. In a way, this is a consequence of the band's wish to preserve their own musical style. Fans of melodic hard rock with prog leanings, that are looking for accessible, entertaining and varied music should give this release a serious consideration. Silverfade, according to the band's info, is their first release which is supported with worldwide distribution and I hope that this, together with the band's focus on extensive touring and live performances, will get The Dreaming Tree the attention they definitely deserve.
Thomas Otten: 7.5 out of 10
Forest Field - Angels?
Broken Wings (4:45), Angels (5:08), Left at Cloud 9 (2:40), It Looks Like Rain (6:19), Angel With a Dirty Face (5:23), Message For a Messenger (6:19), The Zoo (6:16), Lovers Lane (4:20), Change Me (5:31), In Excelsis (5:22), Spot on the Sun (4:39)
The band is primarily a one-man project, with Dutchman Peter Cox playing all instruments and also adding some humming vocals in Left at Cloud 9 and Message For a Messenger, which are both essentially instrumentals. Phil Vincent, an American vocalist with whom Cox has also worked on former Forest Field albums, takes care of all vocals, recording remotely from Cox in an American studio. His voice reminds me of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, and that's not a bad thing!
Musically, this album is a mixed bag. It starts off with the nice, atmospheric instrumental Broken Wings, with acoustic guitar, mellow synths, piano and fluid electric guitar. Half-way through there is a sudden and not-so-harmonious tempo break that doesn't do the track full justice. While it appeals to me as it is, this first track is not at all representative of what the album offers.
With four more instrumentals, varying from the short but nice Left at Cloud 9 through to the beautiful Message for a Messenger (there so much in that song that brings the Eagles' Journey of the Sorcerer to mind, which is nice) to Lovers Lane, a guitar-driven instrumental that proceeds at a rather slow but enjoyable pace, reminiscent of Snowy White's Bird of Paradise! The last instrumental is the inconspicuous In Excelsis, which suffers from a much too sudden fade-out.
The album also offers more up-tempo songs, such as the title track, which shows a very different side of the band as it is a AOR song in the vein of Journey or Foreigner. Angel With a Dirty Face is another example of that style, with nice percussion played just after the time signature, which has an overall feeling of Foreigner's Feels Like the First Time.
The Zoo sounds like The Babys or Kansas during their Power-period, being a solid rock song built upon metal riffs with good vocals, a bluesy guitar solo half-way and a metal-ish solo at the end of the song. Too bad the vocals sound a bit distorted at the end when the vintage keyboards are mixed to the forefront.
Inbetween is the ballad Looks Like Rain, which has very nice, slightly-distorted guitars following the harmony vocals and odd-time signatures, leading to an attractive bluesy guitar solo that makes this a great track!
The album ends with the weakest track, Spot on the Sun, which has a rather non-descript rock melody, ending as suddenly as it starts. It is not an end worthy of this nice album.
Peter Cox indicates on the inner sleeve of the package that not all of this project should be taken too seriously. Well, that may account for the sleeve (good practical joke!) but he has taken himself quite seriously in the music, which pays off due to its quality. Tracks such as Message for a Messenger and It Looks Like Rain are little gems. Not all of the album may be as progressive as many readers of this site would like, but it's progressive enough to check out.
Theo Verstrael: 7.5 out of 10
Luc Henrion - Galerie
Galerie 1: a) Ouverture (3:35), Galerie 1: b) Portrait (1:44), Galerie 1: c) Estampe Japonaise (3:41), Galerie 1: d) Tableaux (5:39), Galerie 1: e) Coda (3:09), N'Oubliez Pas Le Guide S.V.P. (1:12), Galerie 2: a) Cubisme (2:18), Galerie 2: b) Old Alschumie (6:49), Galerie 2: c) Dyptique (4:34), Galerie 2: d) Gouache (0:56), Galerie 2: e) Pastel (2:06), N'Oubliez Pas Le Guide S.V.P. (2:08), Intro Piano 1 (2:56), Intro Piano 2 (4:34), Intro Piano 3 (2:40), Intro Piano 4 (9:44), Second Premier Double 1 (2:40), Second Premier Double 2 (1:23), Second Premier Double 3 (0:57), Second Premier Double 4 (1:21),Second Premier Double 5 (0:57), Second Premier Double 6 (2:45), Second Premier Double 7 (4:27), Second Premier Double 8 (7:39)
The album is comprised of two five-part song cycles, Galerie 1 and Galerie 2, each one followed a tune entitled N'Oubliez Pas Le Guide S.V.P. On Galerie 1 Henrion takes us on a dizzying ride to the furious, the bold, the playful, the dark, the languid, the crazy, and the flirtatious. N'Oubliez Pas Le Guide S.V.P. then makes its first appearance as a meditative little solo acoustic guitar piece.
We then get back on the sonic roller coaster for Galerie 2, ending up in outer space, pastoral fields, robust coffee-like euphorias and silently abandoned churches. Odes here are paid to the likes of Animals-era Pink Floyd, Brian Eno's 801 project, and the solo material of Syd Barrett. N'Oubliez Pas Le Guide S.V.P. then makes its second and final appearance, this time taking life in the form of a lively harpsichord ditty.
Those who perfer their music to rock-it-up with lots of vocals probably won't dig this restrained, rather new -gey instrumental affair. It is the Luc Henrion purveyor who will most likely want to snap this album up, for its generous helping of bonus tracks.
Mellow Records treats us to four Intro Piano tracks, along with eight other bonus Second Premier Double pieces. The Intro Piano pieces range from stretching to careful, beckoning to receding, and erotic to plaintive; showcasing Henrion's keyboard mastery along the way. Second Premier is an experimental, almost novelty cycle, drawing upon lounge, surf, blues, and ambient; the latter referenced in Robert Fripp and Tangerine Dream pointers. Bubbly polymoog here and there, serve to bounce things up a bit.
The style in which Henrion composes, as well as plays his music is diverse, fresh and exciting. Repeated listens of this recording will unquestionably create a different feeling for the listener each time, with two listening experiences never alike. Kind of like snowflakes.
The CD's cover art is minimal, photography depicting an outdoor scene near a highway and bridge. It looks like something you might see on a No~Man album. This reissue from Mellow Records is a great album to curl up to, while drinking tea on a chilly autumn day. Bravo!
Jim Corcoran: 7 out of 10
Eddie Mulder - Dreamcatcher
Barren Lands (5:24), Symbiosis (3:39), Feeling Good (3:59), Forgotten Lines (2:34), Tenderly (4:10), Hurry Up! (3:12), Long Ago (3:36), Questions (4:15), Dreamcatcher (4:07), Go With The Flow (3:14), Waves (10:08), Sorrow (3:37) *Bonus tracks* Humble Origin by Leap Day (1:41), Wandering by Trion (2:15)
The album is really a celebration of Mulder's love of the guitar and its release coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of his first picking up the instrument. As might be expected from an acoustic album named Dreamcatcher, there is an overall gentility to the album, with a flowing languidness throughout. Even the more up-tempo tracks, such as Hurry Up!, are taken at a fairly restrained pace, allowing the clarity of the playing to shine through. Of the accompaniments, the flute provides a compelling duet on Questions and an interlude in Barren Lands between the start of the acoustic guitar and washes of keyboards, and the end, where all three instruments play in perfect harmony.
Atmospheric synth backing and a couple of solos are provided by Van Engelberg on Tenderly, which also features a lovely guitar line played both on electric and acoustic guitars. He takes a more prominent role, providing piano on the perfectly named Symbiosis. Van Engelberg co-wrote both of the pieces, the remainder of the album being written by Mulder alone.
Spanninga performs on the aforementioned Barren Lands, as well as contributing some subtle work on Long Ago, which really enhances the track no end. Mulder has really thought about the overall sound of the album; it is spacious and lush and when he includes instrumentation other than the acoustic guitar, it is to maximum effect as with the brief electric guitar addition to Barren Lands - simple, clean and perfect. Spanninga's final contribution is to Waves, the most progressive-sounding piece on the album, mainly because throughout its 10-minute running time there are various changes in tempo and style with a greater use of the electric guitar.
The inclusion of the bonus tracks from Leap Day and Trion is not as odd as it first may seem, as both are acoustic guitar pieces and fit in perfectly with the overall album. Leap Day's Humble Origin also features Derk Evert Waalkens on keyboards.
Dreamcatcher is an impressive release, showcasing Mulder's considerable talents and should not only satisfy fans of his prog groups but also expand his audience to those not too enamoured with our favourite genre.
Mark Hughes: 9 out of 10
Sammal - Myrskyvaroitus
Stormvarning (5:19), Järjen Ohimarssi (6:34), Samaan Arkeen (3:58), Kohtaaminen Yön Vyöllä (2:35), Muurahaisen Päiväuni (6:36), Aika On Alkamassa (7:28), Sulle Haavan Tein (4:42), Kohti Pintaa (1:15), Herätkää (10:05)
The style of the music is a heady mixture of seventies prog and rock, with the instrumental passages sometimes resembling the guitar-organ interplay of bands such as Deep Purple or even Uriah Heep. However, the sound is very much their own, with some delicate passages that are somewhat typical of Scandinavian music. Even though the songs are sung in Finnish, with the vocals mixed quite upfront, they are no distraction to the listener, and the careful intonations and trills of the native tongue add an extra dimension to the music. The longer tracks come over best, with Aika On Alkamassa being a stand-out number. However there are no real clunkers on the album and each piece has its own charm. It may be just me, but at times I found myself thinking that some of the instrumental sections would really suit a flute line over the top, although that would perhaps make the pieces rather too seventies sounding. However you may get an idea of the style of music.
If enticed, check out the band further on their bandcamp page where you can sample each track from Myrskyvaroitus and their earlier releases. You may just find that, like me, you are drawn-in and soon have all their releases residing in your collection.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Valentine - Bizarro World
Interlude Bizarre (2:05), Bizarro World (4:16), Rockstar (4:16), You're Tearing Me Down (3:20), Deadbeat Boy (3:04), Schizophonicated (4:26), Trip To The Moon (3:56), Close The Door (3:08), From Dusk Till Dawn (3:18), Save Our Souls (4:12), Black Rain (4:51), The Mistake (5:17)
Well, it was just a nightmare, but these words were actually the beginning of the latest album by Dutch symphonic, power and glam rocker Valentine, a.k.a. Robby Valentine, a.k.a Robert Kempe.
Yes I know that Robby Valentine isn't a genuine prog act and that a review of his work might look a bit out of place on this website, but there really are enough elements in his music that the prog audience might like, to justify this review.
The major problem with Robby Valentine as a musician, is that he's not been taken seriously too often and has been often musically labelled as something 'much too easy'. A Queen clone, a one-day-fly, a weird poofy guy, a has-been of a gone generation, and more.
I understand where these stereotypes come from, and surely there is something true about it. However it's just too one-dimensional a viewpoint, and really neglects the real qualities Robby has and displays in his music when you care to listen.
It's no different with this new album; plenty of Queen influences can be heard again, but there are more influences to be heard. Besides Queen I recognise the typical sounds of Muse, Rammstein, Mika, Justin Timberlake, some dance acts and 30 Seconds to Mars.
I will give just a quick run-through each song on the album. Interlude Bizarre is a typical Robby classical, instrumental intro with lots of piano. It is Robby at his best, but also very Muse-like. Bizarro World has a typical bombastic Muse-style intro, Rockstar begins with some sounds that could have come from Rammstein, before the song turns into an 80s hair-metal band, and You're Tearing Me Down could just as well have been a Justin Timberlake song (here I'm a bit guessing since I'm not familiar with the work of this dance artist).
Deadbeat Boy has the same style and atmosphere as Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy by Queen, done in a Mika style, with a very Brian May guitar solo. Schizophonicated mixes Muse's up-tempo, guitar-driven, bombastic sound and high-pitched singing, with some famous Queen-like choirs. Trip to the Moon and Close The Door also remind me of some other (rock) band, but just couldn't figure out which one (solutions can be sent to me if you please), whilst From Dusk Till Dawn very much resembles a specific dance song I occasionally heard, but clearly did not store in my brain. Finally Black Rain strongly reminds me of the sound of 30 Seconds to Mars.
From a certain perspective, one could call Robby also 'The Big Borrower', since he borrows sounds, styles, tunes and melodies from several other bands. But you can't call Robby a copycat, since he weaves his own sound around the borrowed bits and makes it into something of his own. My mother always says: "Better well-borrowed than badly-invented", so in that respect Robby is doing a great job, and in the end, the mix of borrowed bits and his own input (which is still the vast majority) results in a unique sound.
So this is basically what this album is all about, several déjà-entendu moments, but still an original sound in the end. This album really is very varied. Rock, light metal, dance, pop, ballad; it's all in there. It is never boring.
Composition-wise several songs are not very strong, especially the ones not having a clear sound-influence by one of the mentioned bands. The Queen influences are less present than on several previous Valentine albums (except on The Mistake which is a typical old-school Robby ballad). He has swapped them for influences from several other acts, probably must surprising some dance artists, which has resulted in some untypical Valentine songs.
Personally I prefer the more heavier sound and bombast of Valentine, but I can appreciate he tried something different on this album. The fact that it has resulted in an album with mainly mediocre songs, that just don't stand out and lack that extra spunk, passion and power, is perhaps regrettable, but understandable.
However this is really a pleasant album to hear, just not one you want to listen to endlessly and, even for Robby Valentine's standards, not very progressive. At the very end of the album, there's a sort of addition to The Mistake, a minute-long outro which could be the bridge to the next, heavier album, to which I look forward to.
Joris Donkel: 6.5 out of 10
Various Artists - Salgan al sol: Avant-rock in Argentina in the XXI Century
Coso - Sincro (1:02), Resistencia Chaco - Clotilde (5:21), Antihéroe - Antígeno (4:51), Ricarda Cometa - Empina El Codo (2:46), Sales De Baño - Los Mayores Ríos Se Deslizan Bajo Tierra (6:45), Factor Burzaco - La Vera Storia di Tristan O (6:08), Las Orejas Y La Lengua - El Loco Polar (2:50), EPN Trío - Vela, Ve (Luego De Bela Bartok) (7:48), Cucamonga - Cletalandia (5:30), Ø+yn Murmullo De Cascada Abrasiva (6:06), Circular - 4 (11:37), Vlubä - Nilda Amil (4:31), Klub Der Klang - A Mover Los Kant (6:17), Cuco -Hamaca (4:27), Fútbol - El Asedio A River Plate (1:20), Carlos Alonso - Baño De Mostaza (4:34), Criadero En Seres - Alicia Bebiendo Raki (3:12), Los Siquicos Litoraleños - Sirena Chunga y la Movida Solar (3:26), Pescadas - Humano (3:17), Ensamble del Espinal - Le Hace Ruiditos (7:12), Honduras - Canción Cruda (6:05), D.I.E.T.R.I.C.H. - Mondeo (7:18), Alan Courtis - Arpón Con Hueso De Arponero (6:10)
That said, there are excellent exceptions to that rule. A critic once referred to the Red era of King Crimson as "Organised Anarchy" and that is probably the biggest key to success in this style of prog for me. It is a challenging line to balance and the genre can at times be susceptible to just sounding like noise. As King Crimson proved many years ago, anarchy can be very musical, but it can also just be... anarchy. Ultimately, a composition still needs to make musical sense in some way.
There are examples on this collection that fall into both categories and, at times, within the same song. The amount of variety included is staggering, which in itself is impressive. There are especially effective moments included from Resistencia Chaco, Cucamonga, Cuco, Carlos Alonso and D.I.E.T.R.I.C.H. These artists offer an experimental vision, but yet, there is still some musical cohesion to be found. The styles covered from the beginning to end of this collection range from fusion, crunching metal, multi-percussion, ambient, experimental, soundscapes and almost everything in between. If points are being given for sheer variety, ¡Salgan al sol! warrants major kudos in that respect.
The problem at hand though is that many of the tracks just sound somewhat directionless. Per my balancing act analogy above, too many of the songs here fail to resonate and come across as improvisations that don't quite gel. There is some fine musicianship to be found as well as interesting experimentation and soundscapes. Ultimately, though, the successful moments are far too infrequent for a collection of this length. If you are looking mainly for variety and unorthodox musical content, you may find much to like here. But, when all is said and done, many of the tracks didn't appeal to me even in terms of their sheer quirkiness.
In fairness, if the content of this album sound interesting to you, I would strongly recommend the bandcamp link above, which provides a fantastic opportunity to sample the entire album. It is impossible to deny the complexity of much of the music contained here, but for me, the highlights that exist are the exceptions. In fairness, I will end this review in the same way that I started it. My strong preference is for melody and generally, I even like my musical anarchy somehow organised. My hat is off to all of the artists represented here for their sheer adventurousness. Overall though, the finished product just feels somewhat disjointed and ineffective.
Patrick McAfee: 4 out of 10
Dream Theater - Awake - Filling the Gaps
6:00 (5:31), Caught in a Web (5:28), Innocence Faded (5:42), Erotomania (6:44), Voices (9:54), The Silent Man (3:48), The Mirror (6:45), Lie (6:34), Lifting Shadows off a Dream (6:05), Scarred (10:59), Space-Dye Vest (7:29)
Admittedly we're a bit late, but now there's all the more reason to set the record straight. So there you have it. About time we gave some attention to one of Dream Theater's classic, but most polarising albums.
After the band had set a new benchmark for progressive metal with 1992's Images & Words and broke into the mainstream following Pull Me Under's MTV success, their label tried to pressure the band into creating an equally successful follow-up.
At this time, grunge was the next big thing. Record label EastWest wanted Dream Theater to make a heavier, darker record that would fare well in a musical era dominated by Nirvana. Obviously, this put a strain on the band, and increasing tensions between the various band members ultimately led to keyboardist Kevin Moore's departure.
Albums that are conceived under such circumstances often sound forced or uninspired, but not in the case of Awake. Coming from Images & Words, this is Dream Theater growing a pair of balls. John Petrucci utilised his new Ibanez seven-string guitar for the first time in his career, as evidenced on album highlight The Mirror.
This new found heaviness permeates most of the record. James LaBrie sings with a raspy voice almost exclusively, and the music is certainly darker and bluesier than its predecessor. But with all of their progressive rock chops intact, the band simply took the next logical step in the development of their now-famous brand of prog metal.
The album's not entirely filled with darkness, as songs like 6:00 and Innocence Faded are particularly light and fun in tone. Regardless of the amount of darkness, the quality of the song writing simply doesn't let up. Apparently, the band endlessly argued with each other over every little musical detail, and it shows in a good way.
Dream Theater traded in the glossy 80s "triggered snare" production of David Prater for a duo of producers responsible for Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears. This resulted in a more raw, but still hi-fi sounding production. Sonically, this is the band's most dynamic recording, and the sounds often layer in fascinating ways.
Aside from the fat, quad-tracked guitars, John Myung's bass gets a fair treatment here. His tone has never sounded this full on a Dream Theater record, and the band sounds all the heavier for it. Mike Portnoy's drums have more weight to them in comparison to Images & Words, and Kevin Moore's keyboards are mixed in a really atmospheric way.
The album's mastering is typically 90s and doesn't suffer from the over-compression of today's albums. The result is the most 3D-sounding album within the Dream Theater catalogue.
Mike Portnoy's new, punchy, drum sound introduces itself with a stunning drum workout on album opener 6:00, which features lyrics by Kevin Moore that supposedly deal with his discontent about the band's musical direction.
Caught in a Web manages to marry progressive rock to industrial metal, while Innocence Faded acknowledges the progressive rock side of the band, leaning towards the more traditional approach found on Images & Words.
The first three songs are great, but it is from Erotomania onward where the album gets really interesting. The song is part of a suite, together with Voices and The Silent Man, collectively known as A Mind Beside Itself.
The songs transition seamlessly and share musical themes with each other, while getting different treatments depending on the musical context. This sophisticated kind of composition is found elsewhere on the album too. Closing ballad Space-Dye Vest's main melody appears briefly in The Mirror, and Lie's instrumental section reprises a theme from The Mirror.
The fact that the band make use of recurring themes doesn't necessarily mean anything by itself, but it's the musicality with which they do it. It's the same skill that helped make Scenes from a Memory the classic that it is.
The album's two longest songs, Voices and Scarred, also happen to be the most epic tracks here. The former features spiritual lyrics filled with symbolism by John Petrucci, and an absolutely mesmerising guitar solo that fully capitalises on LaBrie's soulful vocal performance.
The latter has LaBrie screaming at the top of his lungs, displaying an insane amount of power and urgency. The instrumental serves as the perfect pay-off for this otherwise very off-kilter, harmonically difficult song. An acquired taste maybe, but for those who are willing to put in the effort, this is surely one of the band's most rewarding songs.
The most controversial of them all however, is Space-Dye Vest, which was penned entirely by Kevin Moore. Introduced by a beautiful classical piano segment, it develops into a dark, understated ballad with cryptic lyrics that probably only Kevin understands. It's also the one song on the entire album that doesn't feature a guitar solo. Still, that doesn't keep the song from having the intended emotional impact.
Awake plants the seeds for the heavier, more modern approach found on later albums like Train of Thought. But at this point in time, the band didn't just settle for 'cool songs with amazing instrumental sections'. Awake is Dream Theater at their absolute prime, balancing stellar song writing with raw intensity and crazy instrumental chops.
There's a spontaneity to the album that the band arguably never touched upon again. The production is extraordinary, and doesn't suffer from the dated 80s approach of Images & Words. The album features James LaBrie's most raw and powerful vocal performance ever laid to tape, as well as some of John Petrucci's most wildly imaginative playing on a Dream Theater album. To top it off, this album benefits from the unique atmospheric qualities Kevin Moore brought to the band.
Conclusion: A bona fide classic from one of the founding fathers of progressive metal as we know it, and it hasn't lost an ounce of its power since.
Karel Witte: 10 out of 10