Originally released in October 1994, I picked this album up because I was fed up with how the grunge scene had taken over the days of 80's Metal bands. Awake not only proved to be a much needed breath of fresh air, but it was also the first Dream Theater record I ever bought and made me genuinely more interested in Progressive Metal which they so successfully pioneered in the early 90's. Dream Theater paved the way for hundreds of other bands -- and they did it when the Prog Metal genre was no where near popular as it is today! -- and Awake is without doubt one of their most amazing, profound and timeless masterpieces ever.
The album clocks in at exactly 75 minutes featuring a total of eleven tracks all of which add to the unity and cohesiveness of this ageless record. There are certain recurring themes to be found here, on separate tracks, which serve the purpose of giving Awake its ultimate character. Be it the keyboard melody in "The Mirror" (depicting Mike Portnoy's bold fight with his alcohol problems) played in a lush manner by Kevin Moore during the mid-section; the main riff introduced after the frenzied guitar work on the instrumental track "Erotomania"; or the album-closer "Space-Dye Vest", this recurring theme eerily glues the whole album together even though it's not a concept album per se. That said, Awake is a dark, dangerously heavy, and musically complex creation which, unlike the band's other two magnum opuses, I&W and SFAM, to this day, remains unrivaled and perfect.
I am literally struggling as I try to do justice to this record reviewing it after having listened to it for ten long years. That is because Awake works on a variety of levels; lyrically, musically and even production-wise. Each song on this CD relates to a (dark) feeling and internal conflict and therefore guides us through each member's inner world (even John Myung wrote the lyrics for a song) as we pay attention to the lyrics. Kevin Moore wrote words for the album opener "6:00", "Lie" and "Space-Dye Vest". His lyrics are introspective in nature and challenging to sing as they demand different vocal harmonies. Petrucci's lyrical work is more abstract yet eerily easy to identify with: he explores religious conflicts along side personal problems, while Mike Portnoy proves to be a stunning lyricist leaving plenty of room for vocalist James Labrie to thoroughly shine through, especially in the chorus of "The Mirror". The absence of mainstream elements and the band refusing to compromise on any level further strenghten this piece elevating it even higher.
The whole record has a lucid layer of atmosphere around it built by none other than Kevin Moore whose opaque minimalism delicately blankets each song as the rest of the band members seamlessly blend their musical instrumentation. Moore's contribution to Awake is immense! His songwriting is creepy, bordering on uncomfortable. His agile melodies never cease to hop in and out of the focus of each track. After listening to Awake, I can see why he left the band to pursue his solo project Chroma Key. I think Chroma Key is amazing, as unique as anything else he's touched, but Awake and his work on Fates Warning's A Pleasant Shade of Gray are in my opinion his most amazing works ever. James Labrie sings incredibly well; he is articulate, deep and powerful in the truest sense of the word. Be it the aggressive singing on "Lie", the catchy chorus on "Caught in a Web" or the high scream on "Innocence Faded", he does a phenomenal job. John Myung perhaps plays his most mesmerizing bass lines and what's more is his tone is very subtle in the mix. He generates inherently intelligent musical ideas in each composition while always creating a nice wall of sound tapestry that complements John Petrucci's somewhat quirky guitar work ("Voices"), delicately surreal acoustics ("The Silent Man") or melody-strong instrumental ("Erotomania"). Petruicci's guitar work burns with passion and fire: just check out the tapping on "Lie" and the shuddering main riff on "Scarred". As Mike Portnoy does an awesome cymbal work, the song dissolves into a busy interplay where each member performs their parts brilliantly. The ballad "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream" juxtaposes light electronics with subtle bass and guitar work hidden under multi-layers of atmosphere. Awake is not my favourite Dream Theater record, but it's certainly their most unique, most expressive and most varied album. My highest recommendation.
- Caught In A Web
- Innocence Faded
- The Silent Man
- The Mirror
- Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
- Space-Dye Vest