Dream Theater: Awake (1994)
One thing you should know up front: When Dream Theater released Awake I wasn't a big fan of what I like to call the chug-chug guitar. (Read: Low 7-string, ultra-heavy, rhythmic pounding.) I make this admission to prove a point: DT does things in an innovative way that broadens their audience.
I remember a friend getting a bootleg of Awake and playing it for me as a fourth generation copy; he asked me to identify the band … it wasn't as easy as it sounds. While DT has trademarks, the first few tracks had a new sound, the guitar stylings were changed, (and in my defense, the tape quality was bad). Resultingly, I was forced to listen anew to a sound I hadn't given much attention to previously. Chug-chug.
Then I saw the light.
What I learned is that any musical technique can be adapted and used by a group in new and interesting ways. Take "Lie" for instance. It's heavy, no bones about it. But it's also musical. It's also Dream Theater.
Changes on this CD continued beyond the prevalent heavy guitar work. The snare drum was real, John Myung's bass factored larger in the mix, Kevin Moore was more reserved and a little retro, and James LaBrie was roughing his voice. The result: heavier still.
It's not there aren't "dreamier" moments, e.g. "Lifting Shadows Off a Dream." But Dream Theater went into deeper, darker waters—lyrically as well as musically. Take this line: "I want to talk about lifelong mistakes/You can tell your stepfather I said so."
It's a groundbreaking album in a whole host of ways. It defined avenues of musical exploration for DT and for musicians who follow the band's career. What it also did was underscore the versatility of the DT lineup. A case could be made to prove this by exemplifying any musician in the group, but I'd like to use LaBrie.
James demonstrates on Awake not only the hallmark range DT fans have grown to love, as well as the softer, more lush passages, but a raw, driving sound that gives him the ability to evince a wider range of emotions. From the most primal sections of "Lie" to the straightforward melodies of "Space Die Vest", his performance tells a story of Dream Theater musicianship and longevity.
Awake is at once complex and stunning in its ability to reduce everything to the primary: simply listen to "The Silent Man." It hits on so many cylinders that most listeners can find something to gravitate toward, and it all remains eminently Dream Theater.
Clearly, I'm a fan. But as a result of Awake I'm now also listening to Sevendust and Disturbed. When a group can get me outside my own listening barriers, they're doing something right.