I’ve wanted to write a review of Images & Words for the longest time, but have always been too intimidated by the prospect. I mean, how do you critique an album that totally changed the way you listen to music?
I was just entering college when this album was released, and was at the point where I was trading in my Slaughter and Firehouse CDs for Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Metal as I knew it seemed so trite and meaningless in the face of all that angst and flannel. Then one day I was hanging out with MTV on in the background when the video for Pull Me Under came on. I dropped whatever I was doing and was glued to the TV. It was obviously a metal song, but it was totally unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It took less than a minute of sampling Images & Words at the local CD store to convince me to buy it. This album just blew me away. I know Fates Warning and Queensryche had already started the progressive metal movement, but Dream Theater was the first band I had heard playing that kind of music. To me it was like the offspring of Rush and Metallica. The complex song structures, emotional lyrics, obvious technical prowess, and overall intensity of the album just hit me in totally new ways. I’d be 3 or 4 minutes into a song like Learning to Live or Take the Time when the style would shift and just yank me with it like it had a hold on my heart. It’s so hard to describe the way that album affected me. It’s not a perfect album, (I actually hate the song Another Day) but it is my favorite album and after hundreds of listens I’m still not tired of it. Their later works would never quite stand up to Images & Words (though Train of Thought came pretty close), but Dream Theater would still remain my all-time favorite band.
Music fads have come and gone since then, but to me nothing would ever sound like Dream Theater. Of course I later found out that there were several bands, and indeed entire record labels (Magna Carta, I’m talking to you!) that made every attempt to sound exactly like Dream Theater, but they would just never measure up. Dream Theater set the standard for every other progressive metal band to try and live up to.
The album is 14 years old now, so there are no doubt lots of people discovering it for the first time after hearing some of the newer bands like Symphony X, Vanden Plas, or Evergrey. It may not have the same impact as it did then, but it stands the test of time quite well.