Published on July 6th, 2017 | by Justin G.
25th Anniversary Spotlight – Dream Theater: Images and Words
25 years ago today, a truly world-changing album was released. OK, maybe that’s overstating things a bit, but if you’re a fan (or better yet an artist) of progressive metal in the past quarter-century, the 1992 release of Dream Theater’s second album Images and Words was a major game changer. It was the band’s first album with vocalist James Labrie, and got just enough radio/MTV play to be a huge breakthrough for the band. It’s also an album that totally changed the way I listened 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. The “metal” I followed to that point 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 and Words at the local CD store (BB’s, may they RIP) 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 to some degree, but Dream Theater was the first band I had heard playing that kind of complex and compelling music. To me it was like the offspring of Rush and Metallica. The complex song structures, evocative 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, after all these years, still my absolute favorite album and after hundreds of listens I’m still not tired of it. Their later works would never quite top Images & Words, but had Dream Theater called it a day after this album they still would have made an indelible mark on the metal landscape.
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 comes to mind) 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 25 years old now, and there are no doubt lots of people discovering it for the first time after hearing some of the newer bands like Opeth, Devin Townsend or Haken. The passage of so many years lessens the impact of this album somewhat, but Images and Words still makes a powerful impression and stands the test of time quite well.
Reissue Notes: So far the only real reissue of Images and Words is the deluxe 180 gram 2LP format. This new version (which is limited to 2000 units) was been remastered specifically for the vinyl format, and sounds absolutely incredible. Sadly, the presentation is a bit lacking. The albums themselves look nice, and feature Dream Theater’s trademark “burning heart” on the b-sides, but they come in basic white sleeves with no liner notes or any real info on the album or why/how it was reissued. The cover artwork is also a lot less vivid than I had hoped. It looks like someone just scanned and stretched the CD booklet.
The band and/or the label really missed a golden (or silver, as it were) opportunity here to give Dream Theater fans a deluxe CD reissue of Images and Words this year. Personally, I’d love to see a fully remastered Deluxe Edition (like the Dio and Thin Lizzy reissues) with a second disc full of b-sides, the famed Atco demos or even a remastered Live at the Marquee EP.
Summary: We really need a deluxe reissue of this landmark progressive metal album.