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The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Images and Words

“When Dream And Day Unite” came out in 1989, the label Mechanix did nothing with it.

The band didn’t tour and compared to the sale numbers that other bands achieved in 1989, the album was classed a failure. But it’s pretty hard to sell something if no one knows it exists or if it can’t be found in record stores. A little bit of promo during this time would have gotten the album at least 200K sales worldwide. There was a market for the kind of music that Dream Theater was writing. But the market needs to know about it.

It also didn’t help when the A&R Rep who signed the band, left Mechanix to go to a competitor. And when that normally happens in label land, the label in spite, tries to kill off the acts the Rep had signed. Further to that, Mechanix was being taken over by a larger label in MCA and when that normally happens, labels consolidate and focus on winning projects.

Apart from the label issues, the band decided that in order to be successful, they had to change something that was not working.

Vocalist, Charlie Domicini was let go. He was a decade older than the rest of the guys and his image didn’t fit with the band. But they got their manager to break the news to him.

Even a newly inked tattoo of the Dream Theater logo on his shoulder wasn’t enough to save him. According to the band, his vocal style just didn’t suit. While Portnoy and Petrucci wanted a cross between Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson, they knew that finding such a vocalist was not going to be an easy task.

Dominici’s lyrics on the first album, a co-write with John Petrucci on “Status Seeker” and the sole lyricist for “Afterlife” resonated more than all of the other lyrics penned by Petrucci and Kevin Moore.

Being a bit older, meant he had a bit more experience with words and story-telling. But his voice is an acquired taste and he did cop some criticism for sounding like a bad imitation of Geddy Lee. But his vocals on “The Killing Hand” are my go to vocals for this song.

But as soon as Dominici was gone, he was back in for a gig, opening for Marillion, who wanted to unveil their new singer Steve Hogarth for his U.S debut. Portnoy was a massive fan of Marillion, so the opening slot was a dream come true. The band was on fire, but it was too little too late for Dominici who was let go again after it.

At first the band focused on trying to find a new singer as they still had six albums to deliver on the Mechanix deal. This process would take 14 months to happen. The book “Lifting Shadows” from Rich Wilson goes into great detail about the “search for a singer”.

John Arch was the first vocalist the band approached. He was out of Fates Warning after the release of “Awaken The Guardian” album in 1986. They rehearsed “The Killing Hand”, “Only A Matter Of Time” and a cover of Fates Warning “The Apparition”. Arch felt uncomfortable about how the band members wanted the vocals to sound. He felt it was too rigid. But the reason Arch left was family circumstances. He was about to become a Dad, he had a long commute to rehearse and he wasn’t comfortable spending so much time away from his family.

John Hendricks was the second vocalist the band rehearsed with after he sent the band a demo from an ad the band put out.

His appearance was more New Kids On The Block and the live audition in December 1989 didn’t go down well. But they kept him around to do vocals on some new demos called “Metropolis”, “To Live Forever” and “Don’t Look Past Me”. When they went back to live rehearsals, Hendricks still didn’t cut it, but his studio work was exceptional. The band wanted to move forward with Hendricks but label and management weren’t convinced. While Petrucci and Portnoy wanted a Tate/Dickinson style of a singer, Hendricks was none of that, more Pete Gabriel than anything and his image was New Wave compared to the Hard Rock and Metal image of Dream Theater.

Next was Steve Stone.

Stone was from Seattle and he had replaced Geoff Tate in the band “Myth”, Tate’s pre Queensryche band. Stone’s manager at the time was journalist Paul Suter, who sent demo tapes of Stone to George Lynch for the Lynch Mob project, to Steve Stevens for his Atomic Playboys project and to Dream Theater. Portnoy liked Stone’s voice, a cross between Tate and Steve Perry. Stone enjoyed the audition but conversations afterwards with the band made him feel that his creativity would be stifled.

However, they did get Stone to do studio vocal versions on “Metropolis” and “To Live Forever” as Mechanix wanted to hear product.

And then they played live. As soon as Stone yelled” Scream For Me Long Beach” and then kept on yelling it throughout the show, he sealed his axing.

By September 1990, the band was still without a singer and with a label that was losing interest in the band (as if they hadn’t lost it already) but wouldn’t release them from their contract.

Enter Chris Cintron. His demo tape was rejected at first but after Hendricks and Stone didn’t work out, Portnoy called Cintron to an audition.

Cintron’s voice was more Steve Walsh from Kansas and he was also the first singer to sing on a new song called “A Change Of Seasons”. The fact that everything was written and Cintron just had to perform what was written, didn’t sit well with him as well. Image and a few other disagreements with Kevin Moore, sealed his fate.

During this time, they also focused on writing better songs. Most bands normally have 3 months to come out with album number 2. Dream Theater in this case had close to 2 years. Furthermore, their sound evolved from the technical derivative metal sound on “When Dream and Day Unite”, to a more warmer sound, rooted in classic progressive rock with nods to Heavy Metal.

As the singer search took time, the seven album deal with Mechanix fizzled out.

But they had an ally in journalist Derek Oliver. Oliver wrote for Kerrang and he was a fan of the band. As fate would have it, Oliver moved into an A&R role at the same time that Dream Theater found themselves searching for a label who would support them.

Enter Kevin James LaBrie. He was part of Canadian glam metal band Winter Rose during this time and he sent the band an audition tape. After a short jam session, he was named Dream Theater’s new lead singer, and has remained with them ever since.

The band was then signed to a seven-album contract by Atco Records, and shortly thereafter, they began recording their new album in late 1991. The album’s production was marred with tensions, as the band clashed with producer David Prater who was chosen by Derek Oliver.

Enter Dream Theater with “Images and Words”. Released in 1992.

The album was unique and innovative to remain rooted to the prog rock niche that Derek Oliver spoke about in 1989 and it was familiar enough to cross over to the hard rock audience, looking for something new and exciting.

Dream Theater originally intended to release a double album, but that plan was rejected by ATCO, causing several songs to be omitted from the album. One of these songs, “A Change of Seasons”, would later be re-recorded by the band and released on an EP of the same name in 1995.

A Billboard review didn’t have great things to say about it;

“Power rock band’s Atco debut shows its members did plenty of listening to Yes, Boston and even Black Sabbath while growing up.

While the material is all well delivered, lead vocalist James LaBrie has a voice that stretches to fit the many different styles represented here, the main problem is the music, which sounds like it was written in the 70’s.

However given that the bands potential fans probably weren’t born until the end of that decade, it shouldn’t serve as any great detriment.”

Pull Me Under

Music composed by the band and lyrics written by Kevin Moore.

The lead single, “Pull Me Under”, gained the band a lot of commercial success with its airplay on MTV and radio, garnering them a top 10 hit on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. When the album was released, it sold at a steady pace, helped by an extensive world tour.

Its original working title was “Oliver’s Twist” as it was a last minute song written at the request of Derek Oliver. The original version also had the unbelievable solo section from “Erotomania” in it.

“Pull Me Under” was so good, that John Petrucci used the 1st verse riff of “Pull Me Under” in “The Count Of Tuscany” 1st Verse from the album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” released in 2009.

He also used the structure and dynamics for the song “On The Backs Of Angels” from the album “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” released in 2011.

As soon as the first three notes of the acoustic arpeggio are played, I was hooked. Then Portnoy started with his drum build. Metallica used an approach like this on “Enter Sandman”.

Another Day

Music is by the band with lyrics written by John Petrucci.

It’s like a hard rock ballad, but the guitar playing and the choice of chords by Petrucci is excellent. And the Soprano Sax solos are just perfect.

But press play to hear Petrucci on the lead break. It’s well worked out, it flows brilliantly, its melodic and cruisy and then he steps on the pedal and then brings it back to cruisy.

Take the Time

It’s a team effort on the lyrical front with Moore, Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and John Myung contributing.

How good is that start? The fast riffing is a cross between Van Halen and Metallica.

Then the verses go into a Rock Funk groove.

And the Chorus, its melodic hard rock.

As a guitar player, this song is like a Chord Book on complex chords.

Surrounded

It’s listed as words and music by Kevin Moore.

It starts off as a piano ballad, before it builds up to a funky blues rock tune.

But press play to hear the digital delay lead break from John Petrucci. It feels like The Edge from U2, but a lot better.

Metropolis—Part I: ‘The Miracle and the Sleeper’

It’s a monster of a song that every Metal and Rock fan would enjoy.

The pulsing intro alone is head banging material.

But those verses. Petrucci plays fast palm muted chords like the “Darkness, imprisoning me” part in “One” and keyboardist Moore outlines the chord progression with his riffs, while Portnoy plays a “Kashmir” like beat.

Perfection to my ears.

Under a Glass Moon

What an intro, pushing the envelope of what metal and rock should sound like.

But press play for the groove in the Verses from Petrucci and Myung, while Moore outlines the Chord progression with his keyboards.

And then wait to hear Petrucci on the solo.

Wait for Sleep

A brilliant piano piece from Kevin Moore. It’s like a haunting soundtrack. The main piano idea from here appears in “Learning To Live” and when it comes in, its brilliant.

Learning to Live

At 11.30 it’s the longest song on the album. The music is written by the band and lyrics are written by John Myung.

If I had to recommend one song to a new Dream Theater fan that typified the progressive rock leanings of the band, then this song would be it.

The song is that good, that Dream Theater rewrote it and called it “Breaking All Illusions” for the “A Dramatic Turn of Events” album in 2011.

The Kevin Moore keyboard intro kicks things off with a wicked 15/8 time signature. This same passage re-appears and this time it is played over alternating time signatures, starting off with 14/8 for 2 bars, then 13/8 for one bar and back to 14/8 for another bar. Then it goes back to 13/8, 14/8, 13/8, 7/8.

In between you get a very metal like passage in the vein of “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin, that moves between 7/4,6/4,4/4 and 5/8 time signatures over F#m, C#m and Em root notes. It doesn’t sound forced. It is very fluent like.

The verse is unbelievable. Myung holds it all together with an unbelievable groove over a 7/4 and 6/4 time signature, that is supplemented by Kevin Moore’s choir like voicing’s outlining the Em9, Cmaj9, Amadd9 and Em9 chords. Myung paraphrases the novel “Atlas Shrugged” from Ayn Rand.

There was no time for pain, no energy for anger
The sightlessness of hatred slips away
Walking through winter streets alone, He stops and take a breath
With confidence and self-control

I look at the world and see no understanding
I’m waiting to find some sense of strength
I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart to show me understanding

Petrucci and Portnoy build the song nicely into the chorus. Petrucci begins with normal volume swells, while Portnoy locks in with Myung. As Petrucci’s guitar gets busier with harmonics, chords and arpeggios, Portnoy’s drumming becomes busier.

The second verse has a great progressive groove that keeps within the 7/4 and 6/4 time signature of the first verse. This time it’s all power chords and its heavy as hell. Chugging along on an E5 power cord, Petrucci enhances the riffs by chucking in B5, Bflat5 and F power chords, utilising the devil triton to maximum effect.

The 90s bring new questions
New solutions to be found
I fell in love to be let down

Then when you think they are going to go into the Chorus again, they go into a bridge part with a simple 4/4 groove and then the instrumental break starts. Petrucci is now playing what Moore played in the intro.

The flamenco passage at 5.30 kicks things off. From 6.30 it gets progressive and then the woo ohh ohhs kick in and Petrucci takes over at 7.10 in one of the most heartfelt solos Petrucci has laid to tape. Those bends remind me of Dave Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb”.

The whole “Wait For Sleep” segment that begins at 7.30 and ends at 9.35 includes brilliant jazz bluesy solos from both Moore and Petrucci and the main piano riff from “Wait For Sleep”. It then segues back in to the Chorus.

The way that your heart beats
Makes all the difference in learning to live

Just when you think the song is over, the outro kicks in, again led by an unbelievably groovy and very funky Myung bass line. Then Petrucci joins in with the Natural Harmonics and then the monk style voices take over. As a listener I just sit back with the head phones and allow myself to be taken away. A brilliant song and a brilliant piece of work.

Mike Portnoy has gone on record saying how much he hated working with producer David Prater and the use of drum midi triggers. Portnoy feared that the triggers would make the album sound dated and seen as another generic hard rock album.

One thing is certain.

The album still sounds fresh and current in 2022 as it did back in 1992. As Rush’s “2112” laid the groundwork for what was to come for Rush, “Images and Words” did the same for Dream Theater.

The tour finished in November, 1993. Overall they played 194 shows in 17 countries. “Images And Words” was certified Gold in the U.S. Everything they worked hard and persevered with, had finally happened.

The pressure for a successor was intensified.

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