REVIEW: Dream Theater – Awake (1994)

Part 1 of a 2 part series.

DT_0001DREAM THEATER – Awake (1994)

Awake has stood the test of time.  In 1994 it was considered a commercial failure by the record label, in comparison to Images and Words.  In 2014, it is still my favourite Dream Theater album.  It is a lot of people’s favourite Dream Theater album, for its songs, complexity and aggression.  It was also the final album to feature keyboardist and cofounder Kevin Moore.  Moore had become increasingly more interested in samples, and you can hear that all over Awake.  It is all the stronger for it.

Awake feels like a natural progression from Images and Words.  Sonically it’s similar, and there’s no mistaking that it’s the same band.  Awake is infinitely more complex, less commercial, and more ambitious.  Clocking in at 75 minutes (a very fast 75 minutes), Awake was more epic than anything Dream Theater had attempted in the past.  It was also heavier.  James LaBrie’s vocals are more aggressive in delivery, and the album as a whole is more pedal-to-the-metal.

While Awake is not a concept album, it does have recurring lyrical and musical themes.  The melody from “Space-Dye Vest” (written solely by Moore) appears elsewhere on the album, and there are a few multi-song suites as well.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept album.  In fact Awake holds together much better than some lesser concept albums by other artists.


Challenging, heavy arrangements include the opening “6:00” which introduced Kevin Moore’s propensity for samples.  I don’t know if the dialogue on the album is movie dialogue, or original material recorded for the album.  Regardless, it’s effective and the dialogue complements the song.  “The Mirror” and “Scarred” are also challenging, but rewarding to listen to.

There are more melodic songs, nothing as immediate as Images and Words, but still excellent:  “Caught In A Web”, “Innocence Faded”, “The Silent Man” and “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” are all personal favourites.  “Caught In A Web” was selected as the second single, but failed to make an impact.

One of the strongest, and certainly the angriest song, is “Lie” which was the first single.  I remember seeing the video on a program called “The Box”.  I was shocked that Dream Theater had gone for such a heavy first single, but I was impressed nonetheless.  “Lie” remains one of my favourite DT songs of all time.  It was built from the groove up, and lyrically it’s angry as hell!

This is the edit version from the single

The best song on the album is Moore’s “Space-Dye Vest”.  I don’t know what a space-dye vest is, but the title works with the song.  Based on piano, samples, and a haunting vocal melody, this is the most unique Dream Theater song that I can think of.   I think I can safely say that this one song is my favourite, even over “Lie”.  The band revealed that they would not have put it on the album had they known Moore would leave later that year.  The song was his baby, the others had no hands in its writing.

I’m not sure I would recommend Awake as the first Dream Theater album for somebody to try, but it should be tried by anyone curious about this band.  It has had a huge impact on me, and I hope it can do the same for you.

5/5 stars

Tomorrow, a look at the single “Lie” and its B-sides…


        1. I couldnt agree more . Scenes from a Memory is one of the greatest concept albums of all time … Right up there Metal wise with Operation Mindcrime. Supercedes it in many ways actually.


  1. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Images and Words I feel is a little too overrated as people’s favourites, but for me definitely Awake or Metropolis part 2 are my favourites.


  2. Yeah totally agree with you Mike on this one for the rating. Caught in A Web is my Fav Dream Theatre song it just reeks prog! Got into them like a lot of others with Images as well they had a homeboy lead singer! And bought a few albums past Awake as well. But at the time you gotta give em credit for progging out in a musical climate that wasn’t really open to it but they still had built up a fan base and to this day still have it. Cheers to em!


    1. The closest thing band has come to “selling out” is probably the Falling Into Infinity album…writing with Desmond…but even that album is very progressive compared to bands like Queensryche.


        1. I should play it again. It’s been 10 years or more.

          Oh! By the way Jon. Look for a Randy Piper’s Animal review once I’m done with the Week of Singles 2.


        2. Well Jon I’m gonna give it a shot. I have all weekend to write and stuff so we’ll see how it goes. I do thank you for these discs, such a treasure trove.


  3. They had this at HMV, I think it was in a 2-for-$10 deal. GUess I should have got it.

    I did get the Greatest Hit 2CD set, though, which is the only DT I own. And it’s awesome! I hear Rush in it, for sure…


  4. This past Xmas I seen that they offered a free download at there website for all the tracks that were left off of the Luma Dvd…..give em props for being fan friendly and not always chasing the buck….
    Give em respect!


    1. Really cool. I think these guys are fans themselves and that’s why you see that kind of stuff. Portnoy for sure was a fan’s fan. Look at all those live releases. I have Master of Puppets but I really want Number of the Beast!


  5. Mike,

    I need help with the “metal” genre in my winter games- if you want to suggest a song that you think is worthy for a medal- I will add it in- and if you want to write a small piece about it I will add that also.

    Thanks Wayne


    1. Well Wayne, I would have to go with Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath. The first, the best, the original. Still haunting. So much so that Sabbath did everything they could to copy it on their latest album 13. To me that’s Gold!


  6. My thing with DT is that I listen to them, I dig them, find myself lost in the amazing musicianship, but i am missing something. They just make me want to go straight away and listen to my other music, like I want something more relatable i go to Rush, want something more melodic I go to Marillion, and something heavier but still proggy I go to Fates Warning. All bands I like more than DT. I have a ton of respect for them and hope they continue to make music together as long as they possibly can, but I listen to them I am left wanting something more, or actually I just want something a little bit less, if that makes any sense.


    1. I know what you mean Craig. I get that from some of their albums. Certainly some of the later ones. It’s not like I can pinpoint what is less satisfying about them either. They have good melodies, riffs, and greatly satisfying playing but they don’t always hit me where it counts. Awake does though.


      1. Systematic chaos is huge, as is Change of Events. I’ll have to give Asleep a spin. I’ve only discovered them in the last year or so. I do have Livetime hich contains several of these tracks. I almost prefer their live releases to the studio albums. When I was at the store I viewed their album releases with scepticisim, cuz well, I do that. Think they are a knockoff, which, they kind of are, I think other bands do what they do better, but no one does as much as they do. The sheer volume of their output is damned impressive.


        1. Oooh I have to be honest. I didn’t like Livetime. That whole period of Falling Into Infinity, I think it was a low point. If you like their live stuff thankfully they have lots (usually one per studio album) and their live DVD stuff is GREAT!


  7. Wow, not much to discuss on this matter. I agree on everything you wrote, Mike.
    I love Dream Theater. I remember being totally blown away when I first heard them. When Dream And day Unite had just come out and a friend of mine picked it up and BOOM! I was a fan immediatley. When Images And Words came out I though that they had split up ages ago, because I didn’t hear anything from them after the debut.
    I really didn’t think they would be able to match the success that was Images And Words, but they did. Such a brilliant album.


    1. Thanks man, much appreciated. I wasn’t aware of them before Images. But James (Kevin) LaBrie is Canadian so the Canadian metal press went apeshit over Images and Words. I was aware of them very quickly after James joined!


  8. Really liked this one from the outset but it wasn’t fer some time before it really sucked me in! So much so if pressed fer one and only one, I would now take Awake over Images And Words. Love its aggression and felt after the success of Images And Words the band really hit their stride!

    And having said that both those first two with Labrie, Scenes From A Memory and the 2013 Self Titled probably my pick of picks, they’re all rather tasty records.

    Browsing and found this one, good review Mike and agree, Lie is a cracking tune!

    Liked by 1 person

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