According to Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, the "Images and Words" album is the main reason why Opeth sounds like they do, because it was tracks like "Pull me Under" that made him realize that it was possible for him to combine his metal influences and his progressive influences.
That just goes to show how influential and how important an album "Images and Words" - Dream Theater's second album, and their commercial breakthrough - is. The production is crisp and lightyears better, and much more balanced, than on "When Dream and Day Unite". Musically, it contains some legendary prog metal anthems like "Pull me Under", "Metropolis Part I", "Under A Glass Moon", and, of course, "Learning to Live". It's really top class. This is technical and cerebral music, and that's what I like about it, so I cannot really apply the "the-music-doesn't-come-from-the-heart" criticism here; especially because one can still rock out to the music.
And then there's James Labrie. He has received a lot of criticism for his style of singing. I admit that I had to get used to it, but now I cannot imagine Dream Theater with any other front man. I like how he hits the high notes and all that.
This is a progressive metal classic that belongs in any progressive metal collection.
(review also posted on metalmusicarchives.com)
My first taste of Dream Theater, and still stands out as the most solid of their albums. Starting with the perfectly paced build-up of the intro to "Pull Me Under", this contains some immaculate examples of musically interesting (prog, if you like) heavy rock. The instrumental interplay and restless changes of time and tempo are held together by a driving energy, and it never descends into wankiness. "Pull Me Under" and "Take the Time" hold the first half together in this way, the latter having some breathtaking rhythmic surprises. The longer pieces in the second half are no less imaginative, even if they might bore those without the patience for band instrumentals. "Learning To Live" is particularly colourful - a Spanish guitar sets off a rapid journey through several contrasting sections of soloing and group play, without ever getting bogged down.
Less interesting are the moments of plain big-hair stadium rock, such as "Another Day". "Surrounded" starts off in the same way, but contains just enough variety of mood and tempo to save it. The most successful "ballad" piece is keyboard player Kevin Moore's "Wait For Sleep", with a hypnotic, slinky piano theme.
This IS prog ... but not traditional Progressive Rock. It is a form of Progressive Metal, but in the years to follow this release, bands like Pain Of Salvation stretched the boundaries of that genre much further. Yet this is an excellent release, featuring a wide bandwidth from soft pop ballads (Another Day) to ultra prog (Metropolis). I don't think that this type of music qualifies as Speed or Power Metal, as others suggested, because it's just so much different than other releases from those genres. Your typical Speed Metal fan would not listen to Dream Theater. Instead, he might consider it too progressive ...
But I have to admit that progressiveness in itself was probably not what the band had in mind when they created Images And Words. I think they really just wanted to create music that is interesting for the listener, and fun to play for the band. It may lack the seriousness of King Crimson, and the vocal arrangements of Gentle Giant, there's not even a mellotron ... but each track except the ballad has truly progressive elements.
The one outstanding track on this record is Learning To Live. It's really a good summary of all the other tracks, and it's a track the band almost always includes in the setlist. And of course Metropolis Pt.1, the first part to their masterpiece Scenes From a Memory, which was initially "just" a follow up song to Metropolis Pt.1 and then became a full concept album.