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.
September 23, 2003