Monday, March 23, 2009
Dream Theater- IMAGES AND WORDS (1992)
Insufficient is my beloved English tongue to describe the loathing and desperate hatred I feel for Dream Theater- an atavistic hatred, a visceral fulminate-of-mercury gnawing and rage that hunkers in my innards with the stability of nitroglycerine and the persistence of decomposing plutonium. I will die someday, but a malevolence will linger ‘round my spirit for centuries on, a Lovecraftian-curse of demon peoples and eldritch spectres, and that blackest of all hatreds will know only one name to answer for my disembodied despair: Mike Portnoy.
With any luck, you have no idea who he is. That is for the best. But for the purposes of this review, I am going to have to address this wretch Portnoy and why, in a band full of pulsatingly-overwrought and throbbingly-overplaying musicians, it is the drummer whom I would most like to string up like they used to do in Byzantine times: by his ankles, upside down, over a slow and very smoky fire.
Because Mike Portnoy was one of the first rock drummers to play “off time”. What that means is, instead of keeping a steady beat and making his mark with aptly named “fills” (the best example in recent history being Stewart Copeland of The Police), Portnoy is in his own little band at the back of the stage, sitting behind a drum kit capable of withstanding Prussian siege artillery and requiring a separate semi to transport while on tour. What does he do with all his gongs, kettels, toms, traps, etc., etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum? He plays off-time, meaning that while the guitarist is doing one thing and the bassist another (and in Dream Theater they’re ALL doing their own thing, which is usually soloing while a (supposed) song is going on) Captain Kit Monster occasionally smacks a phrase where it doesn’t belong, which to some people is “Jazzy”, though the best Be-Bop drummers were human fucking metronomes and took their solos where they were supposed to: away from the song and not cluttering up the arrangement to show how goddamn “clever” they were. It should tell you the entirety of the era’s sad tale that the other major drummer who introduced this style of drumming to “metal” was Rod Morgenstern- who at the time was in fucking WINGER. So defend his goddamn “chops” now, you philistines. (Make sure to visit the pics section and check out his kit- what an asshole)
I could write for days about how awful this album is, but to me, it’s all about Portnoy. I remember when MTV was pimping these guys on “Headbanger’s Ball”, and it was supposed to be the “Return of Prog” and very foolish people were talking in terms of King Crimson and those great early Genesis records. You wonder how much they were paid to sell their soul to such a level. Such purely Satanic misrepresentation of a product had not been seen since Thalidomide. This is just slightly elevated Buttrock that was already dated by 1992, sort of a cross between Warrant and Steve Vai. “Shred” guitar solos, bassists playing chords, Floyd Rose tremolo bars, endless effects racks, spandex, gonorrhea, the omnipresent double bass drum of Portnoy- it’s all here. Every wretched excess of Prog metal is on full display, and taken to a wretched apotheosis- this is rococo tastelessness, coruscating narcissism, magniloquent shallowness, vulgarity writ large; shame, thy name is “Images and Words”.
There are certain things I don’t like in music. And I’ll be goddamned these clowns managed to do all of them on one single album. The songs are histrionic, anthemic, the kind of thing you can imagine soldiers blaring in tanks while children are being turned into clouds of blood and vapor tissue all around them. Ominous one-chord atmospheric keyboards act as harbingers for the utter nothingness that follows- beware portentous metal. All of that sturm und drang creates something like a “mock heroic” facade that, when coupled with the eerily precise music (never a note out of place, never a moment of imperfect humanity betrayed) produces a product that is as anesthetized as it is fascistic, sterile as it is despotic. I’ve always wondered about the underlying militarism of heavy metal, and you can throw in an 11/4 time signature or a drummer who plays off step if you want, but to me this is meathead music, the kind of “intelligent” music someone in MENSA listens to while they’re sending out Emails telling people that they’re in MENSA.
And for anybody who has ever complained about Geddy Lee’s voice, please, I give you: James LaBrie. Somewhere between Don Dokken and John Ashcroft, his shrill mauling of already terrible material produces something gorgeously rare- The Thing Which Can Not Be Parodied. With more octaves than restraint at his disposal, LaBrie shrieks and caterwauls like a show-off Castrati trying to convince the Pope that all little boys can still be useful, nuts or no nuts. He’s appalling, the kind of technically proficient yet utterly heartless performer who makes me think of Josef Skvorecky’s brilliant line about the painter who produced an absolutely technically perfect reproduction of Van Gogh’s sunflowers in black and white. And with all of that sterility, the grandiosity of the band is what is so jaw-dropping; never has a band so ill-adept reached so far past its grasp for the moniker “genius”! Sterile, indeed; for 20 years overplaying and soloing to no end, and never for a moment did the seed of creation take- Oh, how pitiful to masturbate so incessantly and be capable of only ever shooting blanks.
The first single, “Pull Me Under”, was something of a sensation at the time, as it was in heavy rotation at its full length- 8 minutes of pure misery and boredom. Wagner is a prince of understatement, Hugo a paragon of concision compared to this bombastic flock of cocksuckers, who combine the nuance of Tori Amos with the subtle insight of GG Allin. If a song called “Under a Glass Moon” that is (supposedly) inspired by Shakespeare sounds appealing to you, by all means, listen to Dream Theater; but don’t ever come near me in public, for you shall be maced. Wolves eat their young; Mike Portnoy, why, oh why, could you not have been born of lupine caste?
I hated “Pull Me Under” when I first heard it, and that hatred has hardened and become glistening over the years as the sheer epic boredom of the piece comes back to me as I did research to craft this review. Oh, the suffering of listening to this rubbish again. That’s the worst part of these pseudo-Prog charlatans: they go to Berklee and learn all kinds of exotic time signatures, tuning arrangements, arpeggiated fifths and headstock pizzicato, spend months in the studio overdubbing and multi-tracking and pumping every hammer-on and right hand technique they can think of into the finished product and its just…so very, very, very fucking BORING. At some point you just have to put away the textbooks and fucking ROCK, you motherfuckers- and no band has ever not-rocked to the scintillating pinnacles of misery and empyrean heights of pure shit like Dream Theater. May they burn in Hell for all eternity for this crime of an album.
Oh, and this is easily the BEST thing they ever did. You venture deeper into this discography at your own risk, and I’m not going to be responsible for posting links and encouraging mass suicides. What utter fucking garbage. - TR