Not since 1980 and Yes's Drama had progressive rock dared to show off quite so unashamedly: Dream Theater's 1992 Images And Words is not so much an album of songs as a series of showcases for instrumental virtuosity. For many listeners that sounds like an instant recipe for disaster, but for die-hard progressive-rockers weaned on the glory days of Rush and Yes, Dream Theater were a shining throwback amid the low-fi wasteland of the 1990s. Images And Words is the kind of album that amateur musicians listen to with a mixture of awe and despair at the effortless display of fretwork pyrotechnics (it's also the kind of album that non-musicians listen to with blank incomprehension at why anyone would bother producing such endless widdly-widdly stuff). If the guitar work of John Petrucci (whose notes-per-second ratio puts Steve Vai to shame) isn't enough, just listen to drummer Mike Portnoy (who clearly models himself physically and emotionally on Animal from The Muppet Show) playing like a demented Neil Peart, thrashing his kit with every ounce of his strength while maintaining utterly baffling 15/8-metre rhythms. But what really makes this album work is that the whole band play together so well: they actually function as a single unit and consequently the music is much more than the sum of a series of individual solos. Production, too, emphasises the democratic balance within the band, giving due prominence to all. And unlike British wimps such as Genesis, you can also file Dream Theater under Heavy Metal, since not only can they out-play any progressive rockers you might care to mention, they can out-thrash Metallica whenever they feel like it, too. A slice of musical Hell, or a marriage made in Heaven, Images and Words doesn't exactly break any new ground, but it's a landmark in the history of progressive rock nevertheless. --Mark Walker
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