Dream Theater – When Dream And Day Unite
Reviewed By Christopher Foley
Well guys, it looks like a Dream Theater rewind is happening. Hold on to your hats, as we’re going to delve deep into the discography of one the finest bands around.
Cast yourself back to a time before James LaBrie, a time before album-spanning suites, hell, a time before Images And Words. A time when a bunch of young New Yorkers flying under the moniker of Majesty were playing Rush and Iron Maiden covers in their practice space. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the progressive metal scene was an entirely different shape (let alone size) in the late eighties. The term had barely been coined, and outside of a few trailblazing US and European acts, wasn’t really all that much of a scene. The likes of Fates Warning and Queensrÿche set events into motion with groundbreaking albums, which would set the scene for something big. It would be around this time that the aforementioned New Yorkers would set out to take their piece of the pie.
Enlisting the talents of front man Charlie Dominici (more on him to follow) and being forced into a name change, Dream Theater MK I was born, and 1989 they would unleash their debut full-length for the world to hear. One thing I should really stress, especially considering newcomers (it’s strange to think these people exist), is that this is far from the Dream Theater many came to know and love (or loathe). Whilst minor fragments of the sound on When Dream And Day Unite are retained to this very day, the album on the whole is undoubtedly a product of its time. You could almost call this proto-progressive metal, although I’m sure that would only cause confusion and/or spark debate.
Understanding and appreciating When Dream And Day Unite comes best with a proper understanding of Dream Theater’s then-contemporaries. I’m talking about the likes of Rush, Queensrÿche, and Fates Warning, although I’d say the first two acts are the most important to consider, and really, imagining a blend of the two would be an ideal jumping off point. Charlie’s sense of vocal delivery as well as the band’s deft display of arrangement and lyricism is very much derived from Rush’s glorious mid to late seventies run, with some of Petrucci’s guitar solos recalling Alex Lifeson at times – although Petrucci is certainly more of a flamboyant player. The production and atmosphere springs Queensrÿche to mind a là Rage For Order, although Dream Theater’s more metal moments hold more in touch with The Warning or mid-eighties Fates Warning. Of course, there is further outside influence, with one side of the coin displaying elements of heavy and speed metal, and the other showing signs of neo prog and seventies prog (I always hear a spot of ELP here).
Whilst I might have been a little indulgent talking background, it’s something I feel completely necessary when pondering this album. Many dismiss When Dream And Day Unite, which is understandable for anyone introduced to Dream Theater post 1995. The difference between this and what would follow is nigh on polar, and has rather unfortunately given a wonderful album a “black sheep of the family”-type reputation.
There are plenty of reasons to indulge in this album, though. Housed in its beautifully-aged recording are some absolute gems. Be they twisting, atmospheric epics like “The Killing Hand”, relatively straight-ahead numbers like the punchy “Fortune In Lies”, or the stunning “Afterlife”, all are worth a visit. Charlie adds a load of charm to the release with his Ray Alder-meets-Geddy Lee vocal style, and I’m oft left scratching my head as to why people have anything against him (check out his solo stuff, real good!). The likes of “Status Seeker” or “The Ones Who Help To Set The Sun” show off his vocal capabilities well, which I find to be very endearing and oozing youthful charm.
Of course there is one thing that has remained a constant factor in Dream Theater from the start, and I’m sure you all know it’s their intimidating control over their instruments. The core band was the dream team of John Petrucci, Kevin Moore, John Myung, and Mike Portnoy. Do I really need to delve into what these guys are capable of? Let’s just say that even in their beginnings, these guys displayed a greater mastery over their instruments than many achieve in a lifetime. For proof, give “The Killing Hand”, “Afterlife” and “The YTSE Jam” a shot.
One last thing I’d like to say about When Dream And Day Unite before closing, and one I can’t say about some of their other albums, is that here Dream Theater puts the song-writing first and foremost. The album is perfectly focused and succinct, with every second feeling completely necessary.
Honestly, this is a great album deserving of great respect, and well worthy of investing in. It has a certain time capsule effect, giving those of us who weren’t there at the start an insight to where it all began. The fact that songs from this album still find their way into Dream Theater’s setlists is a testament to their quality, and it’s heart-warming to see the band still credit their past. Whilst not the perfect album, there is very little wrong with it. In fact, I’d say the main issue here is the fact that the band stopped sounding like this almost immediately, oh, and went on to release one of the greatest albums of all time a few years later…
4 // 5