Dream Theater's new album positions the band unambiguously in the progressive arena: John Petrucci's guitar, though still crunchy, sings more than it cuts, which gives Kevin Moore room to create textures that complement as well as contrast. On faster material, they lock on unison lines; even with the tempo holding steady, they build a sense of acceleration by shifting gears from sixteenth-notes to faster triplets or by dropping beats, as in the 7/8 passages on "Innocence Faded". Unfortunately, much of the material falls short of the band's ability to perform it. "Space-Dye Vest" is built around a plodding 6/8 piano motif, with not much exploration beyond it. And Moore probably could have expanded his timbral range on some of the more ambitious pieces, especially "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream," with its U2 groove and rafter-rattling vocals. Dream Theater is going through some changes; with the keyboardist gone to work on solo projects, there is no Moore. For his successor, ex-Alice Cooper sideman Derek Sherinian, Awake outlines the challenge: Help raise the band above the limits of its virtuosity into the realm of making some serious music. We don't need another Kansas, guys.
- Robert L. Doerschuk