95. Dream Theater, 'Images and Words' (1992)
By 1992 Dream Theater had already hit a low point in their young career, losing their label deal and their original singer. So the act of releasing a prog-metal opus, replete with virtuosic guitar acrobatics, Yes-like keyboard filigrees and quasi-operatic vocals, at the height of Nirvana-mania would seem a good way to pound the final nail into the coffin. And yet, Images and Words (on new label Atco, and with new singer James LaBrie), did quite the opposite. Dream Theater's commercial breakthrough, the disc became their first – and only – gold-selling record, largely on the strength of an unlikely hit single, the hard-rocking, Hamlet-referencing "Pull Me Under." Elsewhere, Images laid out the various sides of the band's musical personality, from anthemic prog rock ("Take the Time") to racing, metal-tinged workouts ("Under a Glass Moon") and New Age–y power balladry ("Another Day"). But it was with gonzo epics like "Metropolis – Part I: 'The Miracle and the Sleeper'" and the 10-minute-plus closer "Learning to Live" that Dream Theater fully flexed their musical muscle, demonstrating an awesome instrumental facility and power. The band carried the prog torch through the Nineties, and these days their influence can be heard in a new wave of guitar-geek acts like Periphery and Between the Buried and Me. But as guitarist John Petrucci recalled, at the time of Images and Words, "There were no guitar solos anymore and we kinda had this feeling like, 'Oh, we're too late.' But somehow the album stood out and we broke through." R.B.