The music world shook on Oct. 25, 2023 with the astonishing news that Mike Portnoy, founding member and original drummer of Dream Theater, was returning to the band. Portnoy left the band in 2010, and in recent years started working again with members John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess, on various projects, including a tour with Petrucci, which ultimately would lead to this reunion. But of course, back in 2011 Portnoy was replaced with powerhouse drum virtuoso Mike Mangini. The band, with Mangini on drums, would release 5 studio albums: A Dramatic Turn of Events in 2011, Dream Theater in 2013, The Astonishing in 2016, Distance over Time in 2019, and A View from the Top of the World in 2021. The latter would earn the group their first Grammy for the track “The Alien.” As we celebrate Mike Portnoy’s return to the band, it’s essential to acknowledge the exceptional music created during Mike Mangini’s time with the band. Here, we explore the top 10 Dream Theater songs that showcase Mangini’s extraordinary talent (in chronological order).
1. “Breaking All Illusions” (from ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ 2011): Kicking off our list is the penultimate track from the first album with Mangini on drums. This track still stands as one of the best not only from this period but from the band’s entire career. Mangini’s rhythmic precision and ability to seamlessly navigate complex time signatures shine brightly here.
2. “Lost Not Forgotten” (from ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ 2011): Another long epic track from the 2011 album, this track has some insane moments that stand with some of the group’s most creative passages.
3. “Enigma Machine” (from ‘Dream Theater’ 2013): The band added another great instrumental to go alongside some of their all-time classics with this one, which showcases Mangini’s virtuosity and creativity as a drummer.
4. “Illumination Theory” (from ‘Dream Theater’ 2013): Rudess ‘s brilliant keyboard and orchestration is key to this track, while Mangini’s drumming versatility is on full display in this 22-minute epic. The build-up at the end is the band at their epic best.
5. “The Gift of Music” (from ‘The Astonishing’ 2016): While this concept album was polarizing among the fans, this track and first single from the album is one most fans agree is spectacular and has been a great track in setlists even after they toured the entire album.
6. “At Wit’s End” (from ‘Distance over Time’ 2019): One of the highlight’s from the 2019 album, At Wit’s End perfectly marries Petrucci’s guitar with Mangini’s drumming, while also featuring one of the best chorus’s on the album. LaBrie sounds brilliant on this one, delivering the lyrics with an emotional element that elevates the track.
7. “Pale Blue Dot” (from ‘Distance over Time’ 2019): The epic closing track, from the 2019 album, harkens back to an earlier sound for the band, with a heavy beginning, an impossibly technical middle, before a satisfying grand conclusion.
8. “The Alien” (from ‘A View from the Top of the World’ 2021): This track earned Dream Theater a Grammy. Mangini’s opening drum fill sets the stage for a thrilling ride as the band explore the possibility of life on other worlds.
9. “Sleeping Giant” (from ‘A View from the Top of the World’ 2021): The 10-minute centerpiece of the 2021 album is a perfect showcase for everything the band excels at from the opening driving riff, to the imaginative instrumental middle section matched with a memorable and catchy chorus.
10. “A View from the Top of the World” (from ‘A View from the Top of the World’ 2021): The title track of Dream Theater’s latest album is a culmination of Mangini’s period in the band. A wonderfully constructed 22-minute epic, with an ebb and flow that keeps the listened engaged until the ultimate ending.
While Dream Theater fans rejoice at the return of Mike Portnoy, it’s important to recognize the incredible work of Mike Mangini during his tenure with the band. These ten songs are just a snapshot of his impact on Dream Theater’s music over the years. Mangini’s technical prowess and adaptability have left an indelible mark on the band’s sound, and his contributions will be celebrated by fans and musicians for years to come.