by Victor J. Giol
Progressive metal giants, Dream Theater, had plans of touring well into 2020 in support of both their 14th studio album Distance Over Time and the 20th anniversary of Scenes From A Memory. Those plans were drastically changed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as all touring came to a stop. Thankfully, having completed the construction on Dream Theater HQ, the band the perfect setting for the writing and recording of the bands 15th studio album A View From The Top Of The World. The resulting album presents 7 songs with diverse styles and new sounds which amalgamate into a fresh yet very familiar sound the fans have come to expect.
A band with a long career as Dream Theater is always measured against its own massive legacy. Should a new album sound different or similar to previous efforts? Are they just repeating themselves or breaking new ground? Or does it matter? Well, depending on who you ask, the answer is yes to one or all of these. But in the end, are the songs good, and is this is a good album? Let’s find out…
By now many have heard the opening track and first shared online, “The Alien”, a 9-minute metal monster which serves as the perfect opener for this musical feast. From Mangini’s opening drum fill to the seemingly non-stop guitar and keyboard solos, Myung’s strong foundation, along with LaBrie’s vocals, this wall of sound is comforting, familiar and kick-ass. It is immediately evident Dream Theater’s sound has never been better with the addition of metal sound engineer legend, Andy Sneap. This is a fantasy match up which raise the overall experience to a new level. The album’s second track, “Answering the Call,” has steady groove from the start which allows for Labrie’s verses and chorus to shine. The song climaxes as Petrucci and Rudess showcase their solo abilities, then the song returns to the original groove as it closes. The album’s second release and official single for the album “Invisible Monster” incorporates a repeating melody line which is shared and showcased through the song by the different melodic instruments. Like previous singles from the band like “Untethered Angel”, “On the Backs of Angels” or “A Rite of Passage”, the band allow the strong melody in the chorus and main riff to lead the way, leaving the extravagant playing to songs like the albums’s next track: “Sleeping Giant.”
“Sleeping Giant” is a cinematic mini-epic, clocking in at 10 minutes. From Petrucci’s opening riff through the middle breakdown, this song balances between rhythmic hooks as well as anthemic melody lines. Rudess also brings back a brief ‘ragtime’ piano segment, as if tipping a figurative hat to the aforementioned SFAM. This song is baked with fast and technical unison runs and riffs between Myung, Petrucci and Rudess, keeping the journey through this song exciting and fresh. Next up is the albums ‘shortest’ song – the upbeat “Transcending Time” containing one of the album’s more balanced vocal delivery with a memorable chorus; however, the bridge and solo sections once again do not disappoint. The Rush influence is ever-present here.
The next song is a treat for those who have been following the development of John Petrucci’s guitar line’s newest addition, his signature 8-string Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty. “Awaken The Master” delivers some advanced grooving riffs which are perfectly intertwined with Myung and Mangini’s foundation. The new range provides the song with a darker tone, however it is unquestionably delivered in Petrucci-style. Andy Sneap’s skills are evident in how the extended range is presented in a powerful and crystal clear sound which still allows Myung’s chops to cut through loud and clear. This venture into the 8-string world may have opened a new door of creativity. The possibility for future compositions is something to look forward to. Then finally comes the album centerpiece, the epic title track.
Dream Theater had the specific intention of putting together a long prog epic to bring the album to a close. This ambitious track brings about the perfect ending to what is an already excellent album. The beginning section with the orchestral background as the rhythm section hits the listener with syncopated riffs. For the first 3 minutes, DT delivers the instrumental goodness that has made them so unique and loved. Through the first verse and chorus, LaBrie’s vocals are in their sweet spot which land perfectly among the instrumentation. The second section is established by Myung’s bass line which lay an entirely different foundation for the second verse before the familiar chorus returns. The following breakdown section presents the band at their progressive best by balancing the usual alternating odd time signatures with intricate effects and top skill. This is where their skills show not only there has not been a drop off, on the contrary, they are as amazing as ever and at the top of their game. Following this instrumental prowess display is a breakdown with the most ballad-like part of the album where anthemic melodies from LaBrie’s vocals and Petrucci’s solo are just classic. Then for the final 6 minutes of the song, is filled with more instrumental technical mastery, the final vocal verse, and the epic ending. Once this epic comes to an end, you will be catching your breath. For the fans of the song “Octavarium”, this will be a great companion.
With “A View From The Top Of The World”, Dream Theater continues to carry on their legacy as an all-time great band. While their longevity and prolific output of music is to be admired and respected regardless, DT has not only delivered once again, they have made one of the top albums of 2021. Considering the mountain of incredible releases this year, Dream Theater’s view from the top of the prog world is as epic as it ever was. Enjoy the view!
1) The Alien (9:32)
2) Answering The Call (7:35)
3) Invisible Monster (6:31)
4) Sleeping Giant (10:05)
5) Transcending Time (6:25)
6) Awaken The Master (9:47)
7) A View From The Top Of The World (20:24)
Pre-order here: https://dream-theater.lnk.to/AViewFromTheTopOfTheWorld.