By Greg Maki
I don’t know if anything makes me feel more inadequate as a music critic* than trying to review a new work by a band as accomplished as Dream Theater. I know a bit about music, but the things these progressive metal titans do are so intricate and so far beyond my understanding that I mostly just sit back in awe, marveling at the musicianship and sheer breadth of musical knowledge. Who am I to criticize these virtuosos?
Fortunately for me, I’ve found very little to criticize about Dream Theater over the years. “A View from the Top of the World,” the band’s 15th studio album, continues that trend. It’s another prog metal masterwork from an act that has made such a thing almost routine by this point. After the divisive concept album “The Astonishing” (2016) and the more concise, song-based “Distance over Time” (2019, read Live Metal’s review), the new record is a return to more of the classic Dream Theater sound, in which songs are allowed to breathe and the band takes the time to fully explore its musical ideas. Of the seven tracks, the shortest clocks in at 6:25, while the title track tops 20 minutes, the first proper Dream Theater epic since “Illumination Theory” from the self-titled album released in 2013.
At the same time, the band—guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini—infuses this septet of songs with an energy similar to that of “Distance over Time.” While we’re not talking “Train of Thought” levels of heaviness, there are no true ballads here, and numbers such as “The Alien,” “Invisible Monster” and “Awaken the Master” are sure to get audiences out of their seats with heads banging. Not to discount the contributions of anyone else, but Petrucci’s guitar is more the driving force here than it’s ever been. This is a riff-heavy record, and the whole band is locked into making those riffs as monstrous as possible. That’s not to say there aren’t different flavors present, though. A greater emphasis on keys and melodic leads in “Transcending Time” makes it feel like a bit of a throwback to the “Images and Words” era, while the middle section of the title track features a beautiful Petrucci/Rudess duet.
Speaking of the title track, this one is an instant classic, taking its place alongside the great Dream Theater epics of years past (“A Change of Seasons,” “Octavarium,” “In the Presence of Enemies,” “The Count of Tuscany”). For most bands, this would be their crowning achievement. For Dream Theater, it’s one of many.
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)
*I don’t really consider myself a “music critic,” despite the many reviews I’ve written over the years. I’m just a guy with a passion for music—particularly music of the heavy variety—and I enjoy sharing that with others.
InsideOutMusic//Sony Music – October 22, 2021