Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World
Released: October 22, 2021
James LaBrie// lead vocals
John Petrucci // guitars, backing vocals
John Myung // bass
Jordan Rudess // keyboards
Mike Mangini // drums
Dream Theater is a band from an older generation of progressive rock, but they somehow still find solid footing to stand on in today’s musical soundscape. A View From The Top Of The World is their 15th studio album spanning a career of over 30 years and oh boy, it’s an offering and a half.
I need to say that this is an album you need to sit down for on your first listen, and probably a handful of listens after that too, because it’s lengthy. With songs that last at least three times longer than a regular, mainstream offering, Dream Theater prod you to remember how to be patient and just sit in the music. And look, they give you a great time for your persistence.
Kicking off with ‘The Alien’, we’re dropped right in the middle of the action with rapid drums and a frantic guitar riff that morphs into something more rhythmic and staccato before levelling out and introducing James LaBrie’s vocals. The interesting thing to note is that yes, it’s fast and technical and exciting, but when the vocals are layered on top, it’s not too much. They draw back on the instrumentation just enough to let the vocals have centre stage and then swell forwards with the guitar features.
‘Answering The Call’ has a great beat, it’s constant and Dream Theater play around with it, morphing it into different versions of the same. It’s amazing that with tracks that last for well over 10 minutes that they never lose the essence of the song. It’s quite easy to add so many twists and turns that the listener loses track of the song itself, but with each one on this album, Dream Theater keep a common thread all the way through for the listener to hold onto and find their way to the end.
Another aspect you can pick up on almost immediately is the way the drums accent the guitar melodies. Sure, it’s a complex drum beat throughout but, like in ‘Invisible Monster’, it’s not overbearing or too fast to follow, it just perfectly accentuates the other instruments. It also raises the question, how do only five musicians create such a huge soundscape?
For ‘Sleeping Giant’, put some headphones on and enjoy the surround sound and the way they thread some sounds through the left speaker, some through the right, and some move through your head back and forth. And oh, it’s an absolute groove! We have an organ melody line and synths as well that really breaking through in this track which, to me, are elements reminiscent of the 70s prog era and they should definitely be carried through to now. It’s also cool to hear that the drums are relatively simple (in comparison to other songs), or maybe simple isn’t the word—reserved almost to complement the guitar riffs, and other star instruments. The band even get a little jazzy and this track is a solid favourite.
For some stark contrast between shredding guitars and a delicate piano/synth outro, listen to ‘Transcending Time’, but if you’re after a more urgent feel, listen to ‘Awaken The Master’. They carry a very pressing rhythm all the way through the song, and the piano, synths, organ, and bass elaborate on the underlying melody in their own ways. If you’re not careful, you’ll get swept up.
The final track on the album is the title track, ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ and it’s a 20 minute masterpiece. Opening on a staccato beat with orchestral swelling, it sounds a bit like the start of a movie. There’s a harp feature, and it morphs into a groovy beat. Really, this song has about six sections, maybe more? And each takes on its own tone within the scope of the song. Elements to look out for include a cello appearance, the way the drums slide in overtop of the melody to the change direction of the song, and just the transitions between sections. We do need to pay homage to James’s vocals though, because they are always just enough. Expressive, not too fancy so as to overload the listener on top of the instruments, and they stick around for as long as is needed and no more. It’s the perfect balance.
Progressive rock can be intimidating to listen to, but I think this album is accessible to anyone. You don’t have to understand or recognise every single little aspect to be able to enjoy the music and marvel at their unparalleled skill.
Dream Theater are masters of prog, it’s undeniable. They’ve been killing the game since the 80s and they’re not stopping anytime soon. The composition of these songs is unbelievable and I cannot imagine the hours that went into each track ensuring transitions are seamless and that the melodies evolve in ways that honour the song’s integrity.
Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World tracklisting:
1. The Alien
2. Answering The Call
3. Invisible Monster
4. Sleeping Giant
5. Transcending Time
6. Awaken The Master
7. A View From The Top Of The World