DREAM THEATER — A View from the Top of the World

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DREAM THEATER - A View from the Top of the World cover
3.71 | 21 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2021


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)

Total Time 70:19


- John Myung / Bass
- John Petrucci / Guitars
- James LaBrie / Vocals
- Jordan Rudess / Keyboards
- Mike Mangini / Drums

About this release

Release date: October 22nd, 2021
Label: InsideOut Music

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"A View From the Top of the World" is the 15th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Dream Theater. The album was released through InsideOut Music in October 2021. It´s the successor to "Distance Over Time" from February 2019. Most of the band´s touring plans for "Distance Over Time" (2019) were cancelled as a consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown and travelling restrictions, and therefore the band opted to start writing and recording a new album a bit sooner than they normally would. "A View From the Top of the World" is the first Dream Theater album recorded at the band´s newly constructed DTHQ (Dream Theater Headquarters). A combined live recording studio, rehearsal space, control room, and equipment storage in New York. The four instrumentalists in the band worked on the new material together at DTHQ with lead vocalist James LaBrie contributing to the songwriting through Zoom from his Canada home. LaBrie flew to New York in March 2021 to record his vocal tracks.

Stylistically "A View From the Top of the World" is unmistakably and through and through the sound of Dream Theater and if you´re familiar with the band´s preceding releases, "A View From the Top of the World" is not an album featuring many surprises. It´s technically well played (often virtuosic) progressive metal with a powerful and creative rhythm section, keyboard- and guitar wizardry of various kinds (heavy riffs, fast-riffs, keyboard/guitar solos and harmonies, and all sorts of keyboard/synth sounds), and LaBrie´s distinct sounding voice and melodic delivery in front. Everything is delivered with great skill and the album features high class performances by all involved. While the band´s incredible skillset shouldn´t be ignored, we´ve come to expect high level musical performances from them, so although it´s maybe a bit unfair, my jaw doesn´t drop as often as it used to when listning to a new Dream Theater release.

"A View From the Top of the World" features 7 tracks and a total playing time of 70:19 minutes, which is a considerably longer playing time than the 56:57 minutes that "Distance Over Time" (2019) lasted. While the musical styles of the two albums are pretty similar, "A View From the Top of the World" generally features more longer tracks than the predecessor, including the 20:24 minutes long closing title track. The title track is among the highlights of the album, but most of the material are the sound of Dream Theater playing it safe. The only standout track where they try something a little different and unexpected is "Transcending Time", which sounds like a track Rush wrote but left off "Hemispheres" (1978). The dominant synths are a nice touch on that one, and Mike Mangini also gets to shine a bit on the drums.

The album features a detailed, powerful, and well sounding production. Guitarist John Petrucci is credited as producer and Andy Sneap (Nevermore, Kreator, Accept, Judas Priest...etc.) is responsible for the mastering and the mixing of the album. Upon conclusion "A View From the Top of the World" is yet another high quality progressive metal release by Dream Theater, and their rights to the progressive metal throne are still not contested, but to my ears it´s all getting a bit too predictable and safe, and while I don´t hope for a new "The Astonishing (2016)", it would still be great to soon hear them try something a bit different. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.
Dream Theater in 2021. What exactly would you expect at this point from a new release by the progressive metal veterans? With the exception of the odd experiment here and there (such as the ill-advised The Astonishing), the band’s tried-and-true formula doesn’t really get shaken up these days. In fact, their previous album Distance Over Time was one of the safest releases they’d put out in quite a long time; perhaps the more conservative approach was meant to balance out the ambitiousness of a two-hour-long rock opera, but that didn’t really change how predictable its songwriting was. So with that in mind, it was hard to have any serious expectations for A View from the Top of the World, even with the prospect of a 20-minute epic to cap it off. But while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any major way, it does happen to be the band’s best record in a decade.

Really, the album title and cover art say it all. Dream Theater don’t have anything else to prove from the vantage point of being one of progressive metal’s foremost legacy acts, so A View from the Top of the World comes off more as a band writing and playing for the sake of enjoying their craft. Songs like the highly technical barnburner “The Alien” or the off-time chugging of “Answering the Call” aren’t doing anything new per se, but the quality lies in how these old ideas are being presented here. Despite the song lengths being pretty long as usual, the more wank-driven bits are surprisingly lean and controlled - solos generally don’t last over two minutes, and while they’re still pretty masturbatory as one would expect, they’re also pretty tasteful compared to a lot of Dream Theater’s modern output. “Invisible Monster” is a perfect representation of this, with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess’ guitar and keyboard parts interlocking with each other to form some really neat harmonies.

Of course, the band do get more adventurous and crazy during the two epic pieces, “Sleeping Giant” and the mammoth title track. The former features some excellent symphonic bits from Rudess’ keyboard parts, as well as some SHOCKINGLY strong singing from James LaBrie. In fact, this album is the best he’s sounded in a long time; he doesn’t try to stretch himself too much vocally on the record, and I think that’s to his benefit. In short, he simply sounds more comfortable here than he has on previous albums. As always, the rest of the band show off their technical acumen very nicely on “Sleeping Giant” with shred solos and off-time licks, with the honky tonk piano of Rudess’ solo being a particularly fun highlight. The title track, meanwhile, goes through about as many twists and turns as you’d imagine from a modern Dream Theater epic. It mostly relies on a flurry of technical riffs and solos, but I have to give a nod to the beautiful midsection; the drums drop out, and all that can be heard is Petrucci’s clean guitar ringing out before the rest of the band eventually enters back in. Great stuff, and it plays like a leaner version of the symphonic break in “Illumination Theory” from the band’s self-titled effort.

The only drawback to all of this is what I’ve already mentioned: a lot of what’s found on A View from the Top of the World is what you would expect from Dream Theater, even if it’s executed very well. The only true surprise on the record is the fantastic power-ballad “Transcending Time”, which sounds like it could have been pulled straight out of one of the band’s 90s albums. It’s incredibly emotional and uplifting, giving off similar vibes to “The Looking Glass” but not wearing its influences on its sleeve like that song did. But could there have been more songs like that on the record? Sure, and it would have been nice to hear, but maybe that’d be asking too much of the band. A View from the Top of the World is an incredibly solid album that brings out the best qualities in Dream Theater’s current incarnation; it’s predictable, yes, but you’ll most likely still enjoy it if you keep that caveat in mind. This is the best the band have sounded in a long time, and certainly the best this lineup has sounded; let’s just hope they can keep this trajectory going for future records.
siLLy puPPy
The name DREAM THEATER is almost synonymous with the genre progressive metal given that this was the band responsible for bringing this hybrid of progressive rock and heavy metal to the world at large with its lauded “Images And Words” album all the way back in 1992. Despite having existed as the kingpin of the genre for almost three decades now, DREAM THEATER has been eclipsed by countless other bands in terms of consistency and innovation however despite this band’s on again off again commitment to quality control, there is no doubt that this pioneering band has cranked out some ridiculously brilliant music over the years.

I’m hardly one who chomps at the bit waiting for a new DREAM THEATER album to hit the market but i do like the band enough to keep up with their albums and listen at least once before moving on to the next thing. Well here we are in the year 2021, some 32 years after the band’s debut “When Dream And Day Unite” and DREAM THEATER is back with its 15th studio album A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD with its surprisingly stable lineup since 2011’s “A Dramatic Turn Of Events.” While DT has been on autopilot for a while now simply recycling its past glory and offering okay enough but won’t blow you away albums, A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD comes off as a nice surprise.

True this new album isn’t reinventing the wheel and could never be mistaken for any other act other than DREAM THEATER but what his album seems to exhibit unlike many of the recent past is a return to the passion that made many of the 90s albums so magical. The tunes seem more inspired, the details seem more ironed out and things don’t sound blatantly by the numbers as they have in the past. In fact this album sounds as if it should be inserted into the timeline where “Falling Into Infinity” fell short. Whatever the case, it seems that the cancellation of the 2020 tour due to the pandemic was just the ticket for the band to find the time to rekindle the dwindling mojo and return to the years of yore when DREAM THEATER albums actually were something to get excited about.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD is the first album to be recorded in the band’s own studio, DTHQ (Dream Theater Headquarters) so perhaps this return to form is a result of musical independence that had been lacking. The album was mixed and mastered by legendary Sabbath guitarist Andy Sneap and the musical team of John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Rudess, James LaBrie and Mike Mangini sounds as if these guys on the top of their game once again with seven instantly lovable tracks that offer everything you could expect from classic DREAM THEATER. The band has experimented over the years with varying degrees of progressiveness, dedication to the metal aspect of its equation as well as the other elements that make up the DREAM THEATER equation.

On album #15, the band employs all of the metal heft that you can hear on the heaviest albums (such as “Awake”), the most knotty prog fueled gymnastics (as heard on most of the 90s albums) along with the fearless exploration of virtuosic soloing. On A VIEW you will not hear any of those ridiculously convoluted ballads, no substandard vanilla dumbing down of the extremities or blatant mining of their past. What you will hear is excellent songwriting fortified with high standard musicianship and a return to the more progressive aspects that put the prog in the metal back in the day. The album Shortest track “Transcending Time” is 6:25 whereas the highlight of the album which is the title track clocks in at 20 1/2 minutes with three distinct parts! The recent Liquid Tension Experiment sessions seem to have carried over on this one :)

Let’s face it, DREAM THEATER has peaked and unless the band decides to completely reinvent itself it’s going to be simply retreading that which it has already done and A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD is no exception. There is nothing on this album that will convert haters and nothing that hasn’t already been explored by the band ad nauseam, however at this stage in the DT game, it’s all about crafting an album that is actually compelling to experience through the band’s tendency to release sprawling albums that defy current attention spans. This one is over 70 minutes long! It’s really hard to say why one album works for me and others don’t but i am quite surprised that this one keeps me engaged for the entire run! This really does bring me back to the era of “Awake” when the band was firing on all pistons. Somehow the pandemic produced a silver lining and some of the classic bands have had the time to reevaluate and reflect on where they once were and where they have drifted. Whatever the case, this is one of the best DT albums for my ears in a loooooooooong time.

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