Band: Dream Theater | Album:A View from the Top of the World | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2021
From: Boston, USA | Label: Inside Out Music
Well, it’s been two years. Time for a new Dream Theater album. A View from the Top of the World is the too-many-th release from these prog metal stalwarts. After the passable but unremarkable Distance over Time, I wasn’t really expecting much from these guys. Then again, I didn’t get into them until I was in college, after their prime, so I’ve never really expected much from them.
Dream Theater has their very specific sound, and with the exception of the bafflingly terrible The Astonishing, they have been super consistent and predictable. Everything is always masterful from a technical standpoint. However, it often comes off as soulless, and I frequently point to Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci as some of the most masturbatory musicians in the notoriously onanistic field that is prog metal. Much of their output over the last two decades has been uninspired, but now and again we have gotten the occasional flash of brilliance.
“The Alien” kicks this album off on a bombastic note. It certainly feels Dream Theatrical, but it really feels more like Dream Theater playing a Haken riff. So it’s like a Dream Theater song filtered through another, similar band, and then re-filtered by DT again. Once LaBrie’s vocals come in, though, it’s unquestionably a DT song again. And it’s actually pretty good. It’s not super-distinctive, but this is honestly the best music I’ve heard from them in quite a while. The chorus is especially engaging, and it’s really helped by the fact that LaBrie isn’t overextending himself. The solos go on for a little long, but even those feel more purposeful than usual.
Unfortunately, “Answering the Call” isn’t as good. It’s not bad, but it’s more generic than the first track, and the verses feel too melodramatic. This song isn’t helped by its runtime, either. This piece could have been an alright four-minute song, but seven-and-a-half minutes is simply too much. Wearisome runtimes have long been a problem of 21st Century DT, and this song is yet another example of a song that gets bogged down by its own length.
“Invisible Monster” feels like an attempt at a sequel to Metropolis Pt. 2. That happens to be my favorite DT album, so in isolation, this is a pretty solid song. However, I often fault acts for blatantly dipping back into their past sounds, and this is no exception. It feels out of place on this album. 1999 Dream Theater and 2021 Dream Theater are fairly different bands, so this cut feels incongruous after the preceding two songs.
The opening instrumental passage of “Sleeping Giant” is pretty solid, and the verse feels like a better melding of DT’s past and current sounds than the preceding cut. This track harkens back to some of DT’s earlier works without simply sounding like an outtake from 20-plus years ago. This could have been a really strong seven-minute song, but like most modern DT songs, it’s three minutes too long. Despite that, I enjoyed it overall.
“Transcending Time” is the only song on this album that’s under seven minutes, and it’s simply way too major-key for my taste. Dream Theater loves to toss in a couple upbeat songs per album, and those are always among the weakest. It’s bland and reminds me of recent Yes releases, if Yes were a metal band.
“Awaken the Master” is another song with a strong instrumental opening. The guitar riff is churning and urgent, and Rudess’s keyboard tones complement it well. The irregular chug-chug riff and airy piano of the verses make for an odd pairing. I get what they were going for, but it doesn’t quite work. At least LaBrie’s vocal performance is relatively strong. I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot in this review, but there’s a pretty good song buried somewhere in here. You just need to edit this 10-minute behemoth down to maybe five or six minutes. DT’s lack of focus keeps tripping what could be an otherwise pretty good record.
The album closes on its 20-minute title track. The intro is too long, again, plain and simple. Not every suite needs to open with an extended instrumental overture. The first verse doesn’t impress either. It’s more chug-chug riffs, and LaBrie sounds a bit strained. Once it moves beyond this, though, things improve. There’s more aimless soloing, but the slow midsection of this cut is a nice breather. As it becomes more bombastic and overblown, it begins to border on self-parody. The third part of this three-part song, though, is one of the best moments on the album. The riff is driving and captivating, and Petrucci’s opening solo is his best on the album.
A View from the Top of the World is a better album than I expected. The band sounded like they were having fun playing the music, there were lots of strong riffs, and Dream Theater avoided balladry. This album is still bloated as hell; there’s probably a solid 20 minutes you could lop off this thing. As with any DT album, the highs are pretty high, and the lows are pretty low. This is their best album since Octavarium, though, so I’m not too displeased. If you like Dream Theater, you’ll probably like this.