Reviewed: December 2021
Released: 2021, Inside Out Music
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
For a band that’s regularly held up as one of the definitive bands of progressive metal, and oftentimes even as a gold standard of the style, Dream Theater have a surprising lack of progression within their long history. They’re synonymous with the term “progressive metal” and, alongside others like Queensryche and Fates Warning, took huge strides in defining the genre in its early days. Their legacy is clear, their place in the annals secured, and their fanbase devoted.
Yet despite line-up changes, some lesser stylistic shifts one way or another, and fluctuations in quality understandable over the course of 23 years and 15 full-length albums, Dream Theater in 2021 is much the same sort of beast as it was at its inception. This has its positive and negative sides: there’s a level of consistency and (most of the time) quality to be had here, and fans know well what they’re getting in for. But like pretty much all of their discography, A View From the Top of the World probably isn’t going to convert anyone who isn’t already invested in this kind of music.
Their 15th full-length offering is Dream Theater doing what Dream Theater do, and doing it pretty well by all accounts. It’s seven tracks of long, winding odysseys, technical wizardry sprinkled with liberal keyboards. While I might not be enough to an avid and regular listener to all their output to say for certain, those keys do feel like one area of greater emphasis this time round. There’s a strong focus here on captivating melodies with an optimistic, hopeful feel to them, and Rudess’ keyboard work plays a big role in that. That bright, vibrant feeling is nowhere more apparent than in “Transcending Time”.
Elsewhere, there are flirtations with crunchy riffs and darker themes, though rarely do they truly dive deep into these topics. Topics like extra-terrestrial life, darker sides to our personalities and coming together in peace are perfectly fine as subject matter, but the takes presented in the lyrics aren’t exactly ground-breaking. Though the following from “Awaken the Master” does stand out in its effectiveness:
You made it to the top
Just to find out
You’re only halfway there
All along missing the point of the journey
There’s no doubting Dream Theater’s commitment and passion for what they do. Nothing on here feels remotely insincere or half-arsed. But it also very much represents a band sticking to their comfort zone, as they have been for decades, and your own level of satisfaction will just depend on how much you enjoy that particular zone.