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Dream Theater - A View From The Top Of The World (Album Review)

Tuesday, 09 November 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Rayon Richards

During the closing track on Dream Theater’s 15th studio album, singer James LaBrie unwittingly sums up the MO that once drove his band: “To stretch beyond our limits, to blaze a brand new trail, bold enough to conquer, brave enough to fail.”  Alas, anyone wanting to hear that boundary-pushing act would be better off revisiting their groundbreaking early material than consuming a new album that ultimately represents a well executed piece of wheel spinning.

Despite a couple of fine efforts, notably 2019’s ‘Distance Over Time,’ Dream Theater’s output over the last decade has, following the departure of drummer and creative lynchpin Mike Portnoy, been a mixed affair. After trying to satisfy the faithful after such a seismic loss, and failing on the divisive opus ‘The Astonishing’, their days as fearless sonic explorers are long gone. 

As such, ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ isn’t a bad album, just another very familiar one. At 20 minutes long, the title track is a predictably structured case in point.

We know how the intro will build, what the chorus will do, when the moody slow bit will commence and how the song will explode to life again. As epics go, it delivers none of the twists, turns, unexpected jolts and detours provided by A Change of Seasons, The Count of Tuscany or Illumination Theory.

Although much of this record elicits a strong sense of deja vu, those who love the band’s ability to utilise complex time signatures and unusual key changes, while unleashing jaw-dropping instrumental bursts, won’t be disappointed by their most progressive record in years.

Enhanced by Andy Sneap’s superlative mix, there are still great songs and moments here. The Alien unleashes a pulverising opening salvo of ferocious drumming from Mike Mangini, chug-metal-riffing and picturesque atmospherics, courtesy of the always outstanding John Petrucci, before its gripping chorus erupts thanks to Jordan Rudess’ ‘Awake’-era Kevin Moore flourishes.  

Answering The Call, meanwhile, punches out a grooving, bombastic hook elevated by stabbing orchestral jabs and Transcending Time, which recalls the melodic loveliness of Surrounded and Barstool Warrior, serves up pompy regal synths, Rush guitar shapes and the record’s most unique and captivating refrain.

Sadly, the balance between classy instrumentals and melodious pay offs is less coherent elsewhere. Sleeping Giant might be musically wondrous, but its so-so hook is unmemorable and lyrically clunky. Invisible Monster is incredibly catchy, but perhaps a tad too obvious in its commercial intent, while Awaken The Master’s refrain is beyond dull. With a little editing and refining, it would have fared better as an instrumental.

Overall, this is another decent exercise in fan service that loses its lustre pretty quickly once you realise you’ve heard most of it before on better songs and albums. As with previous efforts since Portnoy’s exit, which can’t be overlooked given his concepts and penchant for risk taking, it’s hard to dislike ‘A View From The Top Of The World.’  

But wouldn’t it be great to love a Dream Theater album again and be blown away by seemingly extraterrestrial contents that, rather than merely excelling in the field they once terraformed and now seem increasingly afraid to leave, boldly ploughed new terrain in the spirit of the band’s finest work?

Dream Theater Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed April 20 2022 - BELFAST SSE Arena Belfast
Thu April 21 2022 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Utilita Arena
Sat April 23 2022 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley

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