Ever since 1992, the year Dream Theater released their breakthrough album Images & Words, I've always been curiously looking forward to the next album they made. In fact, this band has never made a bad album, if you ask me. However, you cannot always be happy with a course they are sailing or a new path they are taking. See the review I wrote for Distance Over Time (see review) from 2019 in which I concluded that Dream Theater are still the ultimate standard-bearers of prog metal in my opinion. So I won't say anything more about this. You can read at the bottom of this review whether the band will keep the title after the release of this album.
And as I wrote in the previous paragraph, I was very curious about how the guys from Dream Theater have developed since Distance Over Time. This album sounded fresher than previous albums and only had shorter songs, something that is special in Dream Theater's discography, but didn't look out of place on that album.
While Distance Over Time's tour had to be canceled due to the worldwide corona pandemic, the gentlemen took ample time to make a new album, A View From The Top Of The World. They withdrew to the studio where they practiced together for months, inspiring and motivating each other to create something very special. That bodes well. By the way, the line-up of the band is unchanged, but that has been the case for 10 years now.
The new album consists of only 7 songs, ranging from 6:25 to an epic that lasts 20:24 with a total playing time of over 70 minutes.
Below I will share my experience with you about the album, where I will show you all the songs.
The Alien opens monstrously aggressively, like taking off from pole position or being catapulted at the start of a roller coaster ride. You immediately know that it is Dream Theater, heavy, melodic, groundbreaking and as subtle as ever. Your wish when hearing some solos is that this never stops and oh yes, the volume has to be turned up to 10. There is some nice power in this song, but it never goes too far.
Answering The Call also immediately rams your speakers heavy, although also a bit mysterious. What is striking, not only in this song but throughout the album, is that Jordan Rudess keyboard acts like glue, sticking everything together and holding it all together. How important this man is to the sound of Dream Theater. You regularly want to put your arms in the air in this song, as if you have won a victory. Now and then you hear keys that are only audible in this band, remains class.
Then it's the turn of Invisible Monster, lots of staccato guitar work and a Mike Mangini who can show his skills here and who shows remarkably positive drumming in that regard. He accompanies the rest of the band through this song. Also worth mentioning is the guitar solo from John Petrucci towards the end of the song, it sounds like classical music, and that on a metal album, unique though!
Sleeping Giant is the second longest track, clocking in at just over 10 minutes. It opens ominously before a giant guitar wall takes over. You look at your speakers with some fear, because it is possible that they will not last. But still, the music is always laced with melody so that it doesn't get too heavy. Because of the ominous nature of the song you don't know where it's going, and I still think that's cool.
Transcending Time is the shortest song and the most commercial, if you can speak of commercial at Dream Theater. Perhaps I rather mean most sing-along, including the chorus sang by James Labrie. Some people don't need a song like this, too sweet. I think it's a nice breaking moment after all the violence that has already passed earlier on the album, while it also still has heavy elements.
Then it's Awaken The Master's turn, already the penultimate song on the album. Such a mega heavy opening, you spontaneously start headbanging, even if you would never have done that before. What a heavy shit, that intro. I would say the volume can be turned up to max again, the song deserves it. I think this song excels in the instrumental that Dream Theater has become so famous for. Excellent song if you ask me.
Then the epic of all epics, if you ask me, A View From The Top Of The World. The opening is completely different from all the other intros on this album. Futuristic, militaristic and cinematic you take your place in this song. You let yourself be carried away along all kinds of adventures that you simply become a part of. Fierce, from A to Z and back in less than a second, wow. The music is always right, it never goes out of control and everywhere it remains exciting. If you can speak of great, greater greatest, then this song is the superlative of greatest. It is impossible to describe all that is being reviewed. I still hear new things passing by, and have listened to the album countless times. Halfway through the song there is a break and that is necessary, to catch your breath from all the violence that you have gone through. John Petrucci gives you guitar lessons in a wonderfully light way, very welcome. Then the train will of course run again, it's Dream Theater isn't it! Carried by all the solos that pass by, this song slowly comes to an end. You want to scream that it can never stop, you can't get enough of it, but still.... after more than 20 minutes the cake is finished and you are left stunned. What a trip, not normal. Luckily I know where to find the repeat button!
And so I can conclude by saying that this album is oh so Dream Theater, but also oh so innovative with all the elements that have been there for years. The album has become darker on the one hand, but also lighter on the other. I'm proud of this band, have been following them since their debut and always will be, because however you get used to it, this band deserves the title: standard bearers of prog metal!!!!!
***** Michel Stolk (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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