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Dream Theater - A View From The Top Of The World review



Reviewer:
7.3

203 users:
7.82
Band: Dream Theater
Album: A View From The Top Of The World
Release date: October 2021


01. The Alien
02. Answering The Call
03. Invisible Monster
04. Sleeping Giant
05. Transcending Time
06. Awaken The Master
07. A View From The Top Of The World


From my view from the top of the world, I can see an album that is Dream Theater to a tee, for better or worse.

Having been increasingly alienated by the first few records the prog-metal titans released with Mike Mangini behind the drumkit, I was pleasantly surprised by Distance Over Time. It was a lean record, with most songs in the 4-to-7-minute range, and brought both hefty punch and memorable hookiness in a focused and streamlined package. I was intrigued to see how Dream Theater would built on the relative success that this record was, but they’ve changed trajectory in the meantime; four out of the seven songs on A View From The Top Of The World are longer than anything on Distance Over Time, and the title track is the latest song from the band to fly past the 20-minute mark. Dream Theater are going prog with a capital ‘P’ on this album; whether that’s a positive change of course will depend very much on your musical inclinations.

First, I must acknowledge that the album is pretty clearly a good record, at the very least. As far as popular metal is concerned, no one brings their technical A-game across the entire instrumental section of a band quite like Dream Theater, and A View From The Top Of The World is the most overt demonstration of this in at least a decade (I wonder what influence the recent activity of Liquid Tension Experiment may have had on this), so if you enjoy seeing virtuoso musicians flex their muscles, there’s plenty to get stuck into here. Despite this, the album does still contain solidly constructed songs, and there’s no entry on the tracklist that stands out as an obvious weak link; one could argue that “Invisible Monster” fills this role, but there’s no blatant subpar material on the record, which is helped by the band again opting against including a ballad. Dream Theater have over 35 years of experience as a band to draw upon, and it comes through clearly on this new album.

At the same time, I do find it to be an album that is easy to appreciate, but difficult to be excited about, at least early on. Across the first four songs on the record, there are moments that grab my attention and give me a sense of glee, whether it be the poignantly phrased guitar solo about midway through opener “The Alien”, which really gives off 90s Dream Theater vibes, or the excellent first riff/motif in “Answering The Call”, which appears first on chugging guitar, moving onto the keyboards before finally being taken up by the lead guitar to excellent effect. However, I find these tracks to be songs of moments that punctuate through otherwise forgettable backdrops; the extent to which these aforementioned moments stand out highlights the reduced engagement I have with the remainder of these songs. Probably the moment that really rams this home for me is late in “Sleeping Giant”; after a very extended and somewhat style-over-substance instrumental section replete with solos, the song moves into a strong mid-tempo groove that is given an epic vibe by the synths, only for the song to return to the song’s slightly unremarkable chorus.

I think there’s two issues that contribute to my ambivalence towards the bulk of these first few songs. First, when I reviewed Distance Over Time, I praised how the technicality was used impressively tastefully, with restraint applied in service to the songs; on A View From The Top Of The World, I feel there’s quite a few times when the band lose the forest for the trees and pile too much instrumental excess into the songs, particularly given that the core motifs in most of the tracks aren’t overly memorable. Second, it’s a bit of a dead horse by this point, but whilst there’s nothing wrong with James LaBrie’s performance on this new album, he’s not necessarily the most expressive vocalist, which doesn’t help with overcoming this shortfall in memorability; a livelier vocalist may have been able to provide the passion to elevate these songs, although ultimately it’s a moot point.

Still, I do find that the album picks up when it enters its second half. “Transcending Time” is perhaps the song that stands out most to me here; channelling very similar vibes to “The Looking Glass” from the 2013 self-titled record without quite such intense Rush influence, its joyful and playful tone is easy to be enamored by. The song that follows, “Awaken The Master”, despite its length and moments of excess, does have some very tasteful melodic moments instrumentally in its first half. Finally comes the title track, which has some stiff competition in the band’s back catalogue; “Octavarium” is a song that rises above the album it shares a name with to take listeners on a spellbinding journey, whilst the likes of “In The Presence Of Enemies Pt. 2” and “The Count Of Tuscany” are also filled with stellar sections. I didn’t find the last attempt at a song of this length, “Illumination Theory” from Dream Theater, to feature anything that quite reaches the heights of these songs’ peaks, and I feel the same about “A View From The Top Of The World”; however, whilst there’s nothing on this song that demands repeat listens from me, it is a well-constructed song with little that sags or does not impress. It’s not a knockout punch, but it’s a successful return to colossal song lengths for the band after nearly a decade.

I don’t think A View From The Top Of The World is an album that will cause any real controversy; it’s a strong embrace of much that has typified the band’s music since the turn of the millennium, when they advanced the heaviness and technical focus of their sound. Those, like myself, who appreciated the trend on Distance Over Time might share some of my ambivalence, but ultimately I imagine longstanding fans will get a good amount of enjoyment out of this record.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 6
Production: 8





Written on 26.10.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 10   Visited by: 228 users
27.10.2021 - 00:55
KungFuKuya
Kamelotian
Great review!

Distance Over Time was genuinely their best since, arguably, Black Clouds. It sounded thematically interesting which is a key element in their best albums i. e. Images, Scenes etc. Even though it's still a bit too early to judge, I hate to admit that it so far sounds like, indeed "an album that is Dream Theater to a tee, for better or worse."

The album clearly shows that they are technical masters, but I feel like their desire and focus to be collaborative has gone at the expense of a thematic direction, lyrically and soundwise. I know that not every album needs to be a strong concept album, but I do miss it here, and I guess I am just saying that it isn't original enough.

Favorites so far are Invisible Monster, Awaken the Master and the album title, but even those aren't "perfect".
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27.10.2021 - 07:45
SoUnDs LiKe PoP

I think I'm the only DT fan in the world who loved A Dramatic Turn of Events, yet didn't care too much for their last two efforts.

I know this is said a lot with DT... but this album is beginning to sound VERY samey. Even the chord progressions on the choruses are starting to sound identical.
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I lift weights and listen to metal
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27.10.2021 - 09:33
doez
Hallucigenia
Really nice review, only things I would disagree with is the "Illumination Theory" comment, I personally loved that song and would put it higher than "The Count Of Tuscany" and "In The Presence Of The Enemies" in my theorical ranking of DT's epics. Other than that, you're pretty much on point
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27.10.2021 - 09:53
musclassia

Written by SoUnDs LiKe PoP on 27.10.2021 at 07:45

I think I'm the only DT fan in the world who loved A Dramatic Turn of Events, yet didn't care too much for their last two efforts.

I know this is said a lot with DT... but this album is beginning to sound VERY samey. Even the chord progressions on the choruses are starting to sound identical.


I can definitely see why you'd lean towards A Dramatic Turn Of Events; I'd personally rank ADTOE second of their Mangini albums - I like the longer songs (particularly On The Backs Of Angels, Bridges In The Sky and Breaking All Illusions) rather a lot, but none of the shorter/soft songs really work for me, so I'd rank Distance Over Time above it for consistency more than anything else. I'd probably consider this album more consistent than it too, but as you say it does have a very samey feel, so I prefer the memorability of the stronger songs on ADTOE.
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27.10.2021 - 10:20
Enemy of Reality

The last DT album i really enjoyed was Black Clouds. Although A Dramatic Turn of Events has a lot of good moments like the first two songs and the brilliant Bridges in the Sky, it felt a bit too "clinical" for my taste. The subsequent albums were even worse. Both Dream Theater and The The Astonishing sounded like a band in auto-pilot with zero soul in it. While Distance Over Time definitely saw some improvement in that regard, it was still lacking when compared with efforts like Black Clouds, Train of Thought or even Systematic Chaos. This new album, kind of follows the same trend. It has some good stuff, the song Awaken the Master is fantastic for example, but overall it's just another ok album from a band that used to release classic after classic. Solid 7/10.
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27.10.2021 - 14:55
MikeVonDoom

Written by SoUnDs LiKe PoP on 27.10.2021 at 07:45

I think I'm the only DT fan in the world who loved A Dramatic Turn of Events, yet didn't care too much for their last two efforts.


I share the same opinion! As a matter of fact, I will go further and say that this album is very much in the same league of A Dramatic Turn of Events, still my fav from Mangini's era! Everything between both albuns don't fit my taste. I find myself struggling to enjoy them just to end up frustrated and thinking how did they manage to fail so badly.
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27.10.2021 - 18:50
tominator
At best deranged
I found this one to be in a similar vein as the previous record. Good and very solid effort. The title track and (as you mentioned) Transcending Time are the ones that stand out the most. I'd put Distance Over Time slightly above this one because there are a couple more memorable moments to me.

I agree that this won't set the world on fire, but it's an enjoyable addition to their discography.
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27.10.2021 - 21:06
Ellinor

Written by SoUnDs LiKe PoP on 27.10.2021 at 07:45

I think I'm the only DT fan in the world who loved A Dramatic Turn of Events, yet didn't care too much for their last two efforts.

I know this is said a lot with DT... but this album is beginning to sound VERY samey. Even the chord progressions on the choruses are starting to sound identical.


I'd take ADTOE anytime before the last two efforts.
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27.10.2021 - 21:22
JoHn DoE

Written by Ellinor on 27.10.2021 at 21:06

Written by SoUnDs LiKe PoP on 27.10.2021 at 07:45

I think I'm the only DT fan in the world who loved A Dramatic Turn of Events, yet didn't care too much for their last two efforts.

I know this is said a lot with DT... but this album is beginning to sound VERY samey. Even the chord progressions on the choruses are starting to sound identical.


I'd take ADTOE anytime before the last two efforts.


I think DOT is more interesting and more enjoyable than ADTOE.
I for one would rather listen to ATOE than Systematic Chaos. See, to each their own.
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I thought the two primary purposes for the internet were cat memes and overreactions.
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28.10.2021 - 00:55
BlankFile

Not very original and sometimes redundant, i agree. But still a very solid effort by the band, for sure. In my opinion, does not reach the quality of their previous record "Distance Over Time", which in my opinion remains their best record since "Black Clouds and Silver Linnings", but has a lot of good stuff in here that´s worth to explore. In my view, clearly better than "The Astonishing", "Dream Theater" and "A Dramatic Turn of Events".

Highlights for me are: "Answering The Call", "Invisible Monster", "Transcending Time" and "A View From the Top of the World" (best track).
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