Review Summary: A View from the Top of the World is an incredibly solid album that brings out the best qualities in Dream Theater’s current incarnation. Predictable, sure, but incredibly solid.
Dream Theater in 2021. What exactly would you expect at this point from a new release by the progressive metal veterans? With the exception of the odd experiment here and there (such as the ill-advised The Astonishing
), the band’s tried-and-true formula doesn’t really get shaken up these days. In fact, their previous album Distance Over Time
was one of the safest releases they’d put out in quite a long time; perhaps the more conservative approach was meant to balance out the ambitiousness of a two-hour-long rock opera, but that didn’t really change how predictable its songwriting was. So with that in mind, it was hard to have any serious expectations for A View from the Top of the World
, even with the prospect of a 20-minute epic to cap it off. But while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any major way, it does happen to be the band’s best record in a decade.
Really, the album title and cover art say it all. Dream Theater don’t have anything else to prove from the vantage point of being one of progressive metal’s foremost legacy acts, so A View from the Top of the World
comes off more as a band writing and playing for the sake of enjoying their craft. Songs like the highly technical barnburner “The Alien” or the off-time chugging of “Answering the Call” aren’t doing anything new per se, but the quality lies in how these old ideas are being presented here. Despite the song lengths being pretty long as usual, the more wank-driven bits are surprisingly lean and controlled - solos generally don’t last over two minutes, and while they’re still pretty masturbatory as one would expect, they’re also pretty tasteful compared to a lot of Dream Theater’s modern output. “Invisible Monster” is a perfect representation of this, with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess’ guitar and keyboard parts interlocking with each other to form some really neat harmonies.
Of course, the band do get more adventurous and crazy during the two epic pieces, “Sleeping Giant” and the mammoth title track. The former features some excellent symphonic bits from Rudess’ keyboard parts, as well as some SHOCKINGLY strong singing from James LaBrie. In fact, this album is the best he’s sounded in a long time; he doesn’t try to stretch himself too much vocally on the record, and I think that’s to his benefit. In short, he simply sounds more comfortable here than he has on previous albums. As always, the rest of the band show off their technical acumen very nicely on “Sleeping Giant” with shred solos and off-time licks, with the honky tonk piano of Rudess’ solo being a particularly fun highlight. The title track, meanwhile, goes through about as many twists and turns as you’d imagine from a modern Dream Theater epic. It mostly relies on a flurry of technical riffs and solos, but I have to give a nod to the beautiful midsection; the drums drop out, and all that can be heard is Petrucci’s clean guitar ringing out before the rest of the band eventually enters back in. Great stuff, and it plays like a leaner version of the symphonic break in “Illumination Theory” from the band’s self-titled effort.
The only drawback to all of this is what I’ve already mentioned: a lot of what’s found on A View from the Top of the World
is what you would expect from Dream Theater, even if it’s executed very well. The only true surprise on the record is the fantastic power-ballad “Transcending Time”, which sounds like it could have been pulled straight out of one of the band’s 90s albums. It’s incredibly emotional and uplifting, giving off similar vibes to “The Looking Glass” but not wearing its influences on its sleeve like that song did. But could there have been more songs like that on the record? Sure, and it would have been nice to hear, but maybe that’d be asking too much of the band. A View from the Top of the World
is an incredibly solid album that brings out the best qualities in Dream Theater’s current incarnation; it’s predictable, yes, but you’ll most likely still enjoy it if you keep that caveat in mind. This is the best the band have sounded in a long time, and certainly the best this lineup has sounded; let’s just hope they can keep this trajectory going for future records.