Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Top 10 Dream Theater Tracks For Metalheads

Let me start by acknowledging that this article was born in my mind after reading an Invisible Oranges article that was reflecting on Dream Theater's sophomore album, Images and Words, turning 25 years old. Anyone who knows me personally or has read this blog more than a few times probably knows by now that Dream Theater was a seminal gateway band for me after my initial days of listening to hard rock and mainstream metal on the local radio station. Because of that history, despite how my metal tastes have and will continue to change, I will always consider myself a Dream Theater fan (I can hear your collective sighs.....they fuel me).

So, after reading the aforementioned article, I put my thinking cap on and asked myself, "What Dream Theater tracks could potentially sway metal fans who wouldn't normally consider themselves Dream Theater fans (or even better, actually HATE Dream Theater)?"

Now it's time for some ground rules / clarification about this list:

What this list IS:

1.) Ten Dream Theater songs that, in my opinion (an opinion on a metal blog?! you don't say?!), would appeal most to another metal fan's "metal sensibilities."

2.) These ten tracks span the whole discography of Dream Theater. I could've easily just suggested listening to the Train of Thought album and just called it a day, but I wasn't feeling quite that lazy.

3.) I tried to steer away from super-progressive tracks, but that kind of stuff is always going to be in there to some extent. Deal with it.

What this list IS NOT:

1.) A definitive "Best Dream Theater Tracks of All Time" list. Those kinds of lists usually make my head hurt.

2.) A list that you have to 100% have to agree with. My baseline for success here is that there's at least one track on this list that a non-DT fan listens to and, at the very least, says to themselves "Eh, I guess I didn't hate it."

Now onto the list, finally!

10.) "On The Backs of Angels" (A Dramatic Turn of Events , 2011)



Of the three post-Portnoy era Dream Theater albums that their have been so far, I'm mystified by anyone who doesn't think the first one of these three was easily the best. "On The Backs of Angels" was the first single to be released from A Dramatic Turn of Events, but it's often the one I find myself coming back to the most. Even though it's structured a lot like their first ever single, "Pull Me Under", it hits harder in every area comparatively.


9.) "Ytse Jam" (When Dream and Day Unite , 1989)



We're going all the way back to the very first Dream Theater album with this one. James LaBrie hadn't even been introduced into the mix yet, but the vocals of Charlie Dominici are the last thing you'll remember from DT's debut album. The "Ytse Jam" is an instrumental track that features a riff that is one of the catchiest things the band has ever done. If this doesn't get stuck in your head, there's something wrong with you. This album could certainly use a remaster, but this track still stands out.

8.) "Panic Attack" (Octavarium , 2005)



To all my fellow nerds out there, don't worry, I can feel the Rock Band 2 PTSD kicking in too. With the solo sections being the only parts that really showcase any structural variance, "Panic Attack" is one of the more straightforward tracks on this list. This is a good thing for the demographic this list is pandering to though, I suppose. Matched with John Petrucci's blistering sweep solos, this track dials into a heavier guitar tone and does not stray from that path; making for a rather accessible listen.


7.) "Under a Glass Moon " ( Images and Words , 1992)

Speaking of guitar solos...holy shit. While it showcases one of the best guitar solos of Petrucci's career, "Under a Glass Moon" also encapsulates the best of what the Images and Words album had to offer. James LaBrie was able to demonstrate his impressive range at the time, the guitar solos were wild and free, and progressive tempo changes were aplenty. However, all of that was held together by very digestible underlying rhythms that were easy to follow and enjoy. In terms of knocking out two birds with one stone, "Under a Glass Moon" is a perfect choice for when you want to headbang and practice for the world air-guitar championships.


6.) "Metropolis, Pt. 1:The Miracle and the Sleeper" ( Images and Words , 1992)

Much like the last entry, "Metropolis" was a high point of Dream Theater's breakthrough album. What sets this track a part from "Under a Glass Moon", though, is that the melodies hook in quite a bit deeper. These hooks come at you right from the get-go too. "Metropolis'" opening keyboard line lays the foundation for the rest of the track; allowing the guitar rhythms to layer on top in order to create some really special melodies. The exchanging riffs between the guitar and the keys in the track's mid-point keep a feeling of playfulness but simultaneously build in intensity. This is one of the better examples of a single track that packs many of what would become Dream Theater tropes into one sitting.


5.) "The Mirror / Lie" ( Awake , 1994)

I'm cheating on this one a little bit by including two songs for one entry. I justify it to myself by the fact that these songs seamlessly transition on the album and are the metal core (not metalcore) of 1994's Awake album. The previous album, Images and Words, may have provided one of the first templates for progressive metal but it was ultimately Awake that fine-tuned this template by making things more guitar-centric, heavier, and less cheesy sounding overall.


4.) "As I Am" ( Train of Thought , 2003)

As I alluded to earlier, Train of Thought is Dream Theater's heaviest album from front to back. It sits as my personal favorite of theirs for that very reason. "As I Am" is the album's opening track and delivers that heaviness right away. Guitar reverb and pinch harmonics are in abundance; further establishing a mood that is much darker territory than Dream Theater usually delves into. Like "Panic Attack", this track is direct but due to its relative sense of gloom has a little something extra to latch onto.


3.) "A Change of Seasons" ( A Change of Seasons , 1995)

This is a criminally underrated Dream Theater track. Maybe not so much underrated as it's just not talked about nearly as much as it should be. This is the only 20+ minute epic I included on this list, but for good reason. Each section of "A Change of Seasons" features some passage of surprisingly heavy riffs compared to their output up until 1995. The track also fluidly builds upon itself, constantly building in grandeur.


2.) "Home" ( Scenes From a Memory , 1999)

When you take time to observe the lineage of progressive metal, you'll often find Scenes From a Memory heralded as Dream Theater's opus for both its thematic and tonal cohesion. While some tracks are just a tad over-dramatic for my liking, the opening track of the album's second act hits home (pun intended). Combining middle eastern sounding riffs along with enough wah-wah effects that would put Kirk Hammett to shame might not sound like a great idea on paper, but boy is it ever effective in the end. This track also has a particularly more ominous tone as compared to the rest of what the album has to offer.


1.) "Stream of Consciousness" ( Train of Thought , 2003)

So, even though I stated earlier that this isn't a definitive "Dream Theater Best Of" list, I'd be lying if I said this track wouldn't also be my #1 for that list too. Returning to the heavier Train of Thought album, not only is "Stream of Consciousness" my favorite Dream Theater track but it's also commonly praised as being one of the best metal instrumentals ever. Everything you could possible admire about the band is packed into this track. It's heavy, it features plenty of interesting compositional transitions, the solos are about as out of control as you'll ever hear them, it's catchy, and it packs all of this into one epic package that's just over 10 minutes as opposed to 20 minutes.

So that's the list, folks. Did I accomplish my mission? Or are some of you still not even partially converted? Let me know in the comments!

- Mick

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