DREAM THEATER: Albums Ranked

Some 30 years (and counting) removed from the commercial success of their major-label debut, Dream Theater has managed to sustain and maintain their position as one of the premier names in prog-metal. With each new release, the immensely talented five-piece firmly re-establishes what longtime fans have known for years: Dream Theater is still creating relevant music.

Dream Theater possesses a surprisingly diverse catalog—one where no two releases sound identical. But regardless of where it might fall on the ‘Rush-meets-Metallica’ spectrum—be it epic, prog-infused concept albums (Scenes From a Memory) or driving, metal-tinged onslaughts (Train of Thought)—just about every LP has given fans a healthy dose of both.

I recently took yet another ‘deep-dive’ into the band’s catalog, re-listening to each release in chronological order. I still revisit some of Dream Theater’s records (like the breathtaking Six Degrees of Inner-Turbulence) on a fairly regular basis, while others (here’s looking at you, Black Clouds & Silver Linings), well, not so much. But as I worked my way through the band’s discography, I found myself routinely blown away by how well nearly all of these albums have aged.

Group portrait of American music group Dream Theater as they pose at the Vic Theater, Chicago, Illinois, June 6, 1993. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

With a complete run-through under my belt, I’ve compiled a list ranking (in my humble opinion) Dream Theater’s albums from worst to best, albeit with a few caveats:

*Caveat Number One: To keep this a manageable read, I’ve decided to restrict my list to full-length studio releases. Obviously, this means that the numerous live albums, as well as the Change of Seasons E.P. (all worth checking out), will not be represented here.

**Caveat Number Two: It goes without saying that I hold Dream Theater in the highest esteem; therefore, any and all criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. As a longtime fan, I still find something redeeming on every release, so dividing their ‘best’ from their ‘worst’ is essentially an exercise in nit-picking.

***Caveat Number Three: I’d like to file anything I’ve written below in the ever-so-subjective ‘prisoner of the moment’ category. I suspect that if I were to repeat this process six months from now, my results would change dramatically. The following list is little more than a snapshot of where I am as a Dream Theater fan right now.

One Final Note: Recognizing that anyone who reads this likely has a working knowledge of Dream Theater’s history, I did my best to keep the history lessons to a minimum. For a far more comprehensive overview of Dream Theater’s story, I highly recommend Rich Wilson’s Lifting Shadows.

15. When Dream and Day Unite (1989)

Dream Theater’s oft-overlooked debut offered the world but a hint of what was to come. Notably, the band’s only release with vocalist Charlie Dominici, When Dream and Day Unite successfully established the prog-meets-metal formula that Dream Theater would go on to define and refine.

With an off-the-charts mix of ambition and youthful energy, this record has a raw, unrefined charm that warrants revisiting. That said, from the cluttered arrangements to the cavernous, reverb-drenched mix, this is far from the band’s apex. Every list has to have a starting point, and for the reasons stated above, this list begins with When Dream and Day Unite.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“Ytse Jam” is still one of the Dream Theater’s most effective instrumentals, and “Only a Matter of Time” is perhaps the best union of the band’s music with Dominici’s vocals.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

While there’s a lot of charm here, the overall production is lacking. As the rest of this list illustrates, for all his strengths, Charlie Dominic wasn’t a good fit for the band Dream Theater wanted to become.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or Moment):

And if spirit’s a sign, Then it’s only a matter of time – “Only a Matter of Time”

14. Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)

Black Clouds & Silver Linings marks the first time I found myself completely underwhelmed by a Dream Theater release. If I had to distill my thoughts on Dream Theater’s tenth album down to a single word, it would be ‘uninspired.’

On paper, this record should be amazing—Mike Portnoy famously said, “imagine a Dream Theater album with ‘A Change of Seasons’, ‘Octavarium’, ‘Learning to Live’, ‘Pull Me Under’ and ‘The Glass Prison’ all on one album”—but the results are, at best, a mixed bag. Given Portnoy’s dramatic departure from the band following this album’s tour, it’s difficult to justify his pre-release bravado with the events that followed.

Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a good example of a record where the highs, staggering as they might be, are vastly outweighed by the lows. There are many die-hard fans who absolutely adore this album, but Black Clouds & Silver Linings remains the only Dream Theater record where I could take or leave virtually every song. 

Silver Linings (Highlights):

The production is solid, as is the playing from all five members, and the six covers included with the bonus version of this album are a real treat.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

Much of the lyrical content here fails to live up to the band’s previously established standards. Petrucci, in particular, turns in what I consider to be the band’s hokiest, most cringe-worthy lyric to date with ‘The Count of Tuscany.’ 

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

A toss-up between the ‘Hopelessly Drifting’ section in “A Nightmare to Remember” and the outro of “The Best of Times.”

13. The Astonishing (2016)

While Dream Theater’s second foray into ‘concept album’ territory gets an ‘A’ for effort, in my book, The Astonishing remains a glaring late-career misstep. On paper, a high-concept musical set in a dystopian future sounds pretty awesome (I mean, it worked for Rush), but in practice, the album instantly divided the band’s fanbase.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to love about “The Astonishing”—the sheer ambition of this John Petrucci-led project warrants a certain level of respect and admiration. Still, given the derivative nature of the story and pacing issues, this is one of the few Dream Theater releases I have little interest in revisiting. That said, there’s a fantastic single disc (or maybe an E.P.???) of material here, provided you are willing to sift through the rest to find it.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

The Astonishing is an impressive showcase for James LaBrie. He draws upon nearly every facet of his career to portray a myriad of characters, settings, and moods. Add to that the lush, nuanced mix and a handful of genuinely breathtaking moments (“A Life Left Behind,” “Moment of Betrayal”), and you have yourself a handful of songs that easily stand among the band’s best work. My suggestion: pluck your ten favorite tracks, drop ’em into a playlist, and enjoy.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

This album’s most significant flaw is the sheer number of ballads and piano-driven interludes. The momentum established in the first act quickly wanes, rendering much of this two-hour affair a dismal slog. This climbs much higher in my ranking as a single disc (of maybe 8 or 9 songs).

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

I’m waking up, from a life left behind – “A Life Left Behind”

12. Systematic Chaos (2007)

We now enter the ‘toss-up’ portion of my list, as I hold the next few albums in similar esteem—an occasional listen save for a few key tracks. In the case of 2007’s Systematic Chaos, other than the two-part epic (“In the Presence of Enemies”) bookending this record, I rarely revisit this material. 

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with songs like “Prophets of War,” “Constant Motion,” and “Forsaken,” the edgy, ‘we-just-signed-with-Roadrunner-Records’ vibe just doesn’t seem to carry the same weight it did back in 2007. That said, for my money, “In the Presence of Enemies” is a top-5 epic that I routinely revisit.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

In addition to ‘In the Presence of Enemies,’ ‘Repentance’ (the fourth installment to Mike Portnoy’s AA-inspired multi-song epic) and the first half of ‘The Ministry of Lost Souls’ offer a rare show of restraint and ‘moodiness’ for the band.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

While the song has its fair share of admirers, for this fan, the self-indulgence displayed throughout the vampire-inspired ‘The Dark Eternal Night’ borders on absurdity. Points awarded for pushing the envelope, but it’s probably for the best that this song remains an oddity in the band’s catalog.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

The final movement of ‘In the Presence of Enemies.’

11. Dream Theater (2013)

Complete with three instrumentals and yet another twenty-minute epic (“Illumination Theory”), Dream Theater’s self-titled effort was the first album to fully integrate drummer Mike Mangini into the writing process. 

According to a Guitar World interview with John Petrucci, “We wanted to make this album a reference point for [fans] as far as what Dream Theater is all about. That was the goal and the mission, and it set the tone for the entire project.”

Fans seemed to be on board, at least initially. While the record is Dream Theater’s second-highest charting album and earned the band a Grammy nomination, it is unfortunately marred by some head-scratching production choices (that snare!) and a mix that leaves little to be desired. 

That’s not to say there aren’t good songs here, because there are, but I would be hard-pressed to make an argument for any of the nine tracks here belonging in a Dream Theater ‘top 10’ list.

Still, this is a fairly consistent album—good, not great, but otherwise enjoyable from start to finish.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

From the dynamic arrangement to the soaring chorus, ‘The Bigger Picture’ is classic Dream Theater–the song could easily find a home on Images & Words or Awake.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

Other than the reprehensible production, there’s little here that will offend anyone. In fact, the band’s efforts to ‘play it safe’ are likely responsible for what feels like Dream Theater’s most unmemorable release.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

When I see the distant lights illuminate the night, Then I will know I am home – “The Bigger Picture”

10. Train Of Thought (2003)

Dream Theater’s metal influences are there in some form or another on every release, but 2003’s Train of Thought is arguably the band its ‘heaviest.’ From the monochromatic cover to the ever-present brooding tone, Train of Thought firmly and succinctly establishes that Dream Theater is just as capable of churning out a modern, contemporary metal record with the best of them.

Given the album’s undeniable ‘metal’ focus, it’s tempting to dismiss ‘Train of Thought’ as an indulgent detour (or misstep). Yes, there is but one brief respite from the non-stop riffage (“Vacant”), but repeated listens reveal some of the band’s most confessional, emotional moments to date. Be it the declarative stance of “As I Am,” the scathing rebuke that is “Honor Thy Father,” or the road-weary sentiment permeating “Endless Sacrifice,” Dream Theater’s lyrical approach on Train of Thought is both blunt and cathartic.

That said, this is Dream Theater’s most unrelenting listen. When one is in the mood, this album hits (or smashes) all the right buttons. Unfortunately, the myopic focus on aggression renders this an album I only revisit under certain circumstances, hence its middle-of-the-pack placement.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“As I Am,” “This Dying Soul,” and “Endless Sacrifice” might be the best opening salvo in the band’s catalog, if not the most punishing.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

“Stream Of Consciousness” would work so much better if it were half the length, and the second verse of “Honor Thy Father” only grows more cringe-worthy with each passing year.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

Striving for balance, We rise to the challenge, Of staying connected, In spite of circumstance – “Endless Sacrifice”

9. Distance Over Time (2019)

The Astonishing had its share of fans, but the overall reaction to Dream Theater’s two-hour-plus dystopian musical was mixed at best. In response, Dream Theater opted to return to basics and delivered an inspired batch of songs that practically leap from the speakers. 

In many ways, Distance Over Time channels the prog-tinged metal vibe that defined the band’s 1994 release, Awake, albeit with all the benefits of modern production. From the crystal-clear, balanced mix to the ‘live on the floor’ energy seeping from the individual performances, this album is in contention for the band’s best ‘sounding’ release to feature Mike Mangini. 

Add to that some incredible performances from John Petrucci and a couple of instant classics (“Barstool Warrior,” “At Wit’s End”), and you have yourself a welcome return to form.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“At Wit’s End” sports one of the best Dream Theater choruses to date.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

“Untethered Angel” continues the band’s unfortunate trend of releasing an underwhelming song as a single.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

Don’t leave me now, don’t leave me now, I know that it’s tearing you apart – “At Wit’s End”

8. A View From The Top Of The World (2021)

Dream Theater’s fifteenth full-length, the aptly titled A View From the Top of the World, picks up where Distance Over Time left off. For many fans, Distance Over Time marked a dramatic improvement on the production front, a trend that continues here.

There are, of course, some interesting moments as well. “The Alien,” a sprawling, nearly-ten minute sonic adventure exploring humanity’s future amongst the stars, earned Dream Theater their first Grammy. “Transcending Time” feels like the fraternal twin to “The Looking Glass” and “Sleeping Giant” could easily fit on any number of prior DT releases. Oh, and the title track epic represents one of the band’s finest moments of the past decade.

If you’d never heard a single note of Dream Theater’s music, A View From the Top of the World would make for a perfect introduction, a point that  sums up my primary issue with the release. Dream Theater’s fifteenth album is, without a doubt, a fun listen, but there’s little here that the band hasn’t done before. Still, A View From the Top of the World is easily the band’s most consistent record in a decade, no small feat for a band that’s about to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“A View From the Top of the World” is easily Dream Theater’s best ‘epic’ with Mike Mangini behind the kit.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

“Invisible Monster” is an underwhelming mid-tempo slog that made for an odd choice for a second single.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

The title track’s pensive middle section is a welcome respite on an album devoid of ballads.

7. Images & Words (1992)

I know what you’re thinking: “Really? This low? WTF?” 

Now, before you toss your phone in anger and disgust, hear me out.

First off, any band with fifteen albums (and counting) is obviously doing something right. The fact that Dream Theater’s major label debut winds up in the middle of this list is nothing more than a testament to the sustained quality of their output. For many fans, Images & Words marks Dream Theater’s apex. 

It’s a fantastic record, for sure, and songs like “Pull Me Under,” “Take The Time,” “Metropolis,” and “Learning To Live” deserve the praise they receive. Still, critical acclaim tends to hold little weight in my book—I’ll take Presence over Led Zeppelin 4 any day of the week.  

Yes, there are some sonic elements that ‘date’ this release—the triggered drums and glossy mix immediately come to mind—but there’s an undeniable timelessness to the material. Still, for all of the ground Dream Theater broke with Images & Words, I honestly think the best was yet to come. 

Silver Linings (Highlights):

For my money, “Learning To Live” is the best representation of this line-up, with “Surrounded” being a close second.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

Other than an undeniably great guitar solo, “Under A Glass Moon” has always underwhelmed me.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

Spread before you is your soul, So forever hold the dreams within our hearts, Through nature’s inflexible grace, I’m learning to live – “Learning To Live”

6. A Dramatic Turn of Events (2011)

The highest ranking for a ‘Mangini-era’ album, A Dramatic Turn of Events was a purposeful statement on the band’s part—one intended to both reassure and rejuvenate a fanbase struggling to come to terms with the departure of Mike Portnoy.

With that in mind, 2011’s ‘Dramatic Turn of Events’ is a success on all fronts. Setting aside the muffled production (something that bothers me far less than most fans), Dream Theater’s eleventh release is a diverse collection that features some of the band’s strongest songwriting to date.

The Grammy-nominated “On the Backs of Angels” and “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” are a serviceable opening salvo, but the four-song run from “Lost Not Forgotten” thru “Outcry” easily ranks among the band’s best work. Critics are quick to point out some obvious (and not-so obvious) similarities to Images & Words, but Dream Theater is hardly the first band to look to their past for inspiration. Whether or not it’s a deliberate nod to the beloved “Learning to Live,” the de facto finale “Breaking All Illusions” is a fantastic late-career highlight.

Based on its ranking, I clearly hold A Dramatic Turn of Events in very high regard and place it up there with the best that Dream Theater has to offer. 

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“This is the Life” might be Dream Theater’s most affecting ballad, and it’s easily one of John Petrucci’s best lyrics.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

While it adds a little heft to the album, “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” finds the band trying a bit too hard to channel a contemporary metal vibe.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

Have you ever wished that you were someone else, Traded places in your mind, It’s only a waste of your time – “This is the Life”

5. Falling Into Infinity (1997)

Lists are inherently subjective, but I suspect that my placement of Falling Into Infinity will draw a sideways glance from virtually everyone who reads this. I’ve long considered Dream Theater’s fourth full-length to be an under-appreciated gem. A bold claim, for sure, but one I’m more than willing to explain.

In addition to the lush mix and a pair of fan-favorite epics (“Lines in the Sand,” “Trial of Tears”), Falling Into Infinity offers listeners a healthy dose of the band’s not-so-heavy influences. With moments that evoke the likes of Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and even Elton John, the album is one of the band’s most purely ‘prog’ releases.

It’s also the first album following the departure of Kevin Moore. While some would miss Moore’s lyrical prowess, replacement Derek Sherinian provides the band with a new palette of musical colors. Be it the Deep Purple-inspired organ work or his penchant for guitar-adjacent patches (Sherinian often cites guitar players as his biggest influence), Sherinian brought a flavor to Dream Theater that they hadn’t explored before or since.

Unfortunately, the record’s tumultuous, drawn-out writing and recording (documented in detail in Rich Wilson’s ‘Lifting Shadows’ biography) coupled with the mixed reaction from fans has marred this album’s reputation. While detractors will cite the Desmond Child co-write “You Not Me” and the simplified arrangements of songs like “Burn My Soul” and the single “Hollow Years” as stylistic low-points for the band, you could easily argue that working with an outside producer (Kevin Shirley) forced the band from their comfort zone, resulting in a rare show of musical restraint.

Mileage obviously varies with the songs, but Falling Into Infinity is arguably one the band’s best ‘sounding’ albums to date and sports a mix that stands up with anything they’ve released in the past decade. Taken as it is, this is a top-five release for me, but given the opportunity to re-sequence the album and include a handful of the discarded B-sides (“Cover My Eyes,” “Raise the Knife,” “Speak to Me,” etc.), I suspect it would climb even higher on this list.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“Lines in the Sand” boasts one of John Petrucci’s most memorable solos, and his lyrical contributions on this album are a cut above.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

There are some interesting moments in “You Not Me,” but as the second track on the album, it’s an underwhelming choice.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

He said, “What else can you do, babe? I guess I won’t be coming home again”  – “Take Away My Pain”

4. Awake (1994)

Awake finds Dream Theater ‘amping up’ nearly every element from ‘Images & Words.’ Petrucci’s guitars are tuned deeper and chug harder, the ‘synth-pop’ sheen on Portnoy’s drums has been replaced with a sound more in line with what you might find on a Pantera record, and James LaBrie’s vocals have adopted a noticeably gritty snarl. In many ways, the album feels like a reaction.

Given the unexpected success of Images & Words, expectations surrounding Dream Theater’s follow-up were extremely high. While Awake failed to match its predecessor’s sales or chart success, it certainly succeeded in reaffirming Dream Theater’s status as a musical force to be reckoned with. 

Sure, Images & Words had moments of aggression, but it’s far more indebted to bands like Rush and Yes than Metallica. On the other hand, Awake finds Dream Theater exploring darker musical and lyrical themes. Be it the rat-race anthem “6:00” or the punishing “Caught in a Web,” the band made it known right out of the gate that they had no intention of simply repeating the Images & Words formula.

That’s not to say Awake is lacking in diversity. “The Silent Man” and the sublime “Lifting Shadows Off a Dream” break new ground for the band on the ballad front. Even the requisite epics (“Voices,” “Scarred”) occupy a different lane when compare.

I’ll freely admit that there’s a nostalgic component at work here that gives Awake an edge over much of this list, but the reason it’s in my top three has less to do with yesteryear and more to do with the way I still connect with these songs some thirty years later.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

“Voices,” and more specifically, the final section (beginning with “I’m kneeling on the floor”) remains one of my favorite recorded moments from any band. Petrucci’s solo is also an early-career highlight and features a style of off-the-cuff playing that I wish he’d occasionally return to.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

Honestly, I wouldn’t change a note on this record. Still, if I had to lose a track, “Lie” (minus the instrumental coda) would probably be my choice.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

And how come you don’t understand me? And how come I don’t understand you? Thirty years say we’re in this together, So open your eyes – “Scarred”

3. Scenes From a Memory (1999)

Dream Theater’s first full-length concept album, 1999’s Scenes From a Memory signaled a rebirth for the band. This album could easily be the number one entry on this list, and for many fans, this is Dream Theater at their absolute best. 

Floundering in the wake of an ill-received record (1997’s Falling Into Infinity) and dealing with yet another line-up change (Keyboardist Derek Sherinian was replaced with the unparalleled Jordan Rudess, the band’s ‘original’ first choice as Kevin Moore’s replacement), Dream Theater was on the brink of what many (including the band itself) felt was a ‘make-or-break’ record.

In response to this challenge, the band seized control, opting to work without a producer (thus beginning the long-running collaboration between Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci) and disregarding any further input from the label. Dream Theater then hunkered down and created what might be the boldest artistic statement of their career.

Now, to fully understand the weight of this decision, one needs to keep in mind the musical environment circa 1999. Nu-Metal and boy bands were all the rage, and few would’ve faulted Dream Theater if they’d continued to push in the direction they began with Falling Into Infinity. After all, rock bands from all genres were struggling to remain relevant at the time. Dream Theater, however, opted to challenge both themselves and their fanbase, and ultimately, it was a move that paid off in spades.

Rather than creating the derivative, genre-hopping cash-grab that their record company was surely hoping for, the band delivered an all-time masterpiece—a concept record that hardly feels tethered to the period during which it was conceived and one that now stands on par with all-time classics like Queensyrche’s Operation Mindcrime.

So why only number three on my list? Again, had the band stopped here, Scenes would easily nab the top spot. Instead, the album marks what I feel is the beginning of their creative peak.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

Almost too many to count: the unison finale in “Fatal Tragedy,” the from-the-mountaintop guitar solo in “The Spirit Carries On,” and the numerous lyrical and musical callbacks to “Metropolis Pt. 1” all warrant discussion. For my money, however, “Home” is a top-10 classic that provides a musical, um, climax for the record.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

Within the context of the album, “Through Her Eyes” serves a purpose, but I have felt the urge to ‘skip’ it since day one. 

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

A blinding light comes into view, An old soul exchanged for a new, Familiar voice comes shining through – “Finally Free”

2. Octavarium (2005)

Few topics inspire more spirited debate amongst the band’s passionate fan base than their epics—the handful of twenty-minute-plus numbers that (arguably) make for the finest showcase of their collective abilities. For my money, “Octavarium” is not only Dream Theater’s best epic, it’s their defining musical statement (an opinion shared by a number of fans).

As for the rest of the album? Well, unlike the majority of their catalog, Octavarium wasn’t love at first sight. I immediately appreciated “The Root of All Evil” (still my favorite installment from the 12-Step Suite) and the title track, but the rest took a moment to sink in.

On the heels of Train Of Thought, Octavarium felt like a deliberate reaction to its detuned predecessor, and one that I wasn’t quite sure hit the mark. Taking into account the juxtaposition between Dream Theater’s seventh and eighth efforts, it’s tempting to cite Falling Into Infinity as a point of comparison. In reality, Octavarium sets a new bar for the band in every direction. “The Answer Lies Within” is Dream Theater at their most gentle, “I Walk Beside You” is a certified pop anthem, and “Panic Attack” ranks amongst their heaviest moments.

Given the above description, you’d think Octavarium was a jumbled mess, but the album is actually one of the band’s most cohesive efforts. Yes, the songs are loosely bound together by a far-too-complex-to-describe-here theme, but there’s something else going on here as well. From start to finish, Octavarium manages to summon a (for lack of a better word) vibe that’s difficult to put into words. 

I liked it the day I heard it, but I’ve grown to love this album over the years, so much so that it continues to find its way into my ‘regular listening’ rotation. 

Silver Linings (Highlights):

Virtually the whole damn record! Keeping in the spirit of things, I’ll cite the bridge and final key shift of “I Walk Beside You” as one of the many highlights.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

This is tough, as even what I initially considered the ‘weak’ songs (like “The Answer Lies Within”) I’ve grown to love. Still, I’ve long thought that “These Walls” would make more sense as the second track, followed by “The Answer Lies Within.” It’s a massive nit-pick, but that’s where we’re at!

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

So suddenly, The only thing I wanted, To become, To be someone just like him – “Octavarium”

1. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

In my humble opinion, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence best represents the many shades of Dream Theater. If you want heavy guitars, take a listen to the album-opening “The Glass Prison.” If pensive balladry is your thing, “Disappear” is the band’s finest hour. ‘Where’s the prog,’ you say? Um, did you forget to check out the forty-two-minute epic occupying the entire second disc? Essentially, there’s something for every Dream Theater fan on Six Degrees.

But the key to this album’s success isn’t just the sonic diversity, it’s the execution: that and the brazen disregard for expectations. As mentioned above, there’s no overarching formula to songwriting save for a barrage of memorable moments. From the instrumental passages to the solos to the vocal melodies, nothing feels out of place. 

Rarely has the band transitioned so seamlessly from one section to another than on a song like “Blind Faith.” Equally rare is Dream Theater’s masterful use of dynamics in “Misunderstood.” While each player (including James LaBrie) is at the top of their game, Jordan Rudess’ second outing with the band finds the keyboardist fully integrating himself in a way neither of his predecessors could.

From a production standpoint, Six Degrees sounds amazing. Somehow, every instrument finds equal footing in the mix. Mike Portnoy’s drums, in particular, are incredible, and this album summarily highlights the subtle nuances in his playing. Frankly, the same could be said for all five band members.

Rarely does an album this long (nearly one hundred minutes) possess this level of urgency. Dream Theater had already proved their detractors wrong with Scenes From a Memory, but Six Degrees finds the band doubling down on, well, everything (including themselves).

Compiling this list was anything but easy—I’m still waffling a bit on some of my placements. That said, placing Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence at the top was a no-brainer.

Silver Linings (Highlights):

Whether you consider it eight loosely-connected tracks or the band’s longest song, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” is an awe-inspiring tour-de-force that has aged incredibly well.

Black Clouds (Lowlights):

I’m grasping at straws here, but shaving a minute (or three) off the “Six Degrees” Overture wouldn’t break my heart.

Breaking All Illusions (Favorite Lyric and/or moment):

The final verse of “Disappear” (So I’m moving on…) is sublime—I wish Dream Theater had more moments like this in their catalog.

Closing Thoughts:

Phew. Well, that’s that! 

By now it should (hopefully) be pretty clear that I am, first and foremost, a fan. 

Compiling this (admittedly dense*) list was a labor of love, and I hope it will inspire fans new and old to revisit Dream Theater’s catalog (and maybe even spark some conversation).

Whether you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written, feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts/opinions/rankings. 


*At nearly 6000 words, this article is way longer than initially imagined, but given the band in question, a bloated word count feels strangely appropriate.

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