i’m about to do a really hard thing. i’ll try to rank all dream theater albums in their order from “worst” (least best) to best. I’d like to start off by saying that I LOVE and know every single dream theater song. know all the albums from front to back. Dream Theater are the band that got me into prog and the first band i really got into hard 8 years ago. This is how i order the albums if i have to choose. doesn’t have to be similar to your view and we’d love to know how you rank them. Just pointing out that there’s no doubt of them being one of the best prog bands even today, still putting out strong music and attracting new fans and i still get excited like a little girl every time a new Dream Theater album comes out. this is insanely long, so you can read it, or just look at the ranking from 13 to 1.
so let’s start:
13. When Dream And Day Unite (1985):
i’m guessing this is pretty much consensus. if i had to pick my least favorite DT album this would probably be it. I do think this album has it’s jams and many strong moments, but even John Petrucci said when asked if there was an album he wished he could change that this would be the album. It’s not even their fault, i think (as do JP) that this album lacks a little in experience and you can hear it. It could’ve been one of DT’s best if they were to take that material and rewrite it today. Also, not a fan of Charlie Dominichi’s voice, and it took me a long time to get used to (more time than it took to get used to Labrie’s voice). Still, songs like “The YtseJam” and “The Killing Hand” will always be in my setlist.
12. Dream Theater (2013):
It hurts to put this album in this place, considering i still listen to songs from it from time to time and that i was practically in love with it when it came out, but as i said the collection is so strong, even albums like this one have to be in the 12th place. I’ll say what i like about it and the things that made me put it in 12th place. Let’s start with the good stuff: when their first single “The Enemy Inside” came out my mind was blown. To this day i still think this is one of their most creative songs. The energies i get from listening to this song are unbelievable. the drumming is amazing, the way they’re playing with the time signatures made me super excited for the album. The Bigger Picture is one of their best emotional songs, and False Awakening Suite has a very cool approach into writing music.
Let’s talk about the epic of the album- Illumination Theory: it has it’s strengths, but i think this song is not a classic DT epic. it should’ve been 12-14 minutes long max. After many listens It felt like they just wanted to check a box for an “Epic” in the album and move on, it didn’t feel very experimental or inspirational. it felt like a bunch of small songs put together a little awkwardly, not like in Octavarium, or In The Presence Of Enemies. the first and second parts are really really good. love that METAL riff with those vicious vocals. the third part is written well, but it feels on so connected as if it was put there to make the song go over the 20 minute mark, something that Jordan wrote in 5 minutes as a basic melody and built an elaborate symphony part over it. we all know Jordan Is one of the most gifted composers in the field, which is why it only took a few minutes to write it, but even though it’s really beautiful i’m not sure it’s enough.
the 4th part is really good, James is displaying awesome vocal skills. then there’s the instrumental part of the song. also, it has one or two really cool riffs and the rest are solos of John and Jordan to fill the song and the instrumental part to make it hit that 20 minute mark. the last part is really beautiful, reminds me of the end of Octavarium. Very emotional and deep and has that John Petrucci solo in the end that gives you the chills. But still the album didn’t hit the 20 minute mark so they added an “Easter Egg” that is another piano piece that Jordan wrote in 5 minutes and threw that on there to make the song long enough. So Even if it has it’s moments, it has certain parts that doesn’t make me feel that they were very inspirational at the time. A strong album with it’s flaws which is why it’s in the 12th place.
11. A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011):
goddammit this is hard. A great album. Dream Theater had to show in this album that they’re still the same band, they had to prove it to they’re fans. Which is why they couldn’t experiment as much or get out of their comfort zone too much because of it. So they produced this strong album. it’s not overwhelming but it has many many strong songs. Can’t think of one song that was bad in any way and i still find myself coming back to this album from time to time. Also it has a special place in my heart since it got out exactly when i started writing music myself and studying this album and it’s writing style helped me to start writing and get inspired by music. Which is why it’s hard putting it here. Yes the drums aren’t very present but i like the mix of the album a lot. The one “problem” this album has is the fact that the arrangements of the song are similar to Images and Words, which kind of bummed me out (On The Backs Of Angels- pull me under, Lost Not Forgotten- under a glass moon, Outcry-Metropolis, Far From Heaven-wait for sleep, Breaking All Illusions- Learning to live). let’s face it- many bands do this kind of thing so it’s not that big a deal, but still.
10. Black Clouds And Silver Linings (2009):
great album. maybe you can hear a little of what Mike Portnoy was talking about when he said things are getting stale in their Write-Record-Tour cycle. John Myung wasn’t so present in the writing and barely spoke to the band members as i understood it at the time. nonetheless this is a great album. I don’t know why everyone are complaining about the lyrics of The count Of Tuscany, i think it’s a brilliant song, very emotional and badass. A Nightmare To Remember is such a great song. Very cool riffs and arrangements, and it takes you to many different emotional places. Wither is also a great song, very moving in my opinion. some say it’s boring and i disagree i really like it. The Shattered Fortress is really really cool but sometime i get a feeling it’s not as good as the other parts, because it hardly has any original parts. they basically made a medley of the other songs to rap this saga to an end. So although this is not one of my favorite albums, it’s still very good and pretty much comes in a tie with A Dramatic Turns of events. it’s hard since this one has Portnoy but A Dramatic Turn Of events does feel more inspirational.
9. Falling Into Infinity (1997):
this album came at a difficult time for the band. Mike Portnoy was on the verge of leaving the band and the label made their creative lives a nightmare with endless control over the creative content of the album. Still they managed to create GREAT songs. This album was one that took me a while to get into but once i did i was able to fully appreciate it’s greatness. It features amazing songs like “New Millennium” , “A Trial Of Tears”, “Take Away My Pain”, “Burning My Soul”, “Lines In The Sand”. Basically all of them.
8. Awake (1994):
WOW! such a great album. I love how obscure it is, it’s very dark and experimental and i love seeing bands experiment with their songs this way. John Petrucci was one of the first guitarists to feature the 7-string guitar and it’s sound in the album is unbelievable. songs like “The Mirror” “6:00”, “Caught In A Web”, “Space Dye Vest” “Erotomania”, “Voices” will always be in my playlists (and again i almost listed all of the songs in the album- had to try really hard to to add all the others 😉 ). this one also took a while to get in to but once i did it’s been on repeat constantly.
7. The Astonishing (2016):
“how the hell can you say this album is better than Awake?!@?!”. Yeah i know i’m surprised too. I decided to name this number 7 after a lot of thought (a train of thought!…..ok that was bad, i’ll show myself out), but as of now i find myself go back to this album quite a lot, and that’s the place i decided to rank it in. There’s a chance that would change in the future given that i once had DT12 very high on the list and it got down. This is really they’re most ambitious project to this date. not the best but definitely the most ambitious. I do think it’s too long and some songs act as fillers and not actual great songs. However, their creative drive is definitely felt in this album and there are some GREAT songs on it! Lord Nafaryus, Ravenskill (amazing song), “A Life Left Behind”, “Three Days” “Our New World” and many others. I’m really impressed by this album, it has great emotional peaks that makes the listening of this album an experience, like any other great concept album. but unlike Awake i have some complaints: first of all, like i mentioned it’s length. a slightly trimmed down version would’ve made the album more successful (to an hour and a half- a standard length of an Ayreon album 😉 ).
Second thing is the plot. When comparing this concept to Scenes From A Memory you see it’s flaws. The plot isn’t that interesting and a bit too fictional to my taste. i mean it’s okay that it’s fictional but it’s a bit childish- the end is pretty boring: Gabriel regains his voice, Fayth comes back to life, all is forgiven, and all the bad characters turn to good ones. kind of underwhelming, in comparison to Scenes from a memory ending that is pretty dark, interesting and has it’s twist in the plot. Another thing that comes to mind when comparing is the ending song. In SFAM the final song is so emotional, it gives a proper ending to the album. the ending song in this album (“Astonishing”) is not so impressive or emotional as the album is. The album is being criticized as being too much “disney”, but i think that basically every ballad that has a positive theme can be considered “disney”, and even if “The Spirit Carries On” would’ve been on this album the fans would say it’s a “disney” song even though it’s one of Dream Theater’s most successful song ever.
6. Train Of Thought (2003):
ok yes, that’s number 6. Can’t believe it took Dream Theater only 3 weeks to write it, it’s unbelievable. this is one hell of an album. The riffs, the atmosphere, the lyrics and the melodies work on every level. Just one badass album. I started listening to dream theater from the more heavier background so this album was definitely one that i connected with immediately. Some even consider this the last “great” album they’ve made but even though i strongly disagree i still think this definitely deserve #6 on this list
5. Octavarium (2005):
this is a special one. Dream Theater had this grand concept in mind that came to writing this EPIC piece. It’s based on numbers and music, and you can definitely feel the whole album work as a whole, like any other great concept album. The approach taken on the album is very special, where they would jam on riffs with Jordan playing the piano, so it came out much more melodic and soft. But still, i think they made a mistake when releasing the album, where they gave the fans the feeling that this is the top of their career. That this is the best that it’s ever going to get and that this album is the biggest musical achievement of their career. I think that going all in like that, made fans to be more indifferent for the one that came out 2 years later. Like, if a band says that this album is the best they’ve ever made then what’s going to happen only 2 years later when they come out with a new one?. Still there’s no denying that this is a very strong album, too many ballads in my opinion, but it got to this place in the list for a reason. It’s a great album filled with inspiration and has one of DT’s best songs: The mammoth “Octavarium”.
4. Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002):
holy sh*t! this one took a while for me to get into, it has some really obscure songs, especially disc 1. this is one of the only times you ever hear a band change their sound completely. I mean, after a few listens it’s still the same dream theater, but with that modern sound and style, if you only heard the previous albums, you can actually believe this is not Dream Theater. It’s such a drastic change and it’s something you barely see today in any band. The experimentation in this album is unbelievably good, and cool. I love all these obscure moments you can hear in songs like “Misunderstood” and “Blind Faith”. This one is truly special and one of the only times you get to hear Dream Theater do something completely new (for that time, anyway).
3. Systematic Chaos (2007):
yes, i realize that’s a weird position for this album, but this one has a special place in the DT catalog for me at least. This was the first DT album I’ve ever heard, back in 2007. Just bought it, and for no particular reason played track #4- The Dark Eternal Night. I was blown away by the riff then and I’m hooked ever since. It usually doesn’t get anywhere near this place, but we all have a bias towards the first album we’ve heard. For most people it’s Images And Words, Six Degrees, or Scenes From A Memory, and this is mine. And I truly think that this album is incredibly underrated. The experimentation in this album is unbelievable, second only to six degrees IMHO. The instrumental part of The Dark Eternal night is so crazy, and songs like “Prophets of War” definitely give off that experimental vibe you get from listening to songs like “Misunderstood”. In The Presence Of Enemies is one of the best things they’ve ever done. one HUGE 25-minute epic with so many movements and emotional peaks it’s unbelievable. “The Ministry Of Lost Souls” is this great combination between a heartbreaking ballad and a full prog metal song with it’s instrumental section. Basically it’s like Mike Portnoy said, it’s like Train Of Thought, but much more diverse. This album deserve much more credit than it gets
2. Images And Words (1992):
yep, this masterpiece that forever changed the face of Progressive Metal gets #2 on this list. Although it’s pretty short (only 57 minutes) it features timeless classics like “Pull Me Under”, “Under A Glass Moon”, “Learning To Live” and “Metropolis Pt.1” and basically every other song in there. This album gives inspiration to countless artists to this day and definitely deserves to be in this spot. It was conceived in one of the bands most difficult times with them trying to find a new singer and struggling to find one for 2 years, until James came and the rest is history.
- Scenes From A Memory (1999):
this is the winner for me! this album is just perfect in every way. i can’t say anything bad about this album. each song in there is just pure perfection. And the plot is so good for a concept album. It’s kind of dark and has this twist at the end, what more can we ask for (not for a part 3 please ;)). This is the perfect way to end the Metropolis saga, and this will always be the ultimate Dream Theater album IMO, although i’m definitely waiting for them to release something that can compete with this one for the title.
well, this is my list. you can agree, or disagree, let’s hear yours!