Progressive metal giants Dream Theater have been at it for more than 30 years — it's no mean feat for any band, but this is especially impressive for a band whose body of work requires pure technical excellence.
Dream Theater's fans are a healthy mix of adoring listeners, whose taste for 15-minute tracks and conceptual albums know no bounds, and music school students, enamoured by the band's ability to write and perform complex compositions since their first album, When Dream And Day Unite, in 1989. They've amassed quite a cult fanbase over the decades, resulting in sizeable audiences around the world with barely any mainstream coverage.
In 2017, the band took a step back from touring their latest double-disc odyssey The Astonishing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their beloved sophomore album Images and Words.
"It’s hard for everyone to believe that the time has passed so quickly," keyboardist Jordan Rudess tells us. "We also feel very lucky to have built a career that has so much staying power!"
Rudess has been a permanent fixture in the band since 1999, alongside founding members John Petrucci (guitars) and John Myung (bass), rounded up by long-serving vocalist James LaBrie and drummer Mike Mangini.
The band has had whirlwind tours throughout their career, but this tour also happens to be especially demanding — along with the performance of Images and Words, there will also be a special showcase of past hits, including their 23-minute opus 'A Change Of Seasons'. With most of them already in their 50s, Rudess still feeds off the exhilaration of performing around the world, including Singapore, which the band will be playing on October 3rd at Zepp@BigBox.
"The excitement of the shows is very real and fantastic," the 61-year-old says. "Of course as a touring band, you spend most of the time traveling from place to place in a lot of trains, planes, and buses. That part is not so grand. The other positive thing is having friends all over the world. I love that!!"
In celebration of the band's epochal album, we thought it would be fitting for Rudess to look back at Dream Theater's main discography and what each album means to him. Here's what he has to say, along with our own primers for the uninitiated.
When Dream and Day Unite (1989)
The really fascinating roots to this band where John Myung was king!"
Dream Theater's debut, When Dream and Day Unite, is a peculiar entry into the band's discography. Featuring the vocal talents of Charlie Dominici, the band would soon replace him with James LaBrie, but this album established their instrumental chops that far outweighed their contemporaries.
Images and Words (1992)
This is the first album I ever heard of DT and still has great meaning to me. I feel like it is the one where the style congealed and became something really important to the world."
Images and Words is still regarded by many fans and critics as the band's best album. Released in 1992, it balanced progressive ambition with heavy metal propulsion, quickly becoming a favourite with young metalheads. The album's opening track, 'Pull Me Under', fast became the band's signature song, and it remains a fan favourite to this day.
A nice heavier edge. Love the way Labrie morphs his voice to fit the edgier sound. Also, there's some cool keyboard sounds and leads."
Images and Words lured in unsuspecting rock listeners with catchy choruses and fiery guitar leads, but Awake kept serious fans hooked. Their compositions became looser, and their ambitions heightened. Awake remains an underrated gem in their discography, but for any progressive metal fan, this album's easily a high mark in the genre.
Falling into Infinity (1997)
Although this one was not a huge hit with everyone, I personally like the sound of it a lot. Some great songs."
In retrospect, Falling Into Infinity is a pleasant and inoffensive detour in the band's career. But in 1997, many fans were aghast at the band's attempt at fitting into the alternative rock landscape. Feeling the pressure to deliver a mainstream-friendly record by their label, Falling Into Infinity allowed the band to practice writing for the radio, and the results are surprisingly effective.
Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999)
Special meaning to me as it was my first with the band!!"
One of their most theatrical and accomplished efforts yet, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory was the album-length sequel to the Images and Words track, 'Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper'. Hailed as a modern progressive rock triumph, this concept album showed that the band hadn't lost any of their edge that made them an early success.
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)
An album of awesome experimentation and melodic/harmonic grandeur. One of my faves."
As if Metropolis Pt. 2 was ambitious enough, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence became their first double-disc album, featuring a 42-minute track on the second disc which explored the different facets of mental illnesses. This album also kick-started The Twelve-step Suite, a series of tracks fleshing out the story of Mike Portnoy's recovery from alcoholism.
Train of Thought (2003)
Can you say HEAVY? We tried to make it really rock and be a bit darker..."
Harking back to their earlier metal influences, and taking stock of various modern metal styles, Train Of Thought invited back older metalheads who grew weary of the band's progressive nature, and allowed younger fans an accessible gateway into their music.
This is the one where I learned to play Lap Steel and really got into the Continuum. One of my favorite tracks is on it as well: 'These Walls'."
Falling Into Infinity was the band's first attempt at alternative rock, but Octavarium proved that they could conquer that genre without keeping their progressive tendencies at bay.
Inspired by bands like U2 and Coldplay, Dream Theater wrote some of their most accessible material here, such as 'I Walk Beside You' and 'The Answer Lies Within', but the album's 24-minute, self-titled centrepiece is a true behemoth that's likely one of their best compositions yet.
Systematic Chaos (2007)
This album to me is a very balanced DT album. It has the prog epics and it also has the heavy, darker sound altogether in one happy collection!"
Their first album for heavy metal label Roadrunner Records, Systematic Chaos continues where Train Of Thought left off, with a hefty dosage of anthemic guitar leads that brought in even more newer, younger fans.
Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)
I remember this one mostly because of 'The Count of Tuscany' - a huge song with lots of proggy goodness and big orchestration! Cool name as well!
Dream Theater followed up Systematic Chaos with even greater ambition on Black Clouds & Silver Linings, but it also marked the last album featuring founding member Mike Portnoy, who left the band a year after its release. This album marked the end of his Twelve-step Suite series, and it also features songs exploring personal and historical topics — ranging from childhood trauma to the mystique of Freemasonry.
A Dramatic Turn of Events (2011)
The album that turned a big corner after Portnoy left. We wanted to return to the roots a bit and allow people to understand that we could go on with strength and musicality."
Welcoming drummer Mike Mangini into the fold, A Dramatic Turn Of Events brought Dream Theater back to its foundational appeal — one of soaring rock compositions written with instrumental complexity. Veering closer to their 1990s material, this release allowed the band to start anew and move forward confidently.
Dream Theater (2013)
Every album is like a child in the sense that we work hard on each and every one and there is a lot of care that goes into the process…. Illumination Theory is still a favorite of mine!"
A Dramatic Turn Of Events allowed the band to re-evaluate the band's direction, and this self-titled release offers an insight into the band's classic influences, from Rush to King Crimson. Even if it isn't among their best material, Dream Theater still provides a strong case for the band's relevance, 28 years into their career.
The Astonishing (2016)
This one is a real favorite.. So much passion, time and thought went into every aspect of this.. I think time will be the true judge of this one!! We also put on what was probably the biggest best Dream Theater live production!!"
Forget about Metropolis Pt. 2 or even Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence — The Astonishing is Dream Theater running ahead with absolute prog-rock opulence. Conceived as a dystopian sci-fi rock opera, The Astonishing is a two-disc, 130-minute adventure best consumed as a whole.
Dream Theater will be performing in Singapore on October 3rd, as part of their Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour at Zepp@BigBox. Tickets available here.