To the uninitiated, Dream Theater is an intimidating band to listen to -- 10 minute songs are the norm, with constant rhythm and key shifts and long instrumental passages. Formed in 1985, the band currently consists of James LaBrie (vocals), John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), and Mike Mangini (drums). Former members include Mike Portnoy (drums), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Kevin Moore (keyboards), and Charlie Dominici (vocals). One part Rush, one part Metallica, and one part Pink Floyd, Dream Theater’s music combines many different styles and sensibilities. With 11 full-length studio albums and an EP, knowing where to start can be intimidating. The 10 songs below should give you a good idea of what the band is about and all of the styles their music explores.
1. Metropolis Pt. 1 (from Images and Words)
With amusical landscapes set by Kevin Moore’s keyboards, this song embodies what early Dream Theater was all about: a somewhat light tone, prominent keyboards, and long instrumental passages. This song also includes a variety of musical themes that would be used in the band’s 1999 concept album, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.
2. Scarred (from Awake)
A deeper cut from Awake, Scarredis the darker side of Dream Theater at its best, with an unconventional structure and a blistering solo form Petrucci.
3. A Change of Seasons (from A Change of Seasons)
This 23 minute opus is a true prog epic, inspired by the death of drummer Mike Portnoy’s mother. This is a true fan favorite, and most consider it one of the best songs in the band’s catalogue.
4. Peruvian Skies (from Falling Into Infinity)
Peruvian Skies shows Dream Theater is capable of writing more conventional, radio friendly songs, with a simple structure and great, simple riffing.
5. Fatal Tragedy (from Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory)
Tough to pick just one from this album, but Fatal Tragedy’s great vocal harmonies put it in and show some of the great work that James/Mike/John did vocally.
6. The Glass Prison (from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence)
The first in Mike Portnoy’s 5 song opus about the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program (which spans 5 albums), The Glass Prison is the best of the 5, with excellent instrumental passages and great riffing from Petrucci--also great to get the rare bass solo from John Myung. This song is signature Dream Theater prog metal. In other songs, especially from their 2007 album Systematic Chaos, the band got more bogged down on the metal side of the equation; The Glass Prison is a true balance of complimentary styles.
7. Panic Attack (from Octavarium)
This is an interesting side of Dream Theater, combining their prog stylings with a more electronic/radio feel (similar to the band Muse). It’s very interesting and it’s a sound they explored a few more times, especially on Octavarium.
8. Wither (from Black Clouds and Silver Linings)
Wither is Dream Theater doing their best U2 or Coldplay. The band knows how to write great radio pop-rock types of songs, a style I wish they would explore further, especially in a prog context.
9. Breaking all Illusions (from A Dramatic Turn of Events)
This song shows off Dream Theater’s newer proggy style, with rare lyrics from bassist John Myung.
1o. The Enemy Inside (from Dream Theater)
Off of the latest self-titled album, The Enemy Inside is one of the best songs for showing off Dream Theater’s metal chops. Unlike some of their other metal songs (primarily off of Train of Thought), The Enemy Inside keeps the instrumental passages to a reasonable length, while still maintaining a great groove.
Obviously, condensing keeping the band’s catalogue to just 10 songs is very difficult. However, I think the 10 songs above are the best at showing off what the band can do. I had to leave off some albums that didn’t really fit the bill, and I also didn’t include songs that weren’t on any of the official albums. I look forward to hearing feedback from other fans on what songs they would include/swap out. What do you think about the list?