Dream Theater was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Metal Performance category this year. Although this band isn’t as famous as some of its contemporaries, it should be counted among the best. Dream Theater has been together since 1985 when original members John Petrucci, John Myung, and Mike Portnoy called themselves Majesty and studied together at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Name and lineup changes aside, this group has been around for almost forty years, making truly exceptional progressive metal and prog rock. In honor of their nomination, we’re ranking all fifteen of the Dream Theater Studio Albums.
15- Black Clouds and Silver Linings (2009)
There are no bad Dream Theater studio albums. The truth is, if you haven’t heard their music, then you’re missing out. We’ll start this list with Black Clouds and Silver linings because it is a culmination of many years of work. However, we’re putting this last on the list because it is a bittersweet album for longtime fans. This is the last time all the original members worked together and the final album with drummer Mike Portnoy.
14- A Dramatic Turn of Events (2011)
A Dramatic Turn of Events is very aptly named. This album came directly after the loss of Mike Portnoy and was the first time the band had a different lineup. New (at the time) drummer Mike Mangini made his Dream Theater debut, and while many loved it, many longtime band fans didn’t enjoy the sudden change.
13- The Astonishing (2016)
The Astonishing came just a little too soon. As the band’s second concept album, a dystopian fairytale. Like all Dream Theater’s albums, The Astonishing lived up to its name. The only reason this is so low on our list is that the music and story would have been better suited to 2019 or later. Although the undercurrents of a dystopia were already present at that time, the feel of this album is wholly suitable for current events. It’s almost as though they saw into the near future while writing.
12- Systematic Chaos (2007)
Systematic Chaos marks the first time Dream Theater released an album through Roadrunner Records. When DT comes off a tour, they hit the studio and get to work on the next album most of the time. However, after Octavarium, they took a rare break from this routine
11- Distance Over Time (2019)
Distance Over Time is an intriguing title choice for this particular album. Previous to the 2019 release of DOT, every Dream Theater Album was over an hour long. It’s not the length of the album that makes the most impact.
10- Dream Theater (2013)
The only album to share its name with the band is everything it should be and more. The level of craft and care that goes into each album released by DT is genuinely stunning and worthy of being called a work of art. Yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the band met while they were in school for music.
9- Octavarium (2005)
Octavarium was the last album released by Dream Theater while under contract with Atlantic Records and recorded at The Hit Factory in New York City. Although this is a collection of final experiences with one chapter in the band’s existence, it is also a culmination of their shared time there. The sense of finality and release is notable if you are familiar enough with DT’s work to hear it.
8- Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999)
Dream Theater’s first concept album, Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory, is a standalone testament to their technical expertise and passion for the craft and art of music-making. The story, which we won’t spoiler here, is darker than most of the band’s previous work, though still perfectly suited to their style. Inspired by the film Dead Again, you can easily see the correlations between the two tales.
7- Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is an exceptional two-disk album. The song that shares its name is the longest the band has ever written and takes up the entire second disk. Regardless of length, both the song and album are superb works.
6- Falling Into Infinity (1997)
After Kevin Moore departed the band in 1994, keyboardist Derek Sherinian was only on one album. According to Dream Theater’s wiki page, “Falling Into Infinity is the fourth studio album by Dream Theater and is considered to be their most infamous album.” Though he ultimately didn’t last as part of the lineup, Sherinian brought something with him that was worthy of inclusion in the Dream Theater.
5- Awake (1994)
Dream Theater’s original keyboardist Kevin Moore only played with the band up to Awake, their third studio album. This particular album is also quite dark for DT. Moreover, it is also their second best-selling work of all time (so far).
4- A View From The Top Of The World (2021)
Released in October of 2021, the turbulence in the world and the state of worldwide pandemic didn’t stop Dream Theater from creating and following their shared musical passion. As an expression of everything the band is and stands for, this is the perfect album. Despite the sad state of the world, having nothing better to do than lock yourself in the studio suited this band.
3- When Dream and Day Unite (1989)
When Dream and Day Unite is the aptly named studio album debut of Dream Theater. In a sense, it is the beginning of their journey, though they’d been playing together for several years. There’s nothing quite like a first impression, and Dream Theater made an entrance that old-school fans will never forget. The only thing better than listening to this album again is listening to it for the first time.
2- Train of Thought (2003)
Train of Thought is the heaviest of this progressive metal band’s albums. If you want the pure craft and unmitigated talent of Dream Theater but also need to bang your head, then this is the album you want. There is something pure about how they approached this hard-hitting album that is difficult to put a finger on.
1- Images and Words (1992)
1992’s Images and Words is the perennial fan-favorite and often lauded as Dream Theater’s best work. We’re giving it the place of honor here. On any other list of prog metal or prog rock, most Dream Theater albums could secure the top spot. It’s only among their own discography that we have to choose one over all the rest. Loudwire said it best, “It’s almost hard to imagine the thought and care that went into crafting Dream Theater’s opus, ‘Images and Words.’ Beyond the absolute apex of its musicians and their thrilling technical ability, even its most simple parts are moving.”
Dream Theater’s studio albums are all an experience worth having. If this is your first exposure to the group, then you are in for a world of musical delights, the likes of which you did not know previously existed. Meanwhile, longtime fans are probably already putting together their personal version of this list with individual favorite albums in different ranking positions. Whatever order you listen to them, every Dream Theater album deserves to be heard. Hopefully, they will get that well-deserved Grammy, and we can’t wait to see what they write next.