Over the last 25 years, Dream Theater have developed into one of those infrequent acts that have defined a genre. That well-earned and deserved status has led to a procession of inferior bandwagon jumpers, whose failed efforts at impersonation have pushed Dream Theater to ever greater invention. A snip at the £50 mark, this 11-disc, career-spanning boxset ably spotlights their resolve to truly progress, rather than falling into the gaping trap of stylistic repetition, of re-treading the same ground.
Released in 1992, Images And Words would provide the band with instant worldwide admiration for their ability to balance their heavier riffing, on tracks such as Pull Me Under, with the subtler moments of melodic beauty provided by Surrounded and Wait For Sleep. This remains a high point in the band’s back catalogue, and many argue they never matched it. 1995’s Awake would be keyboard player Kevin Moore’s last with the band. The passionate melodies and lyrical prowess he possessed would shine on Lie, as well as the rather detached Space Dye Vest, that hinted at the more avant-garde musical direction he would ultimately follow.
By the time the band recorded Falling Into Infinity, the flamboyant Derek Sherinian had replaced Moore, and with the band being forcibly swayed by their label to write hit singles, it’s dismissed by some fans as being overbearingly commercial. That criticism is partially flawed in view of the far-from-catchy New Millennium and_ Trial Of Tears_. There’s an undeniable pop edge to Hollow Years, but the band were so adept at it, few really minded.
The perfect antidote for that offended minority was Scenes From A Memory, a 74-minute concept album – another career highlight. With the more classically-minded Jordan Rudess now recruited to replace Sherinian’s incongruous, on-stage flashiness, Dream Theater’s classic line-up was established. Adventurous on the formidable instrumental Overture 1928, tender during The Spirit Carries On, it’s unquestionably one of their finest releases.
As if to supersede that high-tide mark, 2002’s Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence was an elaborate double album that comprised the 42-minute title track alongside such overtly over-the-top technical metal as The Glass Prison. It was perhaps Dream Theater’s equivalent of Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans. Some perceived it as the moment their usually wonderful exuberance became obtrusive. There are plenty of classy, laid back moments though, such as the brilliant Solsbury Hill-esque Solitary Shell.
Borne perhaps from a fear of predictability, Train Of Thought was the band’s proud attempt at writing a ‘classic’ heavy metal album. Indeed, such was the frenzy of guitar riffs that keyboard player Rudess later admitted that he found it challenging to squeeze into the sound. They flipped again in 2005 - Octavarium was a prog lover’s delight and contained enough captivating, ever-changing melodies on the epic title track to enchant even hardened critics.
Dream Theater were also unwavering in their desire to incorporate fresh influences, with an appreciation of the surgingly popular Muse creeping into Never Enough.
Systematic Chaos (2007) was another audacious collection, yet the inclusion of the more gruff vocals on such songs as The Dark Eternal Night would alienate some. Listening again, it’s a feisty, hefty collection which was ultimately admired, but for all the intent it was ironically constrained by attempts at modernity.
Black Clouds & Silver Linings redressed faultless tracks like The Count Of Tuscany and The Best Of Times, but with drummer Mike Portnoy sensing stagnation, he resigned from the band. With Mike Mangini now at the kit, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn Of Events was a return to form, even if you suspected it was merely the band proving a point that they could continue without Portnoy by playing it safe. Beneath The Surface and This Is The Life had the sparkle of the halcyon days of Images And Words. Today, Dream Theater’s key challenge remains to prolong the inventiveness that, as this box proves, defines their legacy.