Author Topic: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?  (Read 5478 times)

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Offline WilliamMunny

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The other night my son asked, "When were you at your peak?"

Wow—now there's a loaded question. Of course, my instinct was to say, "I'm still at my peak," but after further discussion, we narrowed it down to athletic peak...(obviously not now:)

Still, the conversation got me thinking about my writing, and my music. I like to think that my best days are ahead of me, but the pragmatist within says, "sure, but if you stop now, are you at the top of your game?"

Applying this to music is where this gets real fun.

I LOVE Kiss, but if I had to pick one album that shows them at their peak, I suspect I'm going to have a real hard time making a case for anything post-78, despite my continued affection for their non-makeup years.

As this is a Dream Theater forum, I am going to place the magnifying glass on them:

So, for me, "Score" is Dream Theater at their peak.

That album, to me, represents my favourite incarnation of the band firing on all cylinders.

"Scenes" to "Six Degrees" to "Train of Thought" to "Octavarium" is an incredible run, and that live document, given the context of what followed, feels like a high-water mark.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't LOVE other eras, because I do, but if we're reducing this to a single point in time, then "Score" is that point for me.

Would love to hear everyone else's thoughts ;D

Online Zydar

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2021, 08:36:20 AM »
Although my favourite period by them is 1992-2002, I'd agree that Score was their peak. It closed a great chapter in their career, and they started a new one with Roadrunner/Systematic Chaos. They didn't reach those highs again IMHO.
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Offline WilliamMunny

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2021, 08:38:44 AM »
I should add a caveat:

This assumes we are only taking into account what has already taken place—there does exist the possibility that the 'best' is yet to come :D

Offline Stadler

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2021, 08:41:24 AM »
Agreed on "Score".

Offline MirrorMask

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2021, 08:53:27 AM »
Mundane answer, but yeah, the run from Images and Words to Score is the best one, with SFAM being the best album and Score a wonderful closing chapter on the first 20 years of the band.

Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds were the band "floating" at the top they reached with Score, maybe unsure of what new grounds to thread, and since Dramatic of course started the Mangini era, let's see what DT15 will add to it.
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Offline hefdaddy42

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2021, 08:54:22 AM »
I would guess SFAM-era.
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Offline pg1067

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2021, 09:24:26 AM »
There's a local sports talk radio host who makes a distinction between athletes being in their "prime" and being at their "peak."  The distinction is that the latter is a much more narrow time frame -- maybe a single year in a player's career.

Using that rubric, DT's "prime" was from SFAM through 8VM, and the "peak" within that period would be SFAM, although the "peak" probably isn't significantly higher than the rest of the "prime" period.
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Offline WilliamMunny

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2021, 09:39:34 AM »
There's a local sports talk radio host who makes a distinction between athletes being in their "prime" and being at their "peak."  The distinction is that the latter is a much more narrow time frame -- maybe a single year in a player's career.

Using that rubric, DT's "prime" was from SFAM through 8VM, and the "peak" within that period would be SFAM, although the "peak" probably isn't significantly higher than the rest of the "prime" period.

That's a great distinction—to take a step further, 'peak' probably means different things to different people.

Jordan's peak as a pure athlete ('91-'92 IMO) does not necessarily coincide with his peak as a basketball player ('96-'97)...the former is where he was a pure freak of nature, the second was where all of his skills coalesced with his mental maturity, offering him the best of both worlds. He couldn't necessarily jump as high, but Jordan was a straight up assassin during that 72 win season.

"Score" to me is akin to Jordan during that '96 run...James' voice wasn't what it was, but I think his voice had developed a whole lot of depth—the rest of the band had really gelled around Rudess as well.

Offline Setlist Scotty

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #8 on: April 08, 2021, 12:28:20 PM »
Interesting thread. From my perspective, I would say in terms of their albums, they were at their peak with SFaM and SDoIT. But in terms of live performances , I would say from 2002 through 2006 was their peak.
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Offline Max Kuehnau

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #9 on: April 08, 2021, 12:33:00 PM »
2011 to present is peak DT to me. (all aspects)
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Offline Stadler

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2021, 12:39:02 PM »
I rarely come up with questions for the guys, but I think if I ever get the chance to talk to Mike or John, I would ask them:  in hindsight, was "2002 to 2006" fun?  They seemed to be a band on the crest of a wave; playing sold out shows, playing legendary venues (Radio City, Hammersmith, MSG) getting GREAT gigs with other bands (Maiden), putting out self-produced opus' on the regular, their own boutique rarities label, annual Fan Club/Christmas CDs that sometimes rivaled their main releases...  the image was one of upbeat - the shorter hair, the sort of "everyman" attire...  maybe it was just me, in that I was really deep in the DT weeds at that point and I was getting a lot of joy from the music, but it just seemed a FUN time.

(I think this was from 2005:)

Offline WilliamMunny

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2021, 01:02:52 PM »
I rarely come up with questions for the guys, but I think if I ever get the chance to talk to Mike or John, I would ask them:  in hindsight, was "2002 to 2006" fun?  They seemed to be a band on the crest of a wave; playing sold out shows, playing legendary venues (Radio City, Hammersmith, MSG) getting GREAT gigs with other bands (Maiden), putting out self-produced opus' on the regular, their own boutique rarities label, annual Fan Club/Christmas CDs that sometimes rivaled their main releases...  the image was one of upbeat - the shorter hair, the sort of "everyman" attire...  maybe it was just me, in that I was really deep in the DT weeds at that point and I was getting a lot of joy from the music, but it just seemed a FUN time.

(I think this was from 2005:)


Wow, James looked so thin!

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. That period of time just so happened to coincide with a time in my life where I had the time and funds to fully invest in my fandom. I saw many shows during the Scenes thru 8VM period, and honestly, every single time I left thinking 'that's the best they've ever sounded'

The band certainly has a great vibe today, and perhaps they are even more happier personally than they were then, but it just seemed like the two years sandwiching Score was pure magic.

Offline gzarruk

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #12 on: April 08, 2021, 02:34:10 PM »
If we talk about studio albums, I'd say their peak was the SFAM - SDOIT stretch.
It sounds like, "ruk, ruk, ruk, ruk, ruk." Instead of the more pleasing kick drum sound of, "gzarruk, gzarruk, gzarruk, gzarruk."

Offline MirrorMask

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #13 on: April 08, 2021, 03:07:07 PM »
I rarely come up with questions for the guys, but I think if I ever get the chance to talk to Mike or John, I would ask them:  in hindsight, was "2002 to 2006" fun?  They seemed to be a band on the crest of a wave; playing sold out shows, playing legendary venues (Radio City, Hammersmith, MSG) getting GREAT gigs with other bands (Maiden), putting out self-produced opus' on the regular, their own boutique rarities label, annual Fan Club/Christmas CDs that sometimes rivaled their main releases...  the image was one of upbeat - the shorter hair, the sort of "everyman" attire...  maybe it was just me, in that I was really deep in the DT weeds at that point and I was getting a lot of joy from the music, but it just seemed a FUN time.

(I think this was from 2005:)


That was probably the best the band has ever looked, and actually in tune with their music.
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Offline Enigmachine

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #14 on: April 08, 2021, 03:34:27 PM »
If I take a step back and think about how the band will be remembered in terms of their place in history within progressive metal, there's probably no question that their peak would be, as many others have said, that 1999-2006 Scenes-to-Score period where the band were constantly shifting sounds, creating cult classics and providing perhaps the most involvement in regards to fan interaction and documentation.

Personally however, my peak (at least in terms of nostalgia) as a DT fan was probably around 2014 where DT12 was my favourite ever album and I saw one of the Along for the Ride shows, which, in spite of not being able to actually see the band due to my height, was an incredible show both in terms of sound and visual presentation with regards to lighting and the screen work. I prefer D/T now (although it didn't quite have that instant hit DT12 provided), but that freshness of being a new DT fan at that point made those experiences pretty special.

As for how they see it, I'd imagine they're most happy with themselves as they currently are actually. They've got a stellar, varied catalogue that they can draw upon, have recently produced their most widely appreciated album in about a decade, are involved in one of the most productive periods of their musical lives and have recorded an album that they seem tremendously excited about on top of that. Not to mention, they've also got the most harmonious lineup that they've ever had with zero inter-band drama, which shortly will also be the longest lasting lineup of the band's lifetime.

Offline gzarruk

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #15 on: April 08, 2021, 05:54:09 PM »
As for how they see it, I'd imagine they're most happy with themselves as they currently are actually. They've got a stellar, varied catalogue that they can draw upon, have recently produced their most widely appreciated album in about a decade, are involved in one of the most productive periods of their musical lives and have recorded an album that they seem tremendously excited about on top of that. Not to mention, they've also got the most harmonious lineup that they've ever had with zero inter-band drama, which shortly will also be the longest lasting lineup of the band's lifetime.

I absolutely love the MM era and the quality of their releases has been fantastic (and can't wait for DT15 :metal :metal :metal).

About the bolded, I've been thinking about that for a while, and as crazy as it sounds, it's really close to happening. MM has already been 10 years in the band (as of November 2020) and the only other lineup that lasted longer than the current one, so far, is the SFAM to BC&SL lineup, which lasted for 11 years...
It sounds like, "ruk, ruk, ruk, ruk, ruk." Instead of the more pleasing kick drum sound of, "gzarruk, gzarruk, gzarruk, gzarruk."

Offline KevShmev

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #16 on: April 08, 2021, 07:15:35 PM »
Depending on how long we can stretch it out, it is hard to not say 1992-2002, but while I think the back to back of I&W and Awake was the band at their creative peak (by a hair over the Scenes/6DOIT combo), I would agree with the sentiments that the early 2000's was the band at their peak in the live environment. 

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #17 on: April 08, 2021, 07:38:29 PM »
I feel like DT's peak was the Train Of Thought tour. Those shows were Zeppelin-esque.
would have thought the same thing but seeing the OP was TAC i immediately thought Maiden or DT related
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Offline OpenYourEyes311

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #18 on: April 08, 2021, 09:54:14 PM »
IMO: Studio Prime was 1999-2005, Live Prime was 2004-2006, Singular Peak was the Score show/album.

Offline Pettor

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #19 on: April 08, 2021, 11:58:39 PM »
Starting with SFAM up until Score is what I imagine their peak period to be, meaning getting more popular for every release and finally hitting their max at score. I remember Score tour to be sold out at a rather big venue in Sweden and even seeing Billboards for Octavarium Tour which i never seen before or since then. The feeling is that the concerts has gotten smaller and smaller since then (notably after Portnoy left). Now it's average venues and not fully sold out, but that's ok ofc.

Offline nikatapi

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #20 on: April 09, 2021, 12:42:15 AM »
Starting with SFAM up until Score is what I imagine their peak period to be, meaning getting more popular for every release and finally hitting their max at score. I remember Score tour to be sold out at a rather big venue in Sweden and even seeing Billboards for Octavarium Tour which i never seen before or since then. The feeling is that the concerts has gotten smaller and smaller since then (notably after Portnoy left). Now it's average venues and not fully sold out, but that's ok ofc.

Yeah i think this sums up my feelings. Of course, being a teenager finding then during ToT, and getting to experience my first release during the Octavarium days, probably nostalgia plays a role.
But i also think that from a creative and commercial standpoint, SFAM up until Score is what probably made DT so big, and encapsulates all the different aspects of the band that i love.

I still miss their look during this era, i know it's silly but i liked them being "not another metal band" and looking like serious people who didn't care much about their image, but mostly their music.

Offline Polarbear

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #21 on: April 09, 2021, 01:13:55 AM »
IMO: Studio Prime was 1999-2005, Live Prime was 2004-2006, Singular Peak was the Score show/album.

This, with the small change of studio prime being from 92 to 05!

Offline WildRanger

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #22 on: April 09, 2021, 02:15:28 AM »
Images & Words is their best album, but this STRING of 3 albums is the best: Scenes from a Memory, Six Degrees and Train of Thought.


Offline nobloodyname

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #23 on: April 09, 2021, 04:23:24 AM »
Images & Words is their best album, but this STRING of 3 albums is the best: Scenes from a Memory, Six Degrees and Train of Thought.

Absolutely agree regarding that string of albums.

Also agree with an earlier post which said the Train of Thought shows were almost Zeppelinesque. Can completely see that. Every show felt like a truly unique event.

I'm completely biased given that I was lucky enough to attend but Score was also their highest point as performers for me.
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Offline MirrorMask

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #24 on: April 09, 2021, 04:27:31 AM »
The tours for Six Degrees / ToT / Octavarium were also the pinnacle of the setlists rotation.

All Evening With shows, three hours of music, insane change from tour to tour, you never knew what was coming.

For Systematic Chaos they brought along an opener and so that reduced a bit the room for rotation, and by the time of Black Clouds, given also the package nature of the tour, Mike was by then scraping the bottom of the barrell since basically all the songs were already played in the 2002-2006 rotations.

It couldn't go on forver or better, it could have, but at a certain point the songs would have all returned to the set, after 2 or 3 tours of rest. But what a fun, unpredictable ride it has been in those three tours!
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Offline hefdaddy42

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #25 on: April 09, 2021, 07:12:33 AM »
The tours for Six Degrees / ToT / Octavarium were also the pinnacle of the setlists rotation.

All Evening With shows, three hours of music, insane change from tour to tour, you never knew what was coming.
Absolutely agree with this.
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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #26 on: April 09, 2021, 08:06:49 AM »
Starting with SFAM up until Score is what I imagine their peak period to be, meaning getting more popular for every release and finally hitting their max at score. I remember Score tour to be sold out at a rather big venue in Sweden and even seeing Billboards for Octavarium Tour which i never seen before or since then. The feeling is that the concerts has gotten smaller and smaller since then (notably after Portnoy left). Now it's average venues and not fully sold out, but that's ok ofc.

Yeah i think this sums up my feelings. Of course, being a teenager finding then during ToT, and getting to experience my first release during the Octavarium days, probably nostalgia plays a role.
But i also think that from a creative and commercial standpoint, SFAM up until Score is what probably made DT so big, and encapsulates all the different aspects of the band that i love.

I still miss their look during this era, i know it's silly but i liked them being "not another metal band" and looking like serious people who didn't care much about their image, but mostly their music.

I agree with all of this.

Offline ReaperKK

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #27 on: April 09, 2021, 09:14:36 AM »
To me the peak was SFAM to SC. I loved that period of their music and thought they were firing on all cylinders. The tours were great during that time period as well. I think until D/T came out I thought they were passed their peak but I feel that D/T could fit right into that album run of SFAM to SC.

Offline pg1067

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #28 on: April 09, 2021, 09:31:11 AM »
To me the peak was SFAM to SC. I loved that period of their music and thought they were firing on all cylinders. The tours were great during that time period as well. I think until D/T came out I thought they were passed their peak but I feel that D/T could fit right into that album run of SFAM to SC.

Not to get off track, but I feel like the tour(s) for SC were a real low point (and it's not just because, until TA was released, I found SC to be DT's worst album).  It's one of those things where MP got tons of praise for setting up the Progressive Nation shows, and I'm sure it was great for folks who liked the other bands, but a lot of us kinda thought they sucked because we wanted to see more DT.  It's the same with this:

The tours for Six Degrees / ToT / Octavarium were also the pinnacle of the setlists rotation.

All Evening With shows, three hours of music, insane change from tour to tour, you never knew what was coming.

Not everyone liked that.  I'd rather know ahead of time if I'm going to be subjected to The Great Debate than have it be sprung on me without warning.
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Offline HOF

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #29 on: April 09, 2021, 09:31:57 AM »
I am a fan who just didn't grow with the band (my interest in metal waned significantly by the time Train of Thought rolled around, and I just don't really care for the style of music they make these days). Images & Words through Falling into Infinity were the albums that existed at the time I fell in love with them (er, and the debut which I didn't get until later), and nothing they did after that really topped that run for me (SFAM was the first thing I got as a new release). SFAM and SDOIT have their moments that I do love, so I could probably say their peak was from 1992-2002, which is a heck of a run, really (and I kind of associate the first two LTE albums with that run as well). But the singular peak where everything was just firing perfectly (songwriting, playing/performance, and production) is probably still Awake for me.

I do agree that Score captured the band at perhaps the height of their ability as a live unit. That was an amazing performance and a nice kind of closing chapter on the band for me.   

Edit: or what Kev said:
Depending on how long we can stretch it out, it is hard to not say 1992-2002, but while I think the back to back of I&W and Awake was the band at their creative peak (by a hair over the Scenes/6DOIT combo), I would agree with the sentiments that the early 2000's was the band at their peak in the live environment.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2021, 09:55:41 AM by HOF »

Offline kirksnosehair

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #30 on: April 09, 2021, 11:58:02 AM »

A Dramatic Turn of Events

Offline kirksnosehair

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #31 on: April 09, 2021, 11:59:17 AM »
The other night my son asked, "When were you at your peak?"

Wow—now there's a loaded question. Of course, my instinct was to say, "I'm still at my peak," but after further discussion, we narrowed it down to athletic peak...(obviously not now:)

Still, the conversation got me thinking about my writing, and my music. I like to think that my best days are ahead of me, but the pragmatist within says, "sure, but if you stop now, are you at the top of your game?"

Applying this to music is where this gets real fun.

I LOVE Kiss, but if I had to pick one album that shows them at their peak, I suspect I'm going to have a real hard time making a case for anything post-78, despite my continued affection for their non-makeup years.

As this is a Dream Theater forum, I am going to place the magnifying glass on them:

So, for me, "Score" is Dream Theater at their peak.

That album, to me, represents my favourite incarnation of the band firing on all cylinders.

"Scenes" to "Six Degrees" to "Train of Thought" to "Octavarium" is an incredible run, and that live document, given the context of what followed, feels like a high-water mark.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't LOVE other eras, because I do, but if we're reducing this to a single point in time, then "Score" is that point for me.

Would love to hear everyone else's thoughts ;D


For what it's worth, I thought YOU peaked with "Grand Torino" but then you did "The Mule" so what do I know?  ;)

Offline Setlist Scotty

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #32 on: April 09, 2021, 12:04:49 PM »
For Systematic Chaos they brought along an opener and so that reduced a bit the room for rotation, and by the time of Black Clouds, given also the package nature of the tour, Mike was by then scraping the bottom of the barrell since basically all the songs were already played in the 2002-2006 rotations.

It couldn't go on forver or better, it could have, but at a certain point the songs would have all returned to the set, after 2 or 3 tours of rest. But what a fun, unpredictable ride it has been in those three tours!
I wouldn't say that MP was scraping the bottom of the barrel by the time they got to the BCaSL tour cycle. He was always good about cycling various songs in and out of the master setlist from tour to tour. And given that the master setlist would total 4-6 hours of material, of course there were going to be songs that would repeat from tour to tour or would be brought back after 2 to 3 tour cycles. As the catalog continued to grow with each album, it would happen less, but there would always be some of that - especially since he tried to make sure that something from each of their albums was always included on the master setlist.
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Offline WilliamMunny

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Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #33 on: April 09, 2021, 12:05:09 PM »
The other night my son asked, "When were you at your peak?"

Wow—now there's a loaded question. Of course, my instinct was to say, "I'm still at my peak," but after further discussion, we narrowed it down to athletic peak...(obviously not now:)

Still, the conversation got me thinking about my writing, and my music. I like to think that my best days are ahead of me, but the pragmatist within says, "sure, but if you stop now, are you at the top of your game?"

Applying this to music is where this gets real fun.

I LOVE Kiss, but if I had to pick one album that shows them at their peak, I suspect I'm going to have a real hard time making a case for anything post-78, despite my continued affection for their non-makeup years.

As this is a Dream Theater forum, I am going to place the magnifying glass on them:

So, for me, "Score" is Dream Theater at their peak.

That album, to me, represents my favourite incarnation of the band firing on all cylinders.

"Scenes" to "Six Degrees" to "Train of Thought" to "Octavarium" is an incredible run, and that live document, given the context of what followed, feels like a high-water mark.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't LOVE other eras, because I do, but if we're reducing this to a single point in time, then "Score" is that point for me.

Would love to hear everyone else's thoughts ;D


For what it's worth, I thought YOU peaked with "Grand Torino" but then you did "The Mule" so what do I know?  ;)

See, and all this time I thought my best days ("Unforgiven") were three decades behind me...I'll take Gran Torino every day of the week!

Offline RAIN

  • Posts: 82
Re: What Era/Album do You Consider to be Dream Theater at Their Peak?
« Reply #34 on: April 09, 2021, 12:54:26 PM »
Train of Thought.  It was all uphill from SFAM to Six Degrees to TOT....I loved it.  Score really fell short and it took until Black Clouds to feel like they really nailed it again (and never again since).