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Music / Dream Theater

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We're here to rock hard and chew bubble gum, and we're all out of gum.note 

Dream Theater is a Progressive Metal band founded in 1985 by John Myung, John Petrucci, and Mike Portnoy under the name Majesty. They changed the name, but their logo is still known as the Majesty symbol. While not entirely mainstream, they are widely considered the face of the progressive metal genre. The inclusion of their songs in the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series have made them more recognizable to the general public, but they have still had only one song ("Pull Me Under") chart well enough to qualify as a "hit".

They are known for the extreme technical difficulty and complexity of their music, which often includes long instrumental interludes to showcase the skills of the band members. As such, much of it veers heavily into Epic Rocking territory. They are also known for their live shows, which are often really long and suitably epic.

There's a kind of Spin-Off of the band, called Liquid Tension Experiment, which started as a solo project of Mike Portnoy, but eventually ended with 3 out of 4 members of the band, as Jordan Rudess was later incorporated into Dream Theater.


Studio Albums:
  • 1989 - When Dream and Day Unite: "Status Seeker", "The Ytse Jam", and "Afterlife".
  • 1992 - Images and Words: "Pull Me Under", "Another Day", and "Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper".
  • 1994 - Awake: "6:00", the "A Mind Beside Itself " trilogy, and "Lie".
  • 1995 - A Change of Seasons EP: "A Change of Seasons".
  • 1997 - Falling into Infinity: "Hollow Years", "Hells Kitchen", and "Trial of Tears".
  • 1999 - Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory: "Home", "The Dance of Eternity", and "The Spirit Carries On".
  • 2002 - Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence: "The Glass Prison", "Misunderstood", and "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence".
  • 2003 - Train of Thought: "As I Am", "Stream of Consciousness", and "In the Name of God".
  • 2005 - Octavarium: "The Root of All Evil", "Panic Attack", and "Octavarium".
  • 2007 - Systematic Chaos: "In the Presence of Enemies", "Forsaken", and "Constant Motion".
  • 2009 - Black Clouds & Silver Linings: "A Rite of Passage", "A Nightmare to Remember", and "The Count of Tuscany".
  • 2011 - A Dramatic Turn of Events: "On the Backs of Angels", "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", and "Breaking All Illusions".
  • 2013 - Dream Theater: "The Enemy Inside", "The Looking Glass", and "Illumination Theory".
  • 2016 - The Astonishing: "The Gift of Music", "Moment of Betrayal", and "Our New World".
  • 2019 - Distance Over Time: "Untethered Angel", "Fall into the Light", "Paralyzed".
  • 2021 - A View from the Top of the World: "The Alien", "Invisible Monster"
  • 2021-Ongoing - Lost Not Forgotten Archives: A series of rare Dream Theater recordings remastered, remixed, and reissued for the public from live stage shows and bootlegs, to studio demos.

Official Live Albums to date: note 

  • 1992 - Live at the Marquee
  • 1997 - Once in a LIVEtime
  • 2000 - Live Scenes from New York
  • 2003 - Live at Budokan
  • 2006 - Score
  • 2008 - Chaos in Motion 2007–2008
  • 2013 - Live at Luna Park
  • 2014 - Breaking the Fourth Wall
  • 2020 - Distant Memories - Live in London

Other Albums:

Current Members:

  • John Petrucci - guitars, backing vocals (1985-)
  • John Myung - bass (1985-)
  • James LaBrie - lead vocals (1991-)
  • Jordan Rudess - keyboards (1999-)
  • Mike Portnoy - drums, backing vocals (1985-2010, 2023-)

Former members:

  • Mike Mangini - drums (2010-2023)
  • Charlie Dominici - lead vocals (1987-1989)
  • Kevin Moore - keyboards (1986-1994)
  • Derek Sherinian - keyboards (1995-1998)
  • Chris Collins - lead vocals (1986-1986)
  • Steve Stone - lead vocals (1990-1990)

Trope Me Under:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "The smell of stale sweat and shit steaming throught the night" from "The Test That Stumped Them All"
    • The twelve parts of the Twelve-Step Suite all start with "R": Reflection, Restoration, Revelation, Reflections of Reality (Revisited), Release, Ready, Remove, Regret, Restitution, Restraint, Receive and Responsible.
  • Age-Progression Song: "A Change of Seasons" tells the narrator's attitude towards life and others throughout their life, bookended by "The Crimson Sunrise" and "The Crimson Sunset", two movements and lines within those movements.
  • Album Intro Track: "Regression" for Scenes from a Memory and "False Awakening Suite" for Dream Theater.
  • Album Title Drop: The only exceptions to this are Falling into Infinity, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Train of Thought, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, A Dramatic Turn of Events and Distance Over Time, whose titles do not appear anywhere in the albums. Otherwise:
    • When Dream and Day Unite is a part of "Only a Matter of Time".
    • Images and Words: from "Wait for Sleep".
    • Awake: from a line in "Innocence Faded".
    The faithful live awake
    • Also in a line in "The Silent Man":
    Tonight I'm awake (the silent man)
    • The working title for the Falling into Infinity album, "Stream of Consciousness", does show up in "Lines in the Sand".
    • Scenes from a Memory: from "Scene Six: Home" (and "Metropolis Pt. 1", from Images and Words).
    • Octavarium: from, well, "Octavarium".
    • Systematic Chaos: The second half of it anyway, from a line in "The Dark Eternal Night"; though the title may reference a line from "Constant Motion".
    Insane random thoughts of neat disorder
    • Given as Train of Thought's title was a reference to the song "Stream of Consciousness", it very likely is the same there.
    • The Astonishing: from the last line on the album.
    Our lives will be astonishing again.
  • Animated Music Video: "Forsaken", from Systematic Chaos.
  • Anti-Love Song:
    • "Light the Fuse and Get Away" is about a cynical man who has been dumped so many times that he considers relationships a waste of time.
    • "Honor Thy Father" is a "hate song" variant of this trope written about Mike Portnoy's stepfather.
  • Arc Number: "Octavarium" uses the idea that everything ends where it began and uses the number 8 and the octave as examples. It's the eighth track on their eighth album and its length in minutes (twenty-four) is divisible by 8. Various other elements in the song also allude to cycles and/or the number 8. According to ex-drummer Portnoy, the album's concept stemmed from his realizing that (a), Octavarium was to be their eighth studio release, and (b), they had just released their fifth live release (Live at Budokan).
  • Audience Participation: In concerts leading up to the release of The Astonishing, the band allowed fans to chose between being members of The Great Northern Empire or the Ravenskill Rebel Militia.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Take the Time" was this in early tours. "On the Backs of Angels" is starting to fill this mold now, with James LaBrie encouraging audiences to sing along to the main keyboard melody of the song.
  • The Band Minus the Face: Mike Portnoy founded the band alongside Petrucci and Myung, co-produced their albums with Petrucci, and did most of the interviews - not to mention maintaining and curating a vast back-catalog of official bootlegs.
  • Big Rock Ending: "Endless Sacrifice", "In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 2", and "Erotomania".
  • Bookends: The first song of the Alcoholics Anonymous Suite, "The Glass Prison", begins with the sound of static, followed by the sound of a church bell, then the actual music starts. The last song in the suite, "The Shattered Fortress", ends with the song fading out to the sound of a church bell, followed by static.
    • "The Great Debate" begins with a keyboard riff. Soon, bass is added, followed by drums, then guitar. At the end of the song, these instruments are taken away in reverse order, until only the keyboard riff remains.
    • Octavarium ends with the same piano note and sound effects that it began with on "The Root of All Evil".
    • "A Change of Seasons" begins with a section called "The Crimson Sunrise" and ends with "The Crimson Sunset", and opens and closes with the same melody.
    • "In the Presence of Enemies" was split up to bookend Systematic Chaos because Mike felt it was too long to start the album and didn't want to end another album with an epic-length piece.
  • Breather Episode: On Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, the soft ballad "Through Her Eyes" is placed between the extremely heavy epics "Beyond This Life" and "Home".
  • Call-Back:
    • There are plenty of musical call backs to other songs in the Twelve-Step Suite during "The Shattered Fortress" from 2009's 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings'. For example, 1:44 into the song, the melody from the intro to "This Dying Soul". At the 3-minute mark, there is another reprise of a riff from the same song. (Actually, every song in the suite contains at least one musical and/or lyrical reference to at least one previous song from the suite, but "The Shattered Fortress" has the most of these by far. The suite is also a direct sequel to "The Mirror" and several of its songs contain references to that song as well.)
    • On Awake, there's a solo at around 5:18 in "The Mirror". The same melody would come back, albeit in a different key, as the first verses of "Space-Dye Vest".
      • Similarly, the chorus from "Caught in a Web" appears as a keyboard motif in "Erotomania".
      • A keyboard riff from "Erotomania" is reused in "The Crimson Sunrise" from "A Change of Seasons".
  • Calling the Old Man Out: "Honor Thy Father", from Train of Thought, has a variation: Mike Portnoy loves his biological father, so the subject being called out for his horribleness in the song is instead his step-father, whom he used to have a hateful relationship. Portnoy himself said that he isn't able to write a love song, so instead he wrote a ''hate'' song.
  • Careful with That Axe: Most present before James experienced his vocal injury, like the scream during the build-up of "Learning to Live".
    • That scream is the F♯ just below soprano C, and is one of the highest notes James has ever reached in his entire singing career.
    • The entire Live at the Marquee album, especially the Charlie Dominici songs, which he sings a whole lot higher just because he can, apparently.
    • This YTMND. Listening to it right before or after Live at the Marquee is hilarious.
    • Referenced in the lyrics to "Octavarium" as a Shout-Out to Pink Floyd, in step 3, "Full Circle". Then Played Straight in the last stanza of step 4, "Intervals".
    • Also present in the backing vocals to the Title Drop section of "Build Me Up, Break Me Down." They get more prominent each time the section repeats.
  • Car Song: The Distance Over Time bonus track "Viper King", which is about the Dodge Viper.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated:
    • "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", from A Dramatic Turn of Events, is about how the media intrudes on the private lives of celebrities.
    • "The Looking Glass", from the Self-Titled Album, can also be interpreted as this, though it's more criticizing people's desire for fame than it is criticizing fame itself.
  • Changing Chorus: "Honor Thy Father":
    • First verse:
      On and on and on and on it goes,
      It's so easy to run away with nothing in tow!
      How can you ever sleep a wink at night,
      Pretending that everything is alright,
      And have the nerve to blame this mess on me?
      Never in my life have I seen someone
      So ignorant to the damage he has done.
      You're the rotted root in the family tree.
    • Second verse:
      On and on and on and on it goes,
      And with every passing day true colors show!
      How can you ever sleep a wink at night,
      Pretending that everything is alright,
      And have the balls to blame this mess on me?
      Never in my life have I seen someone
      Oblivious to the damage he has done,
      You're the rotted root in the family tree.
    • Third verse:
      On and on and on and on it goes,
      Chauvinistic, heartless, selfish, cold!
      How can you ever sleep a wink at night,
      Pretending that everything is alright,
      And have the balls to blame this shit on me?
      Never in my life have I seen someone
      So fucking blind to the damage he has done,
      You're the rotted root in the family tree
  • Chronological Album Title: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is Dream Theater's sixth album, while Octavarium is their eighth.
  • Concept Album:
    • Metropolis Pt.2, which tells the story of a man reliving a past life through hypnosis. Beware the Downer Ending.
    • Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Octavarium too, although they rely more on thematic connections between songs rather than telling a story.
      • What's even more interesting about Octavarium is that each of the songs is played in each of the minor keys that start with white notes (from F minor to F minor, ascending) - whilst the transitions between the songs are in the accidental keys between these.
    • The Astonishing: The story takes place in 2285 in the Maineland of the American Northwest, now called "The Great Northern Empire of the Americas", when devices known as NOMACS became corrupted and basically supply all of the country's entertainment, mainly music and the country became a Dystopia.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Every song from the Twelve-Step suite,note  barring "The Glass Prison" for being the first, is referenced in the other songs of said suite. The suite itself is a direct sequel to "The Mirror" from Awake, and several of its songs contain nods to that song as well.
    • "Wait for Sleep"-"Learning to Live", from Images and Words.
    • Almost the entirety of Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory by being a Concept Album, both between the songs and the song "Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper", from Images and Words.
    • The tandems "Vacant"-"Stream of Consciousness", from Train of Thought
    • Each of the lines in the "Intervals" step of "Octavarium", from Octavarium, refer back to the previous tracks on the album.
    • "The Best of Times", from Black Clouds & Silver Linings has "Remember, seize the day". This song was written by Mike Portnoy about the death of a relative... and the previous song that was written by him about the death of a relative, "A Change of Seasons", from the A Change of Seasons EP, contained the words "Seize the day" quite a few times.
    • "The Bigger Picture" from the Self-Titled Album makes a reference to "The Ministry of Lost Souls", with the line 'And I’ll reach the water’s edge'.
    • A very famous example is how some of their albums start with a sound that ended the previous album. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence begins with static, which Scenes from a Memory ended with. The next album, Train of Thought, begins by fading in with the same chord that Six Degrees fades out with in its ending. To cap that off, the last note on Train of Thought is the same one that starts and ends Octavarium - making a "lasso" of those four albums.
  • Cover Album:
    • A Change of Seasons, aside from the title track, consists of a selection of live covers.
    • A special edition of Black Clouds & Silver Linings comes with a disc with six covers.
    • There're also two "official bootlegs" composed of covers called "Uncovered".
    • They've also recorded live versions of several classic prog and metal albums in their entirety. Examples include Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, Metallica's Master of Puppets, and Deep Purple's Made in Japan. These have been released in the band's "Official Bootleg" series (there's also a DVD of the Dark Side cover).
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Awake. Due to various reasons such as a decision to take a more metallic approach and especially the growing rift between the band and then-keyboardist Kevin Moore, it's probably the band's second heaviest album after ToT and is definitely the most haunting and darkly atmospheric. This is especially notable considering the general optimism and focus on prog-rock and melodic elements on Images and Words, its predecessor.
    • Train of Thought, probably even moreso. Not only are the lyrical themes much darker, but the music itself is much much heavier than that of Six Degrees, the previous album.
    • "The Glass Prison" (from Six Degrees) was written after Mike and John went to a Pantera concert.
    • The self-titled album, while not dark thematically, is quite a bit heavier than "A Dramatic Turn of Events" note , featuring an unusual abundance of 7-string guitars.
  • Downer Ending: Awake has one with "Space-Dye Vest" and Scenes from a Memory has a Sudden Downer Ending, though it might not be obvious at first listen, but it's confirmed by Word of God.invoked Some of their other albums could also qualify, with "In the Name of God" from Train of Thought being a heart-wrenching response to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss: They've opened many of their 2009 shows with "A Nightmare to Remember," often starting with a black curtain and pulling it down when the guitar enters. It's quite dramatic.
  • Drone of Dread: At the beginning of "The Dance of Eternity."
  • Dysfunction Junction: "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" is, as its title suggests, about six individuals who have their lives negatively affected by mental disorders such as PTSD, autism, and dissociative identity disorder.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Jordan played a single show with the band right before Sherinian was hired, and Mike Mangini played a drum duet with Portnoy during a show in 2002.
  • Easter Egg:
    • "In the Name of God" has a hidden Morse Code message that translates to "Eat my ass and balls".
    • "S2N" has a voice clip of Owen Wilson saying "Wow" that can faintly be heard in the dead space before the final chorus.
  • Echoing Acoustics: The electronically-triggered snare and kick Mike Portnoy was forced to use on Images and Words by producer David Prater.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: The band does this a lot. If a song achieves Epic Rocking lengths (see below), it is guaranteed to begin this way.
  • Epic Rocking: A feature of both this band and its spinoff Liquid Tension Experiment, being Progressive Metal bands, of course. The only albums to date not featuring a track longer than 10 minutes are the debut (When Dream and Day Unite), The Astonishing note , and Distance Over Time, and the average song length is just under 10 minutes. On the extreme end, there're the following songs:
    • While broken up into three tracks, the "A Mind Beside Itself" suite from Awake lasts for 20:26.
    • "A Change of Seasons", from the A Change of Seasons EP. (23:06)
    • "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. (42:00, was on its own disc, and is split into 8 tracks)
    • "Octavarium", from Octavarium. (24:00)
    • "In the Presence of Enemies", from Systematic Chaos. (25:38 if both parts are considered a single song, which is usually true during concerts)
    • "The Count of Tuscany", from Black Clouds & Silver Linings. (19:16)
    • "Illumination Theory", from Dream Theater. (22:18, technically closer to 19:17 as the track also includes a secret 2:30 track, but still impressive)
    • The five songs of the "Twelve-Step Suite" add up to 57:16. Add another 6:47 if you count "The Mirror", which is also about Mike's struggle with addiction.
    • Most tracks on The Astonishing are relatively short, especially by Dream Theater standards, but the album itself is a colossal two-hour-plus narrative that tells a single continuous story, and has been crafted as a single cogent piece. Strap in!
  • Everyone Knows Morse: "In the Name of God" has Morse code hidden during one of the instrumental breaks. Decoded, it literally translates to "Eat my ass and balls."
  • Everything Is an Instrument:
    • Jordan Rudess has been known to experiment with some interesting instruments, including keyboards that sound like sitars and turntables, keyboard guitars, a Haken Continuumnote  and even the iPhone and the iPad. He surely has a lot of toys.
    • John Myung has also been known to play with a Chapman Stick instead of an ordinary bass from time to time.
  • Evil Sounds Raspy: During the verses of "The Dark Eternal Night" from Systematic Chaos, James and Mike portray an Egyptian God with this kind of voice by singing the melody with heavy distortion on their vocals.
    • "My soul is yours, dark master. I will fight for you." note 
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Their Greatest Hit album. Only one of those songs ("Pull Me Under", from Images & Words) became a hit. All of the others were released singles and re-recordings.
  • Fading into the Next Song:
    • Happens fairly often. Examples include "Vacant" into "Stream of Consciousness", "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" into "Lost Not Forgotten", "Misunderstood" into "The Great Debate", and "Hell's Kitchen" into "Lines in the Sand".
    • Scenes From a Memory is gapless aside from Scenes 5 and 6, which is a division between acts.
    • Heck, they have even done this between albums. For example, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence begins with static, which Scenes from a Memory ended with. The next album, Train of Thought, begins with by fading in with the same chord that Six Degrees fades out with. To cap that off, the last note on Train of Thought is the same one that starts and ends Octavarium - making a "lasso" of those four albums.
  • Fake Band: During their live shows in the Derek Sherinian era, they occasionally exchange instruments with each other and perform some Cover Versions as "Nightmare Cinema". Referenced in the "Full Circle" part of the song "Octavarium" with "Day for Nightmare Cinema" in the lyrics.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out:
    • "Misunderstood", which fades out...and then back in.
    • As does "At Wit's End".
  • Fan Community Nickname: European fans refer to themselves as "Dreamers". North American fans are the "North American Dream Squad" (shortened to NADS).
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: "The Glass Prison" opens with a sinister-sounding bell being repeatedly rung.
  • Genre Roulette: Frequently, as befitting a Progressive Metal band. A good example is the ragtime break in "The Dance of Eternity".
  • Grief Song:
    • "A Change of Seasons", from the eponymous EP, is partially drummer Mike Portnoy's way to cope with the death of his mother.
    • "Take Away My Pain", from Falling into Infinity, is about the death of guitarist John Petrucci's father.
    • "Disappear", from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, is about the death of a loved one. According to James LaBrie, the lyrics were inspired by observing a young couple and wondering what would happen when one of them died.
    • "Goodnight Kiss", also from Six Degrees..., is about a mother who lost her child.
    • "Sacrificed Sons", from Octavarium, is dedicated to the victims of 9/11.
    • "The Best of Times", from Black Clouds and Silver Linings, is Portnoy's way to cope with the death of his father.
  • Hidden Track:
    • The five segues on Octavarium, which represent the five black notes on the keyboard, are indexed as hidden tracks on the CD. note 
    • Their twelfth album Dream Theater included an actual hidden song: an untitled piano and guitar duet that closes the album.
  • Homage:
  • I Am the Band: Myung and Petrucci are the only original members of the band who've been there throughout its entire history. It's fair to say that Dream Theater is their band.
  • Instrumentals: Aside of Liquid Tension Experiment, the band has, only counting official studio album recordings:
    • "The Ytse Jam", from When Dream and Day Unite
    • "Erotomania", from Awake
    • "Hell's Kitchen", from Falling into Infinity
    • "Scene Two, Part I: Overture 1928" and "Scene Seven, Part I: The Dance of Eternity", from Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory
    • "Overture", from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
    • "Stream of Consciousness", from Train of Thought.
    • The Special Edition of Black Clouds & Silver Linings includes a disc with instrumentals of all the songs.
    • "Enigma Machine" and "False Awakening Suite", from Dream Theater.
  • Ironic Echo: "Take the Time" has the line "Just close your eyes; you can find all you need with your mind." "Just Let Me Breathe", as a Take That! at MTV (and, more broadly, the entire music industry - it's worth noting they were being subjected to quite a lot of Executive Meddling at this point), ironically inverts it: "Just close your mind; you can find all you need with your eyes."
  • Large Ham: The whole band, really, except Myung (whose performances still could be considered fairly hammy, but he himself is quite shy and reserved). It's part of the reason their music is such a polarizing affair. Amongst all of them, though, LaBrie is probably the hammiest. As for a musical example, the Black Clouds & Silver Linings album treats us to thunder, dissonant piano, heavy guitars, choirs, and organs. Oh, and that's just in the first minute of over an hour of music.
  • Last Note Nightmare: Some songs have really weird segues at the end of songs:
    • "Misunderstood" from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is notable due to the last third or so of the song fitting under this.
    • Octavarium has several for symbolism—the weird endings are separately-indexed hidden tracks that represent the black notes on a keyboard.
    • Scenes from a Memory ends with the protagonist, Nicholas, going home, pouring himself a drink and listening to some calming music, before the hypnotherapist promptly murders him to the sound of a surprised yelp, the record being dislodged from the player, and static which leads off to....
    • "The Glass Prison", which starts Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence immediately where "Finally Free" left off — with gramophone static.
    • Jordan's response to Mike leaving the band is in the form of a nice, quiet piano and vocal improv...until he pulls a "Her Majesty" type Scare Chord in the last 10 seconds.
  • Left the Background Music On: At the end of "Finally Free", the outro vamp is revealed to be playing on Nicholas' car radio.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Images and Words closes with "Learning to Live" (11:30).
    • Falling Into Infinity closes with "Trial of Tears" (13:07).
    • Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence closed with the eponymous song (42:02).
    • Train of Thought closes with "In the Name of God" (14:15).
    • Octavarium closes with the eponymous song (24:00).
    • Systematic Chaos closes with "In the Presence of Enemies (Part II)" (16:38).
    • Black Clouds & Silver Linings closes with "The Count of Tuscany" (19:16).
    • Dream Theater closes with "Illumination Theory" (22:17).
    • A View From the Top of the World has the eponymous song (20:24) as its closer.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type two; the LaBrie/Myung/Petrucci/Portnoy/Rudess lineup lasted for just over eleven years. The LaBrie/Mangini/Myung/Petrucci/Rudess lineup lasted 13 years, until Portnoy's return in 2023.
  • Long-Runners: They've existed in one form or another since 1986, which makes them one of the longest running Progressive Metal bands.
  • Loudness War: Most of the material since Awake has been pretty badly clipped. The Official Bootlegs on Ytsejam Records are generally better about this (they're still fairly loud, but generally don't clip much), possibly because erstwhile drummer Mike Portnoy manages the label and the loudness war generally affects drums particularly badly.
  • Low Count Gag: They titled their greatest hits album "Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)", joking about how most of their songs have never charted. This is likely due to them being too long, complex and unsuitable for mainstream radio play. Typical greatest hits albums have more than one hit.
  • Lyrical Cold Open:
    • "The Silent Man", from Awake, begins with James LaBrie singing while John Petrucci ambients the first verse with his acoustic guitar.
    • Several act parts in Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory begin this way such as "Fatal Tragedy" and "The Spirit Carries On". Both songs start with James singing on top of Jordan Rudess's keyboards.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: They've used this a few times. The lyrics to "Scarred" close on a hopeful note, but the music underlying the lines continues the gloomy mood of the rest of the song, and then transitions to a fairly dissonant instrumental fadeout. Meanwhile, "Take Away My Pain", an elegy for Petrucci's father, is given a cheerful major key melody.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Their Self-Titled Album.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • On Awake, the serene acoustic "The Silent Man" abruptly transitions to the chugging opening riff of "The Mirror", which was the heaviest thing the band had done up to that point. (For that matter, "The Silent Man" directly follows "Voices", a harrowing portrayal of schizophrenia; there's a brief segue between them that prevents the transition from being too abrupt, but it probably lasts about half a minute.)
    • In "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", the extremely manic and heavy "The Test That Stumped Them All" fades into the depressing and ridiculously soft-sounding "Goodnight Kiss".
    • On Octavarium, the uplifting U2-esque "I Walk Beside You" is followed by the heaviest song on the album, "Panic Attack".
    • On Systematic Chaos, the over-the-top fantasy-themed "The Dark Eternal Night" is followed by the somber, reflective "Repentance", part of the AA saga. "Repentance" is also this in the context of the AA suite, as it's the only ballad in the suite and is followed by "The Shattered Fortress", possibly the heaviest song in the whole suite since "The Glass Prison".
    • In "Illumination Theory", the end of the serene string section cuts abruptly to a very dry bass and drum riff.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • "Wither" is about writer's block, of all things.
    • The album cover for Octavarium features a giant Newton's cradle, with one of the balls having the Majesty symbol on it.
  • Music Is Politics: Most of Portnoy's lyrics from Falling into Infinity are about his disgust with record industry politics. After this album, the band would carefully negotiate contracts to ensure they had complete creative control over their recording process.
  • New Sound Album: Though they started experimenting with a more modern and hard-edged sound on Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, Train Of Thought was the album that officially heralded "Dream Theater 2.0." The songs were much heavier than in the 90's, the modern metal influences were much more prevalentnote , the lyrical themes were darker, and the songwriting (though still very complex and technical) was slightly simpler. This style more-or-less continued on the following four records.
    • And then "Dream Theater 3.0" came about with A Dramatic Turn of Events, an album that dialed back on the heaviness of the previous four records and found a happy medium between DT 1.0 and DT 2.0.
  • Nintendo Hard: Playing any of this band's music in real life, which is why most of the actual covers and tributes don't make true justice to the originals. John Petrucci said in an interview that one of the ways he keeps himself motivated to improve as a musician is by writing parts he can't actually play. Considering he's a gamer himself, this makes a lot of sense.
  • No Ending: "Pull Me Under" cuts off abruptly without fading or having a coda. According to Mike Portnoy, it happened because they tried to build up a climactic ending but had no idea how to cap it off.
  • Ode to Sobriety: The Twelve-Step Suite ("The Glass Prison", "This Dying Soul", "The Root of All Evil", "Repentance", and "The Shattered Fortress") collectively deal with Mike Portnoy overcoming his alcoholism.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Both averted and enforced. John Petrucci and John Myung were founding members of the band, breaking the limit. However, when Kevin James LaBrie joined the band before Images and Words, he used his middle name as his stage name to avoid confusion with Kevin Moore.
    • Mike Portnoy got replaced by Mike Mangini, so you still have to use a last name to describe Dream Theater's drummer when the context doesn't clear up which one you're talking about.
  • One-Woman Wail: The intro to Through Her Eyes on Metropolis, Pt. 2.
  • The Plan: In Metropolis, Pt. 2, Edward kills Victoria and Julian, then leaves a suicide note in Julian's pocket, making it appear as if Julian shot Victoria and killed himself. In other words, Edward literally gets away with murder. And it's not over yet! When Edward finally dies, he is reincarnated as the Hypnotherapist; at the end of the album, he murders Nicholas, the reincarnation of Victoria!
  • Power Ballad: Quite a few, the best known being "Another Day", "Hollow Years" and "The Spirit Carries On".
  • Precision F-Strike: Generally, the band avoid swearing in their songs, which makes the line "I wish I weren't so fucked" in "As I Am" a classic example of this trope, made even better with the emphasis James LaBrie puts on "fucked". "Honour Thy Father" also has the lines "And have the balls to blame this shit on me" and "So fucking blind to the damage he has done", as well as a borderline Cluster F-Bomb in the spoken word section in the middle of the song (though slightly muffled by the music in parts).
    • LaBrie has been known to throw in occasional uses of profanity during live performances in cases where there wasn't any in the studio versions. For instance, the line "I don't need your sympathy to get me through the day" (from "A Change of Seasons") has sometimes been sung as "I don't need your mercy fuck to get me through the day" and sometimes as "I don't need your fucking shit to get me through the day".
  • Protest Song: They don't delve into this much, and they studiously avoid being Anvilicious about it when they do, but they do have a few examples. "Prophets of War", without actually espousing conspiracy theories, questions whether the motives for the 2003 Iraq war were pure. Per Word of God, the title is a pun on "profits". "The Enemy Inside" is a protest against the treatment of war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the band has worked closely with the charity Save a Warrior, which advocates for veterans with PTSD. "The Great Debate" is a song about the then-divisive issue of stem cell research, although the band avoids taking a stance on it.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • "I! Am! The! LAST!"note 
    • "I! WILL! LIVE ON! LIVE ON!"note 
    • "BUILD! ME! UP! BREAK! ME! DOWN!"note 
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Charlie Dominici and Derek Sherinian. Although both of them returned as guests for the anniversary concert of When Dream and Day Unite in 2004.
    • Their first vocalist, Chris Collins, got this treatment as well. The band were already pissed at him for his poor vocal range, inconsistent live performances, and bad behaviour on stage, which culminated in an incident where Collins was introducing the band and insulted Myung, referring to him as being "from the jungles of Korea". The band ultimately forced him to leave, and ended up replacing him with Charlie Dominici.
  • Religion Rant Song: While they have several song that qualify as Ambiguously Christian, they also have several anti-religious songs, such as "In the Name of God" (which generally protests religious war and terrorism, though it's specifically about the Branch Davidian siege in Waco in 1993) and "Blind Faith" (which protests the use of religious faith as an excuse for ignoring terrestrial suffering).
  • Rock Opera: Metropolis, Pt. 2 and The Astonishing.
  • Sampling: They're quite fond of sampling films and television shows in their songs. Kevin Moore and Mike Portnoy's songs in particular featured liberal use of this.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: An awful lot of their songs. Possibly up to half of them on some of their albums, honestly. In particular, "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", "A Mind Beside Itself", and "Octavarium" have this as overarching concerns of the whole song or at least of specific subsections. And of course "Panic Attack" kind of speaks for itself; it even sounds like a panic attack.
  • Self-Referential Track Placement: "Octavarium" is the eighth track on its namesake album, closing the whole album and its theme of fives and eights.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their 12th studio album is titled Dream Theater.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: All seven are brought up in “The Root of All Evil”.
  • Sdrawkcab Name:
    • "Ytse Jam" is really just the band's first name written backwards. Doubles as Punny Name.
    • The "Majesty Demos" bootleg actually has a track on it called "Gnos Sdrawkcab", which is just a reversed recording of John Petrucci shredding for a few seconds.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Dream Theater have touched on the subject of soldiers with PTSD a few times.
    • "War Inside My Head" from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is about a soldier who is haunted by the things he experienced during wartime (implied to be The Vietnam War).
      A free vacation
      Of palmtrees and shrapnel
      Trading innocence for permanent psychotic hell
      Hearing voices from miles away
      Saying things never said
      Seeing shadows in the light of the day
      Waging a war inside my head
    • "The Enemy Inside" is also about PTSD in soldiers, this time focused more on The War on Terror. The music video follows a veteran through his daily life, which is constantly interrupted by flashbacks and hallucinations. To hammer the point in, the video, which was filmed in partnership with the Save A Warrior foundation, contains interviews with Iraq War veterans.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The ending to Metropolis, Pt. 2: after Nicholas uncovers his past life and comes to a state of acceptance with it, he's murdered by the Hypnotherapist, who apparently becomes a Karma Houdini just like his past self.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Full Circle", the third step of "Octavarium", from the namesake album, its basically a countdown of Shout Outs to every kind of stuff which influenced DT in one way or another.
    • Once in a LIVEtime has plenty of these:
    • In Live Scenes from New York, "A Change of Seasons" has a bass solo with the Major League Baseball theme and a guitar break with the opening to The Simpsons.
    • "The Spirit Carries On" sounds straight out of Pink Floyd's The Wall; the song was notably inspired by that and its follow-up The Final Cut.
    • "In the Presence of Enemies" Bookends Systematic Chaos in much the same way "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" bookends Wish You Were Here, fades in and out with wind sounds, and opens its second segment with a bass line. The long instrumental opening to "Octavarium" also seems like a tribute to "Shine On", which opens much the same way.
    • Like other metal bands, the band has recorded several covers of their favourite artists.
    • Their lyrics are full of these; for instance, "6:00" contains allusions to James Joyce and Robert Frost, and their songs frequently contain samples of (often quite literary) films such as A Room with a View and Dead Poets Society, as well as more mundane sources such as a news commenter discussing OJ Simpson and a Jay Leno interview of Conan O'Brien.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: "Pull Me Under" ends with a direct quote from Hamlet and the whole song is sung from the title character's perspective.
  • Shown Their Work: Their depictions of psychological disorders, which are plentiful in their lyrics, are quite detailed, accurate, and respectful. Some of the lyrics ("Constant Motion", for example) are written from personal experience, while the band members did research for some of the others (such as "Voices"). It shows. The depiction of recovery from alcoholism in the Twelve-Step Suite is also an example, which is also a case of Write What You Know.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: There are a few examples in their discography, such as "Wait for Sleep"-"Learning to Live", "The Mirror"-"Lie", "War Inside My Head"-"The Test that Stumped Them All", and "Vacant"-"Stream of Consciousness". These pairs of songs are sometimes played together live, but sometimes not. "A Mind Beside Itself" also counts if you consider it to be three songs rather than a single song divided into three tracks; the first two movements are almost always played live together, but sometimes they finish off the suite with another song rather than "The Silent Man".
  • Soprano and Gravel: Mike Portnoy sometimes used a deeper voice than James LaBrie on songs such as "A Nightmare to Remember" and "Prophets of War". The version of "The Spirit Carries On" on both Live Scenes from New York and Score features vocals from Theresa Thomason, and also in their version of "The Great Gig in the Sky".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Featured heavily. Notable songs include "Take the Time", "6:00", "Voices", "Space Dye Vest", "A Change of Seasons", "Regression", "Finally Free", "The Great Debate", "Goodnight Kiss", "Honor Thy Father", "Sacrificed Sons", "Repentence", and "Breaking All Illusions".
  • Start My Own: Charlie Dominici, former vocalist (though only hardcore fans even know they had a vocalist other than James), started his own band called Dominici in the early 2000s.
  • Supergroup: Each of the members has been involved with one at some point. For fun, look up any of the members on That Other Wiki and check the "Associated Acts" section of the info-box. To list a few (there are a lot):
  • Take That!: "As I Am", wrote by John Petrucci, is directed to Queensrÿche's Mike Stone. Specifically, it was written after Mike tried to give John some tips on playing guitar (hence the line "Don't...tell me how to write").
    • "Honor Thy Father" is basically 10 minutes of Calling The Step-Old Man Out, from Mike Portnoy's part.
    • "Never Enough" was wrote by Portnoy as one towards their Unpleasable Fanbase.
    • Kevin Moore wrote "6:00", which was about being sick of working with the band.
    • The unreleased "Raise the Knife" is a bitter rant from Portnoy about Moore leaving the band before Awake was released.
  • Theremin: Briefly in "A Nightmare to Remember".
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "The Killing Hand" ends with the narrator coming back from the past only to discover that in destroying the Killing Hand, he ended up killing another version of himself.
    I laugh at what I've done
    I am the Killing Hand
  • Trope Codifier: They are very strong candidates for being the codifiers of Progressive Metal as a whole. Most subsequent bands in the genre have been influenced by them in one fashion or another, even if that's simply in trying not to imitate them. They could also count as Genre Popularizers, as they are one of the most commercially successful acts in the genre, despite having only had one major hit (then again, prog has not generally been focused on hit singles in the first place).
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change:
    • The final chorus of "Moment of Betrayal" is played three semitones higher than the rest of the song prior.
    • The final chorus and outro of "I Walk Beside You" is played two semitones higher than everything else in the song.
  • Uncommon Time: The band loves using odd time signatures in their songs, especially during instrumental sections.
    • "The Dance of Eternity" is particularly infamous for this with over a hundred time signature changes in just over six minutes. The page image for the trope is Mike going over the many time signature changes in the second half of the song.
    • Other songs that use this very heavily include "Learning to Live", "Erotomania", "A Change of Seasons", "Hell's Kitchen", "Blind Faith", "The Test That Stumped Them All", "Honor Thy Father", "Stream of Consciousness", "Octavarium", "In the Presence of Enemies", "The Dark Eternal Night", "A Nightmare to Remember", "Lost Not Forgotten", "Outcry", "Breaking All Illusions", "Behind the Veil", and "Surrender to Reason".
    • "6:00" subverts this. The main riff is in 4/4, but it's syncopated in such a way that makes it sound like alternating bars of 7/8 and 9/8.
  • We Really Do Care: James LaBrie contemplated quitting the band after he got really bad food poisoning, which led to him vomiting his guts out, which led to damage to his vocal cords that were never quite the same. The rest of the band talked him out of it.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: "Pull Me Under" to Hamlet, "In the Presence of Enemies" to Priest, The Astonishing to "2112". The first two are confirmed as intentional by Word of God.