Here are the six best Dream Theater songs under six minutes!

As the godfathers of modern progressive metal, Dream Theater are often praised – or chastised – for prioritizing extremely complex playing and lengthy compositions. Granted, they’re among the best at it, but that also means that it’s sometimes easy to disregard their skills as efficient and evocative songwriters.

Honestly, Dream Theater have crafted dozens of great songs that emphasize irresistible melodies, moving lyricism, understated instrumentation and easily digestible durations. They may have some quirky or flashy “prog” moments along the way, but they never rely on those flights of fancy to work. Rather, they’d be nearly as remarkable if they were stripped down to, say, just a voice and a guitar or piano.

The six tunes on this list highlight precisely what we’re talking about, as they all clock in at under six minutes and demonstrate why the quintet deserves as much love for their restrained yet resonant songwriting as for their trademark extended theatrics.

Before you see which songs we chose, you should also know this rule: we left instrumentals out of consideration!

The Six Best Dream Theater Songs Under Six Minutes Long

Dream Theater
Wagner Meier, Getty Images

“Wait for Sleep” (Images and Words)

Prior to leaving in 1994, keyboardist Kevin Moore wrote some of the band’s best material, with this penultimate gem from 1992 standing out most.

Built around a highly emotional yet minimal piano motif, its modest synths, sincere singing (courtesy of newcomer James LaBrie) and expressive storytelling are amazingly poetic and impactful. It revolves around a girl dealing with the death of her sister, and descriptions such as “Standing by the window / Eyes upon the moon / Hoping that the memory / Will leave her spirit soon” can’t help but conjure vividly heartbreaking images and words. It’s a perfect piece.

“Hollow Years” (Falling Into Infinity)

Written by guitarist John Petrucci, “Hollow Years” was the only single released from 1997’s considerably underrated Falling Into Infinity (the only Dream Theater studio LP to feature keyboardist Derek Sherinian). It begins with breezy European acoustic guitarwork and shakers before Mike Portnoy adds slightly more sophisticated syncopation; meanwhile, LaBrie’s voice is superbly pure and reflective as he presumably sings about the aftermath of a breakup.

Every melody is catchy, and they all flow together – and eventually modulate – exquisitely (with lovely backing vocals from multiple other members). Although the instrumentation perpetually becomes more elaborate, it’s always fittingly subtle and touching, too. 

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“One Last Time” (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory)

There are many things that make 1999’s Scenes from a Memory the ultimate Dream Theater album, including the beautifully bittersweet “One Last Time.” Penned by LaBrie – regarding protagonists Nicholas and Victoria’s star-crossed connections – it segues out of “The Dance of Eternity” with elegantly fancy piano playing from Jordan Rudess (who makes his Dream Theater debut on the record).

LaBrie’s sentimental performance and detailed narrative alone are utterly captivating, with Portnoy’s inventive fills and Petrucci’s varied support (featuring an all-time great solo) being the icing on the crestfallen cake. From start to finish, “One Last Time” is tremendously hooky and poignant.

“About to Crash (Reprise)” (Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence)

Yes, this is a part of a 42-minute composition, but it’s indexed as its own track on 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.

Aside from intensifying the engrossing hooks and sentiments of “About to Crash” (relating to a girl who has bipolar disorder), the delightfully suspenseful, eclectic and familiar jam afterward elevates “About to Crash (Reprise)” into one of the group’s most hypnotic adventures. (Just listen to the infectiously playful build-up and release of rhythms, guitars and keyboards about halfway in!) It’s a sublime balance of songwriting and complex musicianship, with the latter bolstering the former instead of overshadowing it.

“Vacant” (Train of Thought)

“Vacant” sees LaBrie, Rudess and bassist John Myung looking to the potentially fatal illness(es) of LaBrie’s daughter to create a three-minute odyssey of morose realizations and magnificently bleak instrumentation.

Lasting less than three minutes, it supports LaBrie’s harrowing statements (“She's losing control / What can I do? / Her vacant eyes / Black holes / Am I losing you?”) with a brilliantly grim mix of graceful strings and piano notes. Obviously, “Vacant” is the prelude to the standout instrumental of 2003’s Train of Thought – “Stream of Consciousness” – but it’s also a masterfully affective and tasteful piece in its own right.    

“Beneath the Surface” (A Dramatic Turn of Events)

Dream Theater had a lot to prove on 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events since it was their first outing with drummer Mike Mangini replacing Portnoy. They certainly succeeded, though, besting their prior two records and producing the best LP of the Mangini era.

Symphonic acoustic ballad “Beneath the Surface” is an outstanding example of the album’s overarching enhancements to the quintet’s songwriting and arrangements. Written by Petrucci as a luscious and healing closer, it’s warm guitar arpeggios beautifully complement LaBrie’s soulful thoughts until Rudess’ divine solo transitions into LaBrie’s even more empowering bridge. It’s a wonderful way to end.

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