Founded by Berkeley, California music students John Petrucci (vocals), Mike Portnoy (drums) and John Myung (bass) and recruiting vocalist Charlie Dominici, as well as Kevin Moore (keyboards), Dream Theater signed to M.C.A.'. Their blend of Techno-Rock was in the mold of the English Progressive Metal scene at the time and over time they migrated to a harder edge in the style of Queensryche and Rush. Their debut 1989 album, When Dreams And Day Unite, failed commercially and caused them to loose both M.C.A.' and Dominici.
It took some three years for the act to get on their feet again this time with Canadian vocalist James LaBrie (ex-Winter Rose/ex-Coney Hatch) in the membership to record the follow-up Images And Words in 1992. Indeed, their acquisition of LaBrie ended off being a very smart move for Dream Theater for it launched their classic days and a set of successful albums. Although the follow-up live release Live At The Marquee (1993) went nowhere, Images And Words on Atco' received a U.S. 61, while Awake (1994) made 32 U.S./65 U.K. After Moore left to join Chromakey and was replaced with Jordan Rudess (ex-Vinnie Moore/ex-Jan Hammer) their next release A Change Of Seasons (1995) received a 58 in the U.S.
Falling Into Infinity (1997) received a 52 U.S. featuring Derek Sherinan (ex-Alice Cooper) on guitar to replace Rudess. Once In A Livetime (live; 1998) was less of a success, at least on the charts with no significant placing but shortly later there was a reformation of sorts with LaBrie, Myung, Petrucci, Porttnoy and the returning Rudess coming together to complete 1999's Scenes From A Memory: Metropolis Part 2, Live Scenes From New York (3CD live; 2001), Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002), Train Of Thought (2003) and Octaurium (2005). Dream Theater has become a much-quoted band in the genre of Progressive Metal and proven that they (at least in the U.S.) can still gain a viable market.
After a brief run of small concerts and a short break back in 1995, the band released a special Christmas CD through their official fan club, consisting of rare live tracks recorded during the band's early years. They continued releasing a new CD each Christmas until 2005. During this period also there were several personnel changes at their label 'EastWest', and Dream Theater's main contact within the label was terminated. As a result, the new team at the company were unaccustomed to the relationship Dream Theater had with the former 'EastWest' personnel, and they pressured the band to write a more mainstream record in mid-1997. To this goal, 'EastWest' recruited writer/producer Desmond Child to work with Petrucci on polishing the lyrics to his song You or Me. The band substantially reworked the song, and it appeared on the album as You Not Me with a chorus that bore little resemblance to the original. Child also had a noticeable impact on the album, with a shift towards less complex and more radio-friendly compositions.
The band wrote almost two CDs worth of material, including a 20-minute-long follow-up to the Images and Words song MetropolisPart I: The Miracle and the Sleeper. The label, however, did not allow the release of a double album because it felt that a 140-minute record would not sell; neither were they interested in LaBrie's request that the CD be a single disc. The unused songs were later released in the 'Ytsejam Records' release as The Falling Into Infinity Demos. The material that made it onto the album proper was released as the aforementioned Falling Into Infinity, which received a mixed reception from fans who were more familiar with the band's earlier sound.
When Octavarium was released on June 7, 2005, it took the band's sound in yet another new direction. Its eight songs included a continuation of Portnoy's Twelve-step saga (The Root of All Evil, steps 6-7 in the 12-step plan), as well as the title track, a musically versatile 24 minute epic rivaling A Change of Seasons. Octavarium was the last album under their seven-album deal with 'Elektra Records', which had inherited the contract upon its absorption of 'EastWest Records'.
In march of 2004, to celebrate their 15th anniversary Dream Theater played When Dream And Day Unite in its entirety for the encore; the band was joined on stage by former vocalist Charlie Dominici and former keyboardist Derek Sherinian.
Systematic Chaos, was released on June 5, 2007. The record marked their first with new label 'Roadrunner Records', which in 2010 would become a wholly owned subsidiary of the band's previous label 'Atlantic Records'.
In the same year, the first version of Rich Wilson's "Lifting Shadows", an authorized history of the band's first twenty years, was released.
In April 1, 2008, a two-disc compilation album entitled Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) was released by the band. The title jokingly references the song Pull Me Under, the band's only significant radio hit. It also includes three song re-mixes from Images and Words, five edited versions of previously released songs, and a track from a single B-side. Unlike most greatest hits compilations, the band was actively involved with the album, coming up with the track listing that they felt best represented their musical careers.
Black Clouds & Silver Linings, was released in June 2009. In addition to the standard CD, the album was made available on vinyl LP, as well as a 3-disc Special Edition CD that includes the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs from artists such as Queen and Rainbow. On July 1, 2009, the album debuted at No. 6 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart, with first week sales totaling 40,285, making their highest entry on the chart.
The band produced a new instrumental track for inclusion on the God of War III soundtrack EP God of War: Blood & Metal. The track, entitled Raw Dog (God (of) War reversed), marked the first time that the band wrote and recorded an exclusive track for an outside project.
On September 8, 2010, Mike Portnoy announced that he would be leaving, citing better relationships in other projects and burnout; after Portnoy left the band, relationships between him and his former bandmates became strained. Mike Mangini would replace him.
A Dramatic Turn of Events debuted at number one in several countries and attained the eighth position on the Billboard 200 when it was released in 2011.
On December 25, 2013, as a holiday gift to the fans, the band released a free electronic 2-CD set of live tracks that were not recorded for Live at Luna Park from their 2011-2012 tour in FLAC format via BitTorrent. That same year, their self-titled album was released.
On July 8, 2014, Dream Theater released The Studio Albums 19922011, a box set spanning all albums from Images and Words to A Dramatic Turn of Events.
Breaking the Fourth Wall was their next venture and was recorded live from The Boston Opera House on March 25, 2014.
The Astonishing followed in 2016.
Footnote: Several band members have engaged in side projects, all of who have published albums under the names Liquid Tension Experiment (Petrucci/Portnoy), Chroma Key (Moore), Mullmuzzler (LaBrie).