Dream Theater has long been a beacon for the term “progressive metal”. Influenced by Yes, Metallica, Rush, Genesis, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles among others, they combined their love of thought out composition with the driving force of metal influencing a fledgling genre of music in the early 90’s. Since founding member and drummer Mike Portnoy left in 2010, guitarist John Petrucci has been the mastermind of the band. Their last release, 2016’s The Astonishing was in a word, ambitious. A double album at over two hours running time, and DT’s first concept album since the beloved Scenes From A Memory from 1999, was a two act rock opera conceived by Petrucci. It featured a Game of Thrones style story with fleshed out characters, a twisting plot and even spawned a book and a video game. As well-developed and thought out the concept was, it didn’t please everyone. There was more of a focus on the cinematic experience than being an album of rock songs.
Which brings us to Dream Theater’s latest release, Distance Over Time. It’s clear right off the bat that the band heard some of concerns of their fans. The album as a whole is just short of an hour, their second shortest ever beside their debut, When Dream And Day Unite. There is not an individual song over the 10-minute mark. No multi-part suites or sequel songs. And it’s a marked improvement from the last few releases. It feels fresh and there is an apparent renewed energy to the band. Since Portnoy left, Petrucci has done the majority of the lyric writing. This time out vocalist James LaBrie, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Mangini each contribute lyrics for songs along with Petrucci. Myung’s bass tone is the strongest it’s been in over a decade and it feel like Mangini was let off the leash with his drumming. Jordan Rudess and his keyboards (and other out of this world sounds) seem less dominant and create more of an intricate balance with Petrucci’s guitars.
The first single and track “Untethered Angel” feels similar to the material they’ve produced since 2011’s A Dramatic Turn Of Events, but has that classic DT feel. “Paralyzed” definitely seems like it was geared towards a rock radio single but has a guitar solo that evokes the atmosphere of Awake and Images And Words. From here is where things really get interesting and the band clearly freshened things up. “Fall Into The Light” and “At Wit’s End” bring the heavy with Dream Theater’s signature time-change-a-palooza. Barstool Warrior brings a more melodic and introspective approach while “Out Of Reach” is more on the ballad side that picks up a bit towards the end. “S2N” has the rhythm section flexing their muscles. “Room 137” and bonus track “Viper King” have a funk and swagger that the guys typically don’t display and definitely should explore more of. Closing track “Pale Blue Dot” is particularly interesting to me. It seems as if they wrote a “typical” Theater 20-minute plus epic and decided to cut out the fat and boiled it down to eight and half minutes. What results might be my single favorite song of theirs in a very long time.
Distance Over Time certainly feel like a change in the status quo for Dream Theater. The songs are more concise and the playing feels tighter than ever. Yes, the technical aspect and musicianship is still the most prominent part of the band but it’s like they were more loose with the composing and set out to do what they do best: play.
DREAM THEATER - Paralyzed (OFFICIAL ANIMATION VIDEO)
(Dream Theater: From Left to Right: Jordan Rudess, John Myung , James LaBrie, John Petrucci, Mike Mangini)