DREAM THEATER — Distance Over Time

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DREAM THEATER - Distance Over Time cover
3.87 | 11 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2019

Tracklist

1. Untethered Angel (6:14)
2. Paralyzed (4:17)
3. Fall into the Light (7:04)
4. Barstool Warrior (6:43)
5. Room 137 (4:23)
6. S2N (6:21)
7. At Wit's End (9:20)
8. Out of Reach (4:04)
9. Pale Blue Dot (8:25)

Total Time 56:51

Line-up/Musicians

- James LaBrie / Vocals
- John Petrucci / Guitars
- John Myung / Bass
- Jordan Rudess / Keyboards
- Mike Mangini / Drums

About this release

Label: InsideOut Music

Release Date: February 22nd, 2019

Thanks to DippoMagoo for the addition and adg211288 for the updates

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DREAM THEATER DISTANCE OVER TIME reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

UMUR
"Distance Over Time" is the 14th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Dream Theater. The album was released through InsideOut Music in February 2019. It´s the successor to "The Astonishing" from 2016. A double concept album release which divided the waters. Some felt it was pompous and overblown, while others lauded it´s epic scale concept and praised the boldness of the band.

With the release of "Distance Over Time" it would seem Dream Theater have gotten their epic scale album wet dream out of their system, and that they have also listened to those who felt that their experiment was a bit too much, because "Distance Over Time" is very much back to basics Dream Theater progressive metal. Sure there´s the epic moment here and there, but that´s not unusual for Dream Theater, but most tracks on the 9 track, 56:51 minutes long album are relatively short and to the point. Don´t expect "regular" vers/chorus structured tracks though, as Dream Theater as always toy with song structures, and incorporate complex instrumental sections, but the music is generally more immediate and hard rocking/heavy than the case was with much of the material on "The Astonishing (2016)".

It´s almost pointless at this time in their career to talk about how skilled and virtuosic the guys in Dream Theater are, because that´s been the focus of many reviews and interviews over the years, but I´ll get it over with as fast as possible, and just quickly mention that Dream Theater are still at the top of their game performing their music. James LaBrie still hits the high notes with ease, and although the riff style, the solo style, the keyboard sounds, the bass playing, and the drumming aren´t exactly surprising anymore, it´s all delivered in an extremely high quality. "Distance Over Time" also features a powerful, detailed, and overall very well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. So check mark on that too.

So it´s of course the songwriting which should be the main focus when writing about the details of "Distance Over Time", and to my ears Dream Theater hit spot on what they do best on "Distance Over Time". Powerful riffs, melodic guitar solos, intricate keyboard work, and a rhythm section capable of playing very complex beats/bass lines. The melody lines are catchy and although the tracks are fairly complex, they are still pretty easy to sing along to, which has almost always been one of the great strengths of Dream Theater. A good balance between technical playing and catchy melodies.

I´m not gonna mention specific tracks, because "Distance Over Time" is a varied high quality progressive metal album through and through, and there´s not a weak moment on the album. It´s not the most standout album in the band´s by now large discography, but it´s definitely not among their less remarkable ones either. To my ears it´s their strongest release since Mike Mangini replaced Mike Portnoy. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.
siLLy puPPy
DREAM THEATER sure has had an amazing run throughout their three decade career which began all the way back in 1989 with the debut “When Dream And Day Unite.” Lauded for the following “Images And Words,” this Boston turned NYC based band was one of the key players in reviving the slumbering progressive rock scene and ground zero for bringing progressive metal into the larger public consciousness. Lo and behold, despite all the turbulence of the ups and downs throughout their career and just as many misses as hits, the band returns 30 years after their debut with their 14th studio album DISTANCE OVER TIME which continues the stability of the 21st century lineup which includes many of the legends: James LaBrie (vocals), John Petrucci (guitars), John Myung (bass) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards). And continuing the DT ride since his debut in 2011 is Portnoy’s replacement Mike Mangini on drums.

As with many of the progressive metal bands that have come and gone since DT’s early 90s triumph on the music scene, this band too has had to find that delicate balance between crafting compositions that are accessible to a large dedicated fanbase with finding the room to experiment and expand into newer arenas. And much like many more progressively oriented bands DT has found that it strayed a little left field from what the fanbase expects of them and such is the case with the previous album “The Astonishing” which found the whole plethora of responses ranging from opinions as the band’s absolute worst album ever and should be hurled into the trash bins to the other extreme of those who absolutely adore extremely lengthy rock opera infused pompousness in their prog metal. Fortunately the band seems to have their fingers on the pulse of the situation and always seem to bounce back after dodging the career crashing bullet that plagues bands who have achieved such popularity.

And so it is. DISTANCE OVER TIME seems like an album that was designed to reel the fans back to some of the classic aspects of the band, namely progressively constructed compositions that are based on strong melodies, tight performances and technical wizardry to shock and awe, well at least for those who have not become inured to this now tried and true style of prog metal playing. DREAM THEATER also forged their new creation so that it could be performed in live settings in conjunct with the 20th anniversary of the 5th studio album “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory,” which still remains one of the band’s most respected and popular albums of the entire DT canon and while DISTANCE OVER TIME certainly doesn’t outshine its 90s predecessor, it certainly does revive a sort of musical mojo of heavy no-nonsense metal delivery not heard since 2003’s “Train Of Thought.”

For all the bloated excess of “The Astonishing,” DISTANCE OVER TIME takes the opposite extreme. While the former was a behemoth double album that sprawled ten minutes past the two hour mark, the latter sits comfortably under the 57 minute run and is the shortest album since the band’s debut 30 years ago. Likewise the tracks are streamlined into more digestible chunks with none extending past the 10 minute mark and only “At Wit’s End” coming close at 9:20. From a business perspective, this was a very wise move as it allows prog metalheads the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with what attracted them to the band in the first place without having to dedicate excessive quantities of time and effort to pierce the impenetrable veil, not to mention the annoying fact that when DT releases an album of such overweening length, many tracks contain more padding than a tween’s first training bra. For complex music with a technical flare, shorter is always the answer, at least for an album that lacks epic transcendental qualities.

Admittedly, DREAM THEATER is a band i’ve had a love / hate relationship over the years and i suspect many share this sentiment given the high / low ratings of their albums that checker the canon as high ratings alternate with low ones. For me, DT still found their heyday in the 90s and peaked with 2002’s “Six Degrees Of Turbulence” and everything thereafter has pretty much been a somewhat stagnate retread, albeit a competent one of the former glory. In this regard DISTANCE OVER TIME firmly falls into that camp. The band members as brilliant as they are continuously fail to evolve past their classic “Awake” sound that implements the punishing guitar antics fortified with keyboard wizardry, operatic vocals and percussive bombast and although DT crafts a roster of pleasantries that tick off all the expects boxes on the checklist. The band seems to alternate between exploring new territories that don’t connect with the audience and then retreating to the status quo with no additional surprises.

In the end, DISTANCE OVER TIME successfully dishes out nine well crafted tracks that flow together fairly well without over-sappifying into wretch-inducing ballads and are displayed in rather well constructed vocal rhythmic passages augmented with blistering face melting technical wankery. This is what makes DT an interesting listen time and time again when they focus on these more intense aspects of their sound. However, DISTANCE OVER TIME will offer no surprises, no deviations from anything that has come before and the touched by the gods magical mojo of earlier albums like “Images And Words” is still a fading memory of the past. So once again, DT delivers a competent album that stands up well amongst the less talented contemporaries but in comparison to the band’s own majesty of their history, doesn’t really muster up enough goods to really get overexcited about. Generic to the hilt but generic performed in fully fueled DT excellence of course. While the album may make some waves in the here and now of 2019, i very much doubt that DT will be celebrating THIS album 20 years from now.
DippoMagoo
When I first started getting into metal, one of the very first bands I checked out was American progressive metal band Dream Theater. They were the ones to really get me into prog, as I enjoyed many of their albums, starting with Octavarium, Awake and Train of Thought, before eventually checking out their full discography and loving most of it, with Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, in particular, being one of my all-time favorite albums. While I’ve become a fan of many other prog bands over the years, DT are the ones who started it all for me, and so every time they release a new album I get excited, waiting with bated breath to hear what they will come up with next. Their previous release, The Astonishing, was an extremely polarizing release, to say the least, as it took the band in a much lighter, more rock-infused direction than normal, being a massive 2+ hour concept album that at times even felt like a Broadway musical. I personally loved it and considered it to be possibly their very best effort to date, but to say most fans disagreed with me, would be a major understatement. Following such a divisive release, it’s no surprise that the band decided to re-think things a bit, which led to a tour where they focused on classic releases, particularly their breakthrough album Images & Words, and then when it came time to release a new album, they looked to the past to help create a new release that could hopefully win back folks who were disappointed with the previous release. That upcoming release, Distance Over Time, is now almost here, and while it’s been teased as a “return to the roots”, it has turned out to be an album that has the elements fans would expect from the band and does a solid job of providing some entertaining songs, but it doesn’t quite capture the magic of many of the band’s classic releases, nor does it push their music forward in a significant way.

If I could describe Distance Over Time with one simple phrase, it would be “back to the basics”. Compared to The Astonishing and some of the band’s other more ambitious releases, this one feels surprisingly simple and straight-forward, focusing on all of the band’s main aspects at their surface level, without digging too deep or without throwing in too many surprises. Fans who’ve been disappointed with some of the band’s recent albums may enjoy this one a bit more, as it’s by far their heaviest release since at least Black Clouds & Silver Linings, with almost every song having some pretty heavy, chunky lead guitar work from John Petrucci. At the same time, the band has always done a great job of mixing together heavy and melodic passages, with all of their classics featuring a perfect blend of the two, and so obviously that is still true of this release, with Petrucci providing some excellent melodic guitar work to go along with the heavier passages, as well as some typically excellent keyboard work from Jordan Rudess. I find the band is at their best when allowing one element of their music to dominate for a while, without losing sight of the rest of their sound, which is something they’ve pulled off wonderfully in the past, while this release doesn’t really go one way or the other for very long on most of the tracks, instead opting to blend heavy and melodic passages together near seamlessly. This has led to some mixed results, with some tracks pulling it off a whole lot better than others. One thing’s for sure, though: Petrucci and Rudess, along with bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini, are exceptional musicians, among the absolute best in the world with their respective instruments, and so everything is performed to perfection, with the sound production being equally flawless.

One surprising aspect of Distance Over Time is its length. Looking through the band’s discography, it’s their shortest album since their debut, When Dream and Day Unite, and is only their third release to clock in at under an hour (excluding bonus tracks, that is), which is quite surprising for a band known to make their albums over 75 minutes. Even more surprisingly, it joins the aforementioned debut and The Astonishing to become just their third release in 14 albums to not have any tracks over 10 minutes (though the latter can be disqualified from this, as it’s a concept album meant to be treated as a whole, where the other two are entirely song focused.) For a band known to make epic, long and complex tracks, this comes as quite the surprise, to say the least. With all things taken into consideration, it feels to me like the band went out of their way to make a more accessible album, without turning to outside sources as they did on the previously ill-fated Falling Into Infinity. There’s still plenty of excellent, highly technical instrumental work, of course, and a few tracks do have some of the more complex arrangements longtime fans would expect, but it definitely feels like the band has stripped their sound down to its bare essentials at this point, which has made for an entertaining, but somewhat disjointed album. Songwriting is fairly hit and miss, though most tracks are at least solidly enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t as wildly inconsistent as the likes of Systematic Chaos, Octavarium or the aforementioned Falling Into Infinity. However, the most disappointing thing about this album to me, is that by going back to the roots of their sound in such an extreme way, it feels like they’ve both ignored any of the evolution they’ve gone through over the years, as well as taken away a lot of the things that make their music so special.

Another area where the release is a bit mixed is the vocals. Unlike many fans, I’ve always considered James LaBrie to be an excellent singer, and he has contributed heavily to some of my favorite works by the band, with The Astonishing, in particular, is one of my favorite performances from him to date, as it allowed to really showcases many different aspects of his voice, and he was clearly fully invested in the lyrics, which led to some amazing vocals from his all around. On this album, I find his vocals to be a bit all over the place, though some of this has to do with an increased use of vocal effects on his voice, which seem more noticeable than usual, as well as the fact that some of the vocal melodies on this release just aren’t that great, unfortunately. However, there are still some tracks where he gets to shine, and there are moments where he’s clearly invested in the lyrics and gets to deliver some great vocal melodies. If anything, his vocals, like the album, on the whole, are simply a bit more inconsistent than I’d like, though they’re still quite good, more often than not.

And of course, the most important aspect of any album is the songwriting, which is where this album is solid, but not up to par with any of the band’s best releases, or even most of their albums in general. Unlike most fans, I’ve quite enjoyed each of their past several releases, with Systematic Chaos being their last release I would consider less than great. This album is considerably better than that one, thanks to the songwriting never falling as low as that one did in places, but it still rarely reaches the heights the band is capable of. They sure were spot on with their picks for lead singles, though, with opening track “Untethered Angel” being a very fun, hard-hitting track that strikes a perfect balance between heavy and melodic, while “Fall into the Light” is just as good. The former opens with some very melancholy guitar work from Petrucci, before quickly exploding and turning into a heavy mid-paced track, with the keyboards lending a dark atmosphere to the proceedings. Vocals are solid during the verses and pick up big time during the chorus, which speeds up and has some excellent vocal melodies, managing to be very catchy and melodic. As always, the track has an extended and highly impressive instrumental section in the middle, as well as a very nice outro performed mostly by Petrucci. The latter track is almost the reverse of the opener, in that it starts out with some very heavy riffs, clearly inspired by Metallica, as many of Petrucci’s riffs are, before speeding up and turning into a pretty fast-paced and fun track during the verses. Once the chorus hits, though, the track slows down and gets very melodic and atmospheric, with some excellent vocal melodies and more strong vocals from LaBrie. The track does an excellent job of blending metal and rock, with some excellent soft passages in the second half, where Petrucci showcases some beautiful, highly emotional guitar work, to go along with the already soft chorus. In between those two tracks is the slightly less successful “Paralyzed”. It’s a more modern sounding track, opening with some very heavy, modern sounding riffs. It moves along at a rather slow pace and feels pretty basic throughout, like the kinda song that could be played by some random band off the streets. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a solid track, as the verses are solidly engaging, and the build-up to the chorus is great, but overall, the track just feels like it’s far beneath the band’s capabilities, with the end of the chorus, in particular, being incredibly underwhelming, and it only gets worse at the end of the track, when it becomes highly repetitive and annoying. The verses and a really good instrumental section, with more melodic and beautiful soloing from Petrucci, are enough to salvage the track, but not nearly enough to make it particularly special or memorable.

Moving along, the band follows up “Fall into the Light” with another excellent track in “Barstool Warrior”. This one has a very classic DT feel to it, with some very melodic guitar work that definitely would have fit in great on Images & Words, mixed in with some even more beautiful melodies where the guitar tone feels similar to the outro to “The Ministry of Lost Souls”, which is one of my personal favorites by the band, despite being on a largely uneven album. The track is fairly laid back throughout, being one of the band’s more melodic and more prog rock infused tracks, but it’s very beautiful throughout, with some excellent vocal melodies and a very strong chorus, as well as the always great instrumental work. If the band wanted this album to be a return to the roots then this track is definitely one of the best cases of them pulling that off to perfection. Next is “Room 137”, the first song written by Mangini since he joined the band. In fact, with Mangini and Myung contributing to the lyrics, that leaves Rudess as the only member not to do so on this album, which is interesting, as the past three releases have been largely written by Petrucci, with a song here and there written by LaBrie, so I guess it’s nice to see this album being more of a team effort. Anyway, “Room 137” is, unfortunately, the worst track here. It starts off inoffensively enough, with more dark and heavy guitar work during the first verse, which only gets better during the second verse where its enhanced by some excellent backing keys. The chorus is also pretty decent and very atmospheric, and obviously, the instrumental section is great. Sadly, there’s one vocal section that pops up a couple times, where it sounds like LaBrie’s attempt at the intro to the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and between bad sound mixing and just poor arrangements in general, the result is unbearably bad, and is easily one of the worst things I’ve ever heard from DT. It’s bad enough to completely ruin an otherwise solid (if not great) track. Thankfully, that is the only real dud of the album, and things pick up again with “S2N”, another very classic DT sounding track, mixed in with some weird voiceovers near the beginning. Once it gets going it’s a mid-paced track, with some fairly heavy guitar work, though it has a slight rock feel to it. The track moves along at a nice pace, being fun and somewhat upbeat, but not particularly fast. It has a great chorus, as well as some excellent keyboard work from Rudess throughout, and it has a very heavy, outstanding outro from Petrucci, that helps close things out in a great way.

Moving towards the end, the band delivers an absolute masterpiece in “At Wit’s End”, which is one of the tracks written by LaBrie. I mention that only because it’s by far the best-sung track on the album, with some very emotional lyrics, as well as a strong, very powerful performance from LaBrie, where he’s clearly fully invested in the lyrics. The track, which is the longest in the album, clocking in at 9:20, is very much a mini-epic, in that it packs in about as many highlights and surprises as one would expect from a lengthy track, without actually going over 10 minutes. It opens with a long, hard-hitting intro from Petrucci, before slowing down with a nice, melodic opening verse, which then gives way to an amazing, very melodic and beautiful chorus, where LaBrie is in absolute top form. The pace picks up for a heavy, very intense second verse, with some very hard-hitting riffs, and this gives way to a kind of secondary chorus, which is also very nice, though much more intense than the main chorus. After that, we get an excellent extended instrumental section, with some of the best work from Rudess on the album, as well as more excellent shredding from Petrucci, and then the music calms down for a bit, leading to a very nice almost ballad-like sequence, with more very soft and excellent vocals, and of course more amazing guitar work, and then the track has an extended intro, with more great vocals and melodic leads, before a long, dramatic fade out. It’s definitely the kind of complex, dynamic and highly engaging track I love from the band, and it’s easily the best on the album.

Following the longest on the album, we have the shortest in “Out of Reach”, a nice ballad with some more soft and melodic guitar work, as well as some strong vocals from LaBrie. It has a very strong chorus and is a nice track overall, but it feels like it just starts to pick up steam, before suddenly fading out and then ending, before it has time to fully develop. Closing out the album is “Pale Blue Dot”, the second longest track on the album. It isn’t quite as epic as “At Wit’s End”, but it’s still an excellent track in its own right. It opens with some nice ambient keyboards as well as some voiceovers, which lasts for around a minute, before some more chunky guitars kick in, as some more epic keys from Rudess, which have a slight symphonic feel to them. The song stays heavy during the verses and moves along at a good pace, though the highlight of the track is the epic symphonic keys from Rudess, which actually get even better as the song goes on. The chorus is rather subdued, but also very nice. It’s a fairly straightforward track, with a fairly standard structure, though it has an excellent, extended instrumental section in the middle, as well as one last amazing outro from Petrucci to close out the album. The digipak version of the album has a bonus track called “Viper King”. It’s a rather upbeat and fun track, with a bit of a classic rock feel to it. In fact, I initially wondered if it was a cover track, but it’s actually an original, written by LaBrie. It’s a fun, fast-paced track, with a really catchy chorus. It’s another more accessible track, which doesn’t really showcase the band’s talents, but for a bonus track it’s a lot of fun, so I can’t complain.

I always have high expectations for Dream Theater, and while Distance Over Time is a very good release, overall, it doesn’t fully meet those expectations. I’ve admittedly been a bit hard on the album, so much so that the final score below may be hard to believe, but that’s large because I love the band so much and I expect better from them. With that being said, as a “back to basics” sort of album, it’s a highly enjoyable release, and it certainly contains traces of all the elements fans of the band have come to love, even if it doesn’t have anything over 10 minutes, or any instrumental tracks. The songwriting is a tad more inconsistent than I’d like, but there’s definitely more winners than losers here, with even the worst track being mostly fine outside of one huge misfire, while the four best tracks are all amazing, and every bit as good as I expect from the band. Overall, it’s an album I’m sure any longtime fan of the band will enjoy, and those disappointed with the direction the band took on The Astonishing will most likely enjoy this one a lot more, while any prog fan who’s somehow never heard of the band should find this a good enough place to start, as it has all of the band’s main elements, while being a bit more accessible than most of their other albums. Personally, I hope this more restrained approach is a one-time thing and that they dial up the epic again next time around, but for what it is, I’d still take it over anything from most other prog bands, so it’s still a winner, in my book.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/09/dream-theater-distance-over-time-review/

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