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Dream Theater - Distance Over Time CD (album) cover

DISTANCE OVER TIME

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.67 | 176 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars 2016's double concept work `The Astonishing' proved to be a very divisive release for legendary prog-metallers Dream Theater, one that was loved and loathed in equal measure by their fanbase, and easy ammunition for those who've long disliked or ridiculed them. Its padded-out length, somewhat trite theme and show-boating excess aside, it was commendable that the band were pushing the whole album format as a still valid proper artistic musical statement in this modern era of disposable music. But despite it admirably being in the manner of the ambitious and creative classic prog double concept works, it was clear that a course-correction of sorts was necessary, so the band have bounced back in 2019 with a relatively compact 56 minute release in `Distance Over Time'.

Initial look at the often shorter running times on several tracks on the back CD cover might have some prog-snobs spitting their drink across the table in shocked outrage for fear of a more commercial release (or perhaps the streamlined songs that popped up on something like their `Falling Into Infinity' disc back in 1997), but all is not as it seems. For `Distance...', while the band have admittedly focused on punchier and more melodic tunes, they are still full of all the instrumental trickery, jagged time-changes and fancy soloing the band is known for, and it makes the album much more focused and memorable than their former release. Sure, it doesn't really do much that hasn't popped up many of their previous discs, but it's simply a reminder of what they do well, and that will absolutely do for this `comeback'.

Opener `Untethered Angel' is a tough hard rock tune with alternates a frantic momentum with grinding breaks, a rousing chorus and a giddy instrumental sprint in the middle, and the self-belief reaffirming lyric is welcome. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess' gothic piano and John Petrucci's crisp guitar soloing is a standout of the knotted heaviness of `Paralyzed', and there's a thrashy Metallica snarl with a Tony Iommi bite to much of `Fall Into The Light'. It also holds both a reflective acoustic break and refined soloing in the middle that is elegant and powerful, but the band step up for a pair of delirious instrumental races in the latter half.

Rudess works a little E.L.P-like keyboard buster into the opening of `Barstool Warrior', home to plenty of seamless tempo changes back and forth from the band, a soaring guitar theme frequently reprised throughout, and James Labrie's confident vocal perfectly conveys the tale of regret that ultimately turns defiant and uplifting. The absurdly schizo horror tale `Room 137' plods with grumbling menace powered by some intricately bashing drumming from Mike Mangini, and the band unexpectedly work in some light Beatles flavours to some of the dreamy vocal harmonies and playful bluesy soloing!

John Myung lets rip with aggressive bass spasms to open `S2N', and he powers throughout the entirety of the observation of the world state lyric, with the track constantly trailing out of control with plenty of spiralling instrumental duels between all the players, despite being anchored by a recurring chorus (and listen out for the ballsy bluesy wail that kicks in at around the 4:45 mark!). `At Wit's End' holds plenty of variety - maniacal pummelling riffing, softer ballad interludes and dirtier grooves, all laced with sparkling piano and simmering Hammond organ in between a pleading chorus. `Out Of Reach' is the obligatory `James Labrie breathy ballad' that pops on all DT discs, although it's one of the more classy examples. Closer `Pale Blue Dot' then races to the finish, a final showcase of maniacal stuttering riffs, commanding drum power and synths that move between ambient and imposing.

(Some copies of the album come with a short bonus track, and `Viper King' is a cool retro rocker that reminds of Deep Purple with its grooving riffs and deliciously murky organ)

No, it doesn't reinvent the Dream Theater wheel (let's cut them some slack, they pretty much invented a template that just about every prog-metal act has taken influence from since), nor does it do much that various parts of their discography haven't done before, but its focus on strong and compact tunes without sacrificing the expected technical display is welcome. All the exceptional musicians still get constant standout soloing moments, but they're delivered in more mature and tighter bursts so as to the avoid the...well, musically masturbatory excess that DT can often give in to! `Distance Over Time' is more a refining of everything that makes Dream Theater still stand out in the crowded prog-metal genre, and longtime fans will likely find this one an endlessly replayable and highly satisfying effort from the fellas.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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