For Fans Of
It’s hard to think of another metal band in the modern era that has had to endure the whinging of their fan-base as hard and as frequently as progressive titans, Dream Theater. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a group that backs themselves, both logistically and creatively, as much as this band. With scores of fans permanently unable to move past the decade-old trauma of the departure of drummer and founding member, Mike Portnoy, opening the door for drumming wizard Mike Mangini to join the fold, it seems far too often that their constant creative evolution is overshadowed by angry comment-sections. A dissent that all too often carries over to the perception of their studio efforts feeling lacklustre.
2016’s ‘The Astonishing’ LP saw this collision of creative ballsiness run up against close-minded fandom. A ludicrous 34-song musical-theatre epic is an impressive enough creative move for a band with 30+ years of some of the greatest metal records ever recorded. To then go on a tour where that LP is what makes up the entirety of the set, despite having 13 other records in the bag? Well, damn, that’s a move that should either be celebrated or questioned, yet one that causes fans to eagerly look towards what’s coming next. Such is the emphasis this band place upon each release as being an up-to-date reflection of where they’re at musically.
Their willingness to stand up and let the new material be the definitive image for the group in each new chapter is what keeps Dream Theater’s songwriting incredibly biting in my mind. And newest LP, ‘Distance Over Time‘, is evidence of just that. The most impressive thing about this new effort is that Dream Theater sound determined to keep on making new fans, as opposed to just retreating into their history and allowing records from 20+ ago do all of the talking. New cuts like ‘Paralyzed’ & ‘Barstool Warrior’ are both some of the groups heaviest but also most concise; offering a smattering of their best elements on a bite-sized platter, albeit with extra guitar muscle that we haven’t seen since the polarising ‘Constant Motion’ burst onto the scene.
There are some added groove elements across this album that slow things down just enough to make you marvel in the lavish tones achieved by John Petrucci, whilst maintaining the trademark mysterious atmosphere from keys wizard Jorden Rudess as he puts down some of his finest work and lightning solos. From the marching funk of ‘Room 137′ (featuring some very Portnoy-esque fills for all the haters), to the hilariously fun bonus track ‘Viper King’ (sounding suspiciously similar to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’), Dream Theater have traded 28-minute epics about the cycle of life for good ol’ turn your amp up rock jams. And it works amazingly well!
Of course, this is a Dream Theater record we’re talking about, which means there’s some staples here and there. The solo work across this record is back with a vengeance after taking somewhat of a back-seat on ‘The Astonishing’, but it’s never sounded more appropriate. ‘Fall Into The Light‘ offers up a trademark duelling guitar-keys showdown in classic DT fashion. Yet it’s ‘At Wit’s End’ that will really please the older, die-hard Dream Theater tragics. Kicking off with a classic semi-quaver-laden odd-time riff, the piece careens between James LaBrie’s snarls and rhythmical experimentation, before landing into an instrumental jam section in the middle that sees solos fly out of control. It’s a true DT cut if there ever was one!
An interesting fact about this new LP is that it’s the shortest work the group have put out since their celebrated 1992 opus, ‘Images & Words‘, clocking in at just under an hour and not containing any tracks under 10 minutes; their only album to do so aside from debut LP, ‘When Dream & Day Unite‘. As such, there is no big 20-minute closer to wrap things up, a fact which may irritate some, but should in no way take away from the enormity of this here closer ‘Pale Blue Dot’; a monstrous track that once again combines their classic instrumental experimentation with some huge contemporary riffage.
While it’d be wrong of me to equate such tracks as ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and ‘At Wit’s End’ with epics like ‘Octavarium’ and ‘The Count of Tuscany’, it’s worth noting that DT aren’t trying to achieve the same effect as those Floydian predecessors. A fact that makes these fresher, tighter cuts impressive in their own right. ‘Distance Over Time’ wraps up without the solemness of ‘Learning To Live’ or the pomp of ‘Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence‘, but if it did, it may potentially undermine the rest of the record: a collection of killer riffs and adrenaline-fuelled jams from a band that are actually simplifying things for the better.
What’s so great about sitting down with ‘Distance Over Time‘ is that it’s clear Dream Theater aren’t trying to repeat themselves, rather, carving out a new collection of prog-rock songs that add something to the current conversation in 2019. In essence, heaviness with technicality that doesn’t alienate listeners who just wanna hear a solid melody. Truth be told, that’s something these guys have always done well. However, never under-estimate the power of a bit of fat trimming and how digestible that can make something, whilst still retaining all of the necessary flavour
Along with James LaBrie’s consistent vocal work and lyrical contributions from Mike Mangini for the first time, ‘Distance Over Time’ really feels like the most complete output in this half of Dream Theater’s career. The fabled prog band have lost none of what set them apart from peers when they first started, and have brought their progressive sound screaming right into the 2020’s with confidence and creative freedom that many other ‘heritage’ acts are unable to achieve. Dream Theater won’t be defined by the past, only by the present, and ‘Distance Over Time’ is one hell of a statement in that regard.
- Untethered Angel
- Fall Into The Light
- Barstool Warrior
- Room 137
- At Wit’s End
- Out Of Reach
- Pale Blue Dot
- Viper King (Bonus Track)
‘Distance Over Time’ is out now.