Wednesday, February 27 By: John Campbell
Dream Theater has spent the last nine years seemingly unsure of itself and how it wanted to sound. After the departure of their former drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, the band has had a lot more polarizing effects on listeners, due to the newer drummer Mike Manginibeing a different person and the creative direction of the band taking a different turn. That doubt is gone, plain and simple. This album is the triumphant return of the soul within Dream Theater, which was never gone, but rather hidden under uncertainty. Distance Over Time made many of us nervous, as the last three albums have only been good at best. Even the singles were foretelling a decent but forgettable album. We could not have been more wrong, and I am all the happier for it.
The sound of Distance Over Time is a novel blend of technical elements homegrown in Dream Theater over the years. From the heavy riffs of “Room 137” to the more melodic ballad “Out of Reach”, Dream Theater has retained their ability to inject life into technical music ideas.Distance Over Time is a noticeably heavier sounding album, all of the hooks are often built on chugging guitar riffs or old metal tones. This is the first time we’ve heard this kind of weight in the sound since Train of Thought. The progressive metal sounds and ideas in this album feel like they’ve come from a place of confidence, not a place of obligation. This was something I struggled hearing in their self-titled album, Dream Theater. The ideas and sounds in that album were engaging and developed, but felt lifeless, like they had been forced to make them. There was just something missing in their sound that they’ve had trouble finding again.
In Distance Over Time, you will hear an hour long jam session that’s inspired and developed. In the song “S2N” you have this bass intro and riff that grooves and hooks very well. This track is very technical and just rocks to listen to. The chorus in this song even has the reverb and theme reminiscent of their self-titled album, almost calling back to it. Not to mention that they sampled Owen Wilson saying “Wow” to conclude the instrumental break, this track just stands out significantly in even their discography. Other tracks like the single “Paralyzed” take on this alternative metal feel (specifically channeling the sound of Breaking Benjamin) with technical riffing. “Room 137” also sounds like a Marilyn Manson tribute, with even more heavy riffing. Another track “At Wit’s End” has melodic, passionate themes, and technical parts. This is a great sampler track for someone who wants to know what Dream Theater’s discography sounds like, because it feels like they’ve touched on every sound they’ve tried over the years. I especially fell in love with this track the more I listened to it. One track that blew my mind was “Barstool Warrior”, as given the title of this song, I had no idea that it would be anywhere near as great as it is.
This track starts with a Rush sounding intro and comes into this powerful chorus that throws me back to listening to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I’m typically against speaking about Dream Theater tracks in the context of their own discography because it takes away from how the tracks stand on their own, but in the case of this record, we have these short homages and emulations of their greatest records, and it serves to finally satisfy the fans that “miss the old DT”.
One important note is the production on this album. This is their first record since Black Clouds and Silver Linings that has impeccable production through and through. Almost all of the tracks have a great balance of instrument sounds and vocals. One of the things that has had a lot of negative attention in their previous albums is the average sound of the drums. That is simply not the case here, they sound lively and well mixed. “S2N” is my favorite example of good production, because the bass has such an integral and present part in the song that never gets fully buried by all the others. The only songs that have less than stellar production are the three singles. In “Untethered Angel” there’s too many effects on James’ vocals to stay clear consistently. I liked the track, but I feel that the production hurt the vocals more than the others. Aside from that, James’ vocal effects were well executed and mixed.
I am happy to say that Dream Theater has created an excellent album in the year 2019. Distance Over Time is one hour of diverse technical metal with passionate riffing scattered throughout. Despite not featuring any instrumentals or epically-long compositions, I truly believe this album is a great progressive metal album and will be remembered dearly for years to come.
Favorite Tracks: At Wit’s End, S2N, Barstool Warrior, Viper King (Bonus Track)
Least Favorite Tracks: Fall into the Light, Paralyzed