Review Summary: Apology accepted.The Astonishing
was a sobering piece of work. If anything would break the illusions of even the most blindly faithful fans, it was that double-whammy of an album. The best defense one might conjure is that Dream Theater have long been a band defined by their extravagant nature, so the fact they tested the waters with such a release may have been inevitable. Be that as it may, these American prog metal champions did a dizzying job setting expectations low for whatever their next studio composition would be. Enter Distance Over Time
, an album with a marginally more tolerable name than its predecessor. Anyone who’s heard the album’s three singles, which comprise the first act, will know that there’s at least some semblance of potential to find, with “Fall Into the Light” being the biggest, most pleasant surprise. The real question, however, is whether the rest of the album can keep its initial momentum going in a positive direction.
One of the most striking elements about Distance Over Time
is how it seamlessly blends Dream Theater’s sound from the past 15 years and almost begins to feel like its own beast. Album callbacks are nothing new to the band or their fans, but Distance Over Time
seems to take the idea further than before. This isn’t to say the album is bathed in little nudges to previous efforts (though it might be), but more that the album takes these moments and uses them as inspiration for the new material. That may sound simple and obvious, but considering Dream Theater’s recent stumbles, an approach like this isn’t just welcome, but strangely clever. It allows them to reap the benefits of albums past and sound revitalized when they’re basically getting back on their feet. Production-wise, there’s a lot going on. Some moments bring the grit of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
while achieving the same smooth overall mastering of Systematic Chaos
. Yet mellower moments like “Barstool Warrior” do ring similarly to tracks on The Astonishing
. Part of what makes the track work here, however, is the role it plays against the rest of the album, which sees Dream Theater reawaken much of the spirit they lost after A Dramatic Turn of Events
. The aforementioned “Fall Into the Light” is, once again, a fine example, as they stick to a simple song structure and avoid compulsion when choosing to break. Even the guitar/keyboard solos are mostly kept in check, sticking out only when they need to.
In fact, what’s especially surprising about Distance Over Time
is how composed the entire affair is. Just about every Dream Theater album from Metropolis Part 2
onward has made a grandiose display of itself in some way, shape or form. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
was a double-album with the second disc comprised of eight tracks forming one great beast; Octavarium
and Dream Theater
ended on epics crossing the 20-minute mark; The Astonishing
was, well, The Astonishing
, you get the picture. Yet Distance Over Time
doesn’t feel nearly as ambitious (or full of itself, depending on who you ask). No song reaches the double-digit mark, and the album is perfectly digestible with a roughly 57-minute runtime. What’s more is that the somewhat minimalistic approach from Dream Theater
finds its way over here, just not quite to the same slumbering degree. The general sense is that nearly every worthwhile road the band could take has probably been taken, so what’s left is a recollection of what made past works work as well as they did, all while tweaking the results.
This means instrumental mastery is back in full display with strong and at times nasty guitar work (in a good way), such as album closer “Pale Blue Dot” and the rather Marilyn Manson-esque riff on “Room 137.” We also get arguably the most interesting performance by Mike Mangini. He still lacks that certain spiciness that Mike Portnoy always brought to the table, but he does seem less prone to being a simple, record-breaking BPM machine this time around. Less interesting is the still-stubbornly flamboyant presence of Jordan Rudess, who only occasionally interjects in a way that feels earned. He still loves to show off and make certain stretches feel unnecessarily cluttered, but he does get pulled back enough to avoid tampering the songs too too much. Then there’s James LaBrie, who’s become something of a magnet for criticism, a designation that may have merit, but is perhaps blown out of proportion. As with other Dream Theater albums, his work is completely serviceable and still suits the music from an acoustic standpoint. His cracks do show, however, most notably on “S2N,” where he seems to lose control of his tone, along with the bizarre and distracting vocal effect done on “Untethered Angel.” Ultimately, these moments aren’t enough to bog their respective tracks down too much, which is a sentiment that can be applied to the album as a whole.
Distance Over Time
is the perfect response to fans who were crushed by its predecessor. It also feels like something of a statement to all of the band’s listeners. This album shows that Dream Theater do still have some fuel left in the tank, and while the roads they take us on from here on out may not be new or exciting, they’re still enjoyable paths to take. Newcomers to this venerable American outfit may also find Distance Over Time
an intriguing enough album to justify looking through the band’s back catalog. The initial majesty of Dream Theater circa Images and Words
may never be fully rekindled, but that doesn’t mean all subsequent albums have to be seen as disappointments. What it boils down to is that Distance Over Time
will likely satisfy most of Dream Theater’s faithful listeners while the less enchanted will remain mostly unconvinced. For the rest of us, however, this is definitely a disc worth spinning.