Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
With the recent string of lacklustre albums they’ve had, Dream Theater have lost the confidence of their fans. With a few exceptions dotted about here and there, ever since drummer Mike Portnoy left the band, replaced by Mike Mangini, their output seemed very much on autopilot. They lacked heart in almost every aspect of their music. Their 2016 release The Astonishing was at least something different and ambitious, but it ended up being deeply flawed. Distance Over Time had a low bar to reach, and out of nowhere just took a flying leap over the top of it. Ranking among their heaviest work, it’s the band’s finest release in over a decade.
Musically the band is finally back to firing on all cylinders. Mangini’s playing no longer feels cold and mechanical, we get to hear him bring some character to his drumming. The keys have mercifully been rained in, James LaBrie’s vocals are sounding on damn fine form, and you even get to hear some prominent bass lines (notorious for disappearing in the mix) on ‘S2N’. Most of all, it features some of the best guitar John Petrucci has ever recorded.
On first listen it feels like a triumphant return to form, but it only feels that way in comparison to the missteps that preceded it, in the grand scheme of their career it’s a pretty neat mid-point within their discography. Though the musicianship is pretty faultless on this record, it does struggle a bit in terms of songwriting. Ineffective storytelling and a lack of good hooks holds the album back and results in a lot of filler. Thankfully there are some blindingly good standout tracks to make up for it. ‘Paralyzed’ pairs some of the record’s most bone crushing riffs with its most melodic hooks, and I would never have foreseen Dream Theater of all people making a great love song, but ‘Out Of Reach’ ticks all the boxes. The real highlight however is ‘Barstool Warrior’, prog metal’s answer to Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’. It stands out not only as Distance Over Time‘s magnum opus, but also as one of the best standalone tracks the band has ever recorded.