How can you write an intro when the time comes for you to review your favourite band’s latest album? Dream Theater for me, is one of those bands that you built a loving relationship with. It’s not love at first sight, you are impressed, you are processing, you come back to it until it becomes necessary. This is how my relationship with them started, one that has lasted for 22 years so far. I remember hearing “Peruvian Skies” on the radio for the first time (not a very representative song of them) when “Falling Into Infinity” had just come out in 1997. I instantly got hooked and started trying to find out more about them. A friend of mine brought me “A Change Of Seasons” to listen, which had come out 2 years prior, so I could get a taste -and that was it. By checking out their older stuff, “Images And Words” and “Awake” (my favourite album of theirs by far), it blew my mind and it felt as though discovering an entirely new music world. Since then, every new album has been like ritual of discovering new sounds and feelings. We surely had our ups and downs, but the love that was built has been strong throughout the years. To be honest though, I kind of lost them for a bit with “The Astonishing” (although I found it exciting that they experimented and did something different – you may call it rock opera as well), only to find them again in today’s “Distance Over Time” that is about to be released on the 22nd of February from InsideOut Music.
We all had a taste with the 3 singles that had previously been released, but I waited impatiently to have the entire album in my hands in order for me to see what it is all about. Form that moment on, my ears haven’t heard anything else -it’s on repeat everywhere. What always happens to me with Dream Theater is that with the first hearing, I can’t quite understand them and decide whether I like what I am listening or not. It takes time and multiple hearings to perceive their magic because every time there’s something different being unravelled. This time was no different, so that I would be able to say, even to be slightly safe, if I am positive or not.
What surprised me was that this album was the shortest one that they have released after “When Dream And Day Unite” in 1989. Its 9 tracks (plus 1 bonus track) that are included, are relevantly short in duration (for their standards, of course), as none of them surpasses the 10 minute mark. They are quite dense though, without any frill. All bonded between them, with a nice flow, as if they are all telling a story with a beginning, a main theme and an end.
The beginning comes with “Untethered Angel”, a song that gives us a taste of what there is to come later on. It is very fitting for a starter. Its catchy melody and its chorus, are quite infectious. It also has the magic 4’s solos. LaBrie’s vocals, distorted at times, fit the song’s style like a glove. It’s generally reminiscing of “Train of Thought”.
Continuing with the albums 3rd foretaste, “Paralyzed”. It starts with a guitar distortion and the drums, the base and the keyboards are slowly kicking in and build the sound on its original riff. Its style brings in mind tracks like “Forsaken” and “Constant Motion”. The solo that comes in a little bit after the 2:30 mark, is pure magic. When I first heard it, I wasn’t quite fond of it, but now I believe that its rhythm is just stuck in my head. I am quite certain that that’s the song’s main goal: it’s the mainstream and catchy track of the record. The 3rd track, “Fall Into The Light” is considered to be the 2nd (and in my humble opinion, best) foretaste of the album. It reminds me of “Breaking All Illusions”, with its impeccable solo and all. This track’s magic, for me, begins at the 3:20 mark with its wonderful interchange coming from Petrucci’s melodic playing.
Next comes “Barstool Warrior”, which at times we could say that it feels as if “In the Presence Of Enemies pt. 1” meets “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence”. It has enough rhythm swapping and it becomes pretty evident here that Myung and Mangini have a bigger part in this. The following track, “Room 137”, whose main riff resembles that of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”, continues on has with and air of Beatles’s psychedelia. A very powerful song with many alternations and differently combined elements. “SRN” (aka Signal To Noise) starts with Myung working his magic on bass. Apart from its chorus, the track channels “Lines In The Sand” a lot. It’s groovy throughout and during its middle, Rudess’s solo gives it a different air, without any exaggerations. After the 2nd chorus, Petrucci’s, Myung’s and Mangini’s playing is pure heaven.
For me, “At Wit’s End” is by far the best and most epic track of the album (and also the longest with its duration being 9:20). It’s truly multidimensional from every aspect. Lyrically, it talks about a woman’s partner who is reassuring her that they will go through everything together and they will manage to go through the traumas from her past that are still tormenting her. It starts off with a bubble bee riff and the moment you start thinking that it will continue lightly, a dark atmosphere starts building up. You get goosebumps by its incredible interchanges. And while the tension has been built, somewhere along the 5 minute mark, the pace is slowing down and the sentiment kicks in, both musically and lyrically, when it becomes a ballad with keyboards. Its ending, enchanting: when you think it is over at 8 minutes as it fades out, the music comes back on but this time the piano sounds eerie, like a distant memory. It can, possibly, represent the band’s will to create the feeling of the ghosts of the past coming back. “Out Of Reach” picks up the torch, with the sound of keyboards bonding completely with the atmosphere created by its predecessor. A wonderful ballad, a Dream Theater classic if you will.
The end comes as it would be appropriate, with the space like “Pale Blue Dot” (commonly earth). It starts with a radio and an oxygen mask sound, like someone is trying to communicate form a spaceship. A vigorous song, especially from its middle with every band member giving their best in the instrumental frenzy that follows. The album includes a bonus track, “Viper King”, in which Theater had fun with, by simply jamming in a really fun track that resembles Deep Purple (specifically the time of the medleys and the covers after “A Change Of Seasons”.
To sum up, after endless hearings, I can now confidently say that with this album, Dream Theater sound refreshed in comparison to their previous releases. They do return to their heavier roots (after “Train Of Thought”) something that I believe was anticipated by their fans after “The Astonishing”. It also leaves me with the impression that they jammed a lot in this album, which is pretty accurate if we judge by the way they composed and recorded it (for almost 4 months they all stayed together in Yonderbarn and wrote songs, a process that brought them closer as people and musicians, something that hadn’t happened in a long time). John Petrucci, while once again is flawless, in this album presents himself as more substantial, melodic and sentimental in his playing, something that I believe is vital for the band. John Myung on the other hand, comes forward in many tracks with groovier sounds. Jordan Rudess doesn’t seem like he experimented with odd sounds, as he usually does, but he sticks with the sentiment that the album represents instead and follows a more classical approach (which I personally enjoyed). Mike Mangini, as technical as he can get, follows the others without being very flamboyant. Lastly, James LaBrie, uses distortions and effects on his voice at parts, but I didn’t mind at all because the result was very fitting to the album’s general style. All of them, once again, have made the difficult seem easy without their playing come up short of emotion.
“Distance Over Time” is another flawless release by Dream Theater, one that definitely has many clues for the listener to discover as they listen to it. Certainly there is a lot of talking about this album and a lot will occur in the future. Those that want to bury them, they will without having listened to a single note yet. It’s only rational that Dream Theater, cannot satisfy everyone. In the years that have passed they have lost and gained fans. Some left after Kevin Moore’s departure, others after Derek Sherinian’s, some came along with Jordan Rudess’s arrival and definitely some reminisce and wait for Mike Portnoy’s return. But a band with such a range that has created a name for 30 years now and has released legendary albums that defined progressive music, can only be exceeded by its own self. It’s like asking from a champion to break their own personal record each time, something that Dream Theater have been and continue doing all these years. Releases like “Images and Words”, “Awake” and “Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory” are not going to be released again, nor will there ever be someone to surpass them. And yes, if I’m comparing these albums with “Distance Over Time”, then the latter is a brilliant record. However, if I compare it with what is generally being released, for me it’s is going to be one of the best (if not the best) album of the year, without a doubt.