It’s incredible to think that Dream Theater are 31 years old this year and still making challenging, technical music. Their prime era in the ’90s led the charge for a second wave of progressive metal and, though some purists may disagree, their more recent output has stretched their own boundaries as musicians and artists.
2016’s The Astonishing was a sprawling, ambitious concept album, rich in proggy nutrients and filled to the brim with imagery. Whilst it divided fans more than any previous work, it was a bold leap for the band. Distance Over Time, however, is more focused on the songs than the theme, trimming away all the gristle and tinsel to reveal the band’s strongest album in over a decade. Songs like ‘Barstool Warrior’ and the epic ‘At Wit’s End’ are everything that a long-time fan could ask for – heavy, intricate, huge, and sublime. Mike Mangini has finally come into his own on the drumstool, allowing the strings, keys, and vocals to breathe when they need to and then putting his own stamp on the areas that require it. James LaBrie has honestly never sounded better on the mic and leaves every ounce of his talent all over the record. Meanwhile, John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess continue to astound with their guitar/keys interplay, solos, and leads that warm the ears, and John Myung… well, John is John – solid, ridiculously talented, and the true heart of the band with that bass in his hands.
Is it the best Dream Theater album ever? No, but that’s not knocking this collection of songs as they have never put out a bad one. Is it in their top five? Yeah, quite possibly. We’re now looking at a band that has finally come out from the Portnoy shadow and is an entirely independent entity. Even as a major fanboy, this writer approached it as if he had never heard the band before to find the true value (not easy), and was truly blown away by everything that Distance Over Time contains. There might be another great album this year, but for now this may be the pick of 2019.
Distance Over Time is out now on Inside Out Music.
Words: John Morrow