about%20-%20jpg.jpg reviews%20-%20jpg.jpg interviews%20-%20jpg.jpg gigs%20-%20jpg.jpg cd_review_dreamtheater_distanceovertime001006.jpg
I have to be honest here - it's been a fair old while since I listened to a new Dream Theater album. Back in the day, I used to fervently lap up every new EP, album, live DVD/BD etc. they churned out, right from 'Images and Words'; all the while, the band's popularity increasing, to the point where they're now considered prog metal titans within the scene. However, I grew tired of their output. I stopped listening after 2009's 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings'. And it was nothing to do with Mike Portnoy's departure although, with hindsight, his exit from the band probably led me to reassess my ever decreasing affinity with Dream Theater. Technical prowess seemed to dominate over their art (arguably, it was always inherently part of their art), to the point where it became more about admiring what they were doing rather than emotionally engaging with it. Stilted and forced prog just wasn't for me. I favour genuine over generic progression every single time. And James LaBrie's oft-stretched voice at the high-end was becoming painful and grating to listen to. Don't get me wrong on any of this. I think the man's a great singer when remaining within his 'comfortable' and 'natural' range, and John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Rudess and sticksman in their post-Portnoy phase, Mike Mangini, are all indubitable virtuosos. But that never always translated to great music and engaging compositions, in my opinion. Too many arpeggio harmony runs in weird time signatures at super-speedy tempos... and other random 'clutter'. Skilful, yes. Entertaining, not always. They still wrote and recorded some great tracks, but crapped all over their astute compositions with prog for prog's sake. It started to frustrate me. A lot. So, I just... well, stopped listening.

When 'Distance Over Time' arrived for review, I was curious to give the guys another try. After all, it's been a few years now, and the DT fatigue and recurring frustrations I seemed to have developed when listening to their music have long abated... I think... I hope. So, where are Dream Theater at in 2019? Well, Petrucci's beard has got out of hand and Rudess is sporting some kind of designer chin whiskers. Musically, some songs still feel like 'clutter', with virtuosity on overdrive... just because they can. The great Rick Wakeman once told me in an interview, in relation to the prog term semantically losing its essence through for-the-sake-of, mindless virtuosity, that, "I think one of the things you have to be careful with, and Yes fell in the trap to a certain extent, all bands do, is that - "We can do this, therefore we will" and "we are capable of doing this so we'll throw it in."" Seems Dream Theater are still caught in such a mindset, to a degree. When their virtuosity kicks in good and proper - and part of me is just waiting for such an inevitability (it's just a matter of when, rather than if) - it's unquestionably breathtaking and mind-bending. But it still leaves me feeling cold. There's little room for emotions. 'S 2 N' and 'Pale Blue Dot' are big offenders here. As are passages during 'Fall Into the Light', 'Room 237', 'At Wit's End', et al.

On the positive side, songs, on the whole, are rather enjoyable, and it's nice to hear DT are still in touch with their heavier side (or maybe they're reconnecting with such?). Notably, Petrucci's riffing and leads are full-on heavy during certain passages of music. With a lot of groove, too. Although he does lapse into widdle-overkill a little too much, with some of his leads and solos. As a guitarist myself, who was once inspired by his playing, I have a certain amount of admiration for what the man's capable of... but showy displays of mindless technicality impress me far less than they used to. Once you've mastered your scales and shredding techniques, it kind of becomes demystified, and you start searching for a wider, more expressive fretboard vocabulary, and demand more from someone else's. Fortunately, Pertrucci's wide array of guitar-based shenanigans can be heard throughout the album, so it's not all about the widdle. For example, a more touchingly emotional and lengthy solo in 'At Wit's End' is like a breath of fresh air to counter the widdle-fest preceding it.

LaBrie's vocals are stretched, as expected, in parts, although not as bad as on some of the band's previous work. In fact, he generally sounds as great as he ever has when singing within his natural range. The balladic 'Out of Reach' is perhaps the best example. A truly heartfelt vocal. Rudess sounds much like Rudess always has, and Myung's bass work is as solid as you'd expect; while adding much depth, resonance and expression to the heaviness. Mangini? Being brutally honest, Portnoy is the better, more expressive drummer, but this guy also has the chops, and can work his kit to emphasise everything at the right moment - be it the grooves, the unorthodox time signatures, the clutter, or the mellower, more down-tempo passages of respite.

All in all, I've enjoyed reconnecting with Dream Theater. And I might even go back and fill in those gaps during the past 10 years. 'Distance Over Time' is a well-produced offering characterised by a duality of impassioned performances and overzealous virtuosic clutter. Indubitably, both the former and latter will excite the majority of their fanbase, although those who favour genuinely progressive music will no doubt continue to be frustrated by the latter.
Inside Out
Review by Mark Holmes
22nd February 2019
1) Untethered Angel
2) Paralyzed
3) Fall Into the Light
4) Barstool Warrior
5) Room 137
6) S 2 N
7) At Wit's End
8) Out of Reach
9) Pale Blue Dot
10) Viper King (bonus track)
"...a well-produced offering characterised by a duality of impassioned performances and overzealous virtuosic clutter. Indubitably, both the former and latter will excite the majority of their fanbase, although those who favour genuinely progressive music will no doubt continue to be frustrated by the latter."