Band: Dream Theater | Album: Distance over Time | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2019
From: Long Island, USA | Label: Sony Music
For fans of: You know if you like Dream Theater or not.
Buy: Many options
I must be some sort of masochist. Every other year or so, Dream Theater put out an album, and I self-flagellate by listening to and thoroughly disliking it. The last time Dream Theater put out a good album was in 2004, with Octavarium, and even that was spotty at moments. I’m pretty sure I’m still traumatized from just how bad their last album, 2016’s The Astonishing, was.
Nonetheless, Dream Theater are one of the founders of progressive metal and one of the giants of the contemporary scene. From the early ‘90s into the early ‘00s they put out a string of fantastic records, including two of the most vaunted albums in all of progressive metal. So, it’s with a sense of obligation that I subject myself to every new release from this band, knowing it will likely be uneven and masturbatory to the extreme.
With all this in mind, I’m pleased to say that Distance over Time, Dream Theater’s fourteenth studio album, is okay. It’s not a great album by any stretch of the imagination, but it sounds like the band decided to do more than just have John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess instrumentally wank off for 75 minutes. At under an hour, this is Dream Theater’s shortest album since 1992. After the indigestible bloat of The Astonishing, I welcome this relative brevity with open arms.
I’d characterize this album as passably forgettable. Nothing stands out, but nothing offends, either. Their 2013 self-titled was entirely forgettable, but it was a much worse type of forgettable. I actively wanted to forget it, whereas Distance over Time merely lacks anything that makes it stand out or grab hold of the listener.
The riffs on this album are some of the heaviest Dream Theater have ever done, and the songwriting felt genuinely adventuresome at points. At other points, however, song structures were irritatingly predictable, and the chug-chug riffs began to get repetitious by the second half of the album.
James LaBrie’s voice is still a glaring weak point. He frequently sounds strained, trying to reach the range of his youth. When he recognizes that his strength is mid-range, he’s perfectly capable, but his attempts to be particularly intense or intimate come off as amateurish.
There’s only one absolutely bullshit song on this album: the sole ballad, “Out of Reach”. Even Octavarium, their last great album, had two total bullshit tracks.
Despite all this griping and back-handed praise, there are a few genuine high points. “Barstool Warrior” feels like a proper suite with its unconventional structure. “S2N” features some great drumming, and “At Wit’s End” is likely the best song on the album.
This album features a bonus track. When I first saw that, I wondered, “Why not just include it as part of the album?” Then I heard it and realized why. It sounds like Dream Theater wrote a song that did not fit in with the rest of Distance over Time at all, but they wanted to release it anyway. So they called it a bonus track. I’m pretty sure it’s about a car. This seems like Dream Theater’s attempt to write their own “Highway Star”, but they’re no Deep Purple. They’re not really a car-song kind of band. It sounds like they’re trying to have fun but they’re not entirely sure how to.
I can’t really recommend this album. I won’t tell you to avoid it, like I would with A Dramatic Turn of Events or Dream Theater. And I can’t tell you to give it a spin out of sheer morbidity, like with The Astonishing. (That album is progressive metal’s version of The Room, but longer.) Distance over Time is perfectly okay, but it doesn’t have anything to differentiate itself or make it stand out.