One big reason why I was swayed into the progressive realms are the legendary lads of Dream Theater. Now before I state my opinion on this album, I’m gonna blabber whether you agree or not. Mike Portnoy IS an amazing songwriter and artist, and does have a huge impact on songwriting. Was his ego getting worse wanting to make money with Avenged Sevenfold as a fill in? He suggested a “break”, but ended up helping out those guys…..so was it for the better? That’s up to you, as we all have a right to an opinion. For the sake of chemistry, yes. There were so many great drummers that auditioned in the likes of Marco Minneman, Derek Roddy, and their current drummer Mike Mangini. Portnoy isn’t coming back, and has even hung out with guitar master John Petrucci on many occasions stating they’re still friends. Yeah it sucks, considering the wild amount of songs he’s written and talent he possesses but that’s life. Mangini himself was/is a drum teacher at Berklee of Boston, as most of the band was originally attending that college in it’s early days. Portnoy isn’t coming back, they’re getting older and we have to appreciate the time they have left on this earth as musicians let alone as humans. For all you know, they could bow out gracefully like the mighty Rush did with Neil Peart’s health issues. I for one, hope they keep going and composing stellar music. Another thing I admire about Dream Theater is their split tours, as they’re all family men. We all need time with our spouses and children, and don’t go on crazy lengths of tour cycles. They’re not reckless alcoholics or addicts who just live it up to their fullest for that high. They’re gentlemen, and respectable ones at the least for that.
Now for the people in the back……this is their best album since Mangini joined the band. WHAT? Let me explain my opinion before you all freak out. I loved Dramatic Turn of Events, but there was an internet (can’t believe everything you see on it!) rumor that Portnoy had his parts composed. Mangini came in, and played Portnoy’s finished drum parts that the guys showed him to. Is that true? I don’t know, it’s just one of those dumb rumors. It was still heavy, pretty melodic and the lyrics had some stellar meaning. It wasn’t too over the top, and still a well written album. On the first album where Mangini composed his own drum parts was the self titled album. That album was pretty cool, especially the huge ass song “Illumination Theory” with that emotional middle section of the keyboards and rainforest sounds. It’s a wild, beautiful and epic 23 minute ride. I think it’s better than some people give it credit for. And for the black sheep in the room…..the only time I personally put disappoint and Dream Theater in the same sentence was for 2016’s “The Astonishing”. They have put together a few of the better concepts of the last 4 decades, and well this concept album just bored the hell out of me. The music was okay, and the storyline was a bit boring to me…..I tried several times to get into it, believe me. When there’s “Scenes From a Memory”, that last album was nowhere near in the same realm as “Scenes”.
Now for the latest album, “Distance Over Time”. I think the guys wanted more clear, concise music without as much of the wild instrumental sections that took up a couple of minutes at some points. And, maybe LaBrie wanted more consistent vocal sections rather than a few sections of around 4 minutes then another 5 minutes of epic instrumental sections. It’s a more melodic and tamed album from a wildly innovated and experimental band. Is it for every Dream Theater fan? Maybe not. I think they crammed a perfect amount of music and notes, and not too much to where it’s overwritten (if you know what I mean, musicians). Sometimes music needs room to breathe, and doesn’t need to have a billion notes played per minute. There were actually some quicker sections rhythmically, believe it or not. Petrucci’s guitar solos were stellar, as usual. The more I listened I think he went for a similar mission…..the younger John would have shredded his arse off with some feeling. I think the older he’s gotten, he’s grown accustom for feeling and emotion rather than speed. Sometimes you need the right style and melody of a guitar solo that connects a song, rather than a sweet “Lines In The Sand” solo that’s like a whole song within itself. I was all over his “Rock Discipline” effort and constantly jammed to it as a fellow guitarist, which his chromatic influence in his guitar leads inspired me to use that style. Playing along to his exercises then influenced my style in that sense, to say the least.
John Myung (bass), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), James LaBrie (vocals), Mike Mangini (drums), and John Petrucci (guitars)
The complaint I’ve seen is people think Mangini’s drumming is robotic…..well, I don’t really agree with that. I think he’s doing a stellar job, and this latest release proves it. He has some great fills, and also does what a really good drummer does…..keep the groove. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is needed. I fully believe Mike Mangini understands that, and has damn near perfectly executed that on “Distance Over Time”. His partner in crime in the rhythm section the ever so talented John Myung on bass really shines, as he normally does. The extremely quiet human being is awfully loud on this album, methinks. Album after album he consistently keeps a great groove, and some sweet fills to keep their music spicy and flavorful.
LaBrie’s voice was pretty good, and the one thing I’ve always dug about him was his ability to portray the right emotions at the right time. He has the right tone and melodic ideas vocally over their mellow and quieter parts….a stellar vocal performance. Jordan’s keyboards weren’t as upfront lead wise, and took a different direction with the band as well. John and Jordan have a few sweet harmonies on the record, which is always killer to hear. Rudess went more into the background, enhancing the melody and backing up John during his wild guitar solos (like during “At Wit’s End”…..just great keyboard work, as usual). It was weird to hear from such an expressive keyboard player, but you know it’s Rudess based on his style. Don’t worry, his keys were the main instrument of the ballad “Out Of Reach”. Overall, I think the band blended that more controlled yet still melodic and progressive style they have always had. They had a better grasp at it, and really refined that sound. Similar to when Rush refined their sound after the 1970’s going into the 1980’s. Is it bad? Again, that’s up to you but I think it’s as cool. All they did was fit more music in shorter 5 to 9 minute songs instead of a handful of songs for a 75 minute progressive offering. “Distance Over Time” is definitely a more mature and precise output from a generally wild Progressive Metal band, who has put out their best album since “A Dramatic Turn Of Events”. I might even be willing to say close to the same level (of my favorite modern era Dream Theater of the last 15 years) as the great “Black Clouds And Silver Linings”. Give this album a shot, and understand the band’s vision. It’s a great album that shouldn’t be picked apart negatively and passed on just because one main cog isn’t in the band anymore. Listen to it with open ears and minds please. It’s a fantastic album. Thanks Dream Theater, for another stellar output! And thank you for getting me into the wild world of progressive music, as well.