The king of the progressive metal community Dream Theater‘s 14th studio album “Distance Over Time” is one of the most intriguing albums of their career. Since the drummer Mike Portnoy has left the band, they had some hard times to find their style. They had a great substitute with Mike Mangini, who is one of the most “technical” drummers in the world, but they had mixed reviews for his performances in the last albums. His drum sound was considered a bit robotic and most of the critics said that he is not able to play as “soulful” as Portnoy. They also didn’t make really heavy albums with Mangini as they did with Portnoy. In a way, this album is a test for Mangini’s writing skills and his contribution to the band.
The last album The Astonishing had divided the fans into two groups: the ones who loved the new style of the band and the ones who thought that the album was a “Disney Musical”. As we look at the new direction that the band is heading in this album, we can guess that band members heard the “Disney Musical” comments and added a little bit of Heavy Metal inside the album. We can easily say that this album is the heaviest album they have written for more than a decade. In the single “Fall into the Light”, we all could directly hear the similarity to the sound of Metallica’s Master of Puppets. John Petrucci confirmed the similarity between the tones in the Distance Over Time and Metallica’s older albums. He said he used his signature Mesa/Boogie amp which is a modernized version of Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC+ amp. That amp is the same one that Metallica used to record Master of Puppets and this explains the huge similarity between the tones.
The band released 3 singles before the album. These were Untethered Angel, Fall into the Light, and Paralyzed. All of these songs were kind of a summary of the band, but they had some spoilers about the new aspects of the band. Especially, after listening to the whole album it became clearer. The first single Untethered Angel had John Petrucci’s mysterious arpeggios and melodic solos, Mike Mangini’s new drum tone with much more soul and much less robotic sounds, and Jordan Rudess’s amazing harmonies. Untethered Angel was a typical Dream Theater song with a little bit of a heavier sound, but the main changes were foreshadowed in Fall into the Light and Paralyzed. Second single Fall into the Light‘s solo was the foreshadow of the new style of Petrucci. It wasn’t a typical super-fast alternate picking Petrucci solo. It was a slower solo with a much more soul in it (which we will see much more in the album). You could just close your eyes and go to another world with it. The last single Paralyzed was a sign of how much the band could get heavier in this album. Also, the use of piano from Jordan Rudess was a nice addition with a more natural sound.
Barstool Warrior is a theatrical song that is telling a story aside from the lyrics with its amazing progression. With its amazing melodic piano and guitar solos with the follow-up modulation to the minor tones creates a song that has exposition, rising and falling actions, climax, and a resolution just like a story. Progressive Metal has a really aggressive sounding name, but the word progressive does not represent the heaviness and the aggressiveness of the music. It represents the progressive approach to the musical theory and this song shows that very effectively.
Room 137 and S2N are the two songs which show that the band was actually having a really good time while writing this album. In both of these songs, the structures are not prepense like the other ones. It is like the band was jamming in the studio and they recorded the whole thing. There are occasional prominences of the band members in these songs like the intro bass riff of the S2N which is a really important highlight of the album.
One thing Dream Theater has not changed in the album Distance Over Time is leaving the heavy aggressive sound towards the end of the album. At Wit’s End, Out of Reach and Pale Blue Dot cover the wide spectrum of their entire discography in three songs. Through these three tracks, the band showcases the very best they have to offer: exalted guitar leads, mind fucking odd time signatures, progressive complexity coupled with emotive composition, goosebumps-inducing choruses and most importantly, pure musicality. Especially, the outro of the At Wit’s End might be one of the greatest works of the Dream Theater ever.
The final track of the album Viper King is a song that shows a different side of the Dream Theater. This song makes you want to headbang and dance at the same time. Normally you don’t see both of these in a Dream Theater concert because most of the time, the audience would be too busy to admire the godlike musicality on the stage. However, this track has a real good musicality and makes you want to move at the same time.
If we look at the performances of the band members individually, we can see that most of them made somethings differently. John Petrucci wrote a lot of soulful melodic solos while Mike Mangini gets rid of that robotic sound. Jordan Rudess used a bit more piano than the previous albums. However, he didn’t get rid of the keyboard completely and that is a bad feature for me. James LaBrie did his job and nothing more, like always. John Myung was great in this album too. It is always hard to keep up with a guitarist like John Petrucci and we can easily say that John Myung nailed his part again. He also wrote an amazing bass intro to the S2N.
To sum up, Distance Over Time is one of the good albums of the Dream Theater. Especially, it is amazing for a one-hour album which has been written in just 18 days. The band members stayed together for a couple of months in the woods where they prepared their amazing studio and created this great album. This also explains the amazing creativity and the terrific tones of the album.
Umut Onuralp Polat