I can still remember that moment, I was only 15 years old and it was 1989. That moment when When Dream And Day came out and made its first spins. What unprecedented music, inimitable, contrarian rhythms, fantastic keyboard and guitar solos, a very tight rhythm section and a fantastic instrumental track, The Ytse Jam. No one dared to bet that this was the start of a whole new time zone with just this band as THE standard bearers of the progmetal. Many, many bands have used Dream Theater as a source of inspiration to give their own touch to their music. How often do we read in reviews that it is a clone or descendant of the music of Dream Theater. When bands are compared to Dream Theater so unprecedentedly, you can only be sure of one thing: Dream Theater has been incredibly important in the development of our beloved music. In that respect, before writing about their now 14th studio album Distance Over Time, a great compliment to this fantastic band, chapeau!
The previous album, The Astonishing (2016, see review, could count on criticism from many sides. Terms as too musical-like, not exciting enough, Dream Theater lost itself, I have seen everything go by and have always wondered just one thing: 'what exactly is the critic's wish?', because if they make a second Imaged And Words (1992), then it is not okay, do they repeat themselves, then it is not okay, if they do something they really want to themselves, then it is not okay.
When you ask me how I look at the previous album, you get the honest answer that I listened a lot and that my conclusion is that I think it is a beautiful album that fits in their discography. The album, as far as I am concerned, takes a bit too long to stay captivated, but I take that completely for granted.
So now there is the 14th studio album of our progmetal flag bearers. For this album the band has been locked up for a while in a converted studio where they lived together, cooked for and with each other, had good conversations and you name it. All this to create a climate that is as relaxing as possible to give all creativity the space needed to create Distance Over Time.
The album consists of 9 songs ranging from 4 to 9 minutes. This is immediately something that stands out, because on all studio albums there are songs of 10 minutes or longer, except the aforementioned albums When Dream And Day Unite and the concept album The Astonishing.
In addition, it is noticeable that John Myung co-wrote two songs, Mike Mangini wrote one and James Labrie even two songs. Normally John Petrucci writes almost all songs, this time there is a lot of writing done by others. I think this will benefit the entire group process. This can of course be explained logically when you spend a considerable amount of time together in a different atmosphere just to let the group feeling grow.
I always like to describe all the songs to give you, as a reader, an idea of what I experience in music. In this case I will not do that. I would rather sketch a picture in which I will tell you what the music means to me. As you have already read above I have been a fan of Dream Theater for a very long time. That I am a fan comes through how the music of Dream Theater has enriched my life for years. It is difficult to put on paper what this enrichment is. Yet I will try. As a basis, I find a singer important for the entire sound of the band. In Kevin James Labrie Dream Theater has found a very nice singer since their second album, Images And Words. He comes along well in the higher regions, gives the music melody and he can also add a lot of variation in his voice. Secondly, I think it's important how a guitarist sounds. Variation is also an important element for me. As far as I'm concerned, John Petrucci is a guitarist of masterclass because he can manage to make you listen to music with tears in your eyes, so he can play with such sensitivity. But he also does not shy away from firing as many notes as possible in a minute without losing the melody. As a third element, I find a keyboard player important. That too should keep the music melodic, but also this may let the listener hear what he has in his march. In the music of Dream Theater, the role that Jordan Rudess has, is of unprecedented importance. He is a connector as far as I'm concerned, often in the background, but also in the solos he conjures up from his range of keyboards. The drummer and bass player in this band also play an important role by always building a solid foundation in the music and by incorporating particularly difficult passages without losing each other, a kind of tandem for that matter. What is further important to me is the art of creating in the instrumental passages. It was precisely this aspect in Dream Theater that made them great.
On the new album, I think everything comes together from what I have described above. I hear a lot of emotion, a lot of melody, a lot of variety, a lot of power, a lot of very beautiful solos from John Petrucci and Jordan, as well as from Mike and John Myung. There is room for everyone to make themselves heard. Furthermore, it is striking that the band has looked for a darker sound, which has added value for me; it fits the themes of the lyrics, which I will not say much about, you may discover them yourself. In a number of songs, if you ask me, they refer to previous albums and songs from the rich Dream Theater catalog, without that being disturbing by the way. It fits, as far as I am concerned, with the identity of Dream Theater. It even makes itself familiar even though it is new material.
Is there nothing critical about this album? Well, that depends on how you listen. I mainly listen constructively, discovering and enjoying another little hour of Dream Theater history and cannot write much negative about it. If you especially listen to hear new things, then there is not a lot of new things under the sun (but a lot of goodies) and there I hear the critics repeat themselves that Dream Theater is lost again and all other statements mentioned before. For me: a brilliant and great enjoyable album, fantastic. Long live the progmetal flag bearers!!!!
***** Michel Stolk (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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