Bridging the gap

By Tom MacIntosh

The progressive metal band Dream Theater has released their 14th studio album this month, Distance Over Time, (Feb. 22) and will certainly please fans with a shorter, scaled down collection of songs but the material isn’t scaled back at all. Unlike their previous record, The Astonishing, which was a 34-song, 2 hour and 10-minute opus, this package is a slick one-hour set of their particular style of expansive arrangements and intricate songwriting.

The musicianship is stellar and focused, allowing lead guitarist John Petrucci to zero-in on creative riffs and amazing solos on tracks like Paralyzed, a catchy ditty that fits right in with the longer progressive pieces such as Fall Into the Light and Pale Blue Dot. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess shines as well giving the body of the songs a layered texture and atmosphere, or his piano touch on the fabulous ballad Out of Reach.

The band spent several months working on the album living together at their studio in Monticello, New York, which is a dedication not only to the music but to each other, and you can hear it in the energy and smoothness of delivery. They can bring the heavy hitters as well in numbers like Room 137, a thunderous psychedelic ride, or the razzle-dazzle of Viper King, which completes the record perfectly.

The title Distance Over Time perhaps reflects how things have changed since The Astonishing, expressing themselves in broader terms to a more universal audience. While they haven’t reinvented the wheel here, they put on a diverse show, yet easy to hear and connect with. It’s clear that progressive metal wouldn’t still be popular without Dream Theater. After 30 years of consistent album output, always with new fortifying material, this latest effort just might be their best.

The opening track Untethered Angel is a prog/rock jewel, with James Labries soaring vocals over a hard-driving groove provided by drummer Mike Maglini, bass killer John Myung and Petrucci punching away on his signature Music Man Majesty 7-string painted in Siberian sapphire. At Wit’s End is another heavy entry that delivers a dizzying range frenetic polyrhythms, howling guitar licks and lively keyboard solos. Pale Blue Dot in fact was built around Carl Sagans description of Earth, opening on a sci-fi plateau that blends into the sheer heaviness of interplay between Petrucci and Rudess, with time-shifting progressions and symphonic power. The band’s professed biggest influence was Deep Purple and it shows on the above-mentioned Viper King, which is said to be a tribute to Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, and Ian Gillan. Some more superior thrash is found in Barstool Warrior, a baroque offering of metal aggression. One track that could have easily become a single is S2N, with its dreamy melodic chorus and lyrical style that carries you away like a hit of dopamine.

A 14th release by any other band might seem tiresome and repetitive, but Distance Over Time is fresh and brisk, full of polished excitement, virtuosity and excellence. This collection of songs may bridge the gap between die-hard fans who adored the early years and win them an entire army of new ones.