It’s quite difficult approaching a review and critique of a new Dream Theater album. This is a band that has so much respect and clout as one of the most intelligent, and skilled metal bands. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while, however, even the casual observer of their work might have noticed a bit of a plateau in their releases. While their previous release, The Astonishing (2016), did fairly well with critics and fans, it’s clear that Dream Theater is becoming a little more formulaic with their writing. There are distinct trademark characteristics that, while they aren’t unpleasant or without skill, are nothing new.
That isn’t to say that consistency is something that should be dismissed. But it seems that Dream Theater albums as of late have been a little more difficult to distinguish from each other. Fans might still call back to the days of Octavarium (2005) or Metropolis Pt. 2 (1999) but not so much their more recent releases. To be fair, perhaps that’s simply because these albums are older, but Distance Over Time, their latest release, adds a little more evidence to this consistent sound.
Before this review gets too sour in tone, there is no such thing as a bad Dream Theater album, and Distance Over Time is no exception to that. This album is absolutely saturated in prowess from start to finish. Whether it’s John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess’ spit-clean duel licks in “Untethered Angel," John Myung’s mastery of the bass in “S2N," or Mike Mangini’s blazing speed in “Pale Blue Dot," Dream Theater still bring it with full force on this album.
Although not a concept album like The Astonishing or Metropolis Pt. 2, the lyrical themes of these songs are still as elaborate as it ever has been. The closer, “Pale Blue Dot” pays homage to Carl Sagan’s reflection on Earth’s significance in relation to the vastness of space, and “At Wit’s End” is the longest epic on the album regarding women in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Clearly, Dream Theater is still firing on their regular cylinders and giving fans what they are used to in terms of musical and lyrical content.
However, that’s just it. These are all elements that we’re already quite used to hearing from these releases. There’s seldom a track on Distance Over Time that really stands out from the rest of the crowd. In fact, the structure of these tracks and the flavors therein are all a little too similar to The Astonishing. You could probably mix these tracks within The Astonishing and you might not be able to tell the differences. While each of these songs are all composed as well as any other Dream Theater song, nothing stands out in a terribly spectacular way. There are some fantastic moments that are memorable in tracks like “Room 137," “Pale Blue Dot," and “Untethered Angel," but it's not terribly compelling to listen to these songs in their entirety and simply skip to these awesome moments.
Judging the album as its own entity and nothing else, it’s fantastic. However, Dream Theater is very much a household name in the world of rock and metal, and I believe all of their career should be taken into consideration when judging a new album. As stated earlier, there hasn't ever been a bad Dream Theater album, and Distance Over Time still proves that. Fans unquestionably should check out this album. Personally, it's not entirely convincing in its effort to be the cream of the Dream Theater crop.