Dream Theater goes the ‘Distance’ on new album

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In the early ’90s, while alternative rock ruled, Dream Theater — the progressive metal quintet started by a bunch of classically trained shredders — emerged as an alternative to the alternative.

The long songs, complex arrangements and intellectual lyrics on “Images and Words,” Dream Theater’s second album and first with lead vocalist James LaBrie, seemed to come out of nowhere in 1992. But going against the grain proved successful: For more than 30 years, the Long Island band has been the undisputed kings of the progressive metal genre.

“We totally felt like the lone wolf coming in,” LaBrie tells The Post. “The fact that we had a major label that was willing to put out an album like that was to some of us — to all of us — a little bewildering. Grunge was the big thing, you had Nirvana that was on top of the world, and so we didn’t really know where we fit in. We felt that we had a classic album, there was no doubt about it, we knew standing on the merits of who and what we represented that this was something that we thought was going to get a fair shake.”

With the label initially releasing a scant 8,000 copies of the CD in North America, the band crammed into a van — LaBrie getting the makeshift bed because the singer needs his sleep — playing in front of crowds as tiny as 15 people. Then college radio latched onto the single “Pull Me Under,” national rock radio followed suit and its music video got heavy airplay on MTV.

“That was the vehicle that gave us this elongated career,” says LaBrie.

Last month, Dream Theater released its 14th album, “Distance Over Time,” earning the group some of its most favorable reviews and strongest sales.

“It’s overwhelming. You hope that for every album, right?” the Canada-born vocalist says. “But I guess it’s safe to say with [2016 album] ‘The Astonishing,’ there was some polarizing when it came to the fan base. With this one, it came out of the gates and is being embraced globally wholeheartedly, and we’ve been pretty ecstatic about it for sure.”

Dream Theater — LaBrie, John Petrucci (guitar), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), John Myung (bass) and Mike Mangini (drums) — is touring in support of the new album while also honoring the 20th anniversary of “Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory,” which it is playing in its entirety. The tour hits the Beacon Theatre on Friday.

‘Scenes from a Memory’ was an album that needed to happen when it did.

“It was our first conceptual album,” LaBrie says of “Scenes.” “It was a first album with Jordan Rudess in the band …  It was perfect just from his background, going to Juilliard and being classically trained and all that. So it just made absolute sense. We had been speaking of doing a conceptual album for five years at that point. Everything was kind of lined up to come up with an album like ‘Scenes from a Memory.’

“It put us not only back on the map worldwide but it was a whole resurgence of enthusiasm and excitement, not only amongst the fans but for the band, and it just created a new platform for us and a whole new tier for Dream Theater. That was an album that needed to happen when it did.”

Asked to share an album from another band that he enjoyed hearing live, LaBrie quickly enthuses about seeing Rush play all of their ’70s prog opus “2112” during a mid-’90s show, saying he was “flipping out.”

And good news for fans who might be worried that Dream Theater, after 30-plus years, might be running out of ideas.

“I know this comes off as sounding a little full of ourselves, but we have so much material you wouldn’t believe it,” says LaBrie. “We’re never at a lack of ideas or any kind of direction musically. If anything there’s a lot of stuff that’s left behind. … In a lot of instances, there’s so much stuff that we’ve touched upon in the past, and it’s just sitting there in the vaults and we haven’t done anything with it.”

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