Sunday Old School: Dream Theater
Band Photo: Dream Theater (?)
With ProgPower USA wrapping up yesterday, along with our pledge to cover more progressive acts in Sunday Old School this year, it seemed like a fitting time to look at one of the biggest names in modern progressive metal, Dream Theater. Dream Theater was originally formed under the name, Majesty in 1985 by guitarist John Petrucci, bass player John Myung and drummer Mike Portnoy, who met each other while students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. They filled the remaining slots in the band when Petruccis old friend, Kevin Moore joined on keyboards and vocalist Chris Collins was recruited after the band heard him singing Queensryche. The hectic schedules of the musicians resulted in them all leaving education to focus on the group and they soon recorded some songs as demos, which sold out in a matter of months. In November 1986, Majesty decided to fire Collins and after a year of searching, they appointed Charlie Dominici as their new singer, despite him being considerably older than the other members. They were to experience another change after Dominicis recruitment, when a band from Las Vegas, also named Majesty, threatened legal action if they did not change their name, leading them to choose the new moniker, Dream Theater, which was named after a theater that Portnoys father used to run.
With their new, more visually stimulating name and a stronger work ethic, the band eventually caught the attention of Mechanic Records, a division of MCA Records, and released their first album, "When Dream and Day Unite" through the label in 1989. The album was met with lacklustre reviews and the label broke many promises they had made, leaving Dream Theater to continue performing mostly around New York. The group soon made two key decisions, with the first being to fire Dominici due to what they perceived as his limited vocal range, and performed with him for the last time opening for English prog legends, Marillion. Their second item of business was to be released from Mechanic, which they eventually achieved.
They spent two years searching for their next singer, and came close a few times, including being on the verge of hiring former Fates Warning vocalist, John Arch, before he decided to focus on his personal life instead of music. Eventually, in the beginning of 1991, the band flew in Canadian singer James LaBrie, who was hired on the spot after jamming three songs with the band. In addition to finally finding a new vocalist, the band soon found a new record deal when they signed with Atco Records (now EastWest,) who were so impressed with the group that they signed them on a seven album deal. Their first record for Atco was released in 1992, under the name, "Images and Words." It initially had little impact, despite a music video being released for the song, "Another Day." However, another song from the album, "Pull Me Under," caught the attention of rock radio stations and earned the band heavy airplay, leading Atco to commission a music video for the song, with a third later being produced for the song, "Take the Time." The album eventually went Gold and peaked at number 62 on the Billboard charts, but most importantly, helped establish the band as a force in the world of progressive metal and saw them travelling to Europe and Japan, which resulted in their first live album, "Live at The Marquee" (recorded at the famous club in London) and their first live video, "Images and Words: Live in Tokyo."
After the recording and release of their third album, "Awake," Moore announced that he was no longer interested in being part of the band or touring, leaving the other members to audition other skilled players, including Jens Johansson, son of the legendary Swedish jazz pianist, Jan Johansson and now keyboardist for Stratovarius. The man Dream Theater really wanted though was Jordan Rudess, who they had read about in Keyboard Magazine. He auditioned for the band, but turned them down, so the group asked Derek Sherinan, another former Berklee student and former keyboardist for Alice Cooper and KISS, to join instead, an offer which he accepted. Their first release with Sherinan was the, "A Change of Seasons" EP, with the title track being an old song of the band’s which they had previously unreleased, with the rest of the record comprising of cover songs.
Following the completion of a short tour in support of the EP, the band took a short break, with their only activity being releasing a CD to fan club members at Christmas, a tradition that would continue for the next ten years. Record company politics soon had an effect on the group too, after their main contact at EastWest was fired and Dream Theater found themselves being pressured into writing a more commercial record, which hit the shelves in September 1997 under the name, "Falling into Infinity." The record received a mixed reaction from fans and critics alike, despite reaching number 52 on the Billboard Album charts, which perhaps played a part in some fans accusing them of selling out. The tour once again took them around the world, and gave way to a live album entitled, "Once in a LIVEtime," which was recorded in Holland and France.
Portnoy and Petrucci then took the opportunity to realize one of the group’s earlier goals of hiring Jordan Rudess. Portnoy had been asked to form a progressive supergroup by Mike Varney of Magna Carta Records, and invited Rudess to be a part of the project, along with Petrucci and bass player Tony Levin. The project became known as Liquid Tension Experiment and through working together, the two members were finally able to convince Rudess to join the band. They then set about regaining their fan base who had deserted them after "Falling into Infinity," and were able to gain complete creative control from their record company. They used this control to go back to a song they had written a couple of years earlier, a twenty minute epic named, "Metropolis Part 1," and turn into a concept album, which surfaced in 1999 as "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory." The album was an instant critical success and has since been hailed as one of the best progressive albums of all time, with Rolling Stone placing it at number one, above classic albums by the likes of Rush, Yes and Genesis. The album led to more live releases from the band, including their first DVD, "Metropolis 2000." The tour itself was something of a showcase, as they performed the album in its entirety, complete with actors and a gospel choir.
Another goal was completed in 2002, when the group was finally able to release a double album, which came in the form of, "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence," the second disc of which comprised of only the title track, which was separated into eight parts and ultimately clocked in at forty two minutes. It once again earned the band critical acclaim and entered the Billboard Charts at number 46. They wasted no time in getting to work on a follow up, stopping only to embark on a co-headlining tour with Queensryche, with Fates Warning opening the shows. After the trek, they completed the new record and released it in November 2003 as, "Train of Thought." While it was another darling with critics, there were segments of the band who felt alienated by its more metal tinged sound, moving further away from the traditional prog rock sound, though they would soon go on to support Yes, one of the biggest names in traditional progressive rock, on a North American tour.
Dream Theater’s eighth album, "Octavarium," was then released in June 2005, but was unable to attain the acclaim they had been receiving since "Metropolis Pt. 2." Recorded at The Hit Factory in New York City (also the last album to be recorded at the studio,) the band took a stronger approach to songwriting for the record. There were some critics who felt that it showcased some of their most emotional work in places, but that other parts of the album felt like, "Dream Theater by numbers." The group toured heavily after "Octavarium’s" release, both in support of the album and in celebration of their twentieth anniversary, including a spot on the Gigantour with Megadeth and Fear Factory amongst others, during which they performed the classic Pantera song, "Cemetery Gates" with members of the other bands, in tribute to guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who had been murdered the previous year.
"Octavarium" marked the end of their seven year record contract and they decided, somewhat controversially, to sign with Roadrunner Records for the next chapter in their career, kicking it off with the album, "Systematic Chaos" in 2007. The album wasn’t considered one of their best, but still received positive reviews from most critics and was able to chart in the United Kingdom and Australia, the first time the band had done so. They toured heavily in support of the album, including many festival slots, before releasing their first compilation album the next year, humorously named, "Greatest Hit (… and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs.") The band were actively involved in the compilation, choosing the tracklisting in addition to other big decisions, and followed the release with another live package, "Chaos In Motion 2007-2008",) before unleashing their ninth album, "Black Clouds and Silver Linings" in 2009, which became their highest charting record in the United States, debuting at number six. They toured in support of the album by embarking on the Progressive Nation tour, first in Europe with such bands as Opeth and Unexpect amongst others, then in North America with Zappa Plays Zappa, Bigelf and Scale the Summit, before contributing a new song, "Raw Dog" to the soundtrack of the video game, God of War III.
Despite the recent commercial success, exposure and tour supporting Iron Maiden, the band were dealt a blow in 2010, when Portnoy suggested the group take a five year break, before changing the time to one year. The rest of Dream Theater didn’t share his idea and wanted to work on a new album, resulting in Portnoy deciding to quit the band, leaving Petrucci and Myung as the sole founding members. The group then auditioned seven drummer for the vacant stool, including Marco Minnemann, who had previously played with the likes of Kreator and Paul Gilbert, and Darkane drummer Peter Wildoer, but ultimately gave the job to former Annihilator, Steve Vai and Extreme drummer, Mike Mangini. The first album with Mangini, "A Dramatic Turn of Events," was highly anticipated and finally released in September 2011, though received a mixed response from critics and fans, despite being nominated for several awards, including their first Grammy nomination for the song, "On the Backs of Angels." While touring for the album, the band began work on their twelfth studio record, which they will begin recording in January next year. Where the band goes from here remains to be seen, but they have cemented their place as one of the biggest names in progressive rock and metal music with an enviable catalogue that features some of the best work in their field.
Dream Theater - "Pull Me Under"
Dream Theater - "The Mirror/Lie"
Dream Theater - "Damage Inc." featuring Barney Greenway of Napalm Death
Dream Theater - "The Spirit Carries On"
Dream Theater - "As I Am"
Dream Theater - "Constant Motion"
Dream Theater - "Build Me Up, Break Me Down"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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