A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, Unsung Heroes

The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Falling Into Infinity

The “A Change of Seasons” EP from 1995, closed a chapter for Dream Theater that went back to those dark days without a deal.

After a short tour to promote the EP, they started writing songs in early 1996 for the follow up album to “Awake”. Derek Sherinian was a full-fledged member and was an extra addition to the song writing team.

Their label East West Records had folded into Elektra. Sylvia Rhone was now the President. Her interest in hard rock music was minimal. Nikki Sixx was also very anti-Sylvia, calling her from the stage on her mobile during Motley Crue concerts and getting the fans to scream “F U Sylvia Rhone.”

As written in the book, “Lifting Shadows” by Rich Wilson, Rhone wanted to drop Dream Theater or to transfer the contract to Warner International, however their success in Europe and Japan was bringing enough dollars to the label, so Elektra decided to keep them. However, they had to come up with more shorter tracks that radio could get behind.

Little did they know, that they would be in development hell for almost a year. Most of the songs they submitted to the label for approval, were met with the request to write more songs. Progressive songs like “Lines In The Sand” and “Trial Of Tears” got a muted response from the label, while songs like “Hollow Years” and “You Not Me” got the label excited.

On top of this was the dissolution of their management team, which had the band divided. Petrucci picked one manager and Portnoy picked the other. Eventually, Petrucci’s choice Rob Shore was selected as the manager and Portnoy’s choice Jim Pitulski went to court to recoup some of his losses.

Further to this, their friend in label hell, A&R Rep Derek Oliver left and his replacement, Josh Deutsch was already fed up with the band. As far as he was concerned, the band was selling enough to not be a liability to the label, so as long as he could get the new record out, they would make numbers.

12 plus months passed before Deutsch gave the go-ahead to record the new album, in March 1997. The list of producers the band submitted was ignored and Kevin Shirley who just did Aerosmith’s “Nine Lives” was hired. Shirley also recommended that the band work with Desmond Child to re-write “You or Me”, resulting in Petrucci being flown down to Florida to work on the song with Child. Following the sessions, the song became “You Not Me”. This infuriated Mike Portnoy as he didn’t like how Desmond Child would re-write one of the songs with just one band member.

Originally, Petrucci and Portnoy wanted to call it “Stream of Consciousness”, but the rest of the band rejected the name although the phrase “Stream of Consciousness” is found in the song “Lines in the Sand” and would later become the title of an instrumental song on “Train of Thought”. Its eventual title was proposed by Petrucci, and its cover art was designed by Storm Thorgerson.

When you write for that long, there is enough material for a double album, but Elektra said the approved budget is for a single album.

As a side note, Portnoy released the double album, when he did the Ytse Jam Records Demo series for the “Falling Into Infinity” demos release. It also got a re-release with Dream Theater’s “Lost Not Forgotten” Archives releases.

If you are a fan of the band, the demo releases are must haves, as you get to hear songs like “Raise the Knife”, “Where are You Now”, “Cover My Eyes”, “Speak to Me”, “The Way It Used to Be”, and “Metropolis Pt. 2”, which was later expanded into its own album and the rest being included on the 1999 fan club CD “Cleaning Out the Closet”.

New Millennium

As soon as the King Crimson inspired intro kicks in with the keys and guitars in harmony, I was hooked. John Myung comes in with a bass riff which is very Tool like and I like the way John Petrucci decorates, very Adam Jones/Tool like.

Mike Portnoy is the lyrical writer here, as he looks at the music industry.

Press play for the Verse Riff. Its heavy, its melodic and its influenced by the times, but it doesn’t sound dated as there is funk and there is groove.

James Labrie cops a lot of flak from fans and I am one of them, but he shows his versatility moving between Peter Gabriel like vocals, to Maynard James Keenan vocals, to Bluesy Paul Rodgers style vocals and yet he makes it all sound hard rock in his own LaBrie way.

Derek Sherinian on the keys is more like Kevin Moore in style.

For an opening track it got my attention.

You Not Me

Musically it’s written by Dream Theater and lyrically it’s done by John Petrucci with small additions from Desmond Child. After hearing the demo of this song, I think Child’s additions are more like Holly Knight’s addition to change the title of “Rag Time” to “Rag Doll” by Aerosmith. The original demo is called “You Or Me”. After Child was involved, it changed to “You Not Me”. The vocal melodies are there on the demo.

The riff is nu-metal before nu-metal was even a thing.

And I like its big Chorus and simple Verse/Chorus structure. I am a hard rock fan first who likes progressive music, so this song is right up my alley.

Peruvian Skies

When they play this song live they go into “Enter Sandman” from Metallica as there a bits in the song that sound like they came from “Sandman”. If you get a chance to check out one of their live performances of this song, do it

Lyrics are written by John Petrucci. He is trying to tell an abuse story of person called Vanessa.

Musically, it’s got the dreamy arpeggios of Pink Floyd, with the metal crunch of Metallica. It’s a potent mix. And I like it.

Hollow Years

The “Live At Budokan” version is “the” version to listen to. This is where the solo is extended to include some shredding from Petrucci and the outro is also extended. One thing that is guaranteed when you watch DT live, is you don’t just get the studio version of the song. Which is a good thing. It irks me when bands play the studio version of a song live. There are no musical conversations happening on stage. For some bands it works, like Metallica and Iron Maiden, as their song structures are very rigid.

It was released as a single and you can tell why. It moves between flamenco-classical style acoustic guitars to a melodic soft rock Chorus. Petrucci wrote the lyrics to the song.

Burning My Soul

Mike Portnoy’s lyrics were inspired by his frustration at their A&R man, Derek Oliver. Once seen as a supporter who got them signed was now seen as a roadblock, a gear in the label machine pushing the label “sign em and drop em” agenda.

Overall, it’s a great song. It’s metallic, with a lot of groove. Metallica wasn’t this heavy during this time.

It also marks the beginning of an excellent middle section of the album, that involves “Burning My Soul”, “Hell’s Kitchen”, and “Lines in the Sand”.

Hell’s Kitchen

Producer Kevin Shirley made the decision to take out the middle section from “Burning My Soul” and turn it into a separate instrumental track.

Which I thank him for as “Hell’s Kitchen” is a 3 minute rollercoaster of emotions. Press play to hear John Petrucci at his melodic best.

Lines in the Sand

Lyrics are written by John Petrucci and press play to hear his guitar lead along with the verse/bridge section after the solo break.

King’s X’s Doug Pinnick also appears but James LaBrie stars here, twisting and morphing his voice across many different musical styles and genres.

At 12 minutes long, it didn’t feel boring at all.

Take Away My Pain

This is Dream Theater doing U2 while U2 was doing electro-techno rock.

Lyrically, John Petrucci writes about the death of his father and he decorates the song like “The Edge”.

And for people who said they sold out by writing a song like this, well they seem to forget that “Another Day”, “To Live Forever” and “Lifting Shadows Of A Dream” are very similar to this. So it was nothing new for Dream Theater to have songs like this on the album.

Just Let Me Breathe

Portnoy is throwing missiles at the music industry with his lyrics here. It deals with the media and how they purely exist to over report and sensationalise tragedy, like the deaths of Shannon Hoon and Kurt Cobain.

The drum and bass intro segues into the guitar riff kicking in. It’s heavy and groovy. Very “Liquid Tension Experiment” like which would come after this album.

Derek Sherinian solos here with Petrucci kicking in some harmonies. Then they trade off each other. Overall, I like the song musically but the vocal melodies didn’t resonate with me, although I do like how Portnoy wanted to try something different with the melodies.

Anna Lee

James LaBrie has a lyrical contribution to a Dream Theater album. The song is a ballad, with a nice piano riff as its centrepiece but it wasn’t a favourite back then nor is it a favourite write now.

Petrucci does deliver a nice solo.

Trial of Tears

I wrote a whole blog post on this song. You can read it here. It’s in three sections but played as one complete 13 minute song. Bassist John Myung is the lyrical writer.

Section I is called “It’s Raining”, Section II is called “Deep in Heaven” and Section III is called “The Wasteland”.

James LaBrie again steals the show with the various vocal styles he exhibits here. And Petrucci is on hand to deliver some nice emotive lead breaks.

As mentioned in the book, “Lifting Shadows” by Rich Wilson, the album was considered a commercial failure, failing to break any new ground for Dream Theater or increase their sales despite its more commercial direction. As a result of the creative and personal tensions experienced during the album’s production phase, it has been described as the band’s “most difficult album”, and eventually led to their demanding to be free from record label interference for all future albums.

Regardless of commercial expectations, I go back to this album on a regular basis. Crank it.

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Music, My Stories

The Record Vault: Dokken – Shadowlife

I was excited when I purchased this. A new Dokken album in 1997 with all the original members still on board. Who would have thought they survived the “Dysfunctional” album and tour?

“Dysfunctional” was an excellent return a few years before, and this album would put Dokken back onto the path of greatness. Just by looking at the song titles, my interest skyrocketed.

But.

I looked at the label logo and it wasn’t Columbia. John Kalodner had dropped the band. Instead, it was CMC.

CMC was a label that was signing hard rock and metal bands dropped from major labels. And they then tried to make these bands not sound like themselves by making em work with modern hip producers.

I pressed play.

I listened. I skipped tracks.

I got to the end.

I went and made a coffee.

I came back to the stereo.

I pressed play.

I listened more attentively.

I looked at the CD booklet, the lyrics, the production notes, the thank you.

I still skipped tracks.

I made another coffee.

I pressed play.

I tried to focus on what I would like. Like the guitar riffs.

“Puppet On A String”

The verse riff from Lynch is very Tool/Alice In Chains like with little hard rock fills here and there and I like it. But lyrically and vocally it’s uninspired.

“Cracks In The Ground”

It sounds like it could have come from the “Dysfunctional” album. It’s got that psychedelic Beatles like feel which they used in “The Maze”.

“Sky Beneath My Feet”

Listen to the Led Zep “Kashmir” influenced riffs in the verses. Or a song from The Cult’s “Sonic Temple” comes to mind. Regardless there are some cool musical moments here.

“Until I Know”

Feedback noise, a drum and bass groove and then lush acoustic strummed guitars come in.

Musically, the song is good, but like the previous songs, they all suffer from forgettable vocal melodies. Dio was also suffering the same pain with his “Angry Machines” album and many other acts during this time didn’t know what kind of melodies to write.

I always liked it when artists stuck to the hard rock vocal melodies and intertwine them with the more current sounding music.

Wild Mick doing his bit for the Cancer Council.

“Hello”

This one is a good example of sticking with hard rock vocal melodies and intertwining them with the industrial sounding music. But then, they put a loudspeaker effect on Don’s voice and it all goes to hell.

They should have kept him in clean tone.

“Convenience Store Messiah”

A forgettable acoustic track.

“I Feel”

It sounds like a D grade Collective Soul cut, musically.

“Here I Stand”

The intro riff is classic Dokken and lead vocals are performed by Jeff Pilson who was already involved on a confusing album with Dio on “Angry Machines”.

“Hard To Believe”

It’s a ballad and Lynch tries really hard to not play anything clichéd. His chord selections and voicings are so far removed from his well-known power chord to devils tritone.

It really is hard to believe that this is Dokken.

“Sweet Life”

It’s got a blues rock swinging groove.

Make sure you check out the riff after the Chorus.

Then the middle section feels like a Wild West stand-off is taking place musically before it moves back to the blues rock swinging groove.

And the song ends just after 4 minutes with no guitar solo.

From the double CD One Live Night and Shadowlife

“Bitter Regret”

The acoustic riff is worthy of attention.

“I Don’t Mind”

I still skip it.

Also from the double CD

“Until I Know (Slight Return)”

It’s an instrumental blues jam and I like it. But its short and maybe it should have stayed with the original track instead of separating the two parts.

Overall there wasn’t enough quality here, nor was there a killer song to sell it and as a fan of George Lynch, it’s a shame that this is his last full studio album with the band.

Throughout the album, I was saying, “are these the same members that delivered songs like “Kiss Of Death”, “Prisoner”, “Too High To Fly”, “In My Dreams”, “Lightning Strikes Again” and etc.

It is Dokken’s worst album by far, but then again, experimental albums rarely set the world on fire. Queen seemed to have a knack at being successful with it, because they always had a song on the album which was catchy and would become a hit or a fan favourite.

And some quotes from the members.

“Well, the change in sound was due to the fact that the world had changed so much and it was us trying to adapt.

We had been listening to a lot of TOOL records at that point. Plus the producer, Kelly Gray, was very much from the whole Seattle world — not into the melodic rock world, really.

So how I look back on that record is that there were some nice moments, but overall, just not an inspired piece of work.”
Jeff Pilson

“I was very disappointed with “Shadowlife”. When we went into “Shadowlife”, George was into Monster Magnet, Tool and stuff like that. I listened to the songs he had written and I’m like, “George, we’re not Tool! We’re not detuned! We’re not Monster Magnet, I just don’t get it!”

I hated that album so much that I didn’t allow them to put my Dokken logo on that record. That’s the only Dokken record where there’s not a Dokken logo on it. It’s just has a typical font.

To put it into perspective, ‘Dysfunctional’ sold 450,000 copies after it’s cycle, when we released ‘Shadowlife’ it sold 50,000 copies.”
Don Dokken

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Music

Why Chris DeGarmo walked away from it all?

Chris DeGarmo didn’t just leave Queensryche, he left the whole music business back in 1997. Just like another favourite of mine, Vito Bratta, they spent their whole lives making it only to walk away from it all.

Recently, Geoff Tate stated the following on jammagazineonline.com;

“It never was a brotherhood. It was a bunch of kids that got together and achieved success at an early age. We got used to that success and continued doing the things we did to get that success. We found comfort in our way of working. It’s just that simple. We were never close. We never hung out doing stuff and sharing life. It was always just, “Hey, we have another record to make. Anyone have any ideas? Let’s try to make a record. Here we go.”

Between the years of 1981 and 1992, Queensryche had been on a cycle of album and tour. After the Empire tour ended, Chris DeGarmo just unplugged himself from the music industry. He stated the same in a Guitar World interview from January 1995. When you detach yourself like this, it puts a lot of other events into perspectives.

Geoff Tate commented in a Kerrang magazine interview on the break after the Empire tour;

“It wasn’t planned, it just kind of happened. After the ‘Empire’ tour we all went our separate ways for a while. Before we knew it eight months had gone by. ‘Empire’ bought us a lot of time, really. Before that album it had been just a hectic schedule of recording and touring. ‘Empire’s success allowed us to have a nice break, something we hadn’t known until then. It was strange taking time off. I think it was at that point it dawned on us that we’d achieved all the goals we’d set. It was actually kind of difficult to know which move to make next.”

The achievement of their goals is an important point to make. When you feel like you have done all you set out to do, the hunger and the desire starts to die down. It becomes harder to focus again. It becomes harder to detach yourself from your family. So coming into the Promised Land album writing process, it was more or less done from their homes. It took about 8 months to get the material together, and then it was off to a secluded log cabin for another six months to piece together and record the album.

In the same Kerrang interview, Michael Wilton didn’t share the same enthusiasm for the finished product, however he did admit that the album is special in its own way.

“The way we set it all up was real innovative and allowed us to be more inspired, but a lot of the songs I came up with didn’t get finished because the album kind of went in a different direction. It was actually a bit more left-field to the way I think.”

This is another important point to make. Guitarists play a musical instrument, so it is normal that a guitarist will write music. So when a guitarist writes music and it is rejected for whatever reason, it is not a good feeling. I have been in situations just like this. I was coming up with metal riffs, and the band was moving into a Nu Metal phase, that just didn’t suit what I was writing. I had two options, leave the band and start a new one, or just put up with it. In this case, Wilton put up with it and in the end only had two song writing credits for the Promised Land album. He even had less of an input into the Hear Of The Now Frontier album. He only had one song writing credit on the Frontier album. I am pretty sure, he would have been the first person to let Chris DeGarmo now that it was his fault when the album didn’t set the sales charts on fire.

Furthermore, when the band was asked the question, if success has changed them, DeGarmo answered in the following way;

“I’ve probably become a hermit! I don’t really socialise that much. I don’t think I ever really did anyway. I somehow thought that it might change me as a person. I don’t think of myself as an unhappy person, but you think that money might limit the struggle. The thing is, I was so passionate about what we were doing that I never noticed we were struggling anyway! If anything. I think I’m more appreciative of the personal time I get to spend with my wife and daughter.”

So the Promised Land album comes out and the real fans flock to it. The tour is a success and the band members go their separate ways again. Then the bands label EMI America goes bankrupt. The rest of the band members don’t appear to be interested or concerned by this, and it was left to Chris DeGarmo to negotiate a new deal, not just for himself but for the others as well. During this time, the band had the songs written for the album, however they had to wait for Peter Collins schedule to free up, so they can record it. Again, more time away from each other as they wait for a producer.

Hear In The Now Frontier comes out and it doesn’t do well in a commercial sense. By 1997, recorded sales is the definition of success. DeGarmo is blamed for the commercial failure by the other band members, as he was the main songwriter/leader on the album.

Let’s look at how the song writing dynamic changed from Operation Mindcrime to Hear In The Now Frontier.

Operation Mindcrime had 15 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 12 song. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 7 songs. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 1 song and Jackson didn’t write anything.

Empire had 11 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 8 songs. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 5 songs. Rockenfield and Jackson both wrote/co-wrote 1 song.

Promised Land had 11 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 9. Tate wrote/co-wrote 7. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 2. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 3 and Jackson wrote/co-wrote 1.

Hear In The Now Frontier had 14 songs on it. DeGarmo wrote/co-wrote 13 songs. Tate wrote/co-wrote 7. Wilton wrote/co-wrote 1 song. Rockenfield wrote/co-wrote 2 songs and Jackson didn’t write anything.

The main thing to take out of the above stats is the increasing song writing role of Chris DeGarmo and the diminishing role of Michael Wilton. Tate was always consistent, however his piece d resistance was Mindcrime, whereas Empire was DeGarmo’s piece d resistance.

So when you feel like you have put your heart and soul into managing the affairs of a band and then still get blamed when events don’t pan out well, you ask yourself, what is the point in doing this. Just as so many of us walk away from a job that started off great, Chris DeGarmo did the same with Queensryche.

If the Hear In The Now Frontier album outsold Empire, it would be a different Queensryche world.

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