Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory

From disillusionment with the “Falling Into Infinity” saga, Mike Portnoy got an opportunity via Mike Varney’s “Magna Carta Records” to assemble a supergroup of progressive rock musicians in 1997. The Liquid Tension Experiment was born, consisting of Portnoy on drums, John Petrucci on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who had finished his commitments with the Dixie Dregs.

Portnoy and Petrucci used this little get together to keep on convincing Rudess to join Dream Theater. If you remember, Rudess was asked to replace Kevin Moore, however he declined that offer and Derek Sherinian was brought in. But in 1999, he accepted the offer to become the third full-time Dream Theater keyboardist, replacing Sherinian.

With Dream Theater assembled, the band would enter the studios with complete creative control for the first time.

They assembled an inspiration corner in the studio, made up of concept albums from The Who (“Tommy”), Genesis (“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”), Roger Waters (“Amused to Death”), Radiohead (“OK Computer”) , Queensryche (“Operation: Mindcrime”), The Beatles (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), Marillion (“Misplaced Childhood”) and Pink Floyd (“The Wall” and “The Final Cut”).

The band began by revisiting a song called “Metropolis – Part II”, which had been partially written during the “Falling into Infinity” sessions but not completed or used on that album.

At 21 minutes in length as a demo, they decided to expand the song into a complete concept album.

The album was originally mixed by David Bottrill, but only a few of his mixes made it on the final album. After playing the mixed album to Kevin Shirley, Petrucci kept asking Shirley for his opinion. Shirley kept telling Petrucci that the mixes are fine, however Petrucci did not believe him. Eventually Shirley said that the mixes could be better and suddenly Shirley had a job to remix the album. This of course was of a concern to Elektra who felt that the band was just throwing money away.

The album is seen as a sequel to the song”Metropolis—Part I: ‘The Miracle and the Sleeper'”, but the “Part I” was added by Petrucci as a joke and there was no intention to make a “Part II”.

But in 1999, “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” was released on Elektra Records. While it didn’t set the Billboard Charts on fire, it is seen as the bands masterpiece and it did exceed the sales target that Elektra had for it.

The story follows a character called Nicholas, who has recurring dreams, so he visits a hypnotherapist. During the sessions, he discovers that he is the reincarnation of Victoria Page, who was murdered in the 1920’s. The story takes place in the 1920’s and the 1990’s as all the characters are still in each other lives. For example, the person who killed Victoria is called Edward and in his reincarnation, he is the Hypnotherapist treating Nicholas.

Scene One: Regression

A ticking metronomic clock.

“Close your eyes and begin to relax” are the first words you hear. The voice of the Hypnotherapist is Terry Brown (yes that Rush producer Terry Brown) although he is uncredited.

“Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Concentrate on your breathing. With each breath you become more relaxed.”

There is a story here as well. Terry recorded his voice as a rough guide. Instead the band put it on the album, didn’t give him credit and then used it in the live setting. This didn’t impress Terry, so he lawyered up and set em a bill for using his voice. The band paid the bill and then had to get a new Hypnotherapist voice for the tour.

As the Hypnotherapist counts down, the acoustic guitar of John Petrucci starts up and gets louder as the countdown gets lower.

Then James LaBrie comes in with the vocal melody.

Safe in the light that surrounds me / Free of the fear and the pain / My subconscious mind / Starts spinning through time / To rejoin the past once again

Scene Two: I. Overture 1928

An instrumental, with a lot of cool riffs and some nuggets from the first Metropolis song.

I like the way it starts off but the best part is the George Lynch influenced tritone riff that cames straight after.

Check out the small lead section at 2.32.

Scene Two: II. Strange Deja Vu

“Overture” segues into “Strange Déjà Vu”.

“In her eyes – I sense a story never told / Behind the disguise – There`s something tearing at her soul”.

Nicholas learns that Victoria was murdered, and that he was actually Victoria in a past life. He believes that he needs to solve her murder.

Check out the “Carry On My Wayward Son” influences at 2.40.

Scene Three: I. Through My Words

The piano riff is haunting and I like it.

“We’re sharing one eternity / Living in two minds”

Scene Three: II. Fatal Tragedy

“This fatal tragedy was talked about for years” / Victoria`s gone forever / Only memories remain / She passed away / She was so young”

The last 40 seconds of the song has this cool open string harmony solo section which I like.

And it ends with the voice of the Hypnotherapist;

“Now it’s time to see how you died. Remember that death is not the end but only a transition.”

Scene Four: Beyond This Life

The opening riff is wicked. Heavy almost grungy in sound yet progressive. And the fast downstroke picking gives way to a single note variation.

“Murder, young girl killed. Desperate shooting at Echoes Hill. Dreadful ending, killer died. Evidently suicide”

The lyrics are written like a newspaper article.

Vocally it feels like a Tool/Maynard vocal melody in the verses. Really focused on the correct syllables.

Scene Five: Through Her Eyes

I’m learning all about my life
By looking through her eyes

Petrucci knows how to construct an emotive song and to nail an emotive lead.

Almost countryish in its acoustic strum and Portnoy’s restraint drumming, its Petrucci and LaBrie that shine here.

This is the part of the story where Nicholas realises that he is unable to get on with his life until he solves the murder of his past life.

Scene Six: Home

My favourite song on the album because its Dream Theater taking something contemporary like Tool and making it their own. If you want to press play on a track, this is the one.

The city – it calls to me
Decadent scenes from my memory
Sorrow – eternity
My demons are coming to drown me

From a story point of view, Julian is giving in to his cocaine and gambling addictions, which drives Victoria away from him. Edward feels guilty about deceiving his brother, but decides that his love for Victoria is greater than his guilt, and he seduces her when she is vulnerable following her breakup.

Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity

It’s an instrumental, seen as their best.

Scene Seven: II. One Last Time

Are these her memories
Awakened through my eyes

A ballad with lyrics by James LaBrie.

Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On

I used to be frightened of dying
I used to think death was the end
But that was before
I`m not scared anymore
I know that my soul will transcend

The guitar solo on here is excellent and the gospel choir afterwards (orchestrated by Rudess) gives me goose bumps.

Scene Nine: Finally Free

It begins with the voice of the Hypnotherapist.

“You are once again surrounded by a brilliant white light. Allow the light to lead you away from your past and into this lifetime.”

The narrative moves between different perspectives, revealing that Edward wished his romance with Victoria was more than a simple affair. As Victoria begins to reconcile with Julian, Edward confronts the two of them, murders them, then stages the scene and assumes the role of the witness for the newspaper column. The flashback includes Edward telling Victoria to “open [her] eyes” before killing her, echoing the same choice of words the hypnotherapist used to wake Nicholas from his hypnotic trance.

In the present, Nicholas arrives home, followed by the Hypnotherapist. Nicholas is startled by another request to “open [his] eyes”, before the album cuts to (and concludes on) phonographic static. You don’t hear the killing, but the hypnotherapist is Edward’s reincarnation, and he has killed Nicholas to complete the cycle yet again.

The drumming of Mike Portnoy on the last three minutes of this song is essential listening for any drummer on how to add texture and technicality and still sound accessible.

The World Tour to promote the album was their biggest. The whole album was played in its entirety along with actual footage on the big screen.

A show was filmed and released as a DVD in 2002. Even Kevin Moore was invited to participate in this show, to perform “Space Dye Vest” and “Learning To Live”. But he declined the offer and every other Dream Theater offer since his departure.

Crank it.

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2001 – Part 5.5: Opeth – Blackwater Park

“Blackwater Park” is the fifth studio album Opeth released on March 12, 2001 in Europe and a day later in North America through Music for Nations and Koch Records.

I never got too involved with the death metal elitists who seemed to label the band, not “death metal enough”. Their view points sound like an episode in “Dethklok” when the fictional cartoon death metal band was writing a song and it wasn’t brutal enough for the singer.

The album marks the first collaboration between Porcupine Tree front man Steven Wilson and the band, as Wilson had been brought in to produce the album. The influences of Porcupine Tree can be heard here and this contributed to a shift in Opeth’s musical style with more mellow passages, while Porcupine Tree would also get some heaviness out of it as well.

“Blackwater Park” did not chart in the United States or United Kingdom but it is seen as the commercial breakthrough for the band.

Opeth at this point in time was Mikael Åkerfeldt on vocals, guitar and acoustic guitar, Peter Lindgren on guitar, Martín Méndez on bass and Martin Lopez on drums.

Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree does clean and backing vocals on “Bleak”, “Harvest”, “The Funeral Portrait”, and “The Drapery Falls”, piano, additional guitar, record producer, engineering and mixing.

The Leper Affinity

Music and lyrics written by Mikael Åkerfeldt.

First, I am not a huge fan of death metal vocals. I tolerate them because I want to hear good riffs. And there are a lot of good riffs and leads here. On occasions it feels like I am listening to a Megadeth album or a Dream Theater/Fates Warning album.

At 4.50, there is an acoustic section that comes in with clean tone vocals. It sounds ominous. And when they build it up, the ominous sound is still there.

Then at 6.10, this Tool like riff kicks in. Press play to hear it.

The last minute is a sombre piano lounge piece.

At 10.26 it’s a massive opening song for an album.

Bleak

Music and lyrics written by Mikael Åkerfeldt.

I like the way this starts. Its progressive but groove orientated.

At 3.28, it’s got this alternative metal vibe with clean tone vocals from Wilson and I like it. And it moves in between acoustic rock and heavy metal. But. By the end of it, its chaotic dissonance.

At 9.15, the first two songs clock in over 20 minutes.

Harvest

Music and lyrics written by Mikael Åkerfeldt.

The second shortest song at 6 minutes with strummed acoustic riffs.

The Drapery Falls

Another 10 plus minute track with music and lyrics written by Mikael Åkerfeldt.

It’s got acoustic guitars, psychedelic fuzzed out leads and clean tone singing.

It’s got progressive riffs and death metal singing.

And more grooves than a vinyl record.

Dirge for November

Written by Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren. The dirge comes out to 8 minutes.

The acoustic guitar is there again and it feels like a Led Zeppelin cut in the first two minutes, think “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”.

That section at 4.30 to 4.40 is brief but I like its classical feel. The last two minutes is similar to the intro, but more jazzy.

The Funeral Portrait

Music and lyrics written by Mikael Åkerfeldt.

At almost 9 minutes long, its full of riffs and acoustic guitars.

The dissonance of the tritone is all over this track.

The whole acoustic intro reminds me of Slayer and “Seasons In The Abyss” while the riff that crashes in afterwards is very Dream Theater like from the “Images And Words” album.

And I like it.

Patterns in the Ivy

A 2 minute instrumental written by Mikael Akerfeldt.

Think of the intro of “Diary Of A Madman” with some piano melodic leads.

Blackwater Park

The title track at 12 minutes long. Written by Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren.

The intro that starts it of is hard rock.

There is this clean tone instrumental section which is a fusion of jazz and classical. The riff that crashes in after it is perfect and head banging.

If there is a complaint, there are too many long songs with not a lot of variation. But from a guitar players point of view, there are a lot of cool riffs to unpack and learn.

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Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

There is always a track or two or three on each album from Evergrey that becomes an instant favourite.

On this album at the moment, it is “Call Out The Dark”, “Midwinter Calls” and “Blindfolded”. On the previous album and depending on mood, it was either “In The Absence Of Sun” and “Eternal Nocturnal”.

The whole COVID era of 2020 and 2021 got a lot of artists off the road, back into society, connecting with family and friends and then into the studios. After the brutality of “The Atlantic” in 2019, “Escape Of The Phoenix” came out in February 2021, a live recording “Before The Aftermath” on 28 January 2022 and in May 2022, “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)”.

I have the Vinyl Die Hard edition and a separate Limited Edition box set on its way from Napalm Records in Germany, which I will unbox when they get here.

Their five album run (made up of 4 studio albums and one Live Album) on AFM Records came to an end. And what a run it was, with some of their best work like, “Hymns For The Broken” and “The Storm Within” included in that run.

The sound of the band is made up of the low tuned guitars of Henrik Danhage who uses Charvel Guitars and Tom Englund who is loyal to Caparison Guitars. But not all riffs come from the fingertips of these two. Drummer Jonas Ekdahl is a riff-meister himself and so is bassist Johan Niemann. Rounding out the band is keyboardist Rikard Zander.

The writing of “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)” continued after the release of “Escape of the Phoenix”. Englund has even referred to the new album as “Part II”. In the producers chair is, Englund and Ekdahl again. These two have been producing the last few albums, so why change it. Keep it all within the band.

Save Us

A chugging downtuned metal like riff opens the album. It’s heavy and the octaves give it a sense of melody.

The fans participated in the gang like vocals.

The idea came to Englund while he was on a walk. He uses his iPhone to sing his ideas and the voice memos capture sounds pretty good as the phones have decent compression algorithm.

So they put a call out for their fans to sing the words based on a video guide the band provided into their iPhones and submit it. They got 700 plus submissions and those voices became the gang choir you hear when they say “Hey, save us”.

Lyrically, its Englund’s observation of watching people around him who feel they are not good enough to exist in this world, because they are hostages to the social media sites and feel like they need to portray perfection.

Midwinter Calls

“Midwinter calls…”

There is a slight pause.

“Home..”

And then the Chorus riff kicks in.

It’s my favourite part of the song.

The double kick is in unison with the riff from the fingertips of drummer Jonas Ekdahl.

This song also has a gang like vocal chant, utilising more voices from the fans. While in “Save Us” it was actual words, here it is wo-ohs.

Ominous

There is this four note progression played by another four note progression that underpins the main riff. It’s almost djent math like and progressive but very accessible.

Keyboardist Rikard Zander decorates nicely here over the thunderous groove set up by drummer Ekdahl and bassist Johan Niemann.

The guitar solos howl like wolves in the night.

Actually the whole guitar solo sections are guitar hero moments. I’m pretty sure both Englund and Danhage take turns here.

Call Out the Dark

As soon as the musical box piano sound riff started I was hooked. Once the guitars thunder in and the keys turn symphonic, I was ready to break desks. My favourite song on the album. By far.

The solo came is fantastic.

It’s got this classic “Rainbow In The Dark”, Vivian Campbell style from his Dio days. Initially there was a lot of tapping and shredding from Danhage and after receiving feedback from a friend about what he was trying to say with his lead coming after Englund’s lead, he rewrote the first half and kept the crazy shred ending. Press play to hear two virtuosos having conversations musically.

And it ends the way it started, with the musical box piano riff.

The Orphean Testament

Englund’s take on Greek Mythology where Orpheus had a chance to save his loved one from hell, by just walking away and never looking back, but he turns back to look.

Englund takes this view and applies it to modern life, where our ego’s get in the way of making good decisions and how it’s hard to fit in to a world which has different ideals to your own.

The song starts with fast double kick drumming and fast 16th note picking before it moves into a Dimebag style groove riff. Englund has a unique way of singing his melodies and this is no different.

Reawakening

I read on other reviews that the writers saw this track as filler. And I was like WTF. Its melodic heavy rock influences still remain with me after its finished.

The intro is melodic rock, with the keyboards in the lead. The song then quietens down, Queensryche like for the verses, while it builds up in the pre-chorus for the big Chorus.

I’m broken but breathing
I’m still alive but did a lot of bleeding
I’m open to reasons to feel alive

The Great Unwashed

The intro is made up single notes playing in an ominous way. Then a groove like riff kicks in, made from the fingertips of drummer Jonas Ekdahl. While they are chugging along on that riff, Zander plays the ominous intro on the keys and Englund does his vocal melodies.

There is a section after the Chorus that reminds me of “A Change Of Season” from Dream Theater.

And the lead breaks are killer, over a section that reminds me of “The Aftermath” from “Hymns Of The Broken”.

We’ll always unite in the end
We’re stronger than most just pretend
We never mind the dark

We’re the great unwashed

Heartless

Instant connection with the keyboard lick over the thundering distorting chords. The verse riffs are major key, hopeful, but the lyrics are dark, with words like “I can’t find reasons to keep feeding this soul”.

So tired of feeling
I’m tired of feeling you
And all this time that I’ve lost
I’ve lost to you

Relationships take up a lot of time and when they are over, there is regret at the time lost.

There is a section just before the 3 minute mark, with piano chords and Englund’s haunting vocal melody. Then the lead break crashes in, and I am playing air guitar.

Blindfolded

It’s classic Evergrey.

Powerful and technical.

And there is another arena rock chorus. Press play to listen to the phrasing of “Dark nights / coming / we are lost in fragile moments / falsehood / soulless / we run through this blindfolded”.

And if all of that isn’t enough, queue in some killer lead breaks in which the guitars and the keys trade off each other.

Wildfires

Evergrey have always had songs like these, and Tom Englund explores these kind of sparse arrangements even further with the “Silent Skies” side project. The only difference here is that the acoustic guitars replace the keys.

If the sun fell down
And burnt us down to the ground
Would the wildfires remind me of

The album is excellent.

And there is also a trilogy of video clips, released in reverse chronological order, so you would need to watch the last video first to experience the cinematic journey.

Press play on it.

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The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Images and Words

“When Dream And Day Unite” came out in 1989, the label Mechanix did nothing with it.

The band didn’t tour and compared to the sale numbers that other bands achieved in 1989, the album was classed a failure. But it’s pretty hard to sell something if no one knows it exists or if it can’t be found in record stores. A little bit of promo during this time would have gotten the album at least 200K sales worldwide. There was a market for the kind of music that Dream Theater was writing. But the market needs to know about it.

It also didn’t help when the A&R Rep who signed the band, left Mechanix to go to a competitor. And when that normally happens in label land, the label in spite, tries to kill off the acts the Rep had signed. Further to that, Mechanix was being taken over by a larger label in MCA and when that normally happens, labels consolidate and focus on winning projects.

Apart from the label issues, the band decided that in order to be successful, they had to change something that was not working.

Vocalist, Charlie Domicini was let go. He was a decade older than the rest of the guys and his image didn’t fit with the band. But they got their manager to break the news to him.

Even a newly inked tattoo of the Dream Theater logo on his shoulder wasn’t enough to save him. According to the band, his vocal style just didn’t suit. While Portnoy and Petrucci wanted a cross between Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson, they knew that finding such a vocalist was not going to be an easy task.

Dominici’s lyrics on the first album, a co-write with John Petrucci on “Status Seeker” and the sole lyricist for “Afterlife” resonated more than all of the other lyrics penned by Petrucci and Kevin Moore.

Being a bit older, meant he had a bit more experience with words and story-telling. But his voice is an acquired taste and he did cop some criticism for sounding like a bad imitation of Geddy Lee. But his vocals on “The Killing Hand” are my go to vocals for this song.

But as soon as Dominici was gone, he was back in for a gig, opening for Marillion, who wanted to unveil their new singer Steve Hogarth for his U.S debut. Portnoy was a massive fan of Marillion, so the opening slot was a dream come true. The band was on fire, but it was too little too late for Dominici who was let go again after it.

At first the band focused on trying to find a new singer as they still had six albums to deliver on the Mechanix deal. This process would take 14 months to happen. The book “Lifting Shadows” from Rich Wilson goes into great detail about the “search for a singer”.

John Arch was the first vocalist the band approached. He was out of Fates Warning after the release of “Awaken The Guardian” album in 1986. They rehearsed “The Killing Hand”, “Only A Matter Of Time” and a cover of Fates Warning “The Apparition”. Arch felt uncomfortable about how the band members wanted the vocals to sound. He felt it was too rigid. But the reason Arch left was family circumstances. He was about to become a Dad, he had a long commute to rehearse and he wasn’t comfortable spending so much time away from his family.

John Hendricks was the second vocalist the band rehearsed with after he sent the band a demo from an ad the band put out.

His appearance was more New Kids On The Block and the live audition in December 1989 didn’t go down well. But they kept him around to do vocals on some new demos called “Metropolis”, “To Live Forever” and “Don’t Look Past Me”. When they went back to live rehearsals, Hendricks still didn’t cut it, but his studio work was exceptional. The band wanted to move forward with Hendricks but label and management weren’t convinced. While Petrucci and Portnoy wanted a Tate/Dickinson style of a singer, Hendricks was none of that, more Pete Gabriel than anything and his image was New Wave compared to the Hard Rock and Metal image of Dream Theater.

Next was Steve Stone.

Stone was from Seattle and he had replaced Geoff Tate in the band “Myth”, Tate’s pre Queensryche band. Stone’s manager at the time was journalist Paul Suter, who sent demo tapes of Stone to George Lynch for the Lynch Mob project, to Steve Stevens for his Atomic Playboys project and to Dream Theater. Portnoy liked Stone’s voice, a cross between Tate and Steve Perry. Stone enjoyed the audition but conversations afterwards with the band made him feel that his creativity would be stifled.

However, they did get Stone to do studio vocal versions on “Metropolis” and “To Live Forever” as Mechanix wanted to hear product.

And then they played live. As soon as Stone yelled” Scream For Me Long Beach” and then kept on yelling it throughout the show, he sealed his axing.

By September 1990, the band was still without a singer and with a label that was losing interest in the band (as if they hadn’t lost it already) but wouldn’t release them from their contract.

Enter Chris Cintron. His demo tape was rejected at first but after Hendricks and Stone didn’t work out, Portnoy called Cintron to an audition.

Cintron’s voice was more Steve Walsh from Kansas and he was also the first singer to sing on a new song called “A Change Of Seasons”. The fact that everything was written and Cintron just had to perform what was written, didn’t sit well with him as well. Image and a few other disagreements with Kevin Moore, sealed his fate.

During this time, they also focused on writing better songs. Most bands normally have 3 months to come out with album number 2. Dream Theater in this case had close to 2 years. Furthermore, their sound evolved from the technical derivative metal sound on “When Dream and Day Unite”, to a more warmer sound, rooted in classic progressive rock with nods to Heavy Metal.

As the singer search took time, the seven album deal with Mechanix fizzled out.

But they had an ally in journalist Derek Oliver. Oliver wrote for Kerrang and he was a fan of the band. As fate would have it, Oliver moved into an A&R role at the same time that Dream Theater found themselves searching for a label who would support them.

Enter Kevin James LaBrie. He was part of Canadian glam metal band Winter Rose during this time and he sent the band an audition tape. After a short jam session, he was named Dream Theater’s new lead singer, and has remained with them ever since.

The band was then signed to a seven-album contract by Atco Records, and shortly thereafter, they began recording their new album in late 1991. The album’s production was marred with tensions, as the band clashed with producer David Prater who was chosen by Derek Oliver.

Enter Dream Theater with “Images and Words”. Released in 1992.

The album was unique and innovative to remain rooted to the prog rock niche that Derek Oliver spoke about in 1989 and it was familiar enough to cross over to the hard rock audience, looking for something new and exciting.

Dream Theater originally intended to release a double album, but that plan was rejected by ATCO, causing several songs to be omitted from the album. One of these songs, “A Change of Seasons”, would later be re-recorded by the band and released on an EP of the same name in 1995.

A Billboard review didn’t have great things to say about it;

“Power rock band’s Atco debut shows its members did plenty of listening to Yes, Boston and even Black Sabbath while growing up.

While the material is all well delivered, lead vocalist James LaBrie has a voice that stretches to fit the many different styles represented here, the main problem is the music, which sounds like it was written in the 70’s.

However given that the bands potential fans probably weren’t born until the end of that decade, it shouldn’t serve as any great detriment.”

Pull Me Under

Music composed by the band and lyrics written by Kevin Moore.

The lead single, “Pull Me Under”, gained the band a lot of commercial success with its airplay on MTV and radio, garnering them a top 10 hit on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. When the album was released, it sold at a steady pace, helped by an extensive world tour.

Its original working title was “Oliver’s Twist” as it was a last minute song written at the request of Derek Oliver. The original version also had the unbelievable solo section from “Erotomania” in it.

“Pull Me Under” was so good, that John Petrucci used the 1st verse riff of “Pull Me Under” in “The Count Of Tuscany” 1st Verse from the album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” released in 2009.

He also used the structure and dynamics for the song “On The Backs Of Angels” from the album “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” released in 2011.

As soon as the first three notes of the acoustic arpeggio are played, I was hooked. Then Portnoy started with his drum build. Metallica used an approach like this on “Enter Sandman”.

Another Day

Music is by the band with lyrics written by John Petrucci.

It’s like a hard rock ballad, but the guitar playing and the choice of chords by Petrucci is excellent. And the Soprano Sax solos are just perfect.

But press play to hear Petrucci on the lead break. It’s well worked out, it flows brilliantly, its melodic and cruisy and then he steps on the pedal and then brings it back to cruisy.

Take the Time

It’s a team effort on the lyrical front with Moore, Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and John Myung contributing.

How good is that start? The fast riffing is a cross between Van Halen and Metallica.

Then the verses go into a Rock Funk groove.

And the Chorus, its melodic hard rock.

As a guitar player, this song is like a Chord Book on complex chords.

Surrounded

It’s listed as words and music by Kevin Moore.

It starts off as a piano ballad, before it builds up to a funky blues rock tune.

But press play to hear the digital delay lead break from John Petrucci. It feels like The Edge from U2, but a lot better.

Metropolis—Part I: ‘The Miracle and the Sleeper’

It’s a monster of a song that every Metal and Rock fan would enjoy.

The pulsing intro alone is head banging material.

But those verses. Petrucci plays fast palm muted chords like the “Darkness, imprisoning me” part in “One” and keyboardist Moore outlines the chord progression with his riffs, while Portnoy plays a “Kashmir” like beat.

Perfection to my ears.

Under a Glass Moon

What an intro, pushing the envelope of what metal and rock should sound like.

But press play for the groove in the Verses from Petrucci and Myung, while Moore outlines the Chord progression with his keyboards.

And then wait to hear Petrucci on the solo.

Wait for Sleep

A brilliant piano piece from Kevin Moore. It’s like a haunting soundtrack. The main piano idea from here appears in “Learning To Live” and when it comes in, its brilliant.

Learning to Live

At 11.30 it’s the longest song on the album. The music is written by the band and lyrics are written by John Myung.

If I had to recommend one song to a new Dream Theater fan that typified the progressive rock leanings of the band, then this song would be it.

The song is that good, that Dream Theater rewrote it and called it “Breaking All Illusions” for the “A Dramatic Turn of Events” album in 2011.

The Kevin Moore keyboard intro kicks things off with a wicked 15/8 time signature. This same passage re-appears and this time it is played over alternating time signatures, starting off with 14/8 for 2 bars, then 13/8 for one bar and back to 14/8 for another bar. Then it goes back to 13/8, 14/8, 13/8, 7/8.

In between you get a very metal like passage in the vein of “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin, that moves between 7/4,6/4,4/4 and 5/8 time signatures over F#m, C#m and Em root notes. It doesn’t sound forced. It is very fluent like.

The verse is unbelievable. Myung holds it all together with an unbelievable groove over a 7/4 and 6/4 time signature, that is supplemented by Kevin Moore’s choir like voicing’s outlining the Em9, Cmaj9, Amadd9 and Em9 chords. Myung paraphrases the novel “Atlas Shrugged” from Ayn Rand.

There was no time for pain, no energy for anger
The sightlessness of hatred slips away
Walking through winter streets alone, He stops and take a breath
With confidence and self-control

I look at the world and see no understanding
I’m waiting to find some sense of strength
I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart to show me understanding

Petrucci and Portnoy build the song nicely into the chorus. Petrucci begins with normal volume swells, while Portnoy locks in with Myung. As Petrucci’s guitar gets busier with harmonics, chords and arpeggios, Portnoy’s drumming becomes busier.

The second verse has a great progressive groove that keeps within the 7/4 and 6/4 time signature of the first verse. This time it’s all power chords and its heavy as hell. Chugging along on an E5 power cord, Petrucci enhances the riffs by chucking in B5, Bflat5 and F power chords, utilising the devil triton to maximum effect.

The 90s bring new questions
New solutions to be found
I fell in love to be let down

Then when you think they are going to go into the Chorus again, they go into a bridge part with a simple 4/4 groove and then the instrumental break starts. Petrucci is now playing what Moore played in the intro.

The flamenco passage at 5.30 kicks things off. From 6.30 it gets progressive and then the woo ohh ohhs kick in and Petrucci takes over at 7.10 in one of the most heartfelt solos Petrucci has laid to tape. Those bends remind me of Dave Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb”.

The whole “Wait For Sleep” segment that begins at 7.30 and ends at 9.35 includes brilliant jazz bluesy solos from both Moore and Petrucci and the main piano riff from “Wait For Sleep”. It then segues back in to the Chorus.

The way that your heart beats
Makes all the difference in learning to live

Just when you think the song is over, the outro kicks in, again led by an unbelievably groovy and very funky Myung bass line. Then Petrucci joins in with the Natural Harmonics and then the monk style voices take over. As a listener I just sit back with the head phones and allow myself to be taken away. A brilliant song and a brilliant piece of work.

Mike Portnoy has gone on record saying how much he hated working with producer David Prater and the use of drum midi triggers. Portnoy feared that the triggers would make the album sound dated and seen as another generic hard rock album.

One thing is certain.

The album still sounds fresh and current in 2022 as it did back in 1992. As Rush’s “2112” laid the groundwork for what was to come for Rush, “Images and Words” did the same for Dream Theater.

The tour finished in November, 1993. Overall they played 194 shows in 17 countries. “Images And Words” was certified Gold in the U.S. Everything they worked hard and persevered with, had finally happened.

The pressure for a successor was intensified.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, Unsung Heroes

Soen – Imperial

It’s the kind of metal I like.

Soen is a Swedish progressive metal supergroup consisting of various extreme metal musicians. Their debut album “Cognitive” came out in 2012.

It was like hearing Tool and I was all in.

“Tellurian” came out in 2014 but their rise really started with “Lykaia” in 2017 and “Lotus” in 2019. And in 2021, we have “Imperial”.

And while the debut sounded a lot like Tool, this one is more metal and hard rock with some progressive grooves and textures.

And the band has been stable in the line-up. Founding members Joel Ekelöf (vocals) and Martin Lopez (drums) are still there along with Lars Enok Åhlund (keyboards and guitar), Cody Ford (lead guitar) and new bassist Oleksii “Zlatoyar” Kobel.

Lumerian

How good is the Intro riff?

And the Chorus, so melodic and haunting.

In the middle, the band introduces its main dynamic, which is heard throughout the album, in which they quieten down the song and rebuild it.

Deceiver

It’s almost Disturbed like from the “Believe” album in the Intro.

Monarch

That Intro riff. So heavy and intricate.

Listen to it.

A Pink Floyd Pre-Chorus gives way to an anthemic Chorus.

Illusion

A Pink Floyd like cut. Think “Sorrow”.

And the solos. Wow.

Antagonist

Another head banging killer metal riff kicks it off.

The Chorus. Wow.

From the 3.50 mark it goes into a mellow interlude with an emotive solo. Then the vocals come in and I get emotional.

And it becomes quiet. And once you hear the words “fire up your guns”, the music crashes back in.

Modesty

The Chorus is so haunting.

From 2.10 a Maiden like harmony riff plays while a shred-a-licious and emotive lead is played over it.

The last 40 seconds are excellent.

Dissident

The Tool like track on the album but with a heavy dose of metal and hard rock.

Listen to the Chorus riff when they sing “we are one”.

At 2.50 it quietness down. A piano plays and the vocals come in. Then the drums and everything else comes in as they build it up slowly.

By 4.36 it’s back to a being a metal tour de force.

Fortune

Dio and the Sabbath “Heaven And Hell” version would be proud. The groove and feel is as doomy as the influences.

That Chorus is haunting, with the violins and emotive vocal melody.

I like the lead break. Almost bluesy and the phrasing is excellent.

At the 3.20 mark, a sing-a-long ohhh and ahs happen. This section happens again for the outro but this time the guitars are in harmony.

The only thing left to do is to listen to it again.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

2001 – Part 1.1: Evergrey – In Search Of Truth

It’s time to start a new year in review.

And I normally have about six to ten records on a post but in this case it had to be one album as it’s one of my favorite Evergrey albums.

So Part 1 is broken up into 1.1 and 1.2.

“In Search of Truth” is the third studio album and first concept album by Evergrey. It is the first album to feature guitarist Henrik Danhage and bassist Michael Håkansson, as well as the only one to feature keyboardist Sven Karlsson. Founder and mainstay, Tom Englund is on vocals and guitars with the very underrated Patrick Carlsson on drums.

Produced by Andy LaRocque, who had produced all the band’s previous albums up to now.

The album deals with alien abductions, based on the allegedly factual account of alien abduction victim Whitley Strieber’s book “Communion”.

The album cover was created by Swedish graphic designer Mattias Norén, who I once contacted for a possible album cover for an album I was involved in, before I decided to go with Brazilian artist, Gustavo Sazes.

An alien abduction story can be sort of blah, but Englund is the master at showcasing his personal side in the lyrics. So what we hear lyrically is how the main character struggles to understand what is happening and how scared and confused they are.

“The Masterplan”

Less than 5 minutes and what an opener. One of my favourite songs from Everygrey. Make sure you check out the live version on “A Night To Remember”. They do a Maiden “Running Free” singalong after the lead section which is perfect.

And the music video clip, with people painted to blend in the walls is unsettling as their eyes open, as the main character is being watched at all times.

“I have decided to keep this tape recorder with me at all times. Just so that I maybe one day can explain all the strange things happening to me. The lack of sleep…the loss of time. But most of all, the sensation of never being lonely…always being watched…”

And then the 7/8 syncopated intro blasts off.

Then that Chorus. The constant double kick, the power chords and the vocal melody which sings;

We are all a part off, forced to live within, a conspiracy for ages, the masterplan

The next time the second chorus rolls around, there is a little melodic lead before it. It’s a “why not” moment, to break up the verse and chorus structure.

The instrumental section in the interlude, the lead break and how they come out of this interlude and back into the Chorus. A masterpiece.

Make sure you check out Henrik Danhage’s outro lead break.

“Rulers Of The Mind”

It has another memorable intro.

The stomping drumming in the verses reminds me of “Kashmir”.

There is this orchestral choir happening over one of the lead breaks, which is unsettling.

And how good is the Chorus vocal melody and we had to live through an intro, two verses and a solo before we got to it. And then there is silence and a piano line. And slowly, it rebuilds up.

Make sure to check out the lead break at the 3.50 mark. Then at 4.21 those orchestral choirs come back in. They are cinematic and desperate. And the last 50 seconds, the Chorus reappears.

At 6 minutes long it didn’t get boring and I press repeat.

“Watching The Skies”

It feels like a Malmsteen or Dream Theater cut with the keyboard solo. And the double kick drumming from Patrick Carlsson is relentless, fast when it needs to be and syncopated when it needs to be.

Check out the section from 4.05 and the excellent lead break kicks in at 4.45.

“State Of Paralysis”

It has a haunting piano riff to kick it off and Englund is in theatre mode as he plays a fearful and confused abductee.

“They’re coming, they’re coming”

Englund keeps repeating those words.

“The Encounter”

“State of Paralysis” and “The Encounter” are basically the same song split into two different tracks. This one is progressive. Like Dream Theater “Awake” style of album.

Make sure you check out the guitar solo at the 3 minute mark and there is this ten second guitar melody that plays between 3.50 and 4.00.

And those same words, “they’re coming” keep reappearing.

“Mark Of The Triangle”

This is probably Evergrey at its progressive best, with tempo changes and technical playing. But still accessible.

The start alone has the bass locking in with the kick drum while the synth plays chords and the guitars play a lead.

This morphs into the guitars syncopating, with double kick drumming and the keyboard playing a melodic lead.

And it quietens down to the verse, which is just bass, piano and drums with a vocal melody.

At 1.30 the trademark Evergrey syncopated riff kicks in. It’s their style.

The whole guitar solo section from 3.55. Listen to the piano riff that kicks it off. All the pop songs from Max Martin use it. It’s a Sweden thing.

At the 5 minute mark the synths become dominant and its cinematic.

“Dark Waters”

The symphonic choir is haunting.

At 2.44 there is a different symphonic choir for a few seconds that reminds me of “Suite Sister Mary” from Queensryche. Which isn’t surprising as Queensryche is listed as an influence.

And the last three minutes of the song is epic, reminding me of songs like “The Aftermath” and “The Storm Within” from their recent albums.

“Different World’s”

How good is the piano intro?

And then Englund sings, with all his emotion.

The piano takes centre stage again at the 50 second mark with another iconic riff.

Then it goes back to the piano intro and an acoustic guitar with more vocals.

At 3.26, it’s the tape narrative again about, “oh god, it’s happening again”. The piano is haunting and at the 4 minute the guitar solo begins with big bends.

“Misled”

The album closer. It starts off with a piano riff and then the band cranks in.

Listen to the ahh choir before the Chorus and then there is a blast beat section of furious double kick before the Chorus kicks in.

Each verse has a different riff but within the same chord structure. Its creative and a progressive way of thinking.

At 2.59, it’s the style of Evergrey that they have carried to this day, syncopated staccato guitar riffs with a keyboard melody over the top.

The whole guitar solo section and coming out of it needs to be heard.

And then its silence, with a taped piano riff playing and Englund singing, “I’m crawling back to sleep” before the whole band kicks in.

I have to mention again that Tom Englund is a very underrated vocalist. Each song bears his emotion and soul. You hear anger, sadness, hope, fear and happiness. His voice is strong, ballsy, unique to him and it avoids sounding like a Geoff Tate or Ray Adler or Bruce Dickinson or David Coverdale copycat which a lot of artists started doing to get a break in the market. And throughout this album, his voice moves between strong and bold to panic, crying and whimpering in “Different Worlds” as he narrates, “Oh, god, it’s happening again / I don’t wanna be here / I wanna go home”.

This was also Evergrey’s first release on German label, “Inside Out”, a move up to a bigger label from their previous independent label. For the label, Inside Out, 2001 was a big year as they released “Burn the Sun” from Ark, “Terria” from Devin Townsend and “In Search Of Truth” from Evergrey, all seen as defining albums in the progressive metal genre.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

June 2020 – Part 3

Palimpsest
Protest The Hero

The cover of the raging bull with the American flag draped over a horn, tattered and torn, really got my attention. It’s a great piece of art.

I had to Google what “Palimpsest” meant. And it means, “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on the erased earlier writing.” Another definition which breaks it down is, “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.”

Protest The Hero can play their instruments. Their music moves between technical metal with textures from a lot of different genres. So they really earn the “progressive metal” title.

A Metal Injection review said, “the bands Queensryche meets Between The Buried And Me approach makes albums like 2013’s “Volition” indispensable amalgamations of conceptual grandiosity and technicality”.

And if you want a killer review of the album that I agree with, then the metal injection one is it. This album will be streamed for a while.

Landing In Heaven
Free Spirits Rising

About landing in a place in the afterlife and not knowing you are there.

And the best bit is when it changes half way through to a massive 2 plus minute outro section.

I guess “until it’s time to meet again, I’ll be here waiting”. There is an instrumental version of the song as well.

Press repeat.

Beyond Your Limits
Long Distance Calling

There album dropped recently and I’ve added all of it to my July playlist. From Germany, I am a fan of their instrumental rock grooves and I am hearing some vocals on this album.

The last three minutes.

The moods that deconstructs and reconstructs the song. Brilliant.

Then that last 30 seconds with that emotive lead break.

So I press repeat to listen again.

Back To Life
H.E.A.T

From the bands website: “In the new world order, we find ourselves in a position where we can’t go on tour, we feel we have a duty to bring some vibe to the summer of 2020. So kick back, grab a drink, make your backyard a festival area and let us bring you back to life.

And that’s exactly what I did, in the winter of 2020, Australian style.

Blood From Above
Stryper

From the upcoming “Even The Devil Believes” album, which will surely get the clergy into a mess. Its classic Stryper. Here is a review from a blog that I follow which I totally agree with.

Cradle Rock
Joe Bonamassa

When Bonamassa rocks out like he does on this one, I’m all in.

And the title hooked me in straight away because it reminded me of “And The Cradle Will Rock”. There is even a small section in the lead break, that brings back memories of Van Halen.

After A Few
Another Lost Year

I feel a bit tipsy after a few and I’m ready for a party, but in this song, they take it too far and make it way too hard to move on, after a few drinks.

A great listen.

Dangerous
Seether

That bass riff to kick off the song sounds dangerous as we are told to take off the blinders that cover our eyes.

Hot Damn
White Flame

That funky groove. Hot Damn.

Dead Elysium
Vanishing Point

From Melbourne, Australia and one of the best progressive metal bands out there.

It’s been six plus years since they released the excellent “Distant Is The Sun” and in between they have had their setbacks in getting this album done, especially around vocalist Silvio Massaro and his throat infections and respiratory illnesses.

If you like bands like Evergrey, then there is no way you can’t like Vanishing Point. Guitarist Chris Porcianko is an excellent song writer, creating intricate and syncopated riffs. And the dude can shred and be emotive as well.

This is the title track of album number 6.

The haunting piano kicks it off, and then that syncopated riff comes in, which reminds me of “The Masterplan” and “A Touch Of Blessing” blended together.

And I was all in.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Survival

For those that don’t know, TesseracT is a British progressive metal band formed in 2007.

All up they have released four full-length albums, one live album and three EPs. And they are building their audience, city by city, stream by stream, show by show, release by release.

The thing about TesseracT is the labelling.

A band called Meshuggah and Sikth came out many years ago and someone labelled their form of progressive music as djent. Seriously what the hell is djent or math core or math metal.

Who comes up with this rubbish?

Nikki Sixx said on Twitter once that all labels are from record label marketing.

Anyway, TesseracT started off as a metal act, with progressive time changes and feels and vocals with ranged between aggressive and melodic.

Then by the time they got to “Altered State” in 2012, it was like a different band. The music was more textured, subdued and melancholic. The progressive time changes were still there, but so were the clean tone vocals this time around, courtesy of new vocalist Ashe O’Hara, who left and old vocalist, Dan Tompkins came back.

Which brings us to “Polaris”. It was listed as sixth in my 2015 list.

“Survival” was the first track released to streaming services. It got a lot of press on the metal sites.

And if you want an introduction into the album, then “Survival” is the song. It’s got a bendy off-time single note riff with a catchy rock chorus.

Musicians never have “overnight” success. We all know that news stories like these headlines but behind every headline like that, there are artists who have worked tirelessly for a long time and committed to many days apart from their to families so they could exist as a band.

This is what “Survival” is about.

Ten years of hope have passed, you felt alone
And pictured life a little differently

Ten years trying to build a music career and you are still in the same apartment or house from where you started. And your loved ones are there, supporting you and giving you advice and hope.

And people say that life has just begun
When you’re not a part of me I feel dead inside

It’s not your “standard touring life” or “trying to make it in music” song like “Turn The Page” or “Wanted Dead Or Alive” or “Home Sweet Home”.

It’s a bit more intellectual because post Napster, there was no record label whisking you away from your family with millions of dollars. There never was.

But people believed their was.

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The World Of Prog And Metal Will Be Changed Forever By The End Of October.

The world of Progressive Metal and Heavy Metal will be changed forever by the end of October. It wont be my mammoth sales or by charting in the top 10. That is old school. It will be years later, that the greatness of Trivium and Protest The Hero will be hailed.

We live in a blockbuster world and these two releases “Volition” from Protest The Hero and “Vengeance Falls” from Trivium are two such blockbusters.

The two songs from Protest The Hero released so far are killer. They have that WOW factor. The first one “Clarity” I have already spoken about in my 40 word review.

The second one, “DrumHead Trail” has got this Maiden gallop vibe I am hearing. The drumming on the whole album is by Chris Adler from Lamb Of God.

You can really hear that metal edge that Adler brings to the table, especially around the double kick sections of the first two songs. It is also super progressive. What an excellent job. To be honest I really thought that Dream Theater would be entering territory like this with their self-titled release on at least one song.

Protest The Hero deliver insanity like prog in 5 minutes. I really can’t wait for the fan funded version to hit my mailbox. Hearing the two songs so far from Protest The Hero, it sure looks like a huge stamp for Prog as well.

I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not mainstream and it’s never going to be embraced by everybody, however Protest The Hero have created a niche.

Plus there is still Trivium’s new one to come, which sounds like it will be a huge stamp for Metal.

From what I have heard, I have no issues out laying the money.

“No Way To Heal” is the new song doing the rounds. It follows on nicely from “Brave This Storm” and “Strife.”

“I’m running on empty / I’m chasing a dead dream / I’m all out of time / Clutching the will, only to feel / No Way to Heal!!!”

Trivium working with Dave Draiman was the best thing to have happened to them. Next in line, they should work with Kevin Churko.

Also, for any young kid that is getting into metal and progressive music for the first time, these two releases are perfect introductions. For the hardcore fans, these two releases will satisfy. For the casual metal fan, they will bite at these two new releases.

Life is long and artists need to have perserverance for that delayed gratification.

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Shifting Thoughts with Evergrey, Dream Theater and Five Finger Death Punch – Are Corporate Deals the New Music Business?

The internet is flush with information about artists needing to do what is valuable to them. However what is valuable to them doesn’t always mean that it is valuable to everyone else.

So artists are always going back to square one. This is when artists will start to compromise their artistic vision and produce cookie cutter crap. However what an artist should be doing is to keep on writing. In the end, that valuable song will be written and it will translate to your audience. This is when the thing that you love to do, translates to an audience that loves what you do.

Evergrey is a Swedish progressive metal band. They are eight albums in so far. Their first album The Dark Discovery came out in 1998 and the most recent one Glorious Collision came out in 2011. The mainstay of the band is guitarist/vocalist Tom Englund, who also functions as the main songwriter in the band. Around him, band members come and go, with the most recent change happening in 2010.

Englund is remaining true to his artistic vision. He is not compromising on it and he is not changing his vision to chase any current trends. Drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage left Evergrey in 2010 to form a metal core outfit called Death Destruction with the lead singer from another Swedish band called Dead By April. Chasing trends.

It all comes down to what the artist wants to achieve from their career. Englund is all about the art and to me it seems like he is happy with the level of success he has. Would he like to be bigger? I am sure the answer would be YES to that, however would he complain about his lot in life. I think not. Englund is doing the thing that he loves to do and he has found an audience that loves what he does.

Bands like Coheed and Cambria, Digital Summer and Protest The Hero all get it.

Digital Summer is all fan funded. They have been around since 2006. They have toured strategically since inception as all the band members hold down full time jobs. They are three albums and one EP in so far and based on their business model, they will be around for a long time.

Protest The Hero is also fan funded. Their recent Indiegogo campaign more than tripled their goal (and YES I am one of those fans that donated). They have even rewarded the super fans that have shared the contribution link and gotten other people to contribute with additional perks.

Coheed and Cambria are a very fan centric band. The way they have packaged The Afterman releases with the digital downloads available on the day of release, along with demos and back stories of each song, as well as an 80 odd page hard cover book is just brilliant. They did it their way and with a price that was just right.

Dream Theater is one band that is sitting on the fringe here. They are still doing it the old way as they know their fan base will lap up the new self-titled album. Their recent co-promotion with mainstream entity USA Today to launch their new single The Enemy Within is just another corporate deal in the same vein as Jay Z partnering with Samsung.

USA Today offer a certain amount of dollars so that they are the exclusive and first on line website to premier the new song. By doing this, Dream Theater, their label, their manager and whoever else has a stake in the band will get paid up front and USA Today will get traffic to their website which they can then use to get a higher ad revenue from their advertisers’.

Before all the DT Forum Elitists start jumping up in arms and start calling me an idiot, every band is entitled to earn money in any way they see fit. This is no different to Dire Straits and Phillips teaming up in the Eighties, to push the new CD format onto consumers. If that what Dream Theater’s business model needs them to do, good on them. In the end the fans will decide the fate of the band, as they have done for every band that came before and that will come after.

Five Finger Death Punch did something similar were they teamed/partnered with Loudwire to produce a track by track webisode series. The Five Finger Death Punch co-promotion was super cool as it focused on delivering back stories to each of the songs. As a fan, it is those little extra details that I really like. That could be the reason why Five Finger Death Punch have reached Gold status with each album release. Those little things, like a track by track webisode.

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