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How Has It Aged: Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

“Transcendence” is the seventeenth studio album by Devin Townsend and it is the seventh and final album in the Devin Townsend Project series. It was released on September 9, 2016, via HevyDevy Records.

Think about that for a second. 17 albums.

It got a lot of awesome write ups and I think Loudwire gave it the Number 1 spot on albums released in 2016. I only listened to two songs from it as they came up on playlists (in “Stormbending” and “Failure”) and never really went back to listen to the full album during that year. I don’t know why I didn’t check it out fully, as “Failure” was and still is a great head banging track.

I don’t know how to describe the album.

I grew up on the sounds of the 80’s. The only thing that resembles the 80’s here is the distortion guitars and some shredding guitar lines. Sometime in the early 2000’s, extreme metal bands started to add atmospheric synths to their sounds, and they slowed their tempos so they have groove. It has some of that.

Then there was a genre called Math Metal which morphed to Djent and its now known as progressive metal. Well it has a bit of that. Operatic themes are present as well.

In the end, Devin Townsend is pushing the bar on creativity and originality, using the various digital audio workstation tools and plug-ins to achieve uniqueness. The future will probably look back at this album and hold it in high regard like the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. Maybe he will bring about world peace like the Wyld Stallions did in Bill And Ted.

Truth

A groove metal riff (almost nu-metal like in feel) underpins the song while the synth keys give it a very Euro vibe. At the 1.30 mark it goes into this classical like section.

At 2.15 minutes, it’s like a fire ritual, with a spaced out, very heavily reverb’d “Hallelujah” chant happening over a chaotic wall of noise. It sounds ethereal, dissonant yet melodic and hypnotic. And you can’t really make out the lyrics, (which ain’t much) as they are heavily loaded with effects.

And it ends like mindfulness music.

I also didn’t know it at the time that this was an updated or reimagined version of the same song which appeared on Townsend’s solo record, “Infinity” from 1998. And suddenly the nu-metal feel makes sense.

Stormbending

Devin Townsend can play some serious guitar and the dude can sing and growl with the best of em. In other words, he is one talented mf.

This song was perfect back in 2016 and it still is now.

You need to listen to the section that kicks in 1.46. Did anyone say “guitar hero”? Well you have it with Devin Townsend. The lead break that comes after that reminds me of A Perfect Circle. Actually the whole cinematic like vibe is reminiscent of the debut APC album. Then again, we wear our influences on our sleeves.

At about 3.28, it goes into this major key like vibe. It sounds hopeful and it goes with the lyrical line of “All we’re offering is a change to be loved”. And they continue this vibe before it fades into a cacophony of noises which segue into “Failure”.

Failure

The way this song starts off. It’s so heavy yet it lifts you up.

And they continue that groove (which reminds me of Tool), adding extra guitars, synths, harmonies and what not.

All I could be is press repeat over and over again to hear it.

And while the music is perfection, Devin Townsend reminds everyone what a great rock singer he is. He’s all clean tone, using his natural baritone voice, with high falsettos and when the Chorus kicks in, it’s like a sermon, with some high deity singing to the masses.

At 2.21, a lead break starts. He’s melodic, keeping within key, then he goes all dissonant and chromatic but at 3.11 he goes modal, keeping within the key and I am hooked. Just listen to it.

If you weren’t converted to Devin Townsend by know, this song could be the key.

And at 6.82 million Spotify streams it’s virtually forgotten.

Secret Sciences

It’s got a major key strummed riff to start it off. Its pop music and yet it still sounds heavy.

And when he sings “let it go” in the Chorus, a certain Disney song comes to mind.

Higher

It reminds me of Pink Floyd and “Goodbye Blue Sky” in feel.

Then at 1.20, it goes into a quirky “Higher” chant and then a Tool like groove kicks in, but the vocals are far removed from Maynard.

At 3.25, I like the whole movement and Townsend’s “craft your life” vocal line which then segues into a progressive interlude and an extreme metal passage. Add to that some groove metal over different time changes, operatic vocals and you would think the song is done.

But it’s not.

At the 6 minute mark, it goes into this doom grind riff. It’s so heavy, it will sink ships.

And I am thinking, how did this song which started out so beautiful, descend into chaos and violence musically. That’s the best way to sum up Devin Townsend.

Stars

I have read in reviews that this is a metal ballad. To me it is a metal song. There’s nothing ballad about it. I also love the Chorus hook of “I can see you in the stars tonight, lost in love and light”

And that change at 2.15. Press play to hear it.

Transcendence

It feels like a U2 track with orchestras and a wall of guitars.

Offer Your Light

It’s metal like, with a frantic tempo and a dance like synth pattern. And I like it, especially the angelic voice of Anneke van Giersbergen.

From The Heart

An 8 minute pre-closer. It feels cinematic and grand like when the hero saves the day and the darkness gives way to light.

Transdermal Celebration

The closing track is a cover from Ween, a psychedelic rock band who released this song in 2003. It’s done in Townsend’s unique way and you wouldn’t know it was a cover.

If there is a complaint, there are times when I feel that Townsend’s vocals are buried under the walls of guitar noise and operatic sound experimentations.

Overall, the album still sounds as fresh and as crazy as it did back then. The styles and moods are so schizophrenic that it will never date or be dated to a certain movement or sound like “The Sunset Strip” or “Seattle”.

And I can’t believe I found 1000 plus words to describe it.

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The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Official Bootlegs: LIVE Series: Los Angeles, California 5/18/98

This original Ytse Jam bootleg has not been re-released as a “Lost Not Forgotten Archive” yet.

This was recorded on the “Falling Into Infinity” tour. The band was James Labrie on vocals, John Petrucci on guitars, John Myung on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums and Derek Sherinian on keyboards.

The mighty Bruce Dickinson guests on vocals for the songs “Perfect Strangers” from Deep Purple and the Iron Maiden songs “The Trooper”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “Killers”. And yes that is him on the cover as well, making it look like he was the frontman instead of James LaBrie.

Ray Alder from Fates Warning also guests on “Pull Me Under”.

This was recorded live at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles on May 18, 1998. There are no touch ups here folks, just a soundboard recording which was then mastered. So you get it all, warts and all.

Lines In The Sand

The opener, from the “Falling Into Infinity” album.

Live they pushed the 11 minute run time to about 14 minutes. On the studio recording the soulful voice of Doug Pinnick appears in the Chorus, however live, that job fell to Mike Portnoy.

Petrucci delivers his emotive solo as expected and LaBrie acknowledges it by telling the audience “that is John Petrucci on guitar” after the solo finishes.

Burning My Soul

This song is a groove metal behemoth. It’s also from the “Falling Into Infinity” album.

The only thing you could do is press play and bang your head to it because the “pressure keeps burning my soul.”

Take The Time

They have fun with this classic from the “Images And Words” album.

It moves between metal, rock, jazz fusion, funk rock and progressive rock.

Live they also chuck in a lot of cover solos in the outro like “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen and “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin and the intro of “YYZ” by Rush.

Anna Lee

From the “Falling Into Infinity” album, it’s a piano ballad that does nothing for me, so it’s a skip for me here.

Speak To Me

This one was written for the “Falling Into Infinity” double album, but when the label said they only want one album, it was left off the list. I still don’t know how “Anna Lee” made it over this one.

Press play and enjoy.

It’s Dream Theater’s take on how 1980’s U2 would sound through the DT blender. And its performed brilliantly.

A Crack On The Mirror / Puppies On Acid

It’s an instrumental, combining various ideas.

It starts off with Derek Sherinian doodling on the keys, before he starts to play a riff which gets Portnoy to join and eventually the band. They play some sections from “The Mirror”, forming their own medley from the song.

I would rather have heard the song “The Mirror”.

Just Let Me Breathe

Not my favourite song from “Falling Into Infinity” so I would have preferred to hear something else.

Sequencing in live gigs is important, and apart from “Speak To Me”, the other songs like “Anna Lee”, “A Crack In The Mirror” and “Just Let Me Breathe” lose my interest.

Lie

This is DT putting the groove metal from Pantera into their blender.

Is Progressive Groove Rock a genre?

If it is, this song stands tall.

LaBrie is a bit hard to handle here vocally, but hey, if you want the studio recording, press play on the CD. I would rather take a ticket to the show instead.

Peruvian Skies

They set a standard with this song.

Every time they play it, they play parts of the songs that inspired and influenced the song, so you will hear excerpts of “Have A Cigar” by Pink Floyd and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Not a lot of artists would mash up Pink Floyd and Metallica but Dream Theater did and it’s called “Peruvian Skies”.

Then again, not of a lot of artists would show which song influenced them, in case they get a writ.

Press play to hear how they mash it all up.

John Petrucci Guitar Solo

I don’t like guitar solos on their own like this.

I really like how Petrucci started to incorporate his solo moment into a song, by extending the normal solo section of the song, like how he did with “Hollow Years” from “Live At Budokan”.

Pull Me Under

Ray Adler from Fates Warning guests on vocals here.

This is the song that made me a fan.

From a song writing point of view, the band takes the initial intro riff and they keep tweaking it throughout. It’s a great study in how to write different iterations of the same riff and same chordal sequence.

But they don’t do the clean tone intro here, they go straight into the riff that comes about a minute into the song.

Scarred

It’s an 11 minute prog rocker, with a lot of vocal highs. And it doesn’t help LaBrie that the song is sped up a little bit, which is a curse of performing live.

Musically some of the riffs that sounded a bit buried in the studio mix are high in the mix here and I like it.

A Change of Seasons IV: The Darkest Of Winters

A small 3 minute diversion into the mammoth “A Change Of Seasons”.

Ytse Jam

Ahh yes the instrumental that defined Majesty, the name of the band before Dream Theater.

Mike Portnoy Drum Solo

Like the John Petrucci guitar solo moment, I’m not a fan of individual drum solo’s as well. I would rather hear a song with some kick ass fills in between bars than to hear just the drums on their own.

Once the drum solo is done they go back into “Ytse Jam” for about 10 seconds before they start “New Millenium”.

New Millenium

It’s actually the opening track on the album, however it is played as the last song of the set before the encores begin.

Press play and enjoy it.

The first encore begins with Bruce Dickinson lending a hand on “Perfect Strangers”, “The Trooper”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “Killers’.

Perfect Strangers (Deep Purple cover)

How cool it would have been to get Bruce Dickinson up on stage.

You need to remember this is Bruce Dickinson in 1998. His return to Maiden and the “Brave New World” era wasn’t yet done.

It took a verse for the mixer dude to put up his microphone.

The Trooper (Iron Maiden cover)

How iconic is “you take my life and I’ll take yours too”.

Where Eagles Dare (Iron Maiden cover)

They started it and then they stopped after a few verses, as Bruce said, “fucked if I know, it’s been years since I’ve sung it”.

Killers (Iron Maiden cover)

And they go straight into this classic. I never saw it as a progressive track, but hearing it today, it’s definitely got a progressive attitude.

They did a couple of verses before they stopped it as well. And Bruce walked off with a laugh.

It’s a fun little encore section, almost jam like in its nature.

The second Encore begins they don’t play the full songs, just a medley.

Metropolis

From “Images And Words”, the song is a classic. But they don’t play the full song. So I’m not a massive fan of this medley.

Learning To Live

My favourite track from “Images And Words” but they only play sections.

Why write long songs of your just going to cherry pick certain sections of them to do a medley.

A Change Of Seasons VII: The Crimson Sunset

A fitting finale.

To get a re-release, they would need to get Bruce Dickinson’s approval to do so or they remove the songs that he sang and tried to sing.

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Official Bootleg: DEMO Series: The Majesty Demos 1985-86

The above is the cover from the 2003 release. The only place to buy these official bootleg albums was via the Ytse Jam website or at Dream Theater live shows.

While Official Bootlegs are all the rage these last few years with acts like Kiss, Aerosmith and Cheap Trick jumping on, Dream Theater were one of the first few to do an Official Bootleg series. Mike Portnoy was the brains behind this and was inspired by the work his favourite band Marillion did for the fans via the fan club (which Portnoy was also a member of).

But Portnoy had to get John Petrucci’s approval to proceed and once he got it, Ytse Jam Records was formed.

In 2003, three Bootlegs dropped and they kept on dropping while Portnoy was in the band.

But.

Once Portnoy was out, Ytse Jam records ceased to exist.

However the Petrucci led version of the band signed an agreement a few years ago with current record label InsideOut Music.

The purpose of the “Lost Not Forgotten Archives” is to re-release and reissue the entire Ytsejam Records catalogue and the fan club CDs, alongside some new unreleased material. All of the new re-releases will be sold on CD and vinyl, as well as being made available for digital streaming with all new artwork.

Like the terrible one below they did for “The Majesty Demos” re-release”.

“The Majesty Demos 1985-86” covers the initial formation period of Dream Theater, with the songs recorded on a 4 track tape recorder. It was released in 2003 by Ytse Jam records and re-released in 2022 via the Lost Not Forgotten Archives.

In September of 1985, John Petrucci and John Myung met up with Mike Portnoy at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston.

Within the first month of school, the two John’s saw Mike jamming in the practice room and introduced themselves. Besides having a common home base, they had similar tastes in music. They liked progressive, complex music like Rush, Yes, The Dixie Dregs, Frank Zappa and also loved heavy music like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Metallica and Queensryche.

It was just three college kids jamming and having fun. And it is captured on these recordings.

As Portnoy wrote in the CD booklet;

“the music on this very 1st Edition is the very first music we ever created together.

It is very raw (and sometimes even very embarrassing). The audio quality is usually fair at best. We had very limited recording resources available to us at the time.

In fact, we had only one resource at all; my trusty old Tascam 244 analog 4 track recorder that I received as a high school graduation present from my grandmother”.

None of these songs have even appeared on a proper studio album.

The CD booklet explains the tracks a little bit more. 

Particle E. Motion

At 1.38, a small instrumental that shows Petrucci playing arpeggios over a Myung bass groove.

The title alludes to the key of the song. The CD booklet mentions how it is the first thing they ever recorded on Portnoy’s 4 track, to break it in and figure out how to use the damn thing.

Another Won

This is the instrumental version of the song, with Portnoy, Petrucci and Myung, as Kevin Moore was not in the band at this point in time.

“This is where it all began” states the CD booklet. The first song the power trio wrote together.

Musically, it you like the first Queensryche album, early Maiden and Fates Warning, then you will like this song. The bass of Myung is boss here, with a dominant Steve Harris like sound.

Press play at 3.29 to hear the riff and how Petrucci builds it into a solo.

At 5 minutes in length, it’s a standard heavy metal cut, heavily influenced by Queensryche.

The Saurus

An 80 second instrumental which has Petrucci playing this jazz like chords. It’s almost lounge rock when the lead kicks in. It’s very Al DiMeola like.

Cry for Freedom

This song has not had an official release on any studio album. Musically this is Petrucci, Myung and Portnoy (let’s call em “PMP”) living in their Queensryche meets Rush world. And I like it. It’s very accessible.

It’s also the second song the Berklee boys wrote. The CD booklet mentions how much of a lead instrument the bass was when it was just the three of them.

The School Song

Song number three for the Berklee boys. A song that got left behind, and it has never been played live.

A major key riff kicks off the song, something which Petrucci likes to do a lot and its similar to some of the riffs he has written on studio songs like “Our New World” from “The Astonishing” album and “The Bigger Picture” from their self-titled album.

At 2.31, it has this minor key section which screams Iron Maiden. The CD booklet states the same.

The last few chords to end the song is how “Ytse Jam” starts.

YYZ

A Rush cover. It’s how all acts start out. Playing the songs from our heroes.

Portnoy even plays the keys on this.

It’s perfect and it shows how precise they are.

The CD booklet does state how they would jam, “La Villa Strangiatio”, “The Spirit Of Radio” and this one.

The Farandole

A Talas cover which is classical in nature. Who would have thought that almost 30 years later, Portnoy would be in a power trio combo with Billy Sheehan.

The CD booklet mentions that Talas was Portnoy’s and Myung’s favourite band during this period especially their “Live Speed On Ice” album.

I love reading stuff like this.

Two Far

Original song number 4. 

This is the instrumental version.

Musically its Dream Theater’s version of RushMaidenRyche.

Anti-Procrastination Song

A S.O.D. cover at 13 seconds long. Pointless, but hey, what else can you are young and have a 4 track recorder.

Your Majesty

They are still living in their Queensryche meets Rush world with a bit of Malmsteen chucked in. This is the instrumental version of the song.

It’s more of a straight forward type of song, maybe even commercial sounding.

This track was resurrected and played live in Paris in 2002 as a tribute to all of the French Fan Club members which goes by the Majesty name. A perfect way to honour their dedication to the band.

Tracks 11 to 17 are all little snippets no longer than 20 seconds as they play around with multi-tracking on the 4 track recorder.

The tracks in question are “Solar System Race Song”, “I’m About to Faint Song”, “Mosquitos in Harmony Song”, “John Thinks He’s Randy Song”, “Mike Thinks He’s Dee Dee Ramone Introducing a Song Song”, “John Thinks He’s Yngwie Song” and “Gnos Sdrawkcab”.

Each song starts off with Portnoy yelling the title and then you hear 4 tracks of Petrucci harmonizing. Portnoy makes mention in the CD booklet, “it’s amazing how incredibly tight John can double track his guitar leads and still is a master of that today”.

Now we get to the good bit. 

The rare “Majesty” demo with Chris Collins on vocals. He might have yelled, “Scream For Me Long Beach” while they played live and his stage presence and delivery might have been strained, but he does a pretty good job here to give the songs a unique Tate/Midnight vocal vibe.

The CD booklet mentions how the DT guys had a tape of Chris singing “Queen Of The Ryche” and they were in AWE of how perfectly he could hit those Tate notes (which Portnoy further elaborated, “unfortunately, it turned out that was about all he could do”.)

A friend from Berklee called James Hull also had a Tascam 246 and when they put the two four tracks together, they had a whopping 8 tracks to do a real demo.

They also wrote 3 new songs, the heavy and progressive “March of The Tyrant” and 2 more ballade-esque songs in Vital Star and the 11 minute epic power ballad “A Vision” which Portnoy mentions, has some really beautiful moments, not to mention an AMAZING guitar solo.

Portnoy, Petrucci and Myung recorded their tracks at Berklee. When school finished in May, they joined up with Kevin Moore and Chris Collins back on Long Island and added them to the tracks. Portnoy’s grandmother again came to the rescue and funded the band money to press 1000 cassettes.

And Portnoy mailed em and gave em to people who mattered.

Another Won

The delivery and recording of this is way superior to the instrumental version. The addition of the keys makes each section different.

But my favourite section (like the instrumental) starts around 3.37, when Petrucci starts the riff and then leads into the solo. The solo is even better than what he put down on the instrumental. His fast alternate picked lines are perfect this time around. 

Your Majesty

Myung’s bass sets the groove for everyone to follow. The addition of vocals is welcomed and Collins does a fantastic job.

The Chorus is very arena rock like and some of the vocal highs are ball squeezing.

The outro solo is perfect from Petrucci. Simple, melodic and a perfect way to end the song.

A Vision

My favourite track. A 11 minute metal tour de force. I would have loved to hear this with a proper studio release.

An Em(add9) arpeggio chord starts it all off. It builds until the whole band crashes in and Collins is doing all ohhs and woohs. Collins moves between a Dickinson meets Tate vibe here vocally. He sounds fresh.

The Petrucci solo which starts around the 6.30 mark is essential listening. The way he builds it with all the different techniques he employs is a wow moment. At the 8 minute mark it gets a bit more frantic and Petrucci is wailing, while the band is building with him.

The solo finally ends at 8.49 and I wasn’t bored not a second while it played.

But he wasn’t done. He produces another guitar hero solo to end the song. The chops at the age of 19/20 goes to show how competitive the 80’s era was for guitarists.

Two Far

A Neal Peart inspired drum groove starts off the song, and then it goes into a Malmsteen like riff.

The verses are very busy musically so it is difficult to put a vocal melody over it and while the guys tried, they didn’t really pull it off.

However the Chorus is catchy.

The solo section and the unison lines between the guitars and keys is a sign of things to come.

Vital Star

My next favourite. 

Collins does a good job in bringing this song to life vocally with his Tate like influences.

Musically, it is living in that Queensryche debut album sound except for the solo section which shows some of the progressiveness to come. And the outro solo from Petrucci is another great listen.

March of the Tyrant

The song is a mix of so many styles from the early 80’s. It has that exotic sounding Middle Eastern riff.

It definitely has that Rush element and how Alex Lifeson plays a power chord with the ringing E and B strings (DT does it more aggressively and distorted here), plus a lot more. There are musical elements of early Fates Warning, Megadeth, Metallica, Yngwie Malmsteen, Marillion, Yes and Iron Maiden. 

The solo section is very Holdsworth/Morse like over an Iron Maiden like rhythm section. And I like it.

I’ll end the post with how Portnoy ended his opening in the CD booklet; “I hope you can look past the occasional audio distraction and enjoy a glimpse of where we were at, what we were doing and where we were going.”

Back in 2003, this snapshot back in time was perfect. And I wanted more. Which I got. But that is for another post.

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The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Train Of Thought

Each Dream Theater album had touched on the sounds that I would class as Thrash Metal and Heavy Metal. But on “Train Of Thought” they decided to live in this metal/thrash world. And I liked it.

It begins with an album cover that has Black as its main colour screaming Metal. Then again, Pink Floyd did have a black cover for an album that sold multi millions and it had nothing to do with metal, more like dreamy acid rock.

“Train of Thought” was released on November 11, 2003 through Elektra Records before its parent company Warner Music Group decided to merge Elektra Records with Atlantic Records to become Atlantic Records Group in 2004, only to give the Elektra name a new lease of life in 2009 as an independent entity up until 2018, when WMG relaunched Elektra Music as a stand-alone, staffed music company, with labels like Roadrunner Records, Low Country Sound, Fuelled By Ramen and Black Cement under it.

As I Am

This song is a balls to the wall metal classic.

It starts off with the Black Sabbath riff to kick it off. Yes, it is that Black Sabbath riff.

Then it goes into an “Enter Sandman” like groove for the verses. It gets the foot tapping, and the head banging.

Dream Theater toured with Queensryche in 2003. At this point in time, Queensryche’s commercial zenith was in the past and Dream Theater’s star was still rising. Mike Stone was the guitarist in Queensryche, carrying out the Chris DeGarmo role. And Stone decided he should give John Petrucci tips on playing guitar.

Every time you hear the lyric line “Don’t tell me what’s in, tell me how to write”, just think of Mike Stone giving Petrucci tips.

I like the lead break. It is old school and it burns. There is no rhythm guitar track, just bass, keys and drums. Exactly what EVH did when he soloed on a lot of VH tracks.

Vocally, LaBrie is at his metal best. His voice might strain in the live arena, but in the studio, LaBrie is a master.

This Dying Soul

The feedback from “As I Am” segues into the fast groove metal of “This Dying Soul”.

Here, Mike Portnoy continues his “Twelve-Step Suite”, which started with “The Glass Prison” on “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”.

For those who don’t know, “The Glass Prison” has the following sections; “I. Reflection”, “II. Restoration” and “III. Revelation”. “This Dying Soul” has the following sections; “IV. Reflections of Reality (Revisited)” and “V: Release”. All of the sections are steps in the Alcohol Anonymous Recovery program.

After the thrash-a-thon in the intro, the song gives way to a Tool like groove and vocal melody in the verses. And I like it.

There is this “Blackened is the end” vocal melody in “V:Release”. Once you hear it, you will recognise it. I can’t say I am a huge fan of the loud speaker rap like verses, but I do give full marks for incorporating new elements into their music.

And since these songs are part of the same universe they do share some of the lyrics and melodies.

Endless Sacrifice

The acoustic intro.

It can remind you of Pink Floyd or Pantera depending on your listening history. They touched on these kind of melancholic riffs in “Peruvian Skies” from “Falling Into Infinity”.

But, it is the Chorus that brings the energy.

Then at 4.56, all hell breaks loose as they make their way into the solo section of the song. It’s got this “Creeping Death” meets “Disposable Heroes” palm-muted patterns.

For 8 seconds between 6.28 to 6.36 it sounds like it came from a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon.

Check out the harmony section from 8.58 which gets em out of the solo section and into the final part of the song.

Honor Thy Father

My favourite song for the riffs and melodies. It’s a metal tour-de-force.

The subject matter about Mike Portnoy’s stepfather didn’t resonate with me, but man, the riffs and melodies are fantastic.

After the heavy intro, press play to hear the first verse. And how good is the arena rock Chorus.

When the second verse rolls again, the original riff is played with distortion and man, it works so well. But at 3.51. instead of going into the Chorus again, they go into a verse with the riff tweaked a little bit more to make it sound different and unique.

And like all the songs on the album, from the 5 minute mark they go into a lengthy solo section.

Vacant

It’s the shortest song on the album, at 3 minutes long. It’s a haunting piano riff (which sounds like the bass riff to start of “Stream Of Consciousness”), with a little bit of an orchestra and LaBrie’s vocals.

The lyrics to “Vacant” were inspired by James LaBrie’s daughter, who fell into a short coma after suffering a sudden, unexplained seizure three days before her seventh birthday.

Stream of Consciousness

The DT instrumentals always have memorable sections via a lead or a riff. This song is no different especially the first two minutes. Essential listening.

The title had been around for a while in the DT world. 

Of course, the solo from Petrucci is Guitar Hero stuff. Yes, there is flash and some fast picking, but it’s so melodic as well. If you like the playing of people like Steve Morse, Al DiMeola, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert and Joe Satriani, then you will like what Petrucci does here. 

And at 7.30 that fantastic intro music comes back in, more ferocious with a few little tweaks.

The whole  is the longest instrumental on a Dream Theater studio album to date and was the intended title for Falling Into Infinity.

And one of the YouTube comments on the song still cracks me, “LaBrie never sounded better”.

In the Name of God

The closer at 14.15 about religion and how it indoctrinates people to kill in its name.

The acoustic intro sets the tone, before the distortion crashes in. It’s a slow groove by Portnoy before they pick it up and play it double time.

The verse riff is head banging and it reminds me of “As I Am”. Petrucci drops out and lets Myung roll with it on the bass, while Petrucci switches to decorating.

LaBrie is a monster on the vocals here. Listen to him between 4.46 and 5.30. Throat ripping stuff.

As is the theme of the album, they then go into a long solo section in the middle of the song.  

Press play to hear Petrucci wail between from the 8.40 mark.

The album did exactly what it needed to do. It put them on tour again, it got them into large metal festivals, something which they couldn’t do before and it renewed their fan base with metal heads. 

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music, My Stories

2022 – The 9 to 12

Okay let’s get going with the 2022 review.

Audrey Horne

From Norway.

Another side project from extreme metallers to pay homage to their classic rock and metal influences which has become their main project. Think of bands like Kiss, Deep Purple, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Helloween, Judas Priest, Van Halen, Tool, Metallica, Cheap Trick.

“Devils Bell” follows the excellent “Blackout” album from 2018, which featured “This Is War” and “Audrevolution”, two of my favourites from the.

As soon as you press play to “Ashes to Ashes”, the harmony guitars assault your ear buds. It’s almost doom like and after 46 seconds, the song morphs into something different, but it’s at the 1.40 mark when the guitar hero riff kicks in.

“Animal” has a riff straight from the rule book of the NWOBHM. “Breakout” has a killer riff that is from the 80’s, very Jake E. Lee (Ozzy period) and George Lynch (Dokken period) like and it morphs into a Jimmy Page riff, something like he played on “Whisper A Prayer For The Dying” on Coverdale/Page.

“Return To Grave Valley” (an instrumental) has a Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden influence, which they also used on the excellent “This Is War” from the previous album.

“Danse Macabre” (translates to Dance With Death) has nothing to do with Ghost except that both songs have great riffs and catchy vocal melodies.

“Devils Bell” continues the Iron Maiden/Helloween influences. Make sure you stick around for the interlude/harmony solo section. “All Is Lost” has another killer guitar intro and stick around for the killer middle section which features vocal ohhs and harmony guitars.

“Toxic Twins” has some excellent guitar work. The names Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and Thomas Tofthagen don’t have the same recognition as other guitarist, but these dudes can play and wail with the best of em. Underneath it all are the mammoth sized bass lines from Espen Lien and the thunderous Bonham meets McBrian drums of Kjetil Grev.

Another key ingredient to Audrey Horne are the early Ozzy like vocals from Torkjell “Toschie” Rod. Its unique enough to be his own and it has enough elements to pay homage to Ozzy.

“From Darkness” channels Uli Jon Roth from his Scorpions days. Think “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man”. And that solo section again, brings back memories of their love for Iron Maiden.

Compared to the streaming numbers of other bands, Audrey Horne is way below those numbers with most of the songs under 100K in streams.

Alter Bridge

From the U.S.

I wasn’t sure I was going to spend time to listen to “Pawns And Kings”. I feel like Myles’s voice is everywhere these days with so many projects happening that I enjoy, like his work with Slash, his Alter Bridge work plus his solo career. But as a guitarist, I am always super keen to hear what Mark Tremonti is up to.

I try to not listen to the pre-release singles but on this case I did spend time with a few. How can you deny a track with the title “This Is War” or “Pawns And Kings”. In the words of Yoda, “impressed, I was”.

After a long three month lead in, the album finally dropped in October, 2022. Compared to the streaming numbers of say, Three Days Grace new album, this one feels like it’s forgotten, however Three Days Grace does have a four month heads start.

The very metal like “This Is War” gives way to the heavy rock riffage of “Dead Among The Living”, which could have come from the recent Tremonti album. “Metalilngus” from their debut album is one of their most streamed songs at 101 million streams on Spotify, so it’s no surprise they try and keep the metal going with “Silver Tongue” which is also their most streamed song from the new album at 3.1 million streams on Spotify.

The intro riff on “Sin After Sin”. Wow. Press play and enjoy the almost 7 minute long song that moves between heavy metal, groove metal and heavy rock. At 1.4 million Spotify streams, it’s one of the Top 5 songs from the album when it comes to streams.

The sequencing on the album is excellent, as it transitions to a major key pop rock song in “Stay”. It’s much welcomed after the groove metal behemoth “Sin After Sin” before it. And at 756,559 streams its more or less forgotten, but it shouldn’t be.

“Fable Of The Silent Son” is an 8 minute epic that kept me interested throughout. Because while it starts off all dreamy like at 2.50 an almost djent like riff kicks in and they make it sound accessible. At the 5 minute mark this Tool like section kicks in before it goes into a Randy Rhoads style like solo section. This is the Alter Bridge I like, when they go back to the 70’s Rock albums and experiment.

And the sequencing again is spot on, as they hit us with a major key song in “Season Of Promise”. Stick around for the section between 2.30 and 3.30, because when Myles is singing like that, how can you not like it.

“Last Man Standing” is the least streamed track on the album at 490K Spotify streams. But I am hooked from the digital delay riff in the intro and that riff that kicks in at the 57 second mark.

The title track. Wow. Especially the “One” like section from about the 2.50 mark. 6 minutes and 18 seconds later I needed to hear it again. When the solo kicks in, the riff under it is very Middle Eastern sounding, so Tremonti is operating in the Phrygian Dominant scale. If you are a Muse fan, then you will enjoy the outro.

Bush

From the U.K.

How good was “The Kingdom” (2020)? 

Well Gavin Rossdale must have thought the same, because he is continuing to live in the music and style of said album with a few little tweaks here and there. As a side note, the song “Undone” from “The Kingdom” only has about 500K Spotify Streams, but wow, what a song that is. 

I feel like I am drowning with “Heavy Is The Ocean”, its downtuned and depressive riffage sinking me.

“Slow Me” immediately hooks me, as it starts off with the vocal melody. “More Than Machines” is the most streamed song at 2.29 Spotify Streams. How good is the vocal melody during the Chorus?

“May Your Love Be Pure” and “Shark Bite” bring the groove rock, while “Human Sand” brings back the retro 70’s feel of Classic Fuzz Rock in the intro. “Kiss Me I’m Dead” also has an intro riff which reminds of 80’s metal. “Identity” has a head banging industrial metal riff ala Rammstein.

“Creatures Of The Fire” is as good as anything on the charts and at 127,815 Spotify streams, the song is forgotten. It reminds me of the excellent “Undone” from “The Kingdom” album.

The closer “1000 Years” is also a favourite, with its synth like guitar riff and Rossdale’s sad vocal delivery.

Shinedown

From the U.S.

It’s not their best work but probably their most angriest. A lot of living has happened between “Attention Attention” (2018) and “Planet Zero”. It’s no surprise that George Floyd, the Insurrection and Covid lockdowns get some attention on this album.

After a brief 22 second intro from “2184”, a punk metal burner called “No Sleep Tonight” kicks in. “Planet Zero” was one of the lead singles and its sitting at 16.2 million Spotify streams, but it’s not the best song by a long shot.

“Dysfunctional You” could have come from “The Sound Of Madness” while “Dead Don’t Die” would keep the fans from “Threat To Survival” happy. 

“America Burning” is patchy. 

But “A Symptom Of Being Human” is by far the best track on the album. An acoustic song, which could have been written during the Smith And Myers sessions, it arrives on this album, exactly when you need it.

“Hope” is a four letter word, is the hook for the song. It’s classic Shinedown doing rock ballads with balls.

“Clueless and Dramatic” is “The Sound Of Madness” part 2 and I like it. “Sure Is Fun” is anything but, while “Daylight” is showing to be a sleeper hit with 7.3 million Spotify streams and counting. It lives in the Shinedown meets The Script meets Imagine Dragons world. 

“The Saints Of Violence And Innuendo” is a cross between Brit Pop and Aerosmith while “Army Of The Underappreciated” is a miss. “What You Wanted” could have come from Smith and Myers.

As a fan, the last two albums have been hit and miss. Three to five killer tracks and the rest loaded with filler.

Just missed out

Reckless Love

From Finland.

The album “Turborider” was moved out of 12th place because somewhere in my subconscious I couldn’t have an EOY list and not have Shinedown on it, especially when they have a new album out.

But check out songs like “Turborider”, “Outrun”, their cover of “Bark At The Moon”, “Like A Cobra”, “For The Love Of Good Times” and “89 Sparkle” sounds like a modern disco dance cut with a dash of hard rock. “Future Lover Boy” is another dance rock tune, with synths and a metronomic drum beat.

“Prodigal Sons” is the heaviest track, reminding me of early The Rasmus. And my favourite.

It’s nothing earth shattering, not really original, the lyrics are dumb, but Reckless Love do their homage to the 80’s really well. And I like it. On some occasions it almost comes across as parody. But never boring and a 35 minute blast from start to finish. And there is still plenty of shred on hand for the guitar purists.

So why didn’t it make my Top 12. 

It’s the electronic dance beats and synths. These add ons on each track made the songs sound too computerized and in some stages the auto-tuned vocals robotic. But I think that was the style they were going for.

Let your ears do the decision making for you. 

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

The Record Vault – Dream Theater – Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence

Dream Theater was redeemed. Their previous album “Scenes From A Memory” renewed their fan base while also satisfying the existing fan base.

I was interested at what was next.

A double album. This is something the band tried to do with “Images And Words” and “Falling Into Infinity” however the label both times said “no”. But this time around, they said yes.

With the same personnel of James LaBrie, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung and Mike Portnoy locked in, the band released “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” on January 29. 2002. The first disc is made up of 5 songs that total 54 minutes and 18 seconds. The second disc is one song, which clocks in at 42 minutes, however that one song has 8 sections in it, which are sequenced as individual songs.

On the Wikipedia page for the album, it tells me that the influences for the album’s writing and recording, according to the authors, include Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (and also a Radiohead bootleg Portnoy brought in), Pantera’s “Far Beyond Driven” and the song “Mouth for War”, Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace”, U2’s “Achtung Baby”, Tool’s “Ænima”, Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral”, Soundgarden’s “Superunknown”, Alice in Chains’ “Dirt”, Kevin Gilbert’s “Thud”, King’s X’s “Faith Hope Love” and Galactic Cowboys’ “Space in Your Face”, Béla Bartók, Rage Against the Machine’s “The Battle of Los Angeles”, and Maria Tipo’s “Chopin Nocturnes”.

As a fan of the influences mentioned, I can definitely hear their sounds and textures.

The Glass Prison

The opening track.

It’s 14 minutes long, consisting of three parts called “I. Reflection”, “II. Restoration” and “III. Revelation”. The lyrics are written by Mike Portnoy and it’s the beginning of his “Twelve-Step Suite”. This song covers the first three steps of the AA program. The other steps would appear on subsequent albums.

The static phonograph noise that ends “Finally Free” on “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” (1999) begins this song. Then the arpeggiated bass riff starts the song. Press play to hear it. It’s essential listening, especially when the band starts to crash in and build it up.

At 5.487 million Spotify streams, the track is forgotten. But there are so many good bits in the song, like the thrash metal riff in the Verses which reminds me of “Disposable Heroes” by Metallica, or the Groove Metal riff at 5.55 which reminds me of Pantera or the riff at 11.10 which reminds me of King Crimson.

Blind Faith

Lyrics are written by James LaBrie. For a vocalist, he doesn’t get a chance to write the words he sings for the band. John Petrucci does most of em these days. Previously he shared this duty with Kevin Moore and then Mike Portnoy.

1.802 million streams on Spotify. Another forgotten track, however its dreamy Pink Floydish meets Marillion vibe gets me interested. The verses are a cross between Pink Floyd, U2 and Marillion.

Pink Floyd is a band that people either get or don’t get, hence why they come up in a lot of overrated lists.

For a song that’s almost 11 minutes long, the riff at 5.45 is to be heard.

Misunderstood

Lyrics are written by John Petrucci.

It percolates slowly until it explodes. Just over 9 minutes long, check out the acoustic guitar intro, which again reminds me of Pink Floyd and you need to stick around for the Chorus distorted riff at 4.08.

As part of the solo, Petrucci played the guitar solo, and then reversed it with the DAW software. He then learned how to play this reversed version, and recorded it that way. The listener gets a very unsettling effect.

The Great Debate

Tool immediately comes to mind. Lyrics are by Petrucci and at almost 14 minutes long, the song has a lot of great movements.

A bass guitar riff starts the song off, with Portnoy building it up to a crescendo while voices from various news reports talk about stem cell research while the keys/guitars decorate.

Then it cranks into the Tool riff and for about 5 minutes it follows a Verse/Pre/Chorus structure. Make sure you stick around for the riffs when Labrie is singing “Are you justified” and “Life to save life”. It’s basically Tool without Maynard, then again, Fates Warning released a Tool meets Porcupine Tree sounding album in 2000 with “Disconnect”. Jim Matheos showcased then that he can groove and decorate with the best of em.

Disappear

It’s rare that LaBrie gets two song writing credits. But here it is. The original title was “Move On”. The piano riff in the Intro hooks me, but man, that section from 4.37, it’s so heavy with depression and sadness, which I suppose goes with the “death” theme lyrics.

Disc two is the entire song “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”. Thank god Portnoy decided to sequence the CD so you can skip to the desired part.

The song explores the stories of six individuals suffering from various mental illnesses. Particularly represented are bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, post-partum depression, autism, and dissociative identity disorder. The “Unbreakable” trilogy from M. Night Shyamalan comes to mind here.

Overture

It all starts here, the Jorden Rudess composed instrumental, clocking in at 6.50.

While listening to these orchestral piece I find it boring, however when the band heard it, they took various melodies and ideas contained within this version and expanded them into segments of the complete piece. So what you hear here end up in the songs to come. But I still don’t like it.

For “Overtures”, I will take “The Titanic Overture” any day.

About to Crash

Lyrics written by Petrucci. This section clocks in at 5:50 and it’s very Genesis like.

“War Inside My Head” and “The Test That Stumped Them All “

They go together as the heavy/thrash metal pieces of the song with lyrics written by Portnoy.

Together the songs clock in at 7:11 in length. It has to be a special Portnoy nugget to have these two songs come in at 7/11. Press play to hear the Main Riff of “The Test That Stumped Them All”.

Goodnight Kiss

It’s a skip for me.

Solitary Shell

How good is the major key strummed intro from Petrucci who also wrote the lyrics.

About to Crash (Reprise)

The intro riff is a favourite. The first words I said were “fuck yeah”.

Lyrics are written by Petrucci and the song also has this Celtic section at 2.20 that I like along with the piano riff after it.

Losing Time/Grand Finale

A forgettable ending.

It’s never forgotten to me how Dream Theater carved out a career in a musical hostile label and promoters environment between 1992 and 2003.

When they broke big with “Images And Words”, Seattle was the scene. 10 years later, “Nu-Metal” and its various offspring’s like “Post Grunge” and “Alternative Rock” were a thing and acts like Creed, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Offspring, Disturbed and Nickelback were getting platinum albums thrown at em from every corner of the world. And yet they never abandoned their style. While they would incorporate some of the mainstream sounds into their music, they still kept their Dream Theater identity.

And this album was the springboard for bigger and more metallic things to come.

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Music, My Stories

The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Live Scenes From New York

Released in 2001.

They play the whole concept album in its entirety (with some improvisation) and cast extras join the band to do the voiceovers of the characters.

They are very precise in their playing, but they also leave room for jamming and improvisation, which is something a lot of acts don’t do. Go watch a Metallica or Iron Maiden concert and you don’t get a lot of improvisation during the songs. The songs are more or less played the same way they are recorded. But if you watch Dream Theater, you will get a lot of jamming.

Some of Petrucci’s best solo moments are from live recordings. Like the solo on “Hollow Years” from the “Live In Budokan” release. He takes the normal solo with a bit of improvisation and then they extend it, to go into a hard rock “guitar hero” solo for about two minutes as part of the song. If you like guitar playing at its finest, then you will need to check this moment out.

On this album, his improvised solo on “Through Her Eyes” is exceptional.

James LaBrie cops a lot of hate for his vocals.

One thing about live performances and when I say live, I mean live, (not a live album sold as a live album with the instruments and vocals recut in a studio) is that it is really difficult to be consistent vocally.

A vocalist will always be pitchy live due to the volumes and how the noise of the other instruments and the crowd bleed into the ear pieces, making it hard to hear if they are hitting the right pitch all the time.

There are a few “what the” moments here.

One that comes it mind is when Mike Portnoy screams out “who wants to cum” at the climax of some love making samples which segues into the solo section of “Home”.

“The Dance Of Eternity” is seen as the definitive Dream Theater instrumental. It has all the trademarks of what makes Dream Theater unique and that whole “swinging 20’s show tunes” section from 2.30 minutes shows growth and diversity. Hearing it back today, it amazes me how effortlessly they just fused different eras and genres.

A highlight for me is the ballad “The Spirit Carries On”. The solo on the recording was a “Guitar Hero” moment and Petrucci delivers a masterclass here.

“Finally Free” is more or less a forgotten track when it comes to Dream Theater lore, but musically it is one of their best. Most of it is in 4/4 timing and very easy to digest. Plus it has an ending where Portnoy unleashes some unique and technical fills in the studio recording. Hearing him do that live and also improvising a little bit, without missing the beat is what live music is all about. And at 9.30, they go into a familiar section that wasn’t part of the studio recording, but is part of the live show at this point in time. Again, this is what live music is all about.

After the “Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory” album is played, they begin the other songs.

And is starts with “Metropolis – Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper”. The audience knows it and they cheer it. The guitars from Petrucci sound so much more heavier than the studio recording of a decade before. Rudess was not even part of the band then, but the keyboard parts sound like they are his. The Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir” first verse is still my favourite part of the song.

They go into “The Mirror” and I am a fan of how Petrucci employs the 7 string here, more Tool like in its rhythms. “Just Let Me Breathe” is my least favourite from the “Falling Into Infinity” album so I don’t really care for it here. “Acid Rain” from The Liquid Tension Experiment appears. This is from the side project that Portnoy put together after the “Falling Into Infinity” album, which involved, Petrucci, Rudess and Tony Levin on bass. From this side project, Rudess ended up joining Dream Theater.

While Petrucci and Portnoy did “LTE”, bassist John Myung did Platypus with ex Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and guitarist Ty Tabor of King’s X (who also sang lead vocals) and drummer Rod Morgenstein of Dixie Dregs/Winger fame.

Singer James Labrie also did Mullmuzzler. The record company would not allow LaBrie to use his own name, so he created the name of MullMuzzler and defined it as: “to gag or silence an individual’s thought before it can be expressed in any manner”. Joining Labrie in this project was future Dream Theater drummer Mike Mangini, guitarist Mike Keneally who did time with Frank Zappa, Dweezil Zappa and Steve Vai. Bryan Beller was on bass and his background includes Dweezil Zappa. Matt Guillory played the keys and wrote a lot of the songs with Labrie.

“Caught In A New Millennium”, “Another Day” and a 6 minute Jordan Rudess keyboard solo (which the show didn’t really need) closes out disc 2. “Another Day” is such a good song and it should have been a massive hit. They probably should have shopped the song around to other artists to redo. For the live version, they even bring out a saxophone player.

Disc 3 is like the encore of the show.

It begins with “Erotomania”, “Voices” and “The Silent Man”. This trilogy of songs is known as the “A Mind Beside Itself” a three-part song cycle first released on their 1994 album “Awake”. When the separate songs are combined, the Trilogy clocks in at 22 minutes.

“Erotomania” is an instrumental. There is a section in the song which was originally written for “Pull Me Under” but removed before recording took place. So it got added to this instrumental. It’s a guitar hero moment with a lot of string skipping and fast alternate picking. Petrucci has no issue doing this live. Another masterclass.

The lead break in “Voices” is so bluesy in origin and of course Petrucci spices it up with some fast alternate picked runs between soulful bends.

“The Silent Man” starts off a bit different and I like it. If you want to hear Dream Theater Unplugged then press play on this. The solo section is extended and the whole band is in. It moves between ragtime and country leads.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is why I go to the live show.

“Learning To Live” which clocks in at 14 minutes is next. It’s my favourite track from the “Images And Words” album. The song originally is about 11 minutes long, so they improvise for an additional 3 minutes. There is a reggae like section in the solo section that is added. And the outro is extended. You should actually press play on this outro. Myung lays down the groove on the bass and the rest of the band builds on that, decorating it to a crescendo.

Their encore so far, is at 36 minutes.

They close the show with “A Change Of Seasons”, which at that point in time was their longest song at 24 minutes. Bringing the total encore to 60 minutes. A lot of metal and rock bands just do a 90 minute show (80 minutes and a 10 minute encore), or a 120 minute show (100 minutes and a 20 minute encore). Dream Theater delivered a 180 minute show.

In a case of Nostradamus clairvoyance, the original album cover had the Dream Theater logo over a burning New York skyline with the World Trade Towers on fire. It was all printed and packaged for its release date of September 11, 2001.

You can guess how that went down.

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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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The Record Vault: Dream Theater – Once In A Livetime

“Once in a LIVEtime” was released in 1998.

This would start a trend with Dream Theater that after each studio album, a live album would follow from the tour. Kevin Shirley was on hand to produce and record it. But Shirley was stressed as he only had two days to mix and fix it. In the book “Lifting Shadows” by Rich Wilson, Shirley mentioned that on this live album there were a lot of fixes.

The show was recorded at the Bataclan Theater in Paris however the tour began September 1997 in Brazil. And before it even started, they had to get new management. Remember the manager who won the battle to remain manager, well he left. He wasn’t feeling it anymore. The management team that came in proved so much worse. The band was lost and needed direction. These new guys didn’t provide it, but they had no problem spending money. And when the band fired them the managers sued em.

Furthermore, Petrucci and Portnoy were at loggerheads. Portnoy still had a chip on his shoulder over Petrucci choosing to go with Shirley’s ideas and the disagreements they had over which manager would get the gig. During the tour, Portnoy even fired Petrucci’s guitar tech, which didn’t go down well with Petrucci.

Portnoy also announced to the band that he is quitting once the tour is finished. So in retrospect this live album could have been the last official release.

The album cover, one of two designed by Storm Thorgerson for the band, shows an overhead view of the ancient Roman theatre in Orange, France set into a head of a monk. Like “Falling into Infinity” it does not feature the band’s word mark due to Storm’s demand who sees logos as ugly.

This would also be the last album to feature Derek Sherinian on keyboards as his short tenure in the band would come to an end.

A Change of Seasons I: The Crimson Sunrise

So from a concert perspective, they split “A Change Of Seasons” into its separate parts and scattered them throughout the concert.

The acoustic intro gets the crowd singing along, ala Maiden like. Trust the Europeans (and the South Americans) to give a concert a football (soccer) like atmosphere. As soon as the band kicks in, its heavy and precise.

A Change of Seasons II: Innocence

They move into part 2 effortlessly. LaBrie is strained but does a great job. He’s a professional. Sometimes singers have 10 from 10 performances and some days they have 7 from 10. It’s still a good performance.

Puppies on Acid

Is basically “The Mirror” and a bit of “Lie” from the “Awake” album combined to serve as a segue into “Just Let Me Breathe”. Strange choice.

Just Let Me Breathe

From the “Falling To Infinity” album.

The song is great musically. I’m not a super fan of the vocal melodies, but I do like how they had the balls to try melodies like that.

Voices

One of my favourite tracks from the “Awake” album.

Press play to hear the intro, the way the Chorus crashes in musically and the excellent Petrucci solo. If anything, Petrucci’s playing live is even better than the studio recordings. He’s so precise, yet he still creates room for some improvisation. And that my friends is the meaning of a great musician.

LaBrie unfortunately is difficult to listen to, especially the high notes.

Take The Time

The first track from their biggest album so far, “Images and Words”.

Check out the funky first verses. You will feel like you are in the 70’s. It’s the beauty of the band, to be so diverse musically.

The ending contains the solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” and the main riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick”. This is the kind of improvisation I like.

Derek Sherinian Piano Solo

I hate individual solo spotlights without any backing music to it.

For the purists, the brief solo does contain portions of “Platt Opus” which would be released on the debut Platypus album, (a progressive rock supergroup to which Sherinian and John Myung were members of, and they released their first album a year after this album).

However Sherinian tries to make his solo spotlight tie in with “Lines In The Sand”.

Lines In The Sand

From the “Falling into Infinity” album.

This song works live and LaBrie doesn’t need to strain his voice here as this song is more in the lower registers.

Petrucci again delivers a killer a guitar solo. All the emotion he committed to tape is here, live. The bends, the vibrato and the fast legato lines. Even Labrie at the end, mentioned, “John Petrucci on guitar people”.

The solo segues into my favourite part of the song. A groove is established and LaBrie is in his Pete Gabriel element here. Petrucci decorates like Alex Lifeson on the guitar. Then at 9.36, Petrucci starts to build it up, taking parts of the intro, and adding a lot of grease and blues. Then his Lifeson decorating with power chords and ringing open strings is back. Portnoy gets busier and the band cranks into the main riff of the song.

Scarred

From the “Awake” album.

Ballsy move to play another epic track straight after an epic track, but then again, Dream Theater didn’t get to this stage, playing by the rules.

A Change of Seasons IV: The Darkest of Winters

And this is a perfect example of not playing by the rules. When they go into the instrumental section of “A Change Of Seasons”

Ytse Jam

And after 3 minutes of “The Darkest Of Winters”, they go into their instrumental masterpiece from “When Dream and Day Unite”, the “Majesty” spelt backwards “Ytse Jam”. And as soon as the intro riff kicks in, the crowd is chanting along with them.

This kind of set list is preaching to the converted.

Mike Portnoy Drum Solo

A 5 minute drum solo and the last 2 minutes is the ending of “Ytse Jam”.

But it’s a next for me.

Trial of Tears

From the “Falling into Infinity” album. The first two minutes has Petrucci playing “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, with Portnoy channelling Neal Peart from Rush.

Hollow Years

From the “Falling Into Infinity” album.

The “Live At Budokan” version is the definitive version for me. The flamenco Al DiMeola like noodling at the start which is present on the “Budokan” version is here as well, just a bit more embryonic. And the solo sticks to script here, it doesn’t have the long shred solo from “Budokan”.

LaBrie doesn’t need to strain much here, and vocally he’s bringing it.

Take Away My Pain

From the “Falling into Infinity” album. I didn’t think it would end up in a set list as it’s not one of the stronger songs from the album.

Caught in a Web

From the “Awake” album. The tempo is sped up just a little bit and it works perfectly. You can feel the energy hit you from the speakers.

Lie

From the “Awake” album. Like “Caught In A Web” before it, the tempo is sped up a little bit and its perfect for the song. It sounds more energetic and powerful.

Peruvian Skies

From the “Falling into Infinity” album and the band definitely shows which songs influenced the song as they go into portions of “Have a Cigar” from Pink Floyd and “Enter Sandman” from Metallica. Press play to hear it.

John Petrucci Guitar Solo

An 8 minute guitar solo which contains a portion of a song that would become “Paradigm Shift” from a side project called “Liquid Tension Experiment”, which Portnoy and Petrucci would form after this period with future Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bassist Tony Levin.

The ending of the album begins with “Pull Me Under”, “Metropolis” and “Learning To Live”. My three favourite songs from “Images And Words”. And they finish it off how they started, with the final chapter of “A Change Of Seasons”.

For a live album, it is the least favourite live album in the “Dream Theater” catalogue. I don’t go back to it much, however as the title states, it’s a capture of a time, a period. So enjoy it for what it is, a band on the verge of breaking up but keeping it all together for their love of music.

And a DVD release came out as well. But that review is for another day.

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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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