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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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

New Music Releases vs Maintenance Music Releases

Looking at the recent spate of releases from bands that I like, I am asking the question;

When did new music change from being about new and original music to a maintenance model of new music?

Five Finger Death Punch’s new album “The Wrong Side Of Heaven Vol. 1” is “American Capitalist” Part 2. So I am assuming that volume 2 of “The Wrong Side Of Heaven”, will be “American Capitalist” Part 3.

In order to define what I mean by new, I will use Metallica as an example.

Metallica released “Kill Em All” in 1983, which paid homage to the “New Wave Of British Metal” movement with the tempo’s increased to 200 beats per minute. It was new, and there was a technical element to it. It spawned a thousand imitators.

In 1984, they released “Ride The Lightning”. It wasn’t the same as “Kill Em All”. It was vastly different musically and lyrically and it was new. The people responded and Metallica went into refining the “Ride The Lightning” model with great success.

“Master Of Puppets” is a very similar sounding album and the track listing mirrors “Ride The Lightning”. The difference between the albums was the songs. Metallica improved as songwriters. The people responded even more. Then came the technical masterpiece of “..And Justice For All”. Again, the structure of the album was built around the “Ride The Lightning” model. However, even though it was a new album, it was still released under the maintenance model built around “Ride The Lightning”.

Then in 1991, they pressed the reset switch and released “Metallica”. It was back to the new and the people responded in the twenty millions. The “Load” and “ReLoad” albums that followed fell into the Maintenance model of releases that followed the format of the mega successful “Metallica Black” album.

Then in 2003, they pressed the reset switch again and released “St Anger”. It was back to something different. Regardless of what others thought of it, it was a gutsy move to release an album that sounded like that, along with chaotic song structures.

Then in 2008, they pressed the reset switch one more time and delivered a new album rooted in the old. They had taken the best things from the “Ride The Lightning” model and the “Metallica Black” model to deliver “Death Magnetic”.

All bands encompass these transitions.

Let’s look at Dream Theater.

In 1988, they released “When Dream and Day Unite”. It was new, taking influence from the metal bands at the time and merging those influences with progressive elements.

In 1992, they released “Images and Words”. It was new again. They didn’t go and re-write “When Dream And Day Unite”. The people responded and the album was a success.

In 1994, they released “Awake”. This album formed part of their maintenance. A good album, however you can tell they tried to rewrite “Images and Words.” The people didn’t respond to this album as they did to “Images and Words.”

Then in 1997, they released “Falling Into Infinity”. This was a new album as it moved the band into a more mainstream progressive sound. Although it had progressive elements from all previous releases, the band was pushed to enter this direction. Again, it didn’t meet the expectations of the record label and it also caused division amongst band members.

In 1999, they pressed the reset switch and released a career defining album in “Scenes From A Memory”. People responded again to the band. It was a new album in every sense.

So in 2001, they went into part new and part maintenance mode. “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” kept with the concept theme on CD 2. CD 1 was all new tracks that showcased a very metallic element of the band as well as a very Tool style progressive element. Of course by 2001, Tool were huge all over the world.

Then in 2003, they pressed the reset button again and came out with the best progressive metal album in “Train Of Thought”. Any die hard metaller that wasn’t sure about the band, committed to them with this release. People responded as well, as metalcore was also on the rise and those young kids were looking for other forms of heavy music.

So in 2005, instead of re-doing “Train Of Thought”, they went into a part new / part maintenance model again with “Octavarium.” A notable influence this time around was Muse, who by 2004, were huge all over the world.

With the change of record labels, “Systematic Chaos” saw the band return to the metallic elements of “Train Of Thought” in 2007 with great success.

2009 saw “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” which encompassed everything that Dream Theater is in six tracks. It was New and it set a standard.

2011 saw “A Dramatic Turn Of Events”, the first album to not feature Mike Portnoy, who wanted the band to take a 5 year break and when the band said no, he departed. This album following the maintenance model of “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” and “Images And Words.”

2013 saw the release of “Dream Theater.” It has three songs that really stand out in “Illumination Theory”, “The Bigger Picture” and “The Looking Glass”. In the end, this is Dream Theater trying to create something new, however it is another maintenance album.

When you put these bands against the hundreds of millions of other musicians all making music, how does it all stack up.

There is a lot of great music out there that hasn’t been heard. There is a lot of good, a lot of okay and a lot of crap music as well.

With so much music being made every day and released every day, it is impossible for everyone to listen to it all. So when the label bands do end up releasing music, they need to make sure they captivate us to stick around, otherwise we just move on, trying to find something else in the meantime. Some other new niche. That is the new music business.

When an artist has an audience they need to be thankful for that audience. They need to show some respect towards that audience. The label bands have a head start, however if they turnover too many maintenance style of releases compared to something new and refreshing, the audience will move on.

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