By Rod Whitfield
This legendary New York based progressive metal band would have to be one of the hardest working units in music. Not only do they release a new album two years, like clockwork, and tour like road dogs for months thereafter, their music itself seems like it would be a lot of hard work to create. Perpetually ambitious, their songs regularly wind out well beyond the ten minute mark, and contain ridiculous amounts of twists and turns, odd time signatures and intense musical complexity.
The band feel so strongly about where their career stands at this point that they decided, after almost 30 years and 11 albums, to make their new album self titled. Speaking from his home in New York, long time keyboardist Jordan Rudess was happy to expand upon his feelings about the new opus.
“Yeah, I’m so excited about it,” he enthuses, “I think it’s definitely one of our best, and we feel so good about it that we decided to stamp it with a self titled name, so everybody’s happy.
“We just feel that the band is at such a great point, personally and musically, that it was really time to mark this down,” he explains further, “and say ‘hey, you know what? If you want to know about DREAM THEATER this is it.’ It’s really a representation of who we are as people at this point in time. It was a fantastic year before this on the road with (recently added drummer) Mike Mangini, and getting him fully integrated into the band.”
For those unaware, co-founding member Mike Portnoy left the band in late 2010 after his proposal for a lengthy hiatus was rejected by the rest of the band. A number of the world’s top progressive rock, metal and fusion drummers were auditioned; with Mangini being installed as the band’s new skinsman a month or two after Portnoy’s departure. This occurrence was also reflected in the band’s next album title, 2011’s ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’.
The album was Mangini’s first appearance on a DREAM THEATER studio album, and his parts were arguably a little muted, both in terms of the mix and the performance. But Jordan agrees that now that he is a fully integrated member of the band, his personality has come across a lot stronger on the new record.
“Having him come into the studio with us gave us that extra spark,” he recalls, “not only musically, but he’s also such a lively, energetic fun guy. So it brought us to this very strong, unified and powerful level.
“Having him there was just a treat, because he’s such a unique person,” he continues, “his playing is really individual, and the way he thinks, he offered some really interesting ideas. Especially in the realm of rhythm, it was very cool.”
Jordan is quite diplomatic when asked to compare the personalities and playing of the two Mikes. “Yeah, I feel so lucky in my career to have worked with some of the greatest drummers, and guitarists as well,” he says, “but we’re talking about drummers, and Mike Portnoy is one of the greatest drummers out there. We had a great time playing for many years together. And now we’re playing with Mangini, it’s a whole ‘nother wonderful musical experience.
“And what’s really cool is that all these great drummers that I’ve played with, they’re all so different,” he goes on, “but what’s especially cool about Mangini is that, not only is he a different kind of a drummer, but he can also fit like a glove into the music. So when we play the older DREAM THEATER songs, it’s feels very comfortable. Even though he has a different approach, it kinda fits like a glove, if you will. So that’s obviously why he got the gig, because he can do that, but he can also offer some fresh and exciting ideas into what we’re doing.”
It was well over twenty years into the band’s career before they finally made it to Australia, and it finally happened in 2008. They have since returned again, in late 2009. Jordan is confident that a third trip Down Under was on the cards on the upcoming tour to support the self titled release, although he stopped short of guaranteeing it.
“My hope and my guess is that we’re going to be coming to Australia, ‘cause we haven’t been there in a while,” he says, “and since this is a very important album to us, I think it would be wise if we went there. Going there has my vote, I think it will happen but I can’t promise it.”