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Dream Theater History


Formation and early years (1985–1987)

Founding members (from left to right) John Myung, Mike Portnoy, and John Petrucci in 1985.

Founding members (from left to right) John Myung, Mike Portnoy, and John Petrucci in 1985.

Dream Theater was formed in September 1985 when guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung decided to form a band in their spare time while studying at the Berklee College of Music. The pair came across drummer Mike Portnoy in one of Berklee’s rehearsal rooms, where he was asked to join the band. The trio started off by covering Rush and Iron Maiden songs in the rehearsal rooms at Berklee.

Myung, Petrucci, and Portnoy settled on the name Majesty for their newly formed group. According to the The Score So Far… documentary, they were waiting in line for tickets to a Rush concert at the Berklee Performance Center while listening to the band on a boom box. Portnoy commented that the ending of the song “Bastille Day” (from the album Caress of Steel) sounded “majestic”. It was then decided that Majesty would be the band’s name.

The trio then set out to fill the remaining positions in the group. Petrucci asked his high school band-mate Kevin Moore to play keyboards. After accepting the position, another friend from home, Chris Collins, was recruited as lead vocalist after band members heard him sing a cover of “Queen of the Reich” by Queensrÿche. During this time, Portnoy, Petrucci, and Myung’s hectic schedules forced them to abandon their studies to concentrate on their music, as they did not feel they could learn more in college. Moore also left his college, SUNY Fredonia, to concentrate on the band.

The beginning months of 1986 were filled with various concert dates in and around the New York City area. During this time, the band recorded a collection of demos, titled The Majesty Demos. The initial run of 1,000 sold out within six months, and dubbed copies of the cassette became popular within the progressive metal scene. The Majesty Demos are still available in their original tape format today, despite being released officially on CD through Mike Portnoy’s YtseJam Records.

In November 1986, after a few months of writing and performing together, Chris Collins was fired. After a year of trying to find a replacement, Charlie Dominici, who was far older and more experienced than anyone else in the band, successfully auditioned for the group. With the stability that Dominici’s appointment brought to Majesty, they began to increase the number of shows played in the New York City area, gaining a considerable amount of exposure.

Shortly after hiring Dominici, a Las Vegas group also named Majesty threatened legal action for intellectual property infringement related to the use of their name, so the band was forced to adopt a new moniker. Various possibilities were proposed and tested, among them Glasser, Magus, and M1, which were all rejected  until Portnoy’s father suggested the name Dream Theater, the name of a movie house in Monterey, California.

 

When Dream and Day Unite (1988–1990)

With their new name and band stability, Dream Theater concentrated on writing more material while playing more concerts in New York and in neighboring states. This eventually attracted the attention of Mechanic Records, a division of MCA. Dream Theater signed their first record contract with Mechanic on June 23, 1988  and set out to record their debut album. The band recorded the album at Kajem Victory Studios in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.

Dream Theater in 1989: John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Charlie Dominici, Kevin Moore, John Myung

Dream Theater in 1989: John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Charlie Dominici, Kevin Moore, John Myung

Recording the basic tracks took about 10 days, and the entire album was completed in about 3 weeks.

When Dream and Day Unite was released in 1989 to far less fanfare than the band had anticipated. Mechanic ended up breaking the majority of the financial promises they had made to Dream Theater prior to signing their contract, so the band was restricted to playing around New York City. The promotional tour for the album consisted of just five concerts, all of which were relatively local. Their first show was at Sundance in Bay Shore, New York opening for the classic rock power trio Zebra.

After the fourth show, Dominici was fired because of personal and creative differences. Shortly after, however, the band Marillion asked Dream Theater to open for them at a gig at the Ritz in New York, so Dominici was given the opportunity to perform one last time.  It would be another two years before Dream Theater had a replacement vocalist.

 

Images and Words and Awake (1991–1994)

Following Dominici’s firing, Dream Theater fought successfully to be released from their contract with Mechanic, and set about auditioning singers and writing material for their next album. In their search for a new singer, they auditioned over 200 people, among them former Fates Warning front man John Arch; all were turned down. In mid-1990, at a gig in New York, Dream Theater introduced Steve Stone as their new singer. He performed just three songs with the band before he was fired for performing less than adequately.  It was five months before Dream Theater played another show, this time all-instrumental (under the name YtseJam). Until 1991, the band remained focused in an attempt to hire another singer and writing additional music.  It was during this period that they wrote the majority of what would become the 1992’s Images and Words.

In January 1991, Kevin James LaBrie, of glam metal band Winter Rose, was flown from Canada to New York for an audition. LaBrie jammed on three songs with the band, and was immediately hired to fill the vocalist position. Once recruited, LaBrie decided to drop his first name to avoid confusion with the other Kevin in the band. For the next few months, the band returned to playing live shows (still mostly around NYC), while working on vocal parts for the music written before acquiring LaBrie. Derek Shulman and ATCO Records (now EastWest), a division of Elektra Records, signed Dream Theater to a seven album contract based on a three song demo (later made available as “The ATCO Demos” through the Dream Theater fan club).

The first album to be recorded under their new record contract was 1992’s Images and Words. For promotion, the label released a CD Single and video clip for the song “Another Day,” but neither made significant commercial impact. The song “Pull Me Under”, however, managed to garner a high level of radio airplay without any organized promotion from the band or their label. In response, ATCO produced a video clip for “Pull Me Under”, which saw heavy rotation on MTV. A third video clip was produced for “Take the Time”, but it was not nearly as successful as “Pull Me Under”.

The success of “Pull Me Under”, combined with relentless touring throughout the U.S. and Japan, caused Images and Words to achieve gold record certification in the States and platinum status in Japan. A tour of Europe followed in 1993, which included a show at London’s famed Marquee Club. The show was recorded and released as Live at the Marquee, Dream Theater’s first official live album. Additionally, a video compilation of their Japanese concerts (mixed in with documentary-style footage of the off-stage portion of the tour) was released as Images and Words: Live in Tokyo.

Eager to work on fresh material, Dream Theater retreated to the studio in May 1994. Awake, Dream Theater’s third studio album, was released on October 4, 1994 in a hail of controversy among fans. Shortly before the album was mixed, Moore announced to the rest of the band that he was simply no longer interested in touring, nor did he favor the style of music Dream Theater performed and would be quitting Dream Theater to concentrate on his own musical interests.  As a result, the band had to scramble to find a replacement keyboardist before a tour could be considered. The album was received very well by both critics and fans. The album has been seen by some as Dream Theater’s darkest album mainly due to lyrical content with many of the songs dealing with internal conflicts. For example, “The Mirror” explores the topic of alcoholism, from which Portnoy was recovering at the time.

Jens Johansson, who would go on to become a member of Stratovarius, was among the biggest names to audition, however the band members were eager to fill the position with keyboardist Jordan Rudess. Portnoy and Petrucci had come across Rudess in Keyboard Magazine, where he was recognized as “best new talent” in the readers’ poll. The two invited him to play a trial gig with the band at the Concrete Foundations Forum in Burbank, California.  For the members of Dream Theater, the show went incredibly well, and Rudess was asked to fill the keyboardist position permanently, however Rudess opted to tour with The Dixie Dregs instead, since it granted him more personal latitude. Disappointed, Dream Theater hired fellow Berklee alumnus Derek Sherinian, whose previous work included stints with Alice Cooper and Kiss, to fill in for the Awake promotional tour. By the conclusion of the tour, the band decided to take Sherinian on as Moore’s full-time replacement.

 

A Change of Seasons and Falling Into Infinity (1995–1998)

Once again finding themselves with a new member, Dream Theater did not immediately start working on new material. Fans around the world, united on the YtseJam Mailing List (the most popular form of communication between Dream Theater fans at that point), had started placing pressure on the band to officially release the song “A Change of Seasons”. It had been written in 1989 and was intended to be a part of Images and Words, but at almost 17 minutes, it was deemed too long for studio placement. However, the band did perform it live on occasion while continuing to revise it in the years leading up to 1995.

Dream Theater with Derek Sherinian in 1995. Left to right: John Myung, Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, John Petrucci, James LaBrie.

Dream Theater with Derek Sherinian in 1995. Left to right: John Myung, Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, John Petrucci, James LaBrie.

The petition was successful, and the group entered BearTracks Studios in New York in May 1995 to rewrite and record the 23 minute song with Sherinian contributing significantly to the final product. To disseminate “A Change of Seasons”, the band released it as an EP along with a collection of cover songs recorded live at the Uncovered fan club gig.

After a short run of small concerts to promote A Change of Seasons, Dream Theater took a break for a few months. To keep busy, however, the band released a special Christmas CD through their official fan club, consisting of rare live tracks recorded during the band’s early years. They continued releasing a new CD each Christmas until 2005. Also during the break the individual members set out to write compositions for their upcoming collaborative writing sessions.

Meanwhile, there were several changes at EastWest, and Dream Theater’s main contact within the label was fired. As a result, the new team at the company were unaccustomed to the relationship Dream Theater had with former EastWest personnel, and they pressured Dream Theater to write an album that was more accessible. In mid-1997, they entered the studio to write their next album. In addition to pressuring the band to adopt a more mainstream sound, EastWest recruited writer/producer Desmond Child to work with Petrucci on polishing the lyrics to his song “You Or Me”. The whole band substantially reworked the music to the song, and it appeared on the album as “You Not Me” with a chorus that was barely reminiscent of the original. Child also had a noticeable impact on the album, with a shift towards compositions that were less complex and more radio-friendly.

The band wrote almost two CDs worth of material, including a 20 minute long follow-up to the Images and Words song “Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper”. The label, however, did not allow the release of a double album because it felt that a 140-minute record would not be digestible by the general public. James LaBrie also felt that the CD should be a single disc.  The unused songs were later released in the Ytsejam Records release The Falling Into Infinity Demos.

The material that made it onto the album proper was released as Falling Into Infinity, which received a mixed reception from fans who were more familiar with the band’s earlier sound. While the album was moderately progressive-sounding, tracks such as “Hollow Years” and “You Not Me” prompted some to believe it was the dawn of a new, mainstream-sounding Dream Theater. Overall, the album was both a critical and commercial disappointment. Although Portnoy didn’t speak out publicly at the time, many years later, in the 2004 DVD commentary for 5 Years in a Livetime, he revealed that he had been so discouraged during this period he’d considered disbanding Dream Theater altogether.

During the European leg of the Touring Into Infinity world tour, two shows were recorded for a live album entitled Once in a LIVEtime, in France and The Netherlands. The album was released at around the same time as the video 5 Years in a Livetime, which chronicled the time from when Kevin Moore left the band up to the Falling Into Infinity promotional tour.

Scenes from a Memory and Metropolis 2000 (1999–2001)

In 1997, Magna Carta Records’ Mike Varney invited Portnoy to assemble a progressive ‘supergroup’ to work on an album, which would become the first in a long string of side-projects for the members of Dream Theater. The lineup consisted of Portnoy on drums, Petrucci on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who had finished with the Dixie Dregs. The band assumed the name Liquid Tension Experiment, and would act as a medium through which Portnoy and Petrucci could once again court Rudess to join Dream Theater. In 1999, he accepted an offer to become the third full-time Dream Theater keyboardist, replacing Sherinian.

With yet another new member, Dream Theater entered BearTracks Studio once again to write and record their next album. As a result of an ultimatum from Portnoy, the label gave the band complete creative control. The follow-up to “Metropolis Part 1”, which was written during the Falling Into Infinity sessions (but not used on that album), was taken off the shelf for reworking. They decided to expand the 20-minute song into a complete concept album, with a story revolving around themes such as reincarnation, murder and betrayal. To avoid stirring up the fan base, a tight veil of secrecy enveloped the writing and recording process. The only things fans were privy to prior to its release were a track list that had been leaked against the band’s wishes, and a release date. In 1999, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory was released to high critical acclaim. It was hailed as Dream Theater’s masterpiece by many fans and critics alike, despite only reaching #73 on the US album chart.

The album was mixed by David Bottrill, but only a few of his mixes made it on the final album. The bulk was remixed by Kevin Shirley. The rest of the mixes can be heard in the band’s official bootleg “The Making of Scenes from a Memory”.

A massive world tour followed recording the album, taking over a year to complete, by far their largest to that point. The concerts reflected the theatrical aspect of the album. They played the entire Scenes From a Memory album from start to finish, with a video screen on the back wall of the stage showing a narrative companion to the story of the album. In addition to playing the album in its entirety, the band also played a second set of Dream Theater songs, as well as a few covers and improvisations of old Dream Theater material. For one extra special show, at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, actors were hired to play characters in the story, and a gospel choir was enlisted to perform in some sections of the performance.

This show, the last North American date of the tour, was recorded for the band’s first DVD release. After many technical delays, the DVD, titled Metropolis 2000, was released in early 2001. Shortly after, the band announced that an audio version of the concert, with the entire four-hour long set-list (most of which had to be cut from the DVD to save space), would be released.

The cover for the CD version of the concert, titled Live Scenes from New York, depicted one of Dream Theater’s early logos (the Images and Words-era burning heart, modeled on the Sacred Heart of Christ) modified to show an apple (as in “Big Apple”) instead of the heart, and the New York skyline, including the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in the flame above it. In an unfortunate coincidence, the album was released on the same date as the September 11 attacks. The album was quickly recalled by the band and was re-released with revised artwork later.

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

Putting the whole ordeal behind them, Dream Theater once again entered BearTracks Studios to record their sixth studio album. Four years after they first petitioned EastWest to allow them to release a double album, they finally got their chance with Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. The first disc consisted of five tracks of 7–13 minutes in length, and the second disc was devoted entirely to the 42-minute title track, which is to date the longest song Dream Theater has written. The genesis of that song came when Rudess wrote what would become the “Overture” section of “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, and the band took some different melodies and ideas contained within it and expanded them into chapters of a complete story.

Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence ended up being received very well by critics and the press. It was the most publicized of Dream Theater’s albums since Awake, debuting on the Billboard charts at #46 and the Billboard Internet charts at #1. Throughout the next year and a half they toured the world once more, with an expanded live show including a select few special “album cover” gigs (see Cover songs section, below), in which they played Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast in their entirety.

Train of Thought and Live at Budokan (2003–2004)

During 2003, Dream Theater entered the studio to write and record another album. Since Scenes from a Memory was written and recorded simultaneously in the studio, in the spirit of change, the band took a different approach by setting aside three weeks for writing prior to recording. In the middle of the recording sessions for the album, a special tour with two other progressive metal bands, Queensrÿche and Fates Warning, was undertaken in North America. The “Escape from the Studio American tour”, as it was referred to in Dream Theater’s promotional material, featured Queensrÿche and Dream Theater as co-headlining acts with Fates Warning performing supporting act duties. As a finale for each concert there was an extended encore in which both Dream Theater and Queensrÿche performed together on stage simultaneously, often playing cover songs.

At the completion of the tour, Dream Theater returned to the studio to finish the recording of their seventh album, Train of Thought. They concentrated more on writing a great song-oriented album, a mindset inspired by covering Master of Puppets and Number of the Beast on a previous concert tour. As a result, the more straight-forward metal sound of those two albums seemed to creep into Train of Thought.  The album was a critical success, but it alienated a fair proportion of Dream Theater’s fans who preferred traditional progressive rock, such as Yes or King Crimson. Regardless, it seemed to expand Dream Theater’s fan base into new territory, capturing many more metal fans.

Another world tour followed, during which Dream Theater performed support act duties for one of their major influences, Yes. A modest North American tour was completed by the two bands, after which Dream Theater continued to tour the world with their so-called “An Evening With Dream Theater” shows.

Their next move was to release another live CD/DVD combination, this time recorded at the famous Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan on their Train of Thought world tour. Live at Budokan was released on October 5, 2004, and further propelled Dream Theater’s reputation as one of the premier live acts in progressive metal.

Octavarium and Score (2005–2006)

Upon the completion of their Train of Thought promotional tour, Dream Theater entered the Hit Factory studios in NYC to record their eighth album. As it turned out, they would be the last group ever to record in that famous studio, and after they wrapped up their final session, the lights were turned off at the studio forever.

Octavarium was released on June 7, 2005, and took the band’s sound in yet another new direction. Among its eight songs is a continuation of Portnoy’s “Twelve-step” saga (“The Root of All Evil”, steps 6-7 in the 12-step plan), as well as the title track, a musically versatile 24 minute epic rivaling “A Change of Seasons”. Octavarium received mixed reviews from fans and has been the subject of spirited debate. Octavarium was the last album under their seven-album deal with Elektra Records, which had inherited the contract upon its absorption of EastWest Records.

Dream Theater toured extensively throughout 2005 and 2006 to celebrate their 20th Anniversary as a band, including a headlining spot on Gigantour. During a show on August 2, 2005 in Dallas, the band paid tribute to Pantera’s late guitarist Dimebag Darrell by performing the song “Cemetery Gates” as an encore.

Dream Theater after concert in Paris (2005). Left to right: Portnoy, Petrucci, LaBrie, Myung, Rudess

Dream Theater after concert in Paris (2005). Left to right: Portnoy, Petrucci, LaBrie, Myung, Rudess

In addition was the unexpected appearance of fellow musicians Russell Allen, Burton C. Bell and Dave Mustaine, who joined the band on stage to perform parts of the song.

Dream Theater later departed from Gigantour and continued on with their own series of concerts. Several concerts were recorded and released for the Fanclubs. The 20th anniversary tour concluded with a show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 1, 2006. Though the show had minimal promotion, it was sold out days after tickets were made available. This show, which was recorded for a CD/DVD called Score released on August 29, 2006 through Rhino Records, was the band’s first concert accompanied by a full symphonic orchestra (the “Octavarium Orchestra”).

Systematic Chaos, Greatest Hit and Chaos in Motion (2007-2008)

Dream Theater’s next album Systematic Chaos was released on June 5, 2007. The record marked their first with new label Roadrunner Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. Roadrunner implemented increased promotion for the album, and as a result, Systematic Chaos reached number 19 on the Billboard 200. It also saw the release of a video for “Constant Motion” on July 14, the band’s first music video since Hollow Years in 1997. An authorized book entitled Lifting Shadows, detailing their first twenty years, was also released in 2007, with an updated an expanded edition released in 2009[20] Systematic Chaos contains eight tracks, but technically only seven songs. The album contains an epic titled “In the Presence of Enemies”, bookending the album as tracks 1 and 8, Portnoy’s continuing AA Saga with the song “Repentance”, and a song of political nature, “Prophets of War”.

The 2007/2008 Chaos In Motion World Tour started off in Italy. Dream Theater played in the Gods of Metal concert on June 3, 2007. Dream Theater also appeared at the Fields Of Rock Festival in the Netherlands on June 17, 2007. They also played at various other European festivals including the UK’s Download Festival and the French festival Hellfest Summer Open Air with other bands such as Megadeth, Korn, Mastodon and Slayer.

Dream Theater returned to perform the North American leg of the tour on July 24 in San Diego, California and wrapped up on August 26 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They played with opening acts Redemption and Into Eternity. The “Chaos In Motion” tour continued for the rest of the year and into 2008, playing shows in Asia, South America and, for the first time, Australia.

On April 1, 2008, a two-disc compilation album entitled Greatest Hit (…and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) was released by the band. The title jokingly references the song “Pull Me Under”, the band’s only significant radio hit. It also includes three song re-mixes from their second album, Images and Words, five edited versions of previously released songs, and a track from a single B-side. Unlike most Greatest Hits compilations, Dream Theater was actively involved with the album, coming up with the tracklisting that they felt best represented their musical careers.

Dream Theater recently finished their package tour dubbed as “Progressive Nation Tour 2008,” which started on April 29. Joining them on the tour were Opeth, Between the Buried and Me as well as 3. Unlike previous Dream Theater tours, performances were held in cities that they had not visited before in the past (such as Vancouver, Canada) or cities they hadn’t played in for several years. This tour also marked the first time, since the release of Images and Words, where the group performed in small venues and performance halls.

After this tour, the band released a DVD set called Chaos in Motion 2007–2008, a compilation of songs from the tour supporting their 9th album, Systematic Chaos. There were two sets of DVDs released. One was a regular two disk set while the Special Edition set contained three CDs of music that went along with the DVDs. It was released on September 30, 2008.On July 25th, 2009, Dream Theater played Prophets of War for the first time ever in the Orlando Hard Rock Live.

Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2008–present)

Mike Portnoy announced on June 2, 2008 that the band would be entering the studio to record a new album. On October 7, 2008, Dream Theater began work on their 10th album. The album, which is titled Black Clouds & Silver Linings, was released on June 23, 2009.  In addition to the standard CD, the album is available on vinyl LP, as well as a 3-disc Special Edition CD that includes the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs.

On May 1, Mike Portnoy spoke to Metal Hammer about the new album for their podcast saying that while ‘The Shattered Fortress’ was the last in a series of songs about his 12 Steps recovery from alcoholism, ‘The Best of Times’ “is a real heavy personal subject about my dad who passed away during the making of the album,” adding, “He was battling cancer throughout its making.”

The band has also announced a second Progressive Nation tour, including the tour’s first performances in Europe. Opeth, Bigelf and Unexpect supported Dream Theater in Europe, while Zappa Plays Zappa and Scale the Summit played the North American leg.

On June 22, 2009, Mike Portnoy announced, on his forum, that there was a lineup change for the Progressive Nation 2009 tour in North America. Pain of Salvation and Beardfish were unable to tour with Dream Theater and Zappa Plays Zappa due to financial troubles within their respective record labels. He also announced two bands that will be filling the vacated slots for the Progressive Nation 2009 tour in North America, Bigelf and Scale The Summit.

On July 1, 2009, the album debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, with first week sales totalling 40,285.

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