Dream Theater, Under a Glass Moon (July 1992) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 22

And so, we come to the final part of this series. I hope some of you have enjoyed reading it — it’s been an education to write. This song, to me, is the ultimate destination that all the heavy metal on the timeline has been leading to.

It’s by Dream Theater, one of the key bands of the progressive metal subgenre, or prog metal for short. Queensrÿche and Tool were earlier to the party, but Dream Theater arguably brought prog metal to a new technical and emotional peak, and have been closest thing to a commercially successful prog-metal band. It’s a fantastically ambitious genre, which aims to combine the ferocious technical work of speed metal with the adventurous nature of prog rock. Done well, prog metal has a richness that repays repays repeated listening, never growing boring in the way that certain other metal styles can.

Dream Theater formed in 1985 (under the name Majesty), although their first album wasn’t released until four years later. That album sunk without trace, largely due to record-label indifference, and the short tour that followed saw their singer fired. It took a couple of years and several false starts before they landed James LaBrie, the singer they needed. But with their core members now in place, Dream Theater recorded Images and Words and were on their way to a long, successful career. In terms of their antecedents on this timeline, they could perhaps best be seen as a musical blend of Deep Purple, Rush and Metallica.

There’s lots to love about Under a Glass Moon, including the strong, clear guitar parts, the powerful, concentrated vocal and the thunderous but musical drumming. DT’s drummer, Mike Portnoy, was always one of their creative keystones, and the band has perhaps lost some of its musicality (though none of its technique) since he quit in 2010 to be replaced by Mike Mangini. (Portnoy has always had plenty of side-projects going on, and has kept very busy since leaving Dream Theater. At the present count, he’s involved with The Winery Dogs, Flying Colors, Transatlantic and the Neal Morse group — all superb bands, covering quite a range of styles.)

But for me there’s no question that the highlight is the guitar solo — my single all-time favourite guitar solo, surpassing all the glorious work of Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Dave Gilmour and Michael Schenker. (The solo proper starts at 4:37, but you really have to listen from 3:58 to get the context.) I’ve never heard anything else that combines such jaw-dropping technique with such melodicism and — maybe most impressive — such harmonic literacy. With its constant switches in time, texture and intensity, this solo is a million miles beyond where we started, back with the rudimentary one-chord jam that is the guitar solo from 1:16 of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. In saying that I mean no disrespect to the Kinks’ lead guitarist Dave Davies (or indeed to Jimmy Page, who is consistently rumoured to have played the solo). But what we’re seeing here is evolution in action. If the Kinks’ guitar solo is the first sarcoperygian even to flop up onto the sea shore, the John Petrucci’s work with Dream Theater is a cheetah.

So after the rather depressing take on 90s metal in the penultimate episode, I am pleased to end the series on a high. To me, Dream Theater and their ilk represent the return of musicality to heavy metal.


22 responses to “Dream Theater, Under a Glass Moon (July 1992) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 22

  1. Good series of articles – I learnt some interesting things about a genre I don’t often spent time listening to. Now do K-Pop.

  2. Robin, I don’t even know what K-Pop is, let alone enough to write about it!

    For what it’s worth, my music-writing plans are, in roughly this order:

    * Write a wrap-up post for the Heavy Metal Timeline series
    * Finish the long-overdue What I’ve been listening to in … entry for 2013
    * Write the next in the Desert Island Albums series
    * Think about doing the next in the Paul Simon albums series

    But no doubt I’ll write about lots of other stuff before I get far into that list. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit music-criticism’d out.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this choice :-D Under a Glass Moon is my favourite DT song ever; it’s unrelentingly awesome from start to finish, and contains enough musical ideas to keep most bands going for a whole album. DT played it at the High Voltage festival in Victoria Park in 2010 (sadly just after Portnoy’s departure, so Mangini on drums) and I’m not ashamed to admit there were tears in my eyes when Petrucci played those opening power chords as the sun set behind the stage. It probably helped that I’d had quite a few beers that day, of course :-)

  4. This confirms why I’m not persuaded to listen to more from this band: they’re boring, and their vocalist is so annoying. However, I did like LaBrie’s Static Impulse album.

  5. Andrew, you can probably feel the jealousy rays currently being emitted from my skull, all the way over there in London. Glad you got to see that — it must have been spine-tingling. By the way, congratulations to Pedro, who predicted in a comment on the last post that my final entry would be a song from Images and Words.

    Andrei: I am baffled. I can think of reasons Dream Theater might not be someone’s cup of tea, but “boring” would never, ever be on the list.

  6. Mike – I was kidding! K-Pop (Korean Pop) is eye wateringly twee Japanese style pop music. It often involves girls in hot pants, earnest young men and excruciating tunes, with a smorgasbord of boy band, RnB, western pop and people dancing in sync wearing multi coloured baggy plastic shell suits.

  7. And J-Pop (Japanese Pop) is eye wateringly twee Korean style pop music. :)

  8. Lies! J-Pop was the first and the best! Well, the first. http://mindequalsblown.net/editorials/k-pop-and-j-pop-a-comparison has some interesting information about K-Pop, but only in the sense of it being a cultural phenomenon with a dark controlling side, not in the sense of this stuff being splendidly excellent.

  9. Presumably after J-Pop and K-Pop comes L-Pop, from Laos? Then M-Pop, from Macau.

  10. Mike: If it makes you feel any better, every gig I’ve been to since then, including DT gigs, has been disappointing by comparison. A very high bar was set :-)
    Incidentally, having been to a few DT gigs since then, Mike Mangini is clearly a Seriously Good Drummer. However, Mike Portnoy was way more to DT than “just” the drummer, as you say, and I’d agree that the songwriting since his departure hasn’t been in the same league. Their albums since then are more “bunch of songs” than “cohesive whole”, in my opinion. It would make me very happy if Portnoy rejoined the band at some point (he’s stated that he would be willing), but I’m not holding my breath.

  11. I’ve not really followed Dream Theater closely, but my impression is that as a technician, Mangini is even better than Portnoy. The difference is that Portnoy is the most musical drummer I’ve ever heard (and that’s leaving aside his songwriting contribution, backing vocals, etc.) You can go right through an album like Transatlantic’s The Whirlwind, listening only to the drums, and still have a fabulous musical experience. So far as I’m concerned, he stands alone.

    As for a Dream Theater reunion: maybe one day in the far-off future, but for the next few years I think not. James LaBrie may have burned too many bridges (all that “we weren’t at all sad when Portnoy left” stuff), and not be able to back down. Plus of course it would be very harsh on Mangini, who’s not only a superb drummer but by all accounts a very nice guy who doesn’t deserve to get dumped because the ex has come back.

  12. As promised, here is the rest of my personal 90s metal list, in one jumbo post. Later in the evening, I’ll do my best to pick a single track from (most of) these albums.

    17) The 3rd and the Mortal – Tears Laid In Earth
    18) Nightwish – Oceanborn
    Before the 90s female-fronted metal bands were a rarity (in fact the only one I can think of is Doro Pesch’s Warlock). This changed radically in the mid 90s, when the european metal scene saw the birth and quick rise to popularity of number of very influential bands. The styles pioneered by these bands haven’t waned in populatity either, even now almost 20 years later (though the freshness inevitably has…)
    The 3rd and the Mortal meandered through a lot of different genres in their carreer but it’s their first two recordings with singer Kari Rueslatten that earn them a place in this list. With the “Sorrow” EP being released in 1993 they were at the forefront of this movement, and the following “Tears Laid In Earth” is probably one of my favorite albums of the decade. I can’t really give a deep explanation as to why – some music simply has the effect of transporting you to faraway landscapes and Tears’s sparse doom stylings just do it for me…
    Sadly The 3rd and the Mortal remain mostly unknown. Nightwish on the other hand never suffered from that problem, having made quite a splash from the beginning. As far as I’m concerned the attention was deserved: drop a classically trained Opera singer in the middle of a power metal band and the result is going to be hard to ignore. (Assuming all the people involved have the chops to pull it off, which they did.) For me their peak was the second album, “Oceanborn”. At this point they’ve found their pace but haven’t had time to soften or get repetitive, which their later albuns kind of did IMO.

    19) Theatre of Tragedy – Theatre of Tragedy
    20) Tristania – Beyond The Veil
    Theatre of Tragedy’s first two albuns featured two contrasting vocals, one male in “death grunt” style and one female in a very clear soprano. They abandoned this style (nicknamed “beauty and the beast”) by their third album Aégis, which features only the female vocals. (That makes it a better starting point for those who are turned off by death-style vocals.)
    After Aégis ToT veered off in a different direction entirely, but the idea of contrasting vocals would be picked up by many bands. The most interesting of those was Tristania, though aside from the choice of singers their sound is very different from ToT’s quiet goth style. “Beyond The Veil” instead is a relentless charge of symphonic metal, with a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure.

    21) The Gathering – Mandylion
    After two albuns with a revolving set of singers, The Gathering finaly found stability with the joining of Anneke van Giersbergen before the release of “Mandylion”. Giersbergen remained with the band for about a decade and every album from that era is worth a listen, even if from “How to Measure a Planet?” onward metal was left decidedly behind in favor of a (rather hard to classify) more expiremental rock sound.

    22) Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
    Even though RATM gained popularity pretty much from the outset, it took me a long time to start liking them. Perhaps the concept of rap metal was too much for me to accept at the time (yet I remember listening to Clawfinger’s “Deaf Dumb Blind” around the same time, so I don’t know…) Whatever the case, I came around, and the band’s historical significance is undeniable. They’re also the band with the most relentlessly political message in this list (Sepultura would come second). The real-world focus is something the genre could use a little more of – there are plenty of elves and demons and dark rituals in metal already.

    23) Faith No More – Angel Dust
    Including Faith No More in this list breaks the rules I set out at the start. FNM were active long before 1990, though without landmark singer Mike Patton so I’m using that as my excuse. Also, the reason I have FNM filed next to ‘metal’ in my mind has more to do with personal context than with their actual style. But I’m including them anyway because it’s my list :), and because I think gradually absorbing the band’s (and Patton’s) sometimes crazy streching and mixing of styles is what would latter make me able to apreciate bands like System of a Down or RATM.

    24) White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1
    Not much to say about this, just good clean B-Movie entertainment :)

    25) Fear Factory – Obsolete
    I think I said Rammstein would the only industrial metal band in the list. Then I remembered about Fear Factory. Oops.
    I confess I don’t listen to them all that much – it’s something I like but can only take in small doses. Fear Factory’s 90s output is admirable for the way it innovated and the influence it had in the american metal scene though, and that’s enough to tip the scales towards inclusion.

    26) Blind Guardian – Imaginations From The Other Side
    27) Iced Earth – The Dark Saga
    The power metal genre descends rather directly from the style of NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden. It was hugely popular in the 80s and remained no less so in the 90s. It’s a vast genre and I must admit I’m not very knowlegeable about it. Partly it’s because while I can enjoy most power metal bands, I find I usually get tired of listening faster than the lenght of an album (the same was already true of Iron Maiden). Blind Guardian and to a lesser extent Iced Earth are exceptions, and that’s why they make the list. Later members from both bands would form the excelent Demons & Wizards supergroup, but that’s for a different decade.

    28) Samael – Exodus
    Samael started out playing black metal, but things only got interesting to my tastes when they started moving away from that into a rather hard to classify style
    incorporating more electronic sounds. This transformation would culminate with 2004’s “Reign of Light”, but was already pretty much done by the time the Exodus EP came out in 1998.

    29) Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes
    30) Sentenced – Amok
    These two bands followed very similar paths, starting out as straight death metal, then working in more melodic elements (the era these albums are from), and finally leaving death influences behind completeley in favor a more mainstream style in the 2000s. (There is a difference though in that I still like everything Amorphis does, but Sentenced’s later output frankly was not very good.)
    Amorphis and Sentenced are a good way to close this list; they’re part of the reason I’m even writing it today. Both of these albums – plus Tiamat’s Wildhoney – came out in 1994, right around the time when I first began becoming aware of the european metal scene, in good part because of a great local radiostation that revealed this huge number of bands and styles I had no idea existed. They were the gateway to a lot of the music I would come to love.

  13. Well, Pedro, that is absolutely magnificent. Many, many thanks for such a detailed account. I can’t wait for you to nominate the individual tracks, and to get going on familiarising myself with all of this good stuff. (Uh … except the rap-metal.)

  14. Mike, I fully expect you won’t like many of these bands, but that’s ok.
    It was actually a fun exercise, even if it was more work than I expected (that’s why I don’t blog :)
    I hope at least to have countered the idea you had of the genre’s vitality in the 90s, and because my tastes aren’t universal there’s a lot my list doesn’t even cover – the little overlap with the stuff that other people have been posting is a good indication of that.

    By the way, Tool definitely didn’t beat DT to the Party. Their first full length album is from 93, and that one I don’t think of as prog – that would come later.

  15. Ok, here goes my best effort at creating a manageable list of individual songs to listen to. I even managed to stick to one song per album! Nearly. (Most of the time.)

    1) My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River
    The Cry of Mankind – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-UE-KbCQD8

    2) Anathema – Alternative 4
    Really hard for me to single out a track from this one. I’ll go with Fragile Dreams just because it’s the most popular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHqrnhCa6rc

    3) Paradise Lost – Draconian Times
    Forever Failure – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdqkrDivZyk

    4) Moonspell – Wolfheart
    Alma Mater – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPj_CybseF4

    5) Tiamat – Wildhoney
    I gave up on this one. Tracks even flow into each other without pause, it’s really best taken as whole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDqG6eGWo0I

    6) Dream Theater – Images And Words
    Pull Me Under – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mipc-JxrhRk

    7) Opeth – Still Life
    Face of Melinda – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAStBwVTAfg

    8) Tool – AEnima
    I’m going to cheat and link two songs, because of the way the album is kind of split between looking back to the sound of Undertow:
    Stinkfist – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07pLGIgyfjw
    And forward to what would come in Lateralus:
    Forty Six & 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tr6oN_c3ns
    And then I’m going to cheat even more by linking to the live version of Pushit because it’s just so amazing I can’t help myself:
    Pushit – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgDwkSlCwHw

    9) Therion – Vovin
    The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLYjRn–GI

    10) Haggard – And Thou Shalt Trust… The Seer
    Just start listening from the beginning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3awFJ2NLp34

    11) Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
    A little more cheating.
    Kaiowas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx88wZsX_II
    Refuse/Resist – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ODNxy3YOPU

    12) Deftones – Adrenaline; Around The Fur
    Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvknOXGPzCQ

    13) System Of A Down – System Of A Down
    A single track can’t possibly cover the range of SoaD’s craziness, so here are two:
    Spiders – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqZNMvIEHhs
    Sugar – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vBGOrI6yBk

    14) Rammstein – Herzeleid
    Rammstein – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xufYGOmWojU
    (Naturally I had to link to the live version, because Rammstein)

    15) Skyclad – Irrational Anthems
    Inequality Street – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAKAXSkdnew

    16) In Extremo – Verehrt und angespien
    Herr Mannelig – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU3e9GvgHmQ

    17) The 3rd and the Mortal – Tears Laid In Earth
    I can’t bring myself to pluck a single track from this. It deserves to be taken in at it’s own melancholy pace…
    Finding the whole album on Youtube was tricky, this playlist seems to be complete: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=draikeS0he0&list=PLs-moGsqpN9JTX_07QD1mgjrVQgdIA6zl

    18) Nightwish – Oceanborn
    Stargazers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmo5DIktiqI

    19) Theatre of Tragedy – Theatre of Tragedy
    A Hamlet For A Slothful Vassal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTHZvEl72Gc

    20) Tristania – Beyond The Veil
    Aphelion – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xTfLzAiA-U

    21) The Gathering – Mandylion
    In Motion #1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi_-6R4OxEo

    22) Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
    Settle For Nothing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1my3KqZq54k

    23) Faith No More – Angel Dust
    Kindergarten – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sfDA3ngRrA

    24) White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1
    Thunder Kiss ’65 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPNFVj-pISU

    25) Fear Factory – Obsolete
    Edgecrusher – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQz97BYFrMY

    26) Blind Guardian – Imaginations From The Other Side
    Imaginations From The Other Side – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8Cxyd3VxbQ

    27) Iced Earth – The Dark Saga
    I Died for You – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-3l2eorxpQ

    28) Samael – Exodus
    From Malkuth To Kether – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QDRpkrQTS4

    29) Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes
    Black Winter Day – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8o3oAt9Db8

    30) Sentenced – Amok
    Nepenthe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j55oEnYKhVM

  16. Richard G. Whitbread

    Of course, you wouldn’t want to overlook C-pop either. (That’s Cantopop, in case you were wondering. We get quite a lot of that here…)

    Anyway, by way of echoing Robin’s comment, very many thanks for an enjoyable series of articles. The debate will forever rage about which tracks should be included in these sorts of lists (I would have selected ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ over ‘My Generation’, by the way!), but overall it covered most of the bases. ;-)

    However, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t tell you I’m beyond astonished that you rate the solo in ‘Under A Glass Moon’ so highly…even more so that you think it eclipses anything done by Hendrix, Blackmore, et al. Yes, it ticks the boxes you mention…but that’s about it. Admittedly, I’m not a guitarist, but if I close my eyes I struggle to hear any real difference between Petrucci’s solo and one by any number of six-string wizards. And that, for me, is the key (no pun intended). Musicality is essentially about putting your individual stamp on the notes. I don’t hear that here. So while I wouldn’t go as far as Andrei and say Dream Theater are boring (I have a few of theirs, including ‘Octavarium’, which I rate very highly), at the same time there is something a little…contrived about them. A band to be filed under ‘checklist metal’, perhaps? ;-)

  17. That is Beautiful, Pedro! Should keep me busy for the next few years of listening!

  18. Thanks a lot for the series! Loved it and definitely picked up a few new favorites along the way. I also liked that the analysis gave some context about how each band/song fit into the timeline.

    I also agree with some of the things on Pedro’s list (basically, the things I know), I’ll be looking into the rest!

  19. Thanks, Nicolas! I’ve tried to show a progression through time, so it’s encouraging for me to know that you found the context helpful. Pedro’s list is going to keep me busy for some time!

  20. The Dream Theater you link (1992) is certainly good for the time. My opinion (for what it’s worth) is that DT kind of lost the plot;. They were certainly influential in the early years, but the later stuff from them fails to hold my attention. Perhaps I need something heavier, but Opeth certainly does, as does Ne Obliviscarus and most certainly Tool. Maynard did some amazing stuff, both with Tool and A Perfect Circle — I’d say that he alone was a great influence on the metal scene. And what an amazing chap, outside of musical genius — go do the smallest amount of research about him; he has more brains than time to spend being smart (:

    Also, I’ll admit that DT makes me think more of some dusty arcade game in the corner of a dingy corner store than anything else. They always make me think of beating the boss somewhere (: I can’t deny the talent but I also can’t hold them on high; perhaps their reputation is (for me at least) greater than what they live up to? Or perhaps this is just another time when we have to agree to disagree on the basis of taste.

    Pedro has provided (yet again) links to some truly pivotal metal. Good on ya! And if you listen to just one Tool track, let it be Parabola (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EElaqhquY00). Tool have more talent than should be allowed in a confined space ^_^

  21. I admit I’m not really up to speed on later Dream Theater; but for what it’s worth I’ve had the sense that they reached a stage where they seemed to be complicating the music for the sense of complication rather than because it contributed to what the song was saying, or the story it was telling. (I guess that’s why I am not up to speed on later Dream Theater.)

  22. Pingback: Pedro Lopez’s 1990s heavy metal timeline | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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