It all began in the fall of 1985. Berklee School of Music in Boston opens its doors for a new "flood" of talented students. Two of them, John Myung and John Petrucci, arrived together from Long Island. They were eager to follow the footsteps of great musicians like Steve Vai, Al di Meola and Cris DeGarmo, who had their education in Boston as well. When Petrucci and bassist Myung saw drummer Mike Portnoy jamming in one of the practice rooms at the prestigious, they were immediately impressed, since he reached his level without any lessons at all. The two later bumped into Mike in the cafeteria and found they had more in common than tastes in music; all had grown up on Long Island. "I remember I was wearing a Talas shirt that day and to them that was a dead giveaway", recalls Mike Portnoy on the Dream Theater Web-site. "It was obvious that all our heads were in the same place and to find that they were from home was amazing because there's people from all over the world at Berkelee. Finding two people that were completely in sync with me and the fact that they lived 40 minutes away was like a blessing from God."
When the first snowflakes fall and the boys return to home for Christmas, they decide to keep in touch during the holidays, hoping to jam and write some more music. Back at Long Island, Petrucci and Myung contact Kevin Moore, who played with the Johns' in a high school band called Centurion. In the next break they four of them decide to recruit a vocalist named Chris Collins. A first version of Dream Theater was born: Majesty. Mike Portnoy recalls how this name came up. "We were standing in line for Rush-tickets in Berklee, and of course everyone was playing Rush-tapes. Suddenly we heard "Bastille Day". The end of that song, with a leading guitar melody, is really majestic. I made a comment on that and the others replied: "That's a great band name: Majesty!"."
In the summer of 1986, all decided to leave school to concentrate on the band while working regular jobs and giving private music lessons. Shortly afterwards they recorded a four-track, six-song demo tape which was sold to local fans and shopped to labels. Within less than a half year all 1000 (!) Majesty demos are sold. Bootlegs of this demo are still around under the name of "Dream Theater - While Performing As Majesty". Despite the success of the demo, the band decide to split with singer Chris Collins.
"It was then that we went on our first of vocalist searches," Mike explains in the biography. It would take them a year to find Charlie Dominici "who was a lot older than us and came from a different background, but at the time we really couldn't find anyone else and he had the most potential out of everyone. He had the experience that Chris didn't."
Instrumental demos are worked out and more demos are recorded an finally in early 1988 Majesty gets record deal at Mechanic Records. "When Dream And Day Unite" was recorded at Kajem Studios in Pennsylvania in one month's time in the summer of '88. But right at the moment when the artwork for the album has been finished and the logo (very important in hard-rock circuits!) has been designed, they find out that there's another Majesty in Las Vegas. At the eleventh hour they decide to change the name into "Dream Theater", although they considered several different possibilities. Glasser, Mi and Magus, and the like were tossed about and rejected. Mike Portnoy's father Howard suggested they use the name of a California movie theater, and the name Dream Theater was chosen. The only thing to change was the title on the album. The original Majesty-logo (designed by Portnoy, based on the royal logo of Mary, Queen of Scots [see left]), remains, as well as the song Ytse Jam, which is nothing less than Majesty, spelled backwards.
The reactions to "When Dream And Day Unite" are generally very positive, although an enthusiastic Dutch Hardrock Magazine Aardschok states: "Unfortunately, Majesty (not knowing their name had changed, -JJ) won't gather a large crowd of followers, since not many people will feel comfortable with these musical Chameleons." How wrong Michel Moosdijk was here! Especially Europe and Japan react very positive to this new cross-over of metal and progressive music.
Regrettably the label, Mechanic, appears unable to promote the band the way they should be promoted. Although two singles (mixed by Rush-producer Terry Brown) is released, the promotion-campaign and the tour fall dead because of a lack of money. On top of this (promotional) setback, the band decides to split with Charlie Dominici. Mike Portnoy explains: "After a while it became evident that he wasn't the singer we were looking for. We would sit at practice and it would be like pulling teeth trying to get him to sing some of the stuff we wanted, but afterwards he would sit down behind the piano and start singing Billy Joel and the Beatles songs and feel right at home." Although he didn't fit in the band they called him back for one final concert supporting Marillion at the Ritz in New York on November 14th 1989. It was at this particular show they opened with a then new track called 'Metropolis'.
Regrettably, what they thought would be a temporary setback turned out to be an almost two year search for a front man. They kept them selves busy writing and performing new material as a four piece in local clubs; in fact, many of the tracks from "Images and Words" were first performed live as instrumentals long before the vocal melody was written. The band did a lot more demo-tapes, including song with mysterious names like "Grab That Feel" and "Creep With Tonality", which later turned into "Take The Time" and "Learning To Live" respectively.
Rumours say the band auditioned over 200 singers, including John Arch of Fates Warning (who came very close to getting the job, but decided against it), Chris Cintron and Steven Stone. With the latter they even played a gig in June 1990, where he sang a first version of "A Change Of Seasons". However this turned into a nightmare and at one point the frustration to find the right guy became so intense they actually considered an all instrumental route until the tape from Canada arrived...
The man in question was Kevin LaBrie, then of the Toronto band Winter Rose. Dream Theater finally found the singer they had been looking for. Upon joining, Kevin LaBrie decided to use his middle name, James, as his first. According to John Petrucci "having two guys named John in the band is confusing enough, just imagine having two guys named Kevin as well."
Having signed a deal with Atco/East West Records, the band record their second album, "Images and Words", with producer David Prater at the end of 1991 at Bear Track Studios, owned by Spyro Gyra sax player Jay Beckenstein who would guest on the track 'Another Day'.
At the moment recording started, the band almost drowned in material, written over the past two years. An impossible task has to be done: selecting the songs that won't be on it. In hindsight Dream Theater did a terrific thing by leaving out the biggest epic they had written: "A Change Of Seasons". Not only did this full justice to other great songs like Metropolis, it also became a 'collectors-item', since it was played live at some occasions (twice). Other songs, played live, but not used on "Images and Words" are "Forever", which finally developed into "To Live Forever" and ended up as a B-side to 'Lie' and the instrumental 'Eve' can be found on the 'Silent Man' single. Especially "A Change Of Seasons" achieved a cult-status and was bootlegged, for example on "Dance of Eternity" (1993). It was only released after massive demand from the fans four years later in 1995.
"Pull Me Under" was the first single and opener of the album. According to the FAQs on the Dream Theater web-site this song was inspired by Shakespeare's "Hamlet".Prince Hamlet swore vengeance on King Claudius for murdering his father, the former King, and then marrying his mother, still Queen. Hamlet's famous Soliloquy was the passage in which the conflict in Hamlet's mind is detailed, and the second verse of "Pull Me Under" coincides pretty thoroughly with it. The very end of the song James can be heard singing this line from Hamlet: "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt."
"Pull Me Under" was shown on MTV quite often which really served the fame of Dream Theater. However this video isn't about Hamlet at all, which even made Mike Portnoy say: "Who the hell was that wolfman guy in the video anyway? We had written it based on something else entirely."
"Another Day" was originally meant as the first single, but the band was very much against it, since it would give a completely false impression of the band's music. This happened to fellow rockers Extreme a few years before. Releasing "Another Day" as a second single was a great choice since this time it only stressed the diversity of the band. "Another Day" shows the melodic, sensitive side of the band. The song (probably) is about John Petrucci's father coping with cancer, although several sources also mention other explanations.
"Taking The Time" was the third single of the album and although it got some airplay it wasn't as popular as the "Pull Me Under"-video or the ballad "Another Day". According to Mike Portnoy "Taking The Time" was about"everything we'd been going through for the past three years - looking for a new singer, a new label & new management - just all the changes we made & all the frustrations we went through...but, have it coming from each of our four different perspectives. So, we broke it up, and said 'Okay, you take the 1st verse, you take the 2nd verse,' went away, wrote lyrics about our feelings about all the stuff we were going through, and then put it together. Then we wrote the chorus together. That was the 1st time we had ever done that, and it's the only song on the album where the lyrics were actually written by everybody."
The Italian quote towards the end are taken from the classic film Cinema Paradiso: "Ora che ho perso la vista ci vedo di piu," which means "Now that I have lost my sight, I can see clearer." So, it's no coincidence that LaBrie sings, "I can see much clearer now I'm blind," right before the sample.
The lyrics for "Surrounded" have been written by Kevin Moore, who also wrote the lyrics for "Pull Me Under" and "Under A Glass Moon". Apparently this song changed titles at the last moment, since promotional cassette-copies label this song as "The Longest Night". During the Images and Words-tour, the band dedicated this song the (black) American tennis-legend Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS..
The most legendary song on the album is without doubt "Metropolis, part 1 ('The Miracle and the Sleeper')". It is based on the story of Romulus (founder of the city of Rome) and Remus from Virgil's "Aeneid." Contrary to common beliefs, it has no relation to the famous movie "Metropolis". Petrucci wrote it as a sort of fantasy epic, inspired by Yes and Rush, who were of great importance to the band and influenced them in their musical development. The story itself is original (the twins are named Miracle and Sleeper and do not appear in literature) but the story type already existed in ancient history.
As mentioned above, Dream Theater have sowed the seeds for many rumours with this album, by leaving off some songs. Another (more deliberate) trick was the addition of "Part One" to "Metropolis". Now everyone was in anticipation of "Part Two".
According to the band, the song has been written after the recording of "Images and Words" and has it been demoed once on Mike's DAT recorder in a 25-minutes-version, making it the longest song ever recorded by Dream Theater. Dream Theater always hinted that it would be release 'at some time', which lead to many rumours every time a new album was recorded. Of course, the fact that the line-up changed since recording the demo, even adds to the status of the legendary recording, which goes even beyond the live-versions of "A Change Of Seasons".
"Wait For Sleep" is another song with a darker, emotional content, which fits the music very well. According to Kevin Moore, the writer of both text and music (which is rather unusual, since all other songs are written by the whole band), "Wait For Sleep" is about a girl who was a friend of his. She had a spiritual void and a hard time filling it, reaching for something to believe in. It deals with her fears about belief and her grief over a loved one's death
The closer of the album is "Learning To Live". Again this track has lead to many discussions among the fans on its meaning. According to Myung -who was (as always) not very outspoken on the subject- this song could have something to to with the subject of AIDS. Particularly the "From a common fear... reach for live"-passage, would underline this thought.
All in all, this album was a great step forwards in several ways from their debut "When Dream And Day Unite". The artwork was really something special and included many symbols, which became trademarks for the band. For example the 'wired heart', which is featured prominently on the cover. According to Mike Portnoy, it was Kevin Moore's idea and essentially a copy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The barbed wire represented obstacles and difficulties, the heart endurance and strength, and the fire their energy and passion.
But also sound-wise this album was a big improvement from their debut. David Prater, who was a former drummer and producer for Santana signed for the production and almost redeveloped the 'classic' Dream Theater sound. Despite this fine production, Dream Theater decided to put him aside. The only argument that ever became famous, was the story about the 'drum-triggers', which is a technique Prater wanted to use to make Mike Portnoy's (bass)drum-sound heavier and faster. Portnoy, on the other side, opposed strongly, since he wanted to achieve this all by himself. Prater won and Dream Theater decided they wanted a different producer. This split, however, didn't last long, since Prater was invited again in 1995 for the final recordings of "A Change Of Seasons".
James made his official live debut with the band on June 8, 1992 at the Ritz in New York City supporting Iron Maiden, coincidentally the very same venue Charlie played his last. A few warm-up shows in tiny clubs days before this show proved James was welcomed with open arms by their die hard fans, some of which already knew the words to all the new songs even though "Images and Words" was not in the stores yet.
The album, helped by the airplay of both the "Another Day" single and the "Pull Me Under"-video, went straight into the Metal-charts and was chosen best album of the year by many magazines, among them the already mentioned Aardschok-magazine. The crowds enlarged and Dream Theater was no longer a support act for Marillion or Iron Maiden. They were top of the bill!
Europe was the next leg of the "Music in Progress" tour where they recorded the EP, "Live at the Marquee", at London's famed club. Although their touring commitments had brought them around the world a second time (in bigger halls naturally) the band kept from burning out musically by introducing new songs into the set, even if they were nothing but "Ytse"-jams improvised on the spot. Their show in Tokyo, Japan, was filmed and released on home video in late '93.
After two years of extensive touring, all around the world, Dream Theater really made themselves a name and were one of the biggest selling artists in the metal-scene (in Europe and Japan), let alone in the progressive scene. Where they thought "Images And Words" would just be a step forwards, it appeared to be a 'giant leap'. This album had put Dream Theater on the map, gave them a status as keeper of the 'prog-metal' flame and delivered them a large, loyal, bootleg-collecting crowd, who were eager the get very note they could get their hands on. However, they had to be patient until 1999 for the long awaited second part of Metropolis...
Written by Jan-Jaap de Haan,
with the help of Olga Otten! (without whom...)