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Dream Theater have become synonymous with otherworldly musical technique. Over their three-decade career, the prog-metal trailblazers — who formed while its members were studying at Berklee College of Music — have been perfecting their unique balance of heavy-metal grandeur, head-spinning lyrical concepts and world-class shredding.
The band — singer James LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, drummer Mike Mangini and bassist John Myung — has captivated generations of fans and inspired scores of influential players in their own right, from Nita Strauss and Periphery to Avenged Sevenfold and many more.
Dream Theater have just announced that their new and 15th full-length, A View From the Top of the World, will be released on October 22nd (via InsideOutMusic / Sony Music). Their new album — the follow-up to 2019's Distance Over Time — also arrives on the heels of a series of live and archival vinyl that they've been releasing as part of their The Lost Not Forgotten Archives series, which includes Images & Words, Live in Japan, 2017, A Dramatic Tour of Events - Select Board Mixes, Train of Thought Instrumental Demos 2003 and Master of Puppets - Live in Barcelona 2002.
As we await to hear what virtuosity Dream Theater have in store on A View From the Top of the World, we caught up with Myung to look back at what he considers to be the most difficult Dream Theater songs to pull off live. Read the stories behind his picks below.
"The Dance of Eternity" is a demanding instrumental song filled with guitar, keyboard and bass unisons throughout the song and is pretty high energy and driving as well. The build going into the bass solo in the middle of the song has always been challenging for me to play.
It's a 12-minute epic that starts with a guitar and keyboard unison line, then the bass and drums join in with a syncopated groove. The challenge here is to memorize all the different sections of the song. A lot of the times I'll remember the parts based on how we described them while writing the song. Another challenging part in the song can be the root motion where the bass is following the keyboard progression at the end. Since the root motion moves slowly a wrong note is much more obvious than a fast-moving line — so it's a good example of a part that sounds easy but only if you know it.
The intro starts with a bass harmonic into a chordal bass line, and the challenge here is to be prepared, relaxed and warmed up to play this one — or else it won't sound right.
The song starts with a bass harmonic distortion riff — for me this has always been a challenge to play live since it's dependent on my gear working correctly. It's a good example of the sound effects used on bass being just as important as the part being played in order for the part to come across the right way.
What makes this a challenge to play for me would be that it's a 20-minute epic, so the memorization aspect is the first part of the challenge. And then there are certain sections that I have to focus on. For instance, there is a classical Mozart-like section that happens in the second half of the song. It's the type of part that definitely takes a bit of practice, when taken out of context it turns into a cool little exercise all by itself.