Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess: Why Covering Metallica Was Musical "Eye Opener" | Revolver

Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess: Why Covering Metallica Was Musical "Eye Opener"

"Chopin and Liszt did not prepare me for 'Master of Puppets!'" says prog-metal keyboardist
dream-theater_solo_jordan-rudess-by-rayon-richards-web-crop.jpg, Rayon Richards
photograph by Rayon Richards

Revolver has teamed with Dream Theater for an exclusive 2LP vinyl variant of their new album A View From the Top of the World on "opaque green" wax. Grab yours before they're gone! 

2021 has been a banner year for Dream Theater releases. Last winter, the iconic progressive-metal outfit opened their vaults and began to roll out a series of live albums, rarities, b-sides and more as part of The Lost Not Forgotten Archives series. The releases (which are receiving limited-edition vinyl variant treatments) include Train of Thought Instrumental Demos, Master of Puppets - Live in Barcelona 2002, A Dramatic Tour of Events - Select Board Mixes and more. On October 22nd, they'll also be dropping their new and 15th studio album, A View From the Top of the World.

In the lead-up to their latest prog-metal opus, we've been catching up with the Dream Theater guys for a series of chats on a range of different subjects. We went deep with guitarist John Petrucci on the new record and his own personal musical heroes, grilled bassist John Myung about the hardest Dream Theater songs to play live and cornered singer James LaBrie to discuss his favorite instrumental songs. Our latest subject is keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who took some time to look back at the "eye opening" experience of Dream Theater covering Metallica's 1986 album, Master of Puppets.

Rudess may be one of the most accomplished musicians in heavy music, but the Bay Area thrash icons' masterwork gave him a run for his money. In fact, the first word that came to mind when we ask the keyboardist what it was like to learn all of Master of Puppets was the simple, but fitting, exclamation: "Wow!"

"The keyboard does not have a guitar pick and playing rapid-fire notes is not that easy," Rudess explains. "I grew up playing Chopin and Liszt and even they did not prepare me for Master of Puppets!"

"Although I was appointed the job of being the equivalent of a rhythm guitarist for our version, I did have some flexibility to change things up a bit and add in some more keyboard type sounds and parts," he continues. "Keyboard guitar sounds are not 'cool' right out of the box, so I had to do some serious programming to get the articulations to sound realistic.

"I developed a needed — and unusual — technique to play repeated fast chords in the same octave. It involved programming a keyboard split with the same guitar sound in different octaves. The end result was I could bounce back and forth between the hands and achieve things like the classic 'gallop' effect. I [also] learned a new appreciation for the key of E, which is predominant on that album.

"Master of Puppets was an eye opener for me because before we covered this album my Metallica knowledge was not so deep. They were a major influence to the other guys in the band so diving into this helped me to understand the compositional ideas and techniques that were so influential to the metal side of Dream Theater.

"Having grown up playing Bach, Liszt and Chopin the idea of technique and virtuosities had a definite place in my mind. I have to admit that upon discovering Metallica my perception of technique opened up to other possibilities outside of the classical world.

"A song like 'Disposable Heroes' sounds like machine-gun fire to me. The blistering, galloping guitar rhythms that sound like the pick is about to go up in flames is an impressive display of intensity and technique. [James] Hetfield really shows what he is made of in a track like this one and I was very impressed.

"Probably the most fun of the whole project of playing Master of Puppets on keyboards is playing the title track. It has all the elements that really kept me on my toes playing guitar riffs on keyboards! One of the interesting things about being a keyboardist in a metal band is that I had to create sounds that contribute to the energy of the band and blend well with the guitar. I have a particular sound called 'The Snarling Pig,' which found its way into this performance and growls and snarls to pretty cool effect!

"All the stuff is not that 'easy' to play on keyboards — but the one that was the perhaps the most difficult was 'Damage, Inc.' It's just so fast and furious and plain aggressive. All the crazy repeating notes and chunking away that the guitar is known for, provided a very good challenge for me as keyboardist playing Metallica!"