Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 23: Pull Me Under

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

Chaos In Motion – After Show

Dream Theater put the Metal in Prog and started a whole new subgenre with tons of bands following in their footsteps. The musicianship is outstanding and the compositions are simply jaw dropping at times. I guess they are a “either you love ’em or you hate ’em” kind of band. It’s a bit like the Malmsteen syndrome, which seems to occur when you play too many notes per second. Some say they are just showing off. Well, at least they are good enough to do that. Complexity in Metal music is kind of what Progressive Metal is all about. They have great songs too of course. I am really happy that Rock music is not all about playing three chords. The members in the band are really nice down to earth guys as well.

I had never listened much to Progressive Rock actually, so Dream Theater was my gateway into Progressive music. I was sent a promo LP when the first album, When Dream and Day Unite, was released in 1989. I thought it was interesting, but I wasn’t hooked right away. I played a few tracks on my radio show and then shelved it. A year later I picked it up again. I had probably read about the band in a magazine or something. This time the album really grew on me and I found the style really interesting. The debut album is not as well produced as their later releases and has a different vocalist from the one we know as the voice of Dream Theater. Still, I love the album and it was definitely a good start for the band.

Images and Words album cover

I didn’t become a mega fan until the groundbreaking album Images and Words in 1992. This showcased a more mature band, a much better production (though I actually felt it was a bit over-produced the first time I heard it) and of course the new vocalist James LaBrie. It’s a wonderful, well performed and at times very Progressive album. Some of the stuff was rather challenging for me. I couldn’t stand the brilliant track “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” when I first heard it. It was just way too much. After some time it became one of my all time favorite Dream Theater tracks. Man, the boys sure play on that one! Some of my closest friends were huge fans of the record as well. When we were playing the album at parties, 4-5 of us would always put down our drinks and air drums to that middle section in “Metropolis, Pt. 1”. It felt natural and was impossible not to do. To this day I think I could still nail that section on air drums. At least almost. I haven’t tried for about 25 years.

I followed the band from back when they played smaller venues, to mid-sized theaters and later when they took the step up to arenas. They became really big which is quite impressive keeping in mind that they broke through during the Grunge era when most Metal bands took a severe beating. Only in the last few years have I not panicked about missing a show. Well, that goes for most bands these days actually. Dream Theater has always had a lot of fans in Norway.

The band skipped Norway on their “Images and Tour”. If I had known they played in Scandinavia I would have probably crossed the border to Sweden to catch that show.  Luckily they renamed the tour to “Music in Progress” and came back Europe later in 1993. The first show I attended was at the Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo and it was a blast. They even opened the show with “Metropolis, Pt. 1”! Could it be any better? The track became part of the encore on subsequent tours. They even included material from their forthcoming album Awake.I believe Dream Theater has played in Norway after every single release since then.

The band visited Oslo again two years later on the tour supporting their third album Awake. The show was just as good as the first one. Back then it was very obvious that the band had a really good time on stage. That changed a bit after they became bigger, which I will get back to soon. I believe playing on a huge stage with more space makes it harder for the drummer to throw towels at the keyboardist. Plenty of towels were tossed across the stage during the Rockefeller show and the guys had great laughs about it.

Just having a look at Mike Portnoy’s enormous drum kit was worth the ticket. It was the first time I had ever seen a drum kit with two thrones (that’s actually what the drummer’s chair is called, just google it). Not to mention seeing him playing the monstrosity of course. I think a Dream Theater show is the only place you can hear applause when the cloth covering the drum kit is being removed. I vividly remember keyboard player Derek Sherinian dressed like he was going to a disco show in the ‘70s; standing open chested with platform shoes between keyboards on both sides. Dream Theater brought Fates Warning with them as support. They are another fantastic Progressive Metal band and it was a huge bonus on that night in October 1993.

Dream Theatre [sic]
 The next chance to catch the band playing live up here in the cold North was the Falling Into Infinity tour 1998. The new album wasn’t as strong as the two previous ones, but of course it’s hard following up those strong releases. It seemed like the band had lost the enthusiasm a bit since the first concert I attended. LaBrie explained in a later interview that this was a hard time for the band with a change of management and frictions within the band. Still, they put on an excellent performance.

This time they brought another Progressive Metal act as support; Vanden Plas. This German band was promoting their latest album called The God Thing. I was really into the album so I asked for an interview that was supposed to take place in the venue before the show. Unfortunately my recorder malfunctioned as the interview was about to start. I called the radio station I was working for at the moment and asked if the studio was available. Fortunately it was and it was only about a ten minute walk from the venue. I asked guitarist Stephan Lill if he would come along to the studio for the interview. He did and we had a nice chat about the band and their latest album. I wish I had a recording of the chat we had while walking between the two locations. He had some good stories to tell.

Mike and Stig

I didn’t interview anyone from Dream Theater that time but I did see Portnoy walking around backstage, wearing only a pair of carpenter jeans. He had bleached his hair and was completely blond so I didn’t recognize him at first. I am sure I could have done my first Dream Theater interview then if I had asked him …and if my recorder was working of course.

On the tour for the next album, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory, Dream Theater had already sold out Rockefeller two nights in a row. I got tickets for both nights. This time I made sure to book an interview slot. The album is one of my all time favorites by the band so I was eager to have a talk with them about it. I met keyboardist Jordan Rudess and Portnoy in a hotel in Oslo. Rudess had just taken the keyboard position in the band. Portnoy didn’t hide the fact that he was very hungover from the previous night’s party in Sweden. He didn’t really have to tell me that as it was quite obvious. Anyway, the interview went just fine. Unfortunately I have only managed to find a short version of it.

Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory album cover

As always they had an excellent band opening for them. This time it was Spock’s Beard. They are another Progressive Rock band that had caught my interest and that I had become a fan of. They are less Metal than Dream Theater, but they fit the bill perfectly. I did an interview with Neal Morse who was their front man at the time. The interview took place at the venue before the first show. One of the advantages of doing interviews at the venues before the shows is that you can stay inside until the show starts. There’s no point in going outside to stand in the long line, right? My friends attending the show were eager to be first in line to catch the best front row seats, center stage at the gallery. The front seats at the gallery at Rockefeller have small round tables next to them, which is very neat when you have a few beers, shots and other drinks stacked up before the show starts. I just walked up there before the doors opened and occupied the best seats. I feel a bit sorry for the guys rushing in after hours in line to catch the best seats just to see me already sitting there occupying the best ones for me and my friends. At least I was quite popular among my friends who got the best seats in the house that night. On this tour the band brought a full video production connected to the concept on the new album. It’s a bit funny, because Dream Theater is very much about perfectionism and I thought the video clips were poorly produced. I know some of it was meant to be old clips and flashbacks, but I still consider it B-quality. That goes for the stage productions on several of the following tours. But hey, it is all about the music and Dream Theater kicked ass live.

In 2002 Dream Theater blessed their fans with the double concept album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. This time the band played Oslo’s biggest indoor arena, Oslo Spektrum, which would become their spot for most of their future shows. It was always exciting to see what setlist they would play at every single show. Back in the day when Portnoy was in the band he used to set up the setlist the night before the show, which he emailed to the rest of the guys. LaBrie told me that they had a master list set up before the tour started; a long list of tracks they all had to be prepared to play on short notice. Later they would occasionally cover whole albums like Master of Puppets by Metallica and The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden for the encore. Which other bands would ever do such a cool thing? After Portnoy left the band they started touring with a permanent setlist like most bands do. Now most fans in the audience know what comes next after checking out setlists from previous shows.

I always miss the intimacy from the club shows when watching Dream Theater (or other bands I have seen in smaller places) doing shows in bigger venues. There was no turning back from Dream Theater as their popularity constantly grew. On the World Tourbulence tour they had the Swedish band Pain of Salvation with them. Dream Theater were always good at hand picking support acts, but this would be the last support band they brought on the road for a long time.

Stig and John

In 2003 there were rumors that a new album would soon be released and that it would be a really heavy one. One of my friends had come across some mp3 files on a torrent site that was labeled Dream Theater with some unfamiliar song titles that were supposed to be from the forthcoming album. He was very excited and sent me the files to check out. The sound was poor and the songs were very different from what we had heard from Dream theater before. I wasn’t completely convinced, but still eager to get the album as soon as it was released. As soon as I received my promo copy of Train of Thought it became obvious that the teasers I had received were a joke. It wasn’t Dream Theater at all, ha ha. I’m guessing it was some unknown band that came up with a clever idea to have their music spread all over. Unfortunately, no one knows who they were, so I’m not sure if they can label it a success. But I am sure they got their music downloaded a lot.

The new album showcased a more Heavy Metal style of the band with really heavy guitars. When the band visited Oslo again in 2004 I got asked to do an interview with axe master John Petrucci. In Oslo Spektrum the interviews often take place inside small concrete rooms. The reporter is not taken to the band, but the band comes to you. The acoustics in these rooms are a disaster for recorded interviews; it sounds like you’re in a small bunker.

Train of Thought World Tour 2004 photo pass

Anyway, I had a pleasant conversation with Petrucci and it was especially interesting to hear him explain how newer bands like Linkin Park had influenced him to change his guitar sound. Some time after I had published the interview, the Dream Theater fan club asked if they could publish the interview on a DVD along with footage from the show that was for the members of the fan club. They even sent me a copy. It’s a nice souvenir! The band was totally OK with the fan club filming and distributing the footage. They have always been very supportive of their fan clubs. Well, at least the Norwegian one which I think was one of the first in the world. I have waited longer a few times before interviews because the band met first with the fan club. It’s the perfect way to treat die hard fans. This time the concept for the show was “An Evening With Dream Theater”. It was a lengthy show with no time for support acts and bang for the buck for the fans. The show lasted 3 hours!

Jordan and Stig

When the band released their new album Octavarium in 2005 I had lost interest a bit so I didn’t spin the album much. However, the tour was a 20th Anniversary celebration and the setlists on the tour were awesome. It was another long show from the band, clocking in at close to 3 hours including intermissions.

Dream Theater came back again to play in support for the Systematic Chaos release. This time I was offered to do two interviews. Both with LaBrie, but also Rudess who wanted to promote his new solo album The Road Home. It’s a good release with cover tracks and an impressive guest list. I hadn’t talked to him for about 17 years so it was nice to see him again.

James and Stig

This was the first time I talked to LaBrie and I took a different angle than previous Dream Theater interviews. When I asked how he was doing I got the usual update on how the tour was going. However, it was cool to get some insights on what he thinks was the hardest tour the band had done, if he had remembered the different venues they usually play, how he preferred to spend his time during breaks on a tour, the new setlists every night and of course his vocal injury. Like the rest of the guys LaBrie turned out to be a nice guy and the interview went really well.

This time Dream Theater brought Symphony X with them on tour. The two best bands in Progressive Metal. What an unbeatable lineup!

In 2016, my MER colleague Kris and I were invited to a pre-listening session for the Rock Opera The Astonishing. I have never really been a fan of Rock Operas, but hey, it was Dream Theater and there was free beer. They even had a video greeting from the band before the album was played on this monster of a Hi-Fi system. I was not completely blown away, but I thought it had some cool stuff in it. I never listened much to the album really, but I went to see the band perform the entire album at Oslo Concert Hall. That was a new twist so to speak. The band played well, of course, but they just played the album and that was it. There was no interaction with the audience between the songs and no encores with Dream Theater classics (as far as I remember). All in all, I think it was a bit boring.

John and Stig

The band kind of came full circle when they toured with the Images, Word & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour in 2017. They were going to play the entire Images and Words album which is where my Dream Theater fandom took off. The setlist was topped off with a selection of other classics as well. The biggest surprise was when the label asked me to do an interview with bass maestro John Myung. He was the only one in the classic lineup I hadn’t talked to before and I actually didn’t think he did interviews, his nickname being “The Silent Man”. This would kind of close off another circle. Myung always seemed like a very quiet man of few words. I met him backstage once and asked to have an album signed. All he said was “sure”. Anyway, he was up for an interview and we had an interesting chat. What surprised me the most was the fact that he warms up for two hours before the shows AND has to play himself down for just as long after the shows. That’s a lot of hours playing when your shows sometimes last three hours!

DREAM THEATER - Distance Over Time
Distance Over Time album cover

Dream Theater released their last album Distance Over Time in 2019 and played Oslo again early 2020. I didn’t listen much to the album and didn’t go to the show. I heard it was awesome so I regret that a bit. Maybe it’s time to spin the latest record at least…

Dream Theater has produced so much quality music, but let’s not forget all the brilliant spin-off albums from projects and bands like Sons of Apollo, The Winery Dogs, Transatlantic, Liquid Tension Experiment and many more. It’s a jungle, but a good one!

It costs a lot to keep Metal Express Radio running. Let’s face it, we’re a grassroots web radio and we do this because we love Metal. Any contributions that helps keeping us afloat are highly welcomed. We gladly accept donations on our donate page.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.