Tag Archives: Dream Theater

Fresh from the vault (11)


There was much to like about Dream Theater‘s latest, self-titled 2013 release. Despite that neither of its two trailer singles, The Enemy Inside and Along For The Ride immediately grabbed me; and that the album as a whole does little to expand the band’s musical horizons. it’s an album that I’ve continued to play sporadically since purchase and has grown in my estimation with repeat listening. Understated harmonic references to the band’s own career history are juxtaposed with less-subtle allusions to its influences (particularly Canuck power-trio, Rush) and whilst they’ve not skimped on compositional depth and complexity, there’s a smoothness and accessibility, combined with expert pacing, to the songs which makes it compelling: very much an album-long listen rather than playlist fodder. It’s revelatory rather than revolutionary: a consolidation and refinement of what they’ve learned over their 30+ year career.

So if you’ll forgive me, I’m not exactly criticizing that album when I say I think they’ve managed this particular balancing act as well if not even better before. Octavarium (2005) is regarded by many as the definitive DT album, alongside the Images And Words sophomore effort: I favour the former. DT‘s first three albums (and also the A Change Of Seasons mini-album) have a thrilling exploratory quality, reflecting an ambition to marry classic pop and hard rock influences to ’80s metal bombast . Ironically, whilst not so well-received by some fans, it was their forth, ‘trying too-hard’ (for accessibility) – Falling Into Infinity (1995) – which marked a turning point. Octavarium represents in some ways a return to that mode of writing, albeit undertaken in a more honest spirit: there are parallels with the career of one of Mike Portnoy‘s musical influences, Marillion. Both bands had an unlikely ‘hit’ (Pull Me Under and Kayleigh respectively); both faced record company pressure – to no avail – to write another; and both gravitated of their own accord towards a more streamlined ‘pop’ mode of writing later on in their careers, and significantly, once said company pressure was lifted. Intriguingly, both albums (Octavarium and .com) climax with an archetypal prog epic featuring headfuck widdly keyboard solos that explode out of nowhere (Octavarium and Interior Lulu).

…[so] this is where we came in…

Of Mike Portnoy‘s 12-Step suite – which in light of his and the band’s parting of the ways is now unlikely to be played in full as a live set, more’s the pity – The Root Of All Evil is perhaps the track that works best as a stand-alone song, certainly since 6DOIT barnstorming opening gambit The Glass Prison. If you own the Score DVD/Blu-Ray – a must-buy for any hardened DT fan, as well as a perfect introduction for newbies wishing to explore their varied career-history – you’ll know that it’s also a showstopping intro to their live set. ‘…tidily mixing heavy riffs with some progressive moments…’ to quote band biographer Rich Wilson. They follow it – in that show – with I Walk Beside You, a song which the band freely admitted showcased the members’ love of more commercial stadium rock acts including Coldplay and U2.

Now, DT has attracted its fair share of fan-disapprobation over the years for wearing its influences too boldly on its collective sleeve at times – of especial note, in addition to the above is Systematic Chaos (2007) which appeared to ape both Evanescence (melodically and lyrically, on Forsaken) and Muse (Prophets of War). Cynics have on occasion interpreted these as attempts to leaven their determinedly-virtuostic compositional approach with a little popular appeal. Actually, I’m not sure I completely disagree; but I’m certain that I don’t object. Sure, I can hear what said detractors are hearing, but I could care less because all the aforementioned are great songs.

The Answer Lies Within reminds me of nothing so much as a superior Elton John, even – horror of horrors, Robbie Williams –  ballad. Lyrically, it benefits from a simplicity that suggests (guitarist and lyricist) John Petrucci didn’t spend too long sequestered away with his thesauruses and dictionaries; and the string accompaniment from a stripped-down contingent of Jamshied Sharifi‘s Octavarium Orchestra is tasteful. It’s a strong piece of songwriting. Later, both Never Enough and Panic Attack (the former especially) attest to Portnoy‘s and the band’s love of Muse (the band occasionally performed Stockholm Syndrome, a song witha passing resemblance to DT, at soundcheck or as an encore). The latter’s song Assassin – from Black Holes and Revelations (2006) – might lead one to wonder if the Teignmouth trio haven’t returned the inspirational compliment: the resemblance to Panic Attack is uncanny and it’s not insignificant that Black Holes… is, in this writer’s opinion the finest example in recent years of progressive ambition and mainstream appeal coexisting in sweet, mutually-beneficial harmony.

The album ends with two satisfyingly ‘proggy’ epics; Sacrificed Sons and the five-part title track. The former features a rare lyrical credit for secretly-Canadian singer James LaBrie, inspired by 9/11. To quote Wilson (above) again ‘…The danger of such a topic, is that it could become over-politicized, mawkish, insensitive or even sanctimonious … the band just about carry it off…’ I think Wilson’s being less-than-generous: LaBrie handles the subject matter deftly and humanely, avoiding the obvious pitfalls of glorifying ‘The West’ and demonizing the Islamic terrorists. Musically, it’s dramatic not melodramatic and the second track to utilize the added depth only an orchestra can bring.

Octavarium (the song) is 24 minutes of showboating and homage, yet the attention to musical detail and obvious fun had by the band in composing and performing it save it from becoming a leaden exercise in indulgence. In classic ‘symphonic’ mode it moves smoothly (with one notably-dramatic exception) and confidently thru five ‘movements’ building drama along the way. It’s a masterclass in tension and release; surpassing their previous ‘symphonic’ high water-mark A Change Of Seasons and pointing the way to The Count Of Tuscany (Black Clouds And Silver Linings, 2009) which remains for me the apotheosis if DT‘s take on that style.  The live version documented on Score (and backed by a full orchestra, below) takes the song to even greater heights.

Like Dream Theater, Octavarium derives much of its strength as a piece from both its allusions to the band’s own history and its influences, albeit clever and well-chosen ones, delivered at times with a nod and a wink and at others with subtlety and reverence. It’s a conceptual album in more ways than one, with an overarching theme metaphorically relating the career of the band at that point to the musical octave (from which the title, Octavarium also derives, it being DT‘s eighth album) and also chock full of ‘nuggets’ of musical detail for attentive listeners to unearth. A whole blog post could be devoted to this aspect alone, and helpfully, one enterprising fan has already done just that. A couple such nuggets Spetang appears to have missed (in reference to the aforementioned titular song-cycle) are a bar of the Phantom Of The Opera theme at 11.37 and a the first phrase of Jingle Bells interpolated at 17.47. There are probably more yet…

Octavarium is the most complete DT album for me: it showcases every facet of their musical style and the songwriting is consistently-strong. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.


Red alert


Frippin’ ‘eck, just when ‘comeback’ shows on the part of artists ‘of a certain vintage’ were in danger of becoming passé…

The same year that The Strolling Bones resurrected the ghost of their famed 1969 Hyde Park gig (by way celebrating of the band’s 50th anniversary) sees the latest, unexpected call to arms for arguably the most important, celebrated support act on that bill. Crimson had yet to make their recorded debut when they joined Family, Roy Harper, Alexis Korner and others to set the stage for that legendary Woodstock-inspired festival line-up; they secured their place on the strength of a club buzz that gained the approbation of the cream of ’60s rock talent including Pete Townsend, Bowie and Hendrix.

When In The Court of The Crimson King surfaced later in ’69, it, to quote oftentimes Crimson percussionist Bill Bruford, ”…signalled the emergence of the mature progressive rock style…” and its (the album’s and the band’s) influence has been felt and appreciated ever since by several generations of aspiring art rockers including Genesis, Nick Cave, Tool, Doves, Between The Buried And Me and Dutch Uncles. Crimson has only convened to record and tour but sporadically over the intervening years and, Bob Fripp aside, the band membership has been in more-or-less constant flux and yet in spite – or perhaps because – of this, and enhanced by its membership’s extensive and diverse repertoire – there’s scant sign of its creativity becoming stale. It’s arguably retained its freshness and credibility better than any other exponent of the prog era.

The band for the upcoming shows is yet to be fully confirmed but Fripp‘s latest online diary update reveals “…[t]he Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode…”, and names session veteran William ‘Bill’ Rieflin – best know for his stints with Ministry and REM but also a former Fripp collaborator – and hints that oftentimes Crimson stick-man Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Paula Cole, ABWH, Liquid Tension Experiment, Steven Wilson) is also on board.

One ostensible indicator of Rieflin‘s suitability for inclusion in the re-vamped line-up is his proven ability to lay down a tight groove in concert with a drumming partner; as evidenced by his position in an early incarnation of the Ministry touring band alongside PIL‘s Martyn Atkins (see below): for this writer, one of the most exhilarating pieces of rock concert footage ever committed to tape

But who are the other possible contenders for this according to Fripp ‘…very different reformation to what has gone before…’?

Completing the 4-strong English contingent alongside Fripp – maybe Porcupine Tree‘s Gavin Harrison (d) and Steven Wilson (g/v), and Jakko M. Jacszyk (g/v)? Harrison sparred with Pat Mastellotto (below) on the Crim‘s last stage outing and both Wilson and Jaczsyk have developed strong working relationships with Fripp thru studio projects in the last few years. There’s an outside possibility that Fripp may have tempted Bill Bruford (p) out of retirement, or John Wetton (b/v) back into the fold; or maybe decided to bring horns back into the mix: Theo Travis‘ star has certainly been rising over the last few years, considering his prolific collaborations with the likes of Wilson, Gong, the revitalized Judy Dyble and others.

On the American side, take your pick from Crimson veterans Pat Mastellotto (d), Trey Gunn (g/b) and Adrian Belew (g/v/d) plus the aforementioned Rieflin and Levin. Then again, one Michael Portnoy (d) has been busily pursuing a number of avenues since his parting of the ways with prog giants Dream Theater (unlikely, granted; but you know he’d kill for the job…) and Tool‘s Danny Carey must have a little time on his hands waiting for Maynard to write the next batch of lyrics; has been showing his Jazz rock bent of late and has previously played with Crimson on a double headline tour a few years back (the two bands being mutually-appreciative of the other’s gifts).

Buuuut… enough idle speculation already. Play mix’n’match to your heart’s content Crim-heads. Sufficed to say I’m excited about this (can you tell?). I’ve never seen this band live so here’s hoping I’m able to pick up tickets when the shows are announced.

In the meantime here’s a little reminder or several of Fripp & co.’s previous genius…

plus a couple affectionate tributes…

Dream Theater – the Opus is upon us


Dream Theater‘s self-titled 12th studio album is due to be released this Monday; in the meantime I’ve been enjoying the stream via Prog magazine‘s website. It’s been up a few days but due to technical issues I’ve only been able to listen since yesterday. Nonetheless I’ve had a few listens right thru and initial impressions are, if not great then certainly not bad either. Here are a few thoughts on each song…

False Awakening Suite is the title of the previously-mooted instrumental intro. As intros go it’s ok; cycling in short order (2.41) thru a series of contrasting dramatic themes. Think a compact variation on the 6DOIT Overture. By comparison it suffers somewhat from its brevity: there’s scarcely time to appreciate the merits of one theme before the next one kicks in. I can see it working well as the live intro it’s reportedly been written to be, though.

My initial thoughts on first ‘single’ The Enemy Inside are here. Sufficed to say, although – like many songs – its placing within an album context changes the listening experience somewhat, and its metal directness makes it both a strong opening cut proper after the tease of False Awakening and an effective contrast to some of the more proggy and balladic moments.

Instant impression of The Looking GlassRush! Definitely a melodic tip of the hat to the Canuck power trio here (they do it again later in the intro for Surrender to Reason, too). Probably the most immediately-impressive song so far to my ears, as it happens.

Enigma Machine is the second instrumental track: a showboating interlude that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Awake, or even Scenes From A Memory: like Erotomania or The Dance of Eternity it demonstrates the band’s instrumental and compositional prowess without pushing the bounds of indulgence or outstaying its welcome.

There are hints of of …Puppets era Metallica and latter-day Pendragon in Behind The Veil and that’s no bad thing, and where the contrast between crunchy riffing and sweetly-melodic sections come off as disorienting and jerky elsewhere they’re really effective on this track. Another highlight for me.

Neither Surrender To Reason nor The Bigger Picture have really made much impression on me yet. I’ve listened several times but nothing’s sticking and they kind of exemplify the ‘mushy’ comment below…

Along For The Ride is a short, quietly-epic ballad with a feel not unlike This Is The Life from the last record. Wasn’t hugely keen when RR released it as the second album trailer but it grew on me pretty quickly with each listening and tracklisting-wise it provides a welcome moment of pure calm prior to the full on prog-ness of Illumination Theory. Nice solo spots from Petrucci and Rudess too: economical and understated by their standards and all the more effective for that.

Illumination Theory is the album’s only real excursion into the extended, symphonic mode, and as such it’s a daunting, multi-faceted beast of a track. Of all the songs here, it’s probably going to require the most digesting so take this early analysis with a pinch of salt. I’m reminded a little of song suites including Marillion’s Gaza, Fair To Midland‘s The Greener Grass and Frost*s Milliontown insofar as there’s a definite sense of disparate sections stitched together in a way that’s not initially pleasing to the ear: a jerky start-stop-start feel which contrasts poorly with previous DT epics such as Octavarium and The Count of Tuscany. Those songs, though equivalent in complexity and ambition clicked pretty much right away for me. Having said that, Gaza, …Grass and Milliontown now rate amongst my very favourite ‘epic’ prog workouts, so only time will tell whether Illumination Theory will become a favourite also. And speaking of Milliontown, that song sprang to mind when the false ending gave way to Rudess‘ piano fadeout.

To briefly summarize; the intricacies of this album will perhaps assert themselves more strongly over the course of time and repeat playing; I certainly hope so, because at the moment, a few highlights aside there’s a mushy, blandness to the album as a whole which after the near-triumph of ADToE I wasn’t expecting at all. It’s almost paradoxical, insofar as generally, DT have pulled back from the extended and twiddly prog workouts – for which they are both reviled or revered in certain quarters – and distilled their essence into more compact, more conventional songs. The average track length here is around the 6-min mark, for a start. Somehow though a number of the compositions feel unnecessarily cluttered and somewhat jerky, with few immediate hooks standing out. So what?! I hear prog fans snorting dismissively – this is DT not 1D right! Fair enough, but the two aren’t mutually-exclusive, as ADToE and much else of DT‘s best work attests. What made ADToE such a breath of fresh air was the ease with which it flowed as a complete piece: there were few gnarly moments of musicality for its own sake and it was chock full of memorable melodies and occasions for each player to shine. DT feels less well-balanced, though compliments are due to both Mike Mangini and James LaBrie who have certainly pushed themselves here. By contrast, Jordan Rudess and John Myung are afforded less prominence, which is a shame because their more up-front presence was again one of the most appealing aspects of ADToE.

False Awakening and Illumination Theory aside, the emphasis on this album is definitely on the hard rock rather than the prog side, albeit with a healthy smattering of ballad-ness and plenty of musicianly detail to make multiple listens a necessity. It’s perhaps closest to Awake than any other of their albums in this respect and yet nothing like that album in so many ways (Illumination Theory, for example has a feel very much at odds with anything they recorded with Portnoy, featuring shocking contrasts of crackling aggression and soothing lushness that bring to mind Oceansize or even Between The Buried And Me).

DT are buggers for defying expectation, though, which is precisely what keeps them interesting; and ensures that they never manage to please all the fans all of the time. If nothing else, DT (the album) offers further proof that those who wrote the band off in light of Portnoy‘s departure were mistaken: they certainly haven’t run out of ideas, it’s merely a question of which ideas resonate with, and stand the test of time for, whom.

Back to the listening booth, then  😉

Opus Eponymous: In the Presence of ‘The Enemy…’


First things first: the Dream Theater pre-order is now open. But if you’re a fan, you probably know that 😉 With over a month to go the band have released a trailer in the form of The Enemy Inside…

Truth be told, this shows the facet of DT‘s repertoire I like the least. When Radiohead said ‘anyone can play guitar’ they were perhaps being a little tongue in cheek – and certainly not everyone can play guitar like John Petrucci – but this kind of ‘speed metal for radio’ doesn’t really do justice to the embarrassment of musical talent in the DT camp. In spite of protestations that the band have been masters of their own musical destiny – most notably since Scenes from a Memory (1999) – there have been occasional signs that the band have tweaked their sound to appeal to a more mainstream/trendy metal/rock audience – Never Enough (very Muse), The Dark Eternal Night (pseudo-‘Death growls’, A Rite of Passage and strayed from the essence of their sound in the process. This sounds like another one of those times to me. …Enemy… is a very pedestrian slice of metal by DT standards: fast-paced, suitably-shredding, dizzyingly-widdly but finally not that memorable.

Previous excursions into full-on metal – most notably with Awake (1994), Train of Thought (2003) and Systematic Chaos (2007) – remain the weakest episodes in DT’s career to date, in my opinion anyway.

I didn’t miss Mike Portnoy‘s playing on A Dramatic Turn of Events at all, but I do on this song – I think his ‘manic Moon’ splashes and fills would have lifted this song in a way that Mike Mangini‘s precise yet predictable batterie doesn’t. And Jordan Rudess is criminally underused here. When his solo spot arrives at 4.43 my heart almost skips a beat, but then it settles back down pretty quickly when I realise I’ve heard these kinda figures done before, and better.

It’s a shame, because I don’t think this song will either sate the appetite of established fans or win them any new ones. This is a crucial album for them in many ways and they need to impress. Much as the lacklustre A Rite of Passage (accompanied, like …Enemy… by a pretty lame video clip) didn’t put me off pre-ordering Black Clouds and Silver Linings this won’t stop me going ahead and purchasing Dream Theater but it has dampened my enthusiasm a little. ADToE came on the back of two albums that only really shone half the time, sporting a freshness and economy of writing that put it up there with the band’s best work. I’m looking for more in the remainder of the tracks, and I doubt I’ll be entirely disappointed, but lets wait and see…

Opus Eponymous continued…


Latest DT news via Roadrunner Records

As previously reported this is DT‘s first album with Mike ‘Newkid’ Mangini as a full writing partner,  In contrast to the fanfare of publicity surrounding auditions for Mike Portnoy‘s successor which set the tone for the release of A Dramatic Turn of Events, the teasers for Dream Theater have been, thusfar, just that, giving little away (see part two here if you missed it). This third in-studio clip is a little more forthcoming, revealing some details of the new compositions:

The album will feature two instrumental tracks – one of which is the album intro, conceived as a live set-opener. Though many of their songs feature instrumental breaks DT rarely record stand-alone instrumentals (and they’ve never done two on one record before). Notable exceptions include The Ytse Jam, Stream of Consciousness, The Dance of Eternity, and Hell’s Kitchen. Ytse‘s kinda cool – the better for not being over-extended, Stream… meh! and both Dance… and …Kitchen are hard to imagine outside of the context of their respective tracklist placements. My favourite DT instru-workouts are all song-breaks – Blind Faith, Octavarium – intros – In the Presence of Ememies pt 1 – or outros – Solitary Shell but lets not be too hasty, these might be great. But wait, did I hear talk of a drum solo…

Nah. drum fill (2.08) my bad 🙂

Some tracks ‘flow into one-another’ according to (guitarist) John Petrucci (0.27) Tempting to read this as hinting in the direction of some kind of overarching conceptual framework; not an uncommon trope in prog land, though not utilized by DT since Octavarium. Such conceits were largely driven by the now-absent (drummer and DT overlord) Mike Portnoy. Coupled with engineer Rich Chycki‘s comment ‘…It’s going to be Dream Theater to the max as far as playing and songwriting…’ (2.16) might we conclude that this is DT digging into its musical past to reconnect with a ‘classic’ sound? Or DT overblown and indulging to the max? ADToE hinted at the former so here’s hoping…

Oh, and there’s a 20-minute ‘epic’ which is something the NY crew have proven – by way of Octavarium and The Count of Tuscany – they can pull off with aplomb in the past – featuring orchestral accompaniment. Prog on!

The 3 clips premiered by RR thusfar have been soundtracked (mostly) by vintage DT material. At 1.47 we hear (keyboard maestro) Jordan Rudess playing what sounds like new material; a short piano segment. Come on boys, more of that please! And when does the pre-order open? I’m excited now!

I love much of DT‘s catalog, but to be honest I’ve been playing ADToE more over the last year than any other of their albums for a long time and it just doesn’t get old. I want more!

Roll on the fall…

Opus Eponymous


Via Roadrunner site, tantalizing early news regarding Dream Theater‘s upcoming, self-titled new album. Has it really been 2 years since the Long Island quintet released their last, aptly-titled, A Dramatic Turn of Events? Where did that time go?

ADToE was apt for two reasons: as long-time followers were aware at the time, it marked the band’s first studio release and tour without founding-member and ‘back seat’ driving-force, drummer Mike Portnoy. Although Portnoy was never a principal songwriter, his immersion in DT‘s career trajectory in every other way – de facto spokesperson, fan club manager, (co) producer (with guitarist, John Petrucci) oftentimes lyricist, backing vocalist and over-arching musical director –  gave him enormous influence within the DT organisation.

Happily, ADToE turned out to be DT‘s strongest album since 2005’s Octavarium; dialing back a little on the rock virtuoso showboating to concentrate on more focused songwriting and memorable melodies. Said music was already written by the time the band selected Mike Mangini as a permanent replacement for the departed Portnoy, and his playing, competent and powerful as it is, reflects that. Portnoy, a devotee of the Keith Moon school, demonstrated a propensity for elevating percussion to almost lead-instrument position. Intricate fills vied for attention with Petrucci‘s guitar pyrotechnics or doubled Jordan Rudess‘ synth lines; cymbal splashes and double-bass figures provided signature, omnipresent punctuation. In playing around existing, almost-finished compositions, Mangini created parts that were sympathetic whilst taken down a notch: DT‘s signature sound very much present and correct yet subtly-different. This time around he‘s been involved from the off, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the dynamic of the music. Will his parts sit so unobtrusively – albeit tightly – within the compositions as before or will the confidence gained from two years touring allow his percussive personality to take the fore and pull the band in new directions?

Progressive bands ought to progress after all. Whether or not you cared for all the resulting music, there’s no doubt that changes of line-up and circumstance forced protagonists of the old-guard – Yes, Genesis, Crimson – to try out new ideas, instrumentation and styles. If DT have been guilty of one musical crime over the years, it’s pushing the limits of their virtuoso talents at times at the expense of their songwriting and lyrical development and the abandonment of strong melody in favour of dizzying speed and tricky rhythmic shifts. 2007’s Systematic Chaos was perhaps their nadir in this respect: In the Presence of Enemies part 1 was a storming opener, Forsaken a great power ballad and Atonement perhaps the most satisfying segment of the 12-Step suite since it began way back on 6DOIT (and I liked, and miss Portnoy‘s embrace of contrasting, death-influenced vocal stylings). But there was far too much instrumental wankery elsewhere, and Petrucci – a patchy lyricist at best – really let the side down on the lyric front with some cringeworthy Dungeons & Dragons cliches. Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009) was a partial return, still struggling lyrically, albeit back in the real world but worth a punt for Petrucci‘s lovely power ballad, Wither, and epic album-bookends A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany – the latter a career highlight up there with Blind Faith, Hell’s Kitchen/Lines in the Sand and the mighty Octavarium suite in my opinion. And by the time ADToE rolled out they really hit a new stride, songwise, with only Lost Not Forgotten and Outcry outstaying their welcome, and This Is the Life, Far From Heaven and Beneath the Surface demonstrating genuine, ‘tug-the-heartstrings’ mastery of emotional and melodic nuance. Build Me Up, Break Me Down had a pleasing, contemporary pop rock sensibility about it, too; and I for one would love to see DT develop this aspect of their oevre (mind you, I like Falling Into Infinity, which was made under commercial sufferance and is none the worse for it – not a popular opinion, mind) so I’d be curious to hear what they could come up with if they discovered their poppier sensibilities of their own volition, much as Marillion did with .com or Crimson circa Discipline).

Self-titling their 12th studio album could be read (as Petrucci implies, above) as a statement of intent; an attempt to record the definitive Dream Theater long-player. For many, that accolade belongs to their second album, 1992’s Images and Words, though the aforementioned Octavarium is also a critical and fan favourite. In truth, though, their fanbase well reflects the adage that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time; and the record is sure to divide the following once again. For me, they haven’t produced an album of wall-to-wall brilliance for a long time: Octavarium came damn close, but given the upward curve since Systematic Chaos I’m expecting good things.

In the meantime, here’s a few personal highlights from the band’s career to date:



If you’re any kind of Marillion fan – and if you’re a follower of, or regular visitor to musicbugsandgender then you’llknow that I am – then you may know that Grendel is to us what How Soon Is Now? is to hardcore Smithsheads: the b-side that transcended its second-billing to become the most revered, near-legendary song in the band’s catalogue. As anthemic in its own way as the aforementioned How Soon…, Comfortably Numb, Hey Jude, White Rabbit, The Final Countdown …well, you get the idea 😉

For the Marillion novice, Grendel is an extended set-piece from the band’s early years, drawing lyrically upon John Gardner‘s novel of the same name – which re-imagines the Beowulf legend from the antagonist’s point of view – and musically upon the formative years of ’70s symphonic prog, notably GenesisSupper’s Ready and Van der Graaf Generator, with a bit of Floyd thrown in for good measure. It was a staple of the Aylesbury-based band’s early sets, and, if the testimony of die hards is to be believed, something of a highlight. As the fledgling neo-progger’s canon expanded, it was phased-out in favour of newer, more original compositions: but the sentimental attatchment lingered…

Requesting Grendel at both Marillion and Fish gigs has become something of a ritual over the intervening years. When it was announced that ex-frontman Fish was planning to perform the track for the first time as a solo artist at this year’s fanclub convention in Leamington Spa a couple weekends back, Fish and Marillion-related message-boards quickly filled with traffic from both nostalgic long-term fans and aficionados of a newer generation who never had the chance to see the original line up perform.

There was an understandable note of cynicism, too; understandable because the great Scot’s attitude toward the ‘Grendel!’ contingent has been as impatiently dismissive as his former colleagues over the years. Well, on the whole: when I caught him at Brighton’s Komedia on the 13th Star tour, he teased the crowd – or rather, guitarist Frank Usher did – with a few opening bars before declaiming ‘Ahh, fuck off!!’ and moving onto the next song. Well now, albeit probably in the ‘one off’ spirit of his Market Square Heroes performance with his former bandmates, Fish has finally caved in to fan nostalgia. So without further ado, here it is:

Without wishing to derail proceeding into the much-discussed ‘Fish’s voice isn’t what it used to be’ debate, it’s fair to say, that based on this unmixed i-phone type recording, the audience singalong does tend to dominate, so if your nostalgia has been piqued and you yearn to hear it the way it sounded in days of yore (and how ‘prog’ an expression is that?) the try this for size; Hammy-O, ’83:

And as a bit of an added bonus for the symphonic prog freaks, here’s some more epic tuneage from a few more recent bands who have had a stab at creating their own ‘Supper’s Ready‘ moments: