Mike Portnoy: 'In the Beginning of Dream Theater, Prog Was a Dirty Word'

Meanwhile, Jordan Rudess says that Mangini has certain skills Portnoy doesn't.

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Drummer Mike Portnoy recently discussed the history of prog rock, touching on the early days of his former band Dream Theater. Portnoy remembered the group's beginnings as somewhat of an uneasy time for the prog niche, claiming that prog was a "dirty word." "In the beginning of my time with Dream Theater, the '80s and the early '90s, prog was a dirty word," he told Prog Rocks. "We were total outcasts and we had to really fight to carry the flag and almost excuse ourselves for being progressive." Mike then pointed out that prog made somewhat of a full circle since the mainstream days back in the '70s and is once again "as popular as ever." Apart from revealing Pink Floyd's "The Wall," the Beatles classic "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the Who's "Tommy," Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" as his top 5 favorite albums of all time, Portnoy was asked to describe prog with three words. "Pompous, extreme and musical," he said. Meanwhile, DT keyboardist Jordan Rudess made a comparison of Portnoy and the band's current drummer Mike Mangini, saying that although they're both exceptional musicians, Mangini has a few skills that Portnoy doesn't posses. "[They're] both very different people and they're both very different players," he told Classic Rock Revisited. "Both of them are great drummers but a lot did change both personally and musically for use. Musically, the new Mike has certain skills that the other one does not. For example, he's incredible with mathematics, especially related to music.

"He was able to bring us some architectural structure that we've never had to this extent before as far as meters and how different instruments will interact - that was a totally new element that we got to work with. Also, Mangini has a technique on drums unlike any other human on the planet, so that brings an element of change."

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So back to the first chat, do you agree with Portnoy that prog is "bigger than ever" these days? Let us know in the comments.

42 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Agent 00Awesome
    Why must the two be compared for all eternity?
    imo Mike > Mike
    While I was shocked to the say the least when Portnoy left the band, I just accepted it. I don't know why there has to be a circle jerk with the magazines and metal blogs going on about Mangini vs Portnoy. Portnoy left 3 years ago now, it really should just be buried now Mangini's first writing effort with the band has been released.
    I essentially became the huge DT fan I am now in the transition between Portnoy and Mangini. I was blown away by Mangini's drumming and personality in the drummer audition docs which made me check the band out more, and I fell in love with their records. I'm grateful I was able to see them open for Iron Maiden, when I wasn't super into them, which was the last time they were in Vancouver with Portnoy.
    Both Mikes are amazing drummers and Dream Theater have had an amazing run with Portnoy. It's a shame he's not in the band anymore, but the band found a very capable replacement in Mangini. Personally, I'm more of a Portnoy guy, but that time is gone unfortunately. There's no real point in comparing them, they're both great.
    Luckily we all now have amazing Portnoy (IMO) projects to listen to, as well as amazing new DT (IMO) to listen to as well!
    Is it just me, or does every other comment from DT about the drumming sound like a thin veiled 'F**k You', to Portnoy? I try not to look at it that way, but, it's just there...
    Yep, and Jordan's always been the amicable one in these perpetual conversations, so this one makes me a butthurt fanboy (I admit it, though I really just like Portnoy's drumming a lot more than the new stuff, I don't have any ill feelings toward Mangini). Lately it seems MP has been the most positive one about the others.
    Well...people keep asking DT about Portnoy. You really think they're going to bash their new drummer?
    True, not like they're gonna say " Yeah Portnoy was way better this guy isn't as good as him"
    Whatever the case may be.. It makes me feel that something really bad happened between Mike and the rest of the band.. They've not been fully honest with the story.. And I'm sure they never will be...
    I don't think they've been dishonest either. What I mean is...no, we (the fans) don't know every grimy, little detail. However, they have told us the important parts, and that most certainly is true. Portnoy quit because the other guys didn't want to take a break. Then, he thought AX7 would let him join their band. (They didn't, as we know.) So, he called up DT, going, "Can I come back?" And they (justifiably) said, "No, sorry. We're already replacing you. You quit, man." And then MP whined (and continues to whine a bit) about it to the music media. However, the cool thing is, we have a couple of solid projects that MP is involved in.
    Agree. Love Flying Colors and Winery Dogs. Also pretty great that with Flying Colors, Portnoy went from playing with John Petrucci to John Petrucci's guitar idol.
    I don't get it.. Portnoy plays guitar in Flying Colours or something? (Excuse my ignorance, I'm not that updated)
    I'm not hearing people ask Dream Theater about Portnoy that much these days. I am hearing people as them how the writing is different with Mike Mangini. A lot.
    They're asking it "a lot", I meant. I didn't mean the writing has changed "a lot". Didn't seem clear when I re-read it.
    Portnoy was a stage monster! His presence and personality were huge on stage. Mangini tries to do this, but it isn't there. Both are great but for me Portnoy is god out of the two. The main issue I've found is that the sound of the drums have suffered since Portnoy left. Since Portnoy was one of the producers along with Petrucci. Portnoy without a doubt made sure the drums were loud and in your face on the mix. Now that it's just Petrucci producing the drums and especially the cymbals are buried in the mix. I like that I could hear every little splash cymbal or accent Portnoy threw it a track. Now I can't tell if Mangini is hitting a cymbal or unwrapping the tin foil off a take out burger. All a matter of taste and perspective I suppose.
    That and Mangini just seems to use the cymbals a lot more sparingly, for better or for worse.
    I'm glad they chose Mangini as the new drummer. He' fantastic and he's done a great job on the self-titled album.
    Darth Crow
    ... and Portnoy has certain skills Mangini doesn't have. As Jordan said, they are very different drummers.
    When I first heard Portnoy was quitting the band, I worried about the music but was excited for the lyrics (never a huge fan of Portnoy's lyrics...). Mangini has stepped in and really revitalized the sound of this band. The last 2 albums are some of the best in years. I won't take anything away from Portnoy, but I'm just as, if not more, excited to see the band with Mangini.
    I'd agree with you as far as Dream Theater is concerned, not so much as ADToE is concerned.
    "In the beginning, God (John Petrucci) created man. He then destroyed his newly created toys, just for kicks, using bursts of spazzy alt.picking at 6 billion notes per second." -Genesis of Dream Theater 1:1:1:1
    I would say Mangini is clearly the more technically skilled drummer. Who is a more creative writer, however, is up for grabs. Anyways, I think prog is decently big now, but not as big as it was in the 70s. Of course, I don't consider a lot of newer bands "prog" but somebody else might. For example, a band like Periphery...I would personally classify them more as technical metal, not prog. But if you DO count that as prog, then it's pretty big lol
    While I feel that what Jordan said must've been an accurate observation from his PoV, I think he could have put it a bit more diplomatically. Maybe said something like, "We now try/do stuff that we couldn't with the other Mike like [an example of how Mangini being 'incredible with mathematics' has helped DT]"
    Of course Prog is bigger than ever. How is that even a question? And while I get that Mangini may in fact at this point in his career be a more creative drummer/writer than Portnoy it really strikes me as strange how undiplomatic the DT camp has been about the whole thing. You're really gonna trash the guy you grew up and built your band with over the course of twenty years by constantly reiterating how much you think your new drummer is better than the old, especially when the old is one of the most influential and revered drummers of all time?