Dream Theater and Symphony X: Separated at Birth?
Cain and Abel. Romulus and Remus. Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar.
Should Michael Romeo and John Petrucci be listed among these great twins? I think so, and here’s why.
As a rule of thumb, I usually try not to make myself even less appealing by letting the world know of my secret love of well-executed cheesiness. But when it comes to my love for Dream Theater and Symphony X, I tend to be loud and obnoxious about it.
I’m such a huge fanboy of these two bands that I started to discover (re: overthink) patterns and parallelisms between their respective careers. And I ended up coming to the conclusion that Symphony X and Dream Theater are THE SAME BAND (gasp). Or, the more likely explanation, they’re two identical twin bands that were separated at birth and raised in two radically opposite environments: New Jersey and Long Island.
This, of course, would lead to the obviously different amounts of success that each of these bands would reach: Symphony X today are, in terms of record sales, a poor man’s Dream Theater. They’re Dream Theater, but from New Jersey.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look:
- Band is formed by a bunch of music nerds who love prog rock and metal.
- Band writes music that draws equally from both those dorky genres, not giving two craps about being liked or selling records.
- Band releases first album with a stock glam-like singer, nobody cares.
- Band fires said singer, recruits a more distinct one, releases two classic albums and gets huge in Japan.
- Band goes through lineup turmoil, releases an album that’s somewhat different in style to the previous two. Haters hate, album is later considered a hidden gem by nerds like me.
- Band gathers its bearings, releases an epic concept album in the year 2000 with the final musical contributions of a key member who had left the band. Said album is widely considered to be the band’s last great effort if not the greatest.
- Band loses sight of what’s important, releases an album that will set the tone for a decade of dissapointment, eschewing the progressive elements that made them unique in the first place in favor of trying really hard to be metal and sell records.
- Dork is a nerd, writes this article.
So, which band was I talking about? Hint: BOTH OF THEM. I didn’t make any of this up, for real. The similarities sort of stopped when Portnoy left Dream Theater, but still, I think it’s pretty incredible.
Dream Theater’s Images and Words and Awake are the albums that make IMNs go “I wish they made more music that sounded like that”, much like Symphony X’s The Damnation Game and The Divine Wings of Tragedy. This period yielded one epic, 20+ minute song per band, too: SX’s “The Divine Wings of Tragedy” and DT’s “A Change of Seasons” (it was supposed to be on Images and Words but got cut due to its length, so I’m not wrong here), both generally regarded very highly.
Here’s the big hole in my theory: DT lost a key member, Kevin Moore, after album #3; SX lost Tom Miller after album #4. At any rate, both bands’ 4th albums (DT’s Falling into Infinity and SX’s Twilight in Olympus) are usually regarded as not that great, even though I think both of them are extremely underrated and better than a lot of both bands’ more recent output.
Then come #5: DT’s Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes from a Memory and SX’s V: The New Mythology Suite. Where to start. Two concept albums, huge in scope, both with a middle-eastern themed centerpiece (“Home” and “Egypt” respectively). Both these albums have great songs, an interesting story, and musical themes repeated throughout. I could go into more detail on that last part, but I think I’ve nerded out enough for a while.
Here’s where it gets reeeeeeally weird: Dream Theater was supposed to release a song called “Metropolis Pt. II” on Falling into Infinity, and Symphony X was supposed to have recorded a title track for Twilight in Olypmpus. Why didn’t they? Because both of them were 20+ plus minutes and they were told to leave them out. So what did they do? They decided to expand the songs into full-fledged concept albums, scattering the parts that were already written throughout them. And both these epics featured the final contributions from departed members Derek Sherinian and Tom Miller.
After that, DT released Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and SX released The Odyssey. Both these albums have very long title tracks, but unlike previous releases, I find both of them to be extremely boring and overdone. These were the albums that marked the turning point from whence there was no going back: both bands started trying very hard to be metal above everything else, coincidentally at the same time a band member who was crucial to the writing process left. “But they still have weird time signatures, what are you talking about?” Sure, but throwing in weird time signatures once in a while doesn’t mean you’re “progressive”. Where is the contrast, the expression-brimmed atmosphere, the epic vocal melodies and the well-placed leads? They were traded in for percieved edginess (DT) and trying to rip off Pantera (SX).
But enough bitching! I’m going to end this post with the greatness that once was, thankful for every second of wonderful, thought-provoking music that has helped me through life and will continue to do so. Thanks for reading.
*Disclaimer: I have family in NJ. If you were offended by any of my japes, well, don’t take it to heart.