Plenty of bands have soldiered on after a drummer bails, but when that drummer is Mike Portnoy, widely regarded as one of the best drummers of all time, the move is quite dramatic.
But progressive metal masters Dream Theater always have had a taste for musical theatrics. Songs run up to 20 minutes long, and the band has sold more than 10 million records and DVDs worldwide. But in 2010, fans were shaken when legendary drummer Portnoy, the second-youngest person (after Neil Peart) to be inducted into Modern Drummer's Hall of Fame, announced his departure.
Dream Theater auditioned seven acclaimed drummers and chose Mike Mangini as Portnoy's replacement.
Dream Theater is scheduled to perform Sunday, December 4, at Mesa Arts Center.
"We went quiet for a while after Portnoy's departure to film a documentary, showing fans where we were going, and who we would eventually choose for the job," says Juilliard-trained keyboardist Jordan Rudess.
"Mangini was the first to audition, and he played three of our songs, spot on; we could've been on stage. He came in saying that everything he had done in his life up to this point was for this position."
Of course, fans were skeptical.
"Portnoy, a great drummer and charismatic fellow, has his fans, so it's hard for people to totally let go of that and think something else is great," Rudess says. But Mangini has an impressive résumé as well, which includes playing drums since age 5 and setting five "world's fastest drummer" records from 2002-05.
So for a band that focuses as much on technical talent as the energy among the members, what variations in style and sound may occur in the future?
To fans' delight or dismay, the answer may lie within the band's 12th album, 2011's A Dramatic Turn of Events. Dynamic with lyrical content focused on metamorphosis, it is a masterpiece of instrumental madness, with everyone's role in the band maximized. The album marks the recorded debut of Mangini and recalls some of the band's earlier albums — it's almost as if bringing in new energy refreshed the band's connection to its roots.
"We revisit where we're coming from and what we want to put out, so we stylistically removed certain elements from our music," Rudess says. "We're still partly a metal band, but we removed the angrier side of things, which I don't think we even fully owned. We're sticking with a more melodic sound because it relates more to whom we are now."
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Though the album already was written and conceptualized by the time Mangini joined, the drummer made his mark, eschewing any prerecorded samples.
Currently touring to support A Dramatic Turn of Events, the members haven't figured out whether their writing style will change with the next album.
"We experiment backstage with a lot of rhythms, and who knows how that will translate to future writing?" Rudess says. "All I know is the energy between us all is so wonderful that I look forward to bringing this new level of Dream Theater out to the world. I think we're probably in the most powerful place musically — at least in my time with the band — that we've ever been."