The progressive rock and metal worlds have been abuzz the past couple of days over the announcement that Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy has departed the famous ensemble that he co-founded in 1985. Band member departures make music news all the time, but this one is notable because the man behind the kit happens to be the face of the group. Not just the face, actually, but it’s driving force — he’s won numerous drumming awards, been featured on myriad magazine covers, written a large amount of their lyrics, sung back-up, worked on more side projects than anyone else in the band and done an extensive amount of interviews. This year he recorded and has been touring with Avenged Sevenfold in place of that band’s late drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who idolized him.
But now it has come to this. In a statement issued by Portnoy, he says that burnout was a key factor in his decision to depart the band that has been the musical love of his life. The drummer has also found more pleasure in outside projects as of late. “After having had such amazing experiences playing with Hail, Transatlantic and Avenged Sevenfold this past year, I have sadly come to the conclusion that I have recently had more fun and better personal relations with these other projects than I have for a while now in Dream Theater,” wrote Portnoy. “Please don’t misinterpret me, I love the DT guys dearly and have a long history, friendship and bond that runs incredibly deep with them…it’s just that I think we are in serious need of a little break…”
Further along, he added: “I’ve come to the conclusion that the DT machine was starting to burn me out…and I really needed a break from the band in order to save my relationship with the other members and keep my DT spirit hungry and inspired.
“We have been on an endless write/record/tour cycle for almost 20 years now (of which I have overseen EVERY aspect without a break) and while a few months apart from each other here & there over the years has been much needed and helpful, I honestly hoped the band could simply agree with me to taking a bit of a ‘hiatus’ to recharge our batteries and ‘save me from ourselves’…
“Sadly, in discussing this with the guys, they determined they do not share my feelings and have decided to continue without me rather than take a breather…I even offered to do some occasional work throughout 2011 against my initial wishes, but it was not to be…
“While it truly hurts for me to even think of a Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy (hell, my father named the band!!), I do not want to stand in their way…so I have decided to sacrifice myself and simply leave the band so as to not hold them back against their wishes….”
Many fans are finding it hard to imagine the legendary progressive metal unit without the colorful skinbeater, whose outrageous drum kits, powerhouse playing and passionate proclamations of pretentiousness were part of their appeal. I have interviewed just about every current and past member of Dream Theater about their music and various side projects, and when it came to the group’s studio releases, Portnoy was the one I usually chatted with. He was certainly the most loquacious. As a drummer myself, I found it refreshing that the type of player usually relegated to the background was such an important component of his band and was actually more high profile than its frontman.
That’s not to say that the other members of Dream Theater — singer James LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bassist John Myung — are not important. They are all very talented and essential to the sound and synergy of the band. But given that the prominent visage behind the kit is disappearing, it opens up the question as to who will take over the reins as well as the grooves. Fans are already debating this issue and the idea of how DT will move forward without their celebrated skinsman, who is certainly one of the most famous drummers in rock. In fairness, his departure invokes two big questions: Why couldn’t the band take a break? And why were so many side projects and outside ventures necessary over the years for Portnoy to retain his freshness and commitment to Dream Theater? Perhaps these will be answered in the near future.
In their own statement, the members of Dream Theater wished Portnoy the best and stated: “Mike’s stature in the band has meant the world to all of us professionally, musically, and personally over the years. There is no dispute: Mike has been a major force within this band.
“While it is true that Mike is choosing to pursue other ventures and challenges, we can assure you that Dream Theater will continue to move forward with the same intensity — and in the same musical tradition — that you have all helped make so successful, and which is truly gratifying to us. Fans and friends: File this episode under ‘Black Clouds and Silver Linings’. As planned, we begin recording our new album in January 2011, and we’ll follow that with a full-on world tour. ‘The Spirit Carries On.'”
Dream Theater has sold over 10 million albums worldwide, cracked the Billboard Top Ten albums, toured the globe and kept the spirit of progressive rock alive in a high-profile way. They will undoubtedly continue to do so, but they have big sticks to fill.