Back in the summer of 1994, while sitting in the back of a Volkswagen Golf in Würzburg, Germany (yep, I also lived in Germany for a few years in the 90’s as well. a few good years. But that’s a story for another time.), I heard a sound that would change my musical journey forever. It was a song called The Mirror from a band called Dream Theater. They had just released their new album, Awake, and friends of mine had picked it up that day. At the time, I was already listening to metal, grunge and other forms of hard rock, but this was different. These guys could play! I had not heard Pull Me Under yet. My older brother already knew Dream Theater, but because of our fairly strict upbringing, I didn’t hear a whole lot of radio rock (that story will also come later). So this was completely new to my 14-year-old mind.
At the time, I had already begun to play the bass and was mostly influenced by Jason Newsted of Metallica. So I had shaved the sides of my head, while growing my hair long and I played the bass with a pick. But once I heard John Myung of Dream Theater play that six-string bass with his fingers, I tossed out the pick and started to relearn how to play.
After discovering Dream Theater, I began to explore the world of „progressive metal“ and found bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Cynic. But most of the prog metal bands were really underground. Around 1997, I found myself online for the first time and quickly discovered a music message board called the Perpetual Motion Board where the users wrote about prog and power metal bands they liked. Here is where I first heard about bands over in Europe like Mind’s Eye, Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Ayreon, Evergrey, Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian and more. Luckily, I had a pretty good record shop (Manifest Disc and Tape, we talked about it before), where I could find some of these bands. Eventually, in the early 2000’s Ken Golden opened up the Laser’s Edge online cd shop which stocked obscure and amazing music.
But the Prog scene is really experiencing what I would consider a Renaissance. Back in the late 90’s prog metal more sounded like whoever could rip off Dream Theater the best, but a mixup of various genre’s and unique bands like Meshuggah, Opeth and Pain of Salvation would inject a shot of creativity and liveliness into the scene. Desperate for good music, I can recall making a long distance call around 1997 to the Nuclear Blast offices in Germany to ask directly when the new Meshuggah album was coming out. The lady on the other end was surprised by my call but didnt know when the next full length was coming. But when Chaosphere hit in 1998, it was worth the wait.
Fast forward to 2016. There has never been a more diverse cast of characters on the „progressive“ scene and to me, this was a genre that was often overlooked by the mainstream metal press as being nerdy and self-indulgent. In my opinion, Metal is Nerd Culture. But I will save that argument for another time.
So Kai and I decided to cast a stone into the pond with our series highlighting todays exciting progressive bands. For the style, we decided to use slow-motion as a major element of the filming to evoke the epic nature of this music. But to get down to the details, which is in my opinion, the exciting part of Prog, I wanted to create a style that felt like watching a machine and seeing all the moving parts. So the analogy of the machine entered into the title and we decided to take our viewers into the heart of the progressive machine. So split screens were the building block to enhance the notion of the machine being built. Therefore, our interview style was to have the bands breakdown their own particular way of making music. This proved to be a bit more didactic than our more intimate voiceover series like Ghosts of the Road, but nevertheless, we managed to take a look inside the machine of many of todays wonderful progressive torchbearers. Our own „Weapon“, Kris Krash, created the logo and the motion intro and our good friends at Germany’s Metal Hammer Magazine presented the show. The theme music is a song called Tanerthos from my former band, Tanertill. Unfortunately, we separated in late 2016. But there is a new prog project in the works!
FreqsFact: The only bass instructional video I ever owned was John Myung’s Progressive Bass Concepts (only available on VHS!). It was the closest I could get to learning from my bass idol. It came out when I was 16 and featured Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian. I studied it, although to be honest, I got lost in all the patterns. I wanted to rock and realized then that I may never have the patience to be one of the greats, like John Myung.
However, two things really stick out to me all these years later. A.) I only owned a 4 string bass and this was a video for 6 string users (you can’t stop 16 year old dedication!…until you run out of string) and B.) The level of difficulty in keeping up with a master like Myung is only compounded by the fact that this instructional video is shot on a bass without fret markers! Where are you in this shot, JM??
Truth be told, I learned the most or was most inspired by JMs section on Tapping. To this day, that is the technique I most learned from his style: