As The Police sang in the 80’s, “when the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around”. With all Dream Theater tour dates and plans suddenly falling by the wayside due to the Covid-19, John Petrucci decided to make the best of it and devote some time to his sophomore solo album. Not only that, but he enlisted his longtime friend and former songwriting partner in Dream Theater, drummer Mike Portnoy. The duo hadn’t worked together since Mike’s departure from the band in 2010, and although there were signs in previous years that they remained friends, an actual collaboration seemed like an impossible dream for the longest time.
Completing the trio of musicians who worked on the album is Dave LaRue, one of the most underrated musicians in the prog scene. He played on John’s debut solo album and accompanied him on all G3 tours he’s been a part of, and is also a key element of Flying Colors. A wizard of the five-string bass, he is also the go-to player for most of Steve Morse’s solo work and played with the Dixie Dregs as well.
“Terminal Velocity” comes fifteen years after Petrucci’s debut “Suspended Animation”, and as one would expect, it’s a guitar aficionado’s dream come true. Throughout its nine blistering tracks, John pays homage to some of his heroes, explores different sides of his playing and gives plenty of room for Mike and Dave to shine, with Andy Sneap’s production bringing the best out of each musician. The album cover continues the vision of “man versus machine”, which was also featured on “Suspended Animation” and on Dream Theater’s last album “Distance Over Time”, and this theme is given a different treatment by Sean M. Smith from Echo Designlab (Stone Sour, Hollywood Undead, In This Moment).
The first song on this release has already been revealed, and even if the song didn’t deliver (which it did, and then some!), the image of Portnoy and Petrucci working together was enough to get longtime fans like me eager with anticipation for the whole album. The good vibe of this track, brought to you by the school of Joe Satriani, provided a much-needed relief in such trying times in our history.
If you’ve been to one of Petrucci’s many tours with G3, you might recognize a few songs on “Terminal Velocity”: the acrobatic and uplifting “Happy Song”, with poppy punk overtones and riffs you could even sing to, and the ominous, dissonant and mid-tempo of “Glassy-Eyed Zombies”. Both are presented with minor changes to their live versions, with rhythm guitars that give them a fuller and warmer sound. Another track which often appeared on his set, entitled “Zero Tolerance”, is yet to be recorded in studio, which suggests he’s saving it for a future release. I for one, hope it doesn’t take fifteen more years for a third solo offering to see the light of day.
Something else on this release might sound familiar for those who were fascinated by everything in the Dream Theater realm since the mid-90s: the song “Gemini” was used on soundchecks and guitar clinics, and is shown as a warm up exercise on John’s “Rock Discipline” instructional DVD. With many moods and tempo changes, it sums up a lot of the techniques he developed over time, condensed in just over six minutes and supported by Dave LaRue’s reliable pulse on a more wholesome version than its previous incarnations.
As the name suggests, “Out of the Blue” is a slow-paced blues, and shows Petrucci giving a nod to guitar players who helped popularize the genre, like Gary Moore and Rory Galagher. On “Snake in My Boots”, the Satriani influence is once again showcased, in another uplifting number carefully crafted to be played live, with claps and all. Mike and Dave also shine here, with the rhythm session sounding like a well-oiled machine. Listen closely, and you can hear Mike and John laughing in the background.
Although this is unmistakably a John Petrucci solo album, echoes of his work with Liquid Tension Experiment can be found on certain passages of “The Oddfather”. And if you still need that prog metal scratch to be itched, there’s, plenty of riffage and odd time signatures on “The Way Things Fall” and on the standout closing track “Temple of Circadia”, which has passages akin to Dream Theater’s “Bridges in the Sky”. The excitement of fans about a new Portnoy/Petrucci collaboration is easily justified, and they do deliver – Mike injects his tremendous energy and plays intricate patterns throughout the album like he’s taking a walk in the park. With all due respect to the incredible work he’s done since leaving Dream Theater, his drumming here does have a different flavor, and his excitement of working with Petrucci is palpable.
Given his past experience with metal acts like Killswitch Engage, Arch Enemy and Testament, Andy Sneap might have seemed like an unusual choice to take the production helm, but he did an amazing job at capturing John’s intent with the album. This is very much a guitar player’s effort, but with a mix that favors the songs as much as it does the six-string wizardry. In fact, if there’s one thing that gives away the fact that there’s a fifteen-year gap between “Suspended Animation” and “Terminal Velocity”, it’s the increased quality in the production.
Overall, this is both a cohesive and diverse effort that exhibits Petrucci’s boundless musical evolution throughout the years, undoubtedly proving him as one of the most influential axemen of his generation. He may be primarily known for all the shredding and the impossible guitar parts, but on this album, what stands out the most is his sense of melody. Throughout this thrilling musical roller coaster ride, his playing is sensitive, dynamic, aggressive, dark and comical, with his exquisite tone being the absolute star of the show.
Released By: Sound Mind Music/The Orchard
Release Date: August 28th, 2020 (Digital) / October 30th, 2020 (Physical Formats)
Genre: Instrumental Progressive Rock
- John Petrucci / Guitars
- Mike Portnoy / Drums
- Dave LaRue / Bass
“Terminal Velocity” track-listing:
- Terminal Velocity
- The Oddfather
- Happy Song
- Out Of The Blue
- Glassy-Eyed Zombies
- The Way Things Fall
- Snake In My Boot
- Temple Of Circadia
“Terminal Velocity” is an uplifting release, with a diverse musical approach. Through an abundance of riffs, the listener is led on an epic and grandiose journey. Funky and pop in places, aggressive and heavy in others, it is an impressive showcase of fretboard wizardry, as it is of feel and penchant for melody