Liquid Tension Experiment

In modern-day progressive rock, it seems as though there is a new supergroup every few weeks. But long before this was the norm, and before musicians were routinely involved in more than one band, there was Liquid Tension Experiment. Back in 1997, Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Sons of Apollo), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel), joined forces to create Liquid Tension Experiment. The foursome would release their iconic, self-titled debut album in 1998 and the dazzling follow-up, LTE2 in 1999, creating a dynamic, frantic, and inventive sound all their own. The incredible creativity between the collective would prompt Petrucci and Portnoy to invite Rudess to join Dream Theater, effectively marking the end of this side project. However, since that time, there have been few reunions more in demand. Now, with the world in lockdown and calendars unexpectedly aligned, the inconceivable has finally happened…Liquid Tension Experiment 3.

In late August 2020, Portnoy, Petrucci, Rudess, and Levin self-quarantined, took the necessary tests, and secretly met up for just over two weeks in a NY studio to work on the new album. These four musicians had not recorded together in over 20 years. Would the chemistry be the same?

According to Mike Portnoy, things fell into place almost immediately. “I think the first thing we did was literally just jammed and improvised the first day. I gotta be honest though, it was a little surreal. I had worked with John a few months ago and I played with [Jordan and Tony] through the years but there was one moment, I got here to the studio and I was standing in the room with Jordan and John and I was like ‘wait a second, this is the first time the three of us have been in a room together in like over 10 years’. It was surreal and then 10 minutes later we're jammin and it felt like we hadn’t missed a step at all. It felt like it was exactly where we left off.”

Petrucci had reconnected with Portnoy in early 2020, inviting him to play on his recent solo album, but this was even more special. “It was great having Mike play drums on my solo album but getting a chance to work on this new LTE album was also exciting because it allowed us to write together again and be in the same room recording again for the first time in years, alongside Jordan and Tony, and it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat.”

Jordan Rudess agrees, “It felt like a continuation, like we stopped recording LTE2 and walked in a week later we're doing LTE3. I know it's amazing to say, but time has passed in a moment, the blink of an eye, the chemistry is the chemistry, and it didn't change. It was great back then and it still is.”

The group acknowledge that over the past 20 years, the question of when they would make another album has been the one fans have asked the most. Where circumstances such as touring would intervene in recent years, the lockdown of 2020 would finally create an opportunity, which Portnoy recognized. “We've been talking about it obviously for years and you know we've all hung out with each other and some of us have played together through the years and there's always the question when are you going to do LTE again. We have always said we want to, it's just a matter of the timing and the logistics, so the quarantine actually gave us a window where none of us were on tour. So, it really allowed us to find a scheduling window to be able to finally pull it together. It’s one good thing that the quarantine gave us.”

While it had been over 20 years since they last were in the studio, the way the group works didn’t change. The writing is fast and furious, and it requires you to be on your game, which Tony Levin says works well for these experienced talents. “The speed of learning is very quick and that's pretty cool, so you can really create a very complex 10-12-15 minute piece in a day and then go to work on fine tuning it.”

The 8 songs on the new LTE3 are a mix of 4 fully composed tracks, 2 duets, 1 on-the-fly jam and 1 meticulously arranged cover. “We composed four songs. We realized that that was the same with the first 2 albums. So, this time around we did the same,” Portnoy explains.

The uniqueness of this group lies in its spontaneity, which is something they fully embrace. One track, “Shades of Hope” was created and recorded in one take by Petrucci and Rudess.
“I think the unique nature of this specific project is that it is very spontaneously driven,” John Petrucci says. “I think that's what makes it special. The jams that we did kind of set the mood. In fact, we even picked out of those jams things that we latched on to and combined with whatever ideas Jordan had and whatever I had with what Tony did or something that Mike did that might influence something else. What ends up happening is the music has all of our personalities really nicely mixed into this big pot. But it happens so fast. You’re talking like over a few days, not a few weeks and that's what makes it really special, it's very spontaneous.”

Further evidence of their musical personalities can be heard on the jazz-infused “Liquid Evolution” or the avant-garde Portnoy/Levin duet “Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey”.

The band members each came in with a number of ideas, but as with past records, much of the writing happens when they get together in the studio. Rudess explains, “We ended up having a folder of all of our different ideas. The reality is when we're in the room together we’re so inspired that most of the things that were written, were written during the session.”

“The Passage of Time” would be the first track the group would write together in 22 years. Kicking off with an aggressive, sinister guitar riff that rose out of one of the group’s signature jams, the mini-epic weaves through various themes allowing Petrucci to play his signature thematic solos over Rudess’ challenging chord progressions.

The 13-minute epic that closes the album, “Key to the Imagination”, showcases all the elements the band have been known for, starting off calmly, building with dozens of time- and chord changes and culminating in such breathtaking manner that it sends chills down your spine. For Portnoy the track harkens back to some of the great Dream Theater epics like “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” or “Octavarium.” Meanwhile, Portnoy jokingly describes the album’s upbeat second track “Beating the Odds” as the ‘feel-good song of the pandemic.’

The last song written in the studio was “Hypersonic”, the frenetic opening track, performed at breakneck speed. Portnoy describes, “The song that kicks off the album literally opens up with a 30 second barrage and you can't even catch your breath. Who would think that a bunch of guys our age would be playing like that? It's relentless. It's definitely like a statement, you know we're back.”

Petrucci continues, “It follows in the Liquid Tension Experiment tradition absolutely, which is, that when you press play, it steamrolls you. It’s not gonna open with something mellow - the idea was to write something with a lot of crazy speed and mayhem and all that.”

Another highlight of the album is the studio version of the group’s arrangement of the classic Gershwin tune, “Rhapsody in Blue”. Portnoy elaborates, “We did those shows in 2008 and we put together this really cool progressive arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue” and so the people that got to see those shows, they got to experience it. Then we put out a limited run of live CD's and DVD's from the tour, but I always thought it was one of the greatest rearrangements or orchestrations and I thought it would be a great idea to record it here and give it a proper release, because I think it was really special.”

As far as any pressure the band might have felt in making this record amid such high expectations, Rudess says that it was short-lived. “I felt maybe a little bit more pressure before we started the sessions just in thinking about it because there’s so much anticipation, but once we got in the room together, it's more like ‘well, here we go’ - like the train is moving, ideas flowing, we're just doing what we do. You realize that the reason that this was successful, and everybody wants it so badly is because the chemistry works, it's just something that really flows.

According to Tony Levin, “The only pressure was ordering dinner.”

Latest Release

Liquid Tension Experiment
Limited deluxe hot pink 3LP+2CD+Blu-ray Box Set (incl. a poster and 4 artcards, Blu-ray includes a 5.1 surround mix with visuals, and full band interview from the studio), limited 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook, limited 2CD Digipak, Gatefold black 2LP+CD, Digital album (2CD)


Tony Levin
(Bass Guitars, Chapman Stick)
John Petrucci
Mike Portnoy
Jordan Rudess