Mike Portnoy Reveals Why He Initially Didn’t Like Rush, Names Metallica Album That Made a Huge Impact on Him

Loudwire recently released a video on their YouTube channel, featuring drum legend Mike Portnoy discussing some of his favorite albums from his teenage years. Of course, among these albums came up Rush’s “Moving Pictures.” While discussing this record, released in 1981, the former Dream Theater drummer said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Then Came the game-changer for me and I discovered Rush and Neil Peart. All of my teenage years, Neil and Rush were… That was it. I lived, breathed, and slept, and shat [laughs] Neil and Rush. And this was the one!”

As Portnoy further explains, this was actually the first one where he actually “discovered” Rush:

“Believe it or not, a lot of people think I discovered Rush a lot earlier. I didn’t. I discovered them with ‘Moving Pictures’ and moved backward.”

But what many would not expect is that, initially, Portnoy wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of Rush. He explained that it Geddy Lee’s voice was to blame. And, of course, his age and lack of experience with progressive rock. He said:

“The main reason why I never gave Rush the time of day was… I would hear Geddy’s [Lee] voice on the radio. And I just wrote them off as some kind of a band like Supertramp or Styx. You know, just these high vocals. But I never realized the musicianship and the drumming.”

“And then somebody played ‘YYZ’ without the… I don’t want to use the word ‘distraction’ but it didn’t have Geddy’s vocals to latch onto. And it forced me to listen to the drums, bass, and guitar. And when I heard ‘YYZ,’ I was like ‘Holy shit, these guys can play!'”

“You know, I’ve grown up with Keith Moon, John Bonham, Ringo [Starr], Peter Criss as my heroes. But then I heard Neil and I was like ‘Man, I gotta learn how to play drums like that, I need a drum kit like that.'”

Since he was growing up in the 1980s, it was only obvious for Portnoy to get into metal music. And one of the most important metal albums for him was Iron Maiden’s “Piece of Mind.” Reflecting on how this one impacted him, Mike said:

“At the same time, I was still listening to a lot of metal. Around 1983 came [‘Pece of Mind’] and it was a new one by Iron Maiden. They switched drummers, they got Nicko McBrain.”

Where Eagles Dare (2015 Remaster)

“And it’s like, okay, the fourth album comes out, you drop the needle on this album, ‘Piece of Mind,’ and the first thing you hear is the opening to ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and Nicko’s drums. And it was like ‘Oh, shit, here we go.'”

“My school band was on a class trip to Montreal, Canada on the day that this came out. And I remember walking past the record store and seeing this in the window.”

“So I bought it on cassette. I bought this on cassette first so that I could listen to it on that class trip I was on. And then, as soon as I got home, I bought the vinyl.”

Revelations (2015 Remaster)

However, for Mike, no band or album at that point could match the early thrash metal scene. Emerging in the early 1980s, it was Metallica with their legendary debut album “Kill ‘Em All” that made a huge difference for Portnoy, ultimately shaping his music taste. He said:

“This was the one that kind of shifted my listening altogether. And it was this one, Metallica’s debut ‘Kill ‘Em All.’ Yeah, AC/DC, [Black] Sabbath, [Judas] Priest — they were all heavy. But when this came out, you had never heard anything this raw and crunchy and fast.”

“I heard ‘The Four Horsemen’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’ and ‘No Remorse’ and ‘Hit the Lights,’ ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Metal Militia’… Every song on here was just like ‘Holy shit!’ You’d never heard anything this fast, this raw, this energetic.”

DEHAAN - Full secret show of METALLICA - Orion festival - 8 June 2013 - HD

“You know, the bass, hearing Cliff Burton’s bass… You’d never heard a lead bass played like that. I mean, you had Geezer Butler and you had Lemmy up to that point. But Cliff was taking it to another level. You heard that bass solo on this album, it was like ‘What the fuck is that?'”

It’s been almost 13 years since Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater — a game-changing progressive metal band that he co-founded alongside John Petrucci and John Myung.

But despite what appeared to be some bad blood between him and the band, Mike did actually attend one of the band’s shows last year on March 4. Looking back on the “healing process” between these two sides, Portnoy discussed this in a last year’s interview and offered:

“We had been slowly rekindling the relationships over the years. Obviously, John Petrucci and I have made a few albums together at this point — I played on his last solo album, and then he and myself and Jordan [Rudess] and Tony Levin got back together to do a Liquid Tension Experiment album in 2020.”

MIKE PORTNOY AT Dream Theater show, Beacon Theatre. New York, NY 03/04/2022

“So, yeah, John Petrucci and Jordan had been hanging with me a lot through the years, and our families as well. In fact, the first time I played together with Jordan again was on the last ‘Cruise To The Edge’ in 2019; Jordan and I played together on that.

“So the relationships had been really, really good and comfortable with those guys. And John Myung lives right down the street from me, so I would see him in town all the time. And his wife is very, very good friends with my wife.

“So there’s three of the guys that I had been on very, very good terms with over the years. And my wife and John Myung’s wife were going to see them at the New York show, and I was, like, ‘You know what? What the hell.’”

Dream Theater Instrumedley PORTNOY ONLY - "The Dance of Instrumentals"

“I’m not saying I dreamt like it was my goal; I’m saying I literally would have dreams at night sleeping, where in my dreams I’m going to see Dream Theater and it’s just an awkward thing. So for a long time, I was very nervous about it. Like, how weird would it feel? Would it be uncomfortable?”

He also added:

“And at the show, James welcomed me from the stage. And I hadn’t spoken to James — as a lot of people know, I hadn’t spoken to him since I left the band — so I got to see him that night after the show. And I went into his dressing room, and within literally 10 seconds, any of that drama or B.S. that had built up through the years, it melted away immediately.”

Dream Theater Instrumedley Modern Drummer Festival 2003)

“And it was all hugs and kisses and ‘love you, bro’ and ‘miss you, bro.’ And it was, like, all that bullshit from the last 11 years was just water under the bridge.”

Reflecting on Mike Mangini taking his spot, he said:

“There’s no doubt he’s an amazing drummer and he plays my parts incredibly faithfully. I feel bad for him. He and I joked about it. He’s in a horrible situation where he’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t. He expressed that frustration to me, and I feel for him. It’s definitely a weird position to be put into.

Mike Portnoy - Panic Attack

“I kind of had it a little bit when I played with Avenged Sevenfold and Twisted Sister, coming into the throne of two drummers that have passed away, and I tried to learn those parts as faithfully as I could.

“When I had a hired-gun gig like that, I spent a lot of attention trying to honor the drummer that came before me — it’s important. I don’t wanna go into a gig like either of those and try to force my style onto it.”

Photos: Germán Rojas (MIKE PORTNOY @ Teatro ABC (37281265734)), Vtpeters (20110527-213757 Rush Ahoy Rotterdam 1200×0900), Raph_PH (Metallica – The O2 – Tuesday 24th October 2017 MetallicaO2241017-61 (37955270666))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.