Watch Mike Portnoy learn to play Tool Pnuema before challenging Danny Carey to play Dream Theater's The Dance of Eternity

 Mike Portnoy learns to play Tool Pnuema.
Mike Portnoy learns to play Tool Pnuema.

Drumeo’s ‘Hearing songs for the first time’ and ‘Learning songs as quickly as possible’ regulars are among some of the online drum lesson platform’s most popular videos, and now, it’s delivered what might be the most challenging so far. Recently, newly-returned Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy took a trip to Drumeo HQ where he attempted Tool’s 12-minute marathon, Pnuema.

Now, it’d be foolish to imagine that Mike Portnoy is unfamiliar with Tool, on the contrary, he selected Tool’s Fear Inoculum as one of his favourite albums of 2019. However, as we all know, listening to a band and digesting every single drum part are two different things, particularly where Tool is concerned.

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Add to this that Drumeo sprung the selection on Portnoy (and his reaction certainly seems that he’s not a ringer), and this might as well be a ‘Hears it for the first time’. Still, if anyone is equipped for the number-crunching, chop-heavy stamina required to pull this off, it’s got to be Portnoy.

Before he starts, Dream Theater keyboard player, Jordan Rudess — already in on the song selection — appears in a video message to offer his support. “I know that you, my friend, are the ultimate prog drummer. Your musicality will shine through. Breathe, get your bottle of Advil ready, it’s all gonna happen and you’re going to have fun.”

Next up is the reveal, where Portnoy gets to hear the song selection (with the drum part), and the clock starts ticking. “This is Tool, right? How could you give me a Tool song, come on! I’m not Dennis Chambers you know!” Referencing the funk legend’s stab at Lateralus favourite, Schism.

Portnoy sets about figuring out the time signature and by the first chorus interjects with “Can I just say, how many years did they take to write this, 10 years? What do I get…10 minutes?!”.

With that, the first listen is over and Portnoy admits that he’s going to need a few passes to focus on the arrangement, twisting time signatures and specific drum parts, giving us a reassuring insight: even prog-drumming royalty have to think about it sometimes.

Following a watch-through of Danny Carey’s drum-cam performance of Pnuema, Mike attempts to ‘crack the code’, that is, internalising the meter changes through good old-fashioned counting, before joking, “You sure you don’t want to do a Foo Fighters song?”.

Finally, after deciphering the mind-boggling time signature changes — which cycle between 6/8, 5/8, 3/8, 7/8 and even includes the odd bar or two of 4/4, Portnoy takes a glimpse at the sheet music (available to Drumeo subscribers). After roughly 3 hours — not bad considering four listens will take nearly a whole hour — of intense focus, (including comparing the challenge to Zappa’s infamous The Black Page), Mike Portnoy’s ready to tackle Pneuma.

Now, Drumeo does point out that the final performance video we see is a comp of multiple takes, with Portnoy opting to tackle the song in its myriad sections, and frankly, we’re not going to critique him for it!

Ultimately, Portnoy does one hell of a job, incorporating the snare-off/percussive parts in the intro and delivering a truly valiant effort. While he’s clearly concentrating hard throughout, but turns in an incredibly tight performance for what he and Drumeo's Brandon Toews agree is "one of the most difficult songs ever recorded".

Portnoy ends the video by inviting Carey to reciprocate the challenge, "Well Danny, and Tool, that's a beautiful piece of work. But now Danny, you've gotta come in and do The Dance of Eternity, right? Fair's fair!", reinforcing what we already know: Danny Carey is an alien, and so is Mike Portnoy.