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This is the album where Dream Theater tries to forge its power of the tranquility that most of the songs inhabit.
Of course, there are a few exceptions, for example the opener and part of the famous twelve-step suite "The root of all evil" to mention a good example, a complex and difficult opener that becomes more interesting and addicting the more you listen to it and the more you are able to see it in the context with its other parts. "Panic attack" is also an exception and a very hectical and annoying track that is technically amazing but musically crushing every head and a rather negative example. Everything is played fast and in a very low tuned agressivity and terrible vocal sound effects make the whole thing sound very artificial, technical as if a robot was singing. I really don't like this experience.
Concerning the smoother songs, there are at first hand the ballads "The answer lies within" and "I walk beside you" that are dominated by keyboards, smooth guitars and the calm vocals but those tracks don't show anything new or interesting and never reach the level of older ballads like the magic "Surrounded" and eventually fail. The first track is extremely smooth and at least fits to the general atmosphere of this album but it sounds rather like a "Evanescence" pop song meets the aesthetic boredom of a weaker "Awake" rip off. It's a song I normally skip on this record because it makes me disconnect or fall asleep after a very strong opener. "I walk beside you" sounds like if Bon Jovi met U2 so purist metalheads should be warned right now. This songs is interesting but nothing more than an average experimental track. "These walls" is another rather smooth songs with a very strange introduction that fits to the style of the album but doesn't have anything surprising to be truly recognized or kept in mind eventually. It really seems that Dream Theater wanted to try out something completely different once againa fter the surprising and heavier "Train of thought" and from that perspective they have truly succeeded and added another element or piece of style to their diversified universe.
"Never enough" sounds like "Muse" meets "Tool" and has smoother and harder parts but lacks of an own addicting identity. It is the only song that neither fits to the rest of the album and its two different styles and seems misplaced and lost. It would have found a better place on the "systematic chaos" record in my opinion. This song is surely not a bad one even if it is not groundbreaking but goes somehow under on this album and feels like a disturbing piece that doesn't fit into the whole puzzle.
Let's now talk about the two tracks that are really strong and dominating this album. Those two songs make this album worth to be listened to because the other tracks are all disturbingly weak and often even not of an average quality. Those two songs, the last ones of the album called "Sacrified sons" and "Octavarium" save this album from being the band's worst offering ever. What a chance that those two songs last over more than half an hour and that means that at least half of the music on thsi record is very good if you only take a look on the length. "Sacrified sons" begins with a very cinematic and weird introduction that goes over to a very smooth and calm melody that fits to the overall style and appearence of the record. The guitars sound very experimental, dreamy and eerie during the calm introduction while the chorus is harmonic and peaceful. This track slowly elaborates a feeling of smooth magic like the band was used to do so on the better moments on "Awake". After a while, the songs gets a little bit faster and the instruments proove their talent in various solos and surprising breaks without losing its epicness. The title track "Octavarium" is than a smooth and experimental masterpiece of tranquility where Tangerine Dream meets Genesis meets King Crimson. Just lay down, close your eyes, listen and dream or fly far away as this song creates magic moments and shows us the true quintessence of this album. Especially the keyboards and guitars sound as if they were from another world with there weird effects that create a new kind of sensations that Dream Theater haven't explored before. The smooth orchestrations like violins, violas, cellos, flutes and french horns that ahve already been used in "Sacrified sons" but that were less present in the overall sound add now something new to the musical universe and harmonize with the usual instruments and overall songwriting. Of course you have to be patient with this long masterpiece and it won't be easy for every metalhead to attentively listen to such a calm song for twenty-four minutes. But once you get used to this style, you will surely appreciate this epic piece of tranquility with its smooth changes and floating rhythms that are completely different from what he have been used to with songs like "In the name of god" from the last records.
But sadly the last two great songs can not let us forget the weaker six first songs that are rarely convincing and consistent. "Panic attack" and "The answer lies within" on teh other hand are maybe among the worst songs the band has ever written. And that's why I can't give a very high rating to this album and must give you the advice to be really patient and open-minded to appreciate this record and that you may really admire it you more you listen to it.
Disregarding the rare bands that seem incapable of crafting anything less-than-stellar, most every group will, over the course of their career, produce an obligatory unaffecting album. Whatever the case - perhaps the songs are inconsistent, or perhaps they’re so consistent that I don’t remember any of them - these are the albums that are destined to become lost in the void of time, records that will not receive overwhelming hate for their stunning badness but will never garner overwhelming critical acclaim for their supreme quality either. They exist, and that is all.
For Dream Theater, Octavarium is their obligatory unaffecting album. Sledged in-between the uniquely metal Train of Thought and the diverse Systematic Chaos, the album is just… sort of… there. You don’t hear about it a lot because there’s almost nothing worth mentioning, but there’s almost nothing worth deriding either. Aside from “Never Enough”, which is undoubtedly the most pathetic thing the band has ever crafted (it’s whinier than Steven Wilson on a binge drinking escapade), the remainder of the work is quite good, in particular its title track.
Clocking in at exactly 24 minutes, “Octavarium” may be Dream Theater’s finest moment. It’s certainly the epitome of their craftsmanship, sporting intentional references to their idols with just enough originality to make it feel like a Dream Theater song. The instrumental break towards the end of the third movement “Full Circle”, in particular, is probably the best instrumental break on the album. And, of course, there’s the concluding movement “Razor’s Edge”, which, despite being almost absurdly epic, works because of how the momentum builds leading up to it. Unlike the other 20+ minute marathons – “A Change of Seasons”, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, and “In the Presence of Enemies” – “Octavarium” flows well, and does not suffer from the herky-jerky structures that limited its counterparts.
If there is one criticism of the record that detracts from it more than anything else, then it is the complaint that many of these songs sound like unabashed rip-offs of other bands’ songs. Some Dream Theater fans were alienated following the release of the album in 2005 because, despite the fact that the band has always worn their influences proudly on their sleeves, Octavarium showed signs of them taking this habit to the next level. The aforementioned “Never Enough”, for example, brings Muse’s “Stockholm Syndrome” to mind, and “I Walk Beside You” vaguely sounds like U2.
What’s more bothersome than the possibility that Dream Theater unknowingly borrowed some material from their peers is the reality that, for the first time since Falling into Infinity, the band tried to write more concise, radio-friendly songs, and didn’t do a great job of it. They didn’t do a bad job by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s nothing here on the same level as “Hollow Years” or “Anna Lee”. “The Answer Lies Within” is clichéd, but good, as is “These Walls”, which is very good, but there’s nothing that strikes you as being in the upper echelon of the Dream Theater arsenal.
There were signs planted throughout the record that the band was starting to get too silly for their own good. The recurring theme of 5/8 in the artwork and songs is one of the funnest things I’ve ever seen a band do with their product, but it got a little far-fetched after while. More pressing is the middle bit of “Sacrificed Sons”, which is groovy despite the bookends of the song being sad. The track is still very listenable and overwhelmingly affecting (see it performed on Score to attain full effect), but parts of it are so incongruous that they reek of pretentiousness.
Octavarium is, at the end of the day, an immovable middling album. It’s nowhere close to being one of the band’s worst, but it’s even further from being one of their best. It also comes across as having something of an identity crisis, the band clearly trying to restrain themselves but going over the edge whenever they decide to let loose. And, aside from the title track and the opener “The Root of All Evil”, there isn’t a whole lot of material here that you'll ever feel like revisiting. The album merely exists, quietly going about its business and never calling any attention to itself, but it suffers for it.
Octavarium could have been Dream Theater's best album since 1999's “Scenes From A Memory” and a great achievement. At first I deemed it their weakest effort, but after subsequent repeated listening I discovered Octavarium is better than I thought. Actually, what makes Octavarium worth listening to is the title track. This 24-minute epic which I first thought was pretentious and forgettable is arguably one of Dream Theater's best songs in the 2000s and arguably in their entire 20-year career.
Apart from that 24 minute experience, this album has more things to offer for the avid Dream Theater fan, such as a complex concept (the album deals with circles, the numbers 8 and 5 and other stuff but I won’t bother to elaborate because this topic has been covered before) and the melodic approach we all came to know and love that was lost somewhere while the band was making Train of Thought.
Maybe because of some backslash after the heavy Train of Thought, the band made it clear that they were going back to their melodic roots. This album sounds much more like their 2002 release “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” than the previous effort. Some of the songs on the album could have been easily placed next to songs like ‘Blind Faith’ or ‘The Great Debate’ from SDoIT.
Octavarium has a notable advantage compared to Train of Thought. Jordan Rudess is much more prominent and contributive in this album. His keyboards were buried low in the mix in Train of Thought but here they make a heroic return. The use of an orchestra in song such as “Octavarium” and “Sacrificed Sons” adds a lot to the epic melodic journey that is Octavarium.
Apart from Jordan Rudess that made his comeback in this album, James Labrie delivers one of his best vocal performances in years. His voice sounds stronger than ever. Labrie himself stated that he thought that only by this album his vocal chords have healed after his operation ten years prior. The rapping and distorted vocals that were featured on Train of Thought are gone.
Also, while not being much of an advantage but perhaps a change in thinking to suit the concept, the album is constructed in a way that all songs flow into one another. In comparison, Train of Thought was more about separate individual “kicking ass on their own” tracks.
What eventually makes this album inferior is the outer influence that is reflected pretty obviously in the band’s work, creating filler tracks that ruin the continuity between the strong tracks. “The Answer Lies Within” which is the second track on the album ruins much of the momentum that was created by the opening promising opener and is basically just a mellow forgettable song.
The fourth notorious track “I Walk Beside You” is more U2 than Dream Theater. Mike Portnoy stated the band wanted to do this kind of song for a long time but the cost is justified criticism by the old fans. “Never Enough”, which has been compared to Muse's “Stockholm Syndrome” really shows the obvious influence the “inspiration corner” has on the band’s work. It seems the band has been using other music to get inspiration for a while, letting some elements penetrate into their sessions. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Dream Theater sometimes uses too much of what gave them inspiration. It’s disappointing that we can't get one record which is 100% Dream Theater. “Never Enough” still isn’t half bad but it’s not nearly as exciting as “Panic Attack”, which is one of my favorite Dream Theater songs on the album.
With 'Sacrificed Sons' the album's seventh track, the band combines their more relaxed approach with their recent, heavier attitude. This track isn’t one of my favorites, and not really much of a highlight in the album, making way for the final song to shine.
Octavarium, the last song on the album is what Dream Theater fans have been waiting for since “A Change of Seasons”. The 42 minute “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” which seemed to me like a real exaggeration was a second take on making a long epic song, but “Octavarium” is the real deal. Each section in the song is great, combining slow verses with haunting synth lines, making this song a perfect epic closer to the album. The 4-minute Rudess continuum solo in the beginning, the long instrumental section and Petrucci's beautiful solo that is backed up by an orchestra, among other parts and attributes make this song one of Dream Theater greatest achievements. One can presume that the band put more time and effort into this song than the rest of the album.
As I said in the beginning of this review, Octavarium could have been one of Dream Theater's greatest albums. Unfortunately, it is ruined by filler tracks and bad influences. While still managing to stay consistent at some level, the album is still far from perfect. Nevertheless, I still recommend this album to avid Dream Theater fans. For newcomers that might want to experience this great band for the first time with this album, I suggest you try either “Scenes From A Memory” or “Images and Words” first.
There was some blowback incurred when DT released their 03' record Train of Thought, which showcased DT's heaviest musical manifestations from albums like Awake and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I always thought the criticism was unwarranted; after all, heaviness has always been a central factor in DT's musical style. This is progressive metal, not progressive rock, Dream Theater, not Yes.
Regardless, its no wonder DT elected to compose a more traditional prog record to commemorate their 20th anniversary; indeed Octavarium encompasses just about every component of what has made DT so exceptional over the years, with some really stellar songs and some not quite as remarkable. Each of the songs in my perception falls into a particular era in DT's discographic repetoir, as demonstrated below.
In terms of more thrash-oriented pieces, which I'll christen the "Awake Epoch" Octavarium serves up The Root of All Evil and Panic Attack, the former the third installment in Mike Portnoy's AA-themed epic and the latter a classic thrash jam with a really catchy riff and chorus. Both are in the vein of what we've come to expect from a DT headbanger, however admittedly it can be safely said most people will regard Root as the weakest song in the AA saga, due mainly to its simplicity relative to its predecessors. Its still a great song and an ideal opener, but doesn't quite meet the mark in comparison to The Glass Prison or This Dying Soul.
Next lets take a look at the more pop-oriented songs on the album, which I have called the "Falling Into Infinity Epoch". If the name is any indication, these songs have been the primary nexus of criticism attributed to this record, suitably so since FII has undoubtably been traditionally the least favored DT album. Songs like The Answer Lies Within, I Walk Beside You, and Never Enough have been criticised for failing to meet the techinical virtuosity and pure prog nature of classical DT songs.
Indeed these are highly radio-friendly DT songs, take them for what they're worth. Personally I like Answer, its a traditional ballad with uplifting lyrics and frankly I'm not seeing the big deal, a softer song like this appears on every DT record. I wouldn't rank it as high as Disappear but its still cool. The "pop-prog", Muse-esque Never Enough is also quite addicting IMO, the only real gripe I have here is I Walk Beside You. Come on, DT, this would be fine if it was U2 or Coldplay, but you guys definitely have higher standards, its not a catastrophic cacophony, its just not what we've come to expect from you.
Finally we come to the pure-prog, "Images and Words Epoch", defined by more traditional prog songs These Walls, Sacrificed Sons, and the title track Octavarium. All three are spectacular, particularly the 24 minute magnum opus title track. If anyone is wary of buying this album due to the presence of more pop-esque songs, Octavarium alone makes a purchase worthwhile, surely this will be revered as one of DT's greatest songs of all time.
This is an all-encompassing tableau of proggressive metal at its finest. Certainly some songs are better than others, but with such intense range in style compressed into one album, this is to be expected, a great addition to any progressive afficianado's collection.
Like many, of course, I bought Octavarium right after its release - the hype, the hope. Four or five listens later, it was condemned to gathering dust next to Chaos AD and the odd Machine Head, except for just once to write this review. I'll not listen again, thanks.
Because Octavarium is to Images And Words what St. Anger is to Kill 'Em All. Gone is the curious When Dream And Day Unite soundscape, the catchy Awake phrases, the poppy Falling Into Infinity tunes, or the heavy Train Of Thought riffage. Sure, Dream Theater has seen many incarnations, has explored probably too many musical territories than might have fitted in two decades, and has consistently pleased and disappointed fans all alike all over the globe in their search for more, yet this one effort is just way too far off the mark. I was planning to be polite about it and keep my disgust for myself, but looking in hindsight, this album is simply not acceptable from one of the most ambitious bands in the progressive quarter.
Octavarium is, like said, nothing less than utter nonsense; a collection of absolutely bad songs that, while putting up all kinds of links to earlier work and to other artists (the choice of which - U2, Linkin Park, Muse, Oasis - evoke a nicely frowning "WTF??"), fail to make any link with the listener at all. Perhaps nice to write, play, and record, but absolutely UNFIT for release. As a matter of fact, the score I had in mind for this started at 50% at the beginning of my re-listening, decreasing steadily in chunks of 5, ending right there at a staggering 15. There's a reason, folks. That reason is everywhere: in the music, even apart from the countless rip-offs which other reviewers have paid enough ample attention to, and in the lyrics - there was a time Petrucci wrote gems such as "Scarred" and Portnoy wrote "A Change Of Seasons"... long ago.
Is there Ã¼berhaupt anything positive to say about it? Sure, the production is nigh impeccable according to modern standards. Doesn't help much when one doesn't like modern standards, though. Musicianship is the same as yesterday, too: top-notch according to Dream Theater standards. There were times, however, when Petrucci could actually write music and lyrics, Portnoy managed to sound new and creative, and Labrie sounded fresh. The others need no mention, me thinks; both Rudess and Myung are some of the most overrated musicians in the progressive scene, though I haven't heard any of their works outside of Dream Theater - not planning to, either. On here, they sound bland and uninspired all five alike; technically infallible, otherwise nonsensical.
Let's have a look at the music itself then - nothing to redeem here?
"The Root Of All Evil" takes one minute to take off - an omen of the band's pointless bickering on the album (hey wait, it's been that way on the previous three albums too, right? Right). Then we jump into the worst opening riff in the band's history (remember "Pull Me Under", Petrucci? Apparently not), which somehow sets the tone for the coming 75 minutes of tedium. Secondly, I HATE effects on vocals - another symptom of lack of actual content. I think we got it here - Dream Theater sounds musically bankrupt. At the chorus I thought it might actually begin from then onwards, but it's just a faint image of what once was. "Take The Time", this not. Problem is, this is the best song of the album!!
Tracks 2, 3, and 4 are vivid enough in my memory to know that they do not deserve another listen, so we skip to "Panick Attack". After one minute I find myself wondering why not skip further, but in the interest of this review, we're not doing that. After all, that's why I'm listening to this rubbish again. Now for the song, I've never been a fan of Petrucci switching to 7-string - hence why I consider Images And Words better than Awake. This, however, makes "The Mirror" sound like "The Sinner", and in an attempt to avoid a looming headache, is excused from further duty after four minutes. After all, I know that the coming solos and harmonies do absolutely nothing to redeem this song: they're a further expansion of the principle adhered to since Scenes From A Memory: "more notes is better, even if they suck grandma's balls!"
"Never Enough" is expelled from the system in much the same way, shortly after LaBrie starts the Muse-style singing. There are a bad ideas, and then there are also very bad ideas. The worst category of all, however, are very bad ideas lasting over ten minutes - check the last half of the album for an example of that. Someone please tell me what the first four minutes of the title track are meant to do? Atmosphere or what? Sure the Billboard top 40 is full of atmospheric songs, too, right?? Now I don't mind pieces of "sound" opening up long, epic songs or albums, or minutes of silence stretching between minutes of brilliant music or awe-inspiring stuff, but I'm afraid Dream Theater is not in that town today.
Let's fast forward through this 24-minute monster to explore where the gems of this album are supposed to be hidden. Is it the acoustic intro? Negative. Is it when Myung is heard for the first time since 1995? Negative. Is it in the Rudess lead break at 12:20? Negative - you'll never match Kevin Moore, dude. Is it perhaps the certainly very smart and intertextual lyrics? Not unless I'm missing some major point here, no. Yes, I got the references. No they're not impressive or smart, least of all any productive. Is it in the instrumental section from 15:40 onwards? Unless you haven't heard "The Dance Of Eternity" (and assuming you actually enjoy that nonsense!), no. Is it the surprising five-second acoustic Petrucci interlude? Er, I'm afraid it is, yes. That's right, folks, five seconds of acoustic guitar by the marvellous John Petrucci is all you need to hear from the fucking 75 minutes!! Guess it's time to record an unplugged album or so, guys. Oh wait, you've already done that (see the Acoustic Dreams bootleg, which is nothing stellar except for having Bruce Dickinson on it). Dismissed!!
How one can make an album like this with such capabilities in one's veins is utterly beyond me. Hanging this disc above your garden pond and watching the prism colours over the water is much more interesting than actually listening to it.
…and this is what they come up with?
Allow me to be blunt – I hate this album. I don’t hate it because it’s a bad album; I hate it because it’s a completely generic and blatantly derivative recording. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much if it had been released by some other band, but for a band of such caliber (and even more, for a band hailed as the gods of “progressive” metal), it’s disappointing and downright saddening.
Before getting into the depressing details, I’d like to briefly mention a thing or two about Train of Thought, which I feel holds some relevance to this review because it is Dream Theater’s other major love/hate album. While Train of Thought was a severe departure from the majority of what DT had done prior, it was still interesting music. It was full of mind-boggling instrumental passages, creative rhythms, tasteful unisons, exceptional drumming, and basically a lot of everything that makes you stop and say, ‘Wow!”.
Enter Octavarium – “It’s DT! No, it’s U2! No, it’s Muse! No, it’s the Flower Kings! No, uh…”
First of all, I don’t mind a band paying respects to their influences in the music they create, but Octavarium enters the realm of influences-worn-on-your-sleeve in a way never before witnessed on a DT album. The chorus in “I Walk Beside You” is ripped straight from an unreleased U2 album. The entirety of the title track is like an extended jam between Pink Floyd and the Flower Kings… which is cool, except that if I wanted to listen to either of those bands, I’d go listen to those bands. Then there’s “Never Enough”, a song which I believe has had enough said about it already, so I’ll just make a small contribution and say that the guys in DT should have just put a memo in the liner notes stating the following – “Well guys, we couldn’t come up with a sufficiently original eighth song for the album, so we decided to cover Muse’s “Stockholm Syndrome” and throw a few guitar solos in there for some added flavor! Enjoy!”
Moving on to the lyrics – when did Dream Theater turn emo? As if the mindless chatter of “The Answer Lies Within” wasn’t enough, you’re then treated to Mike Portnoy bitching about ungrateful fans. What would I say if you walked away? I would probably say a whole lot of nothing and listen to Pain of Salvation instead. Even “Sacrificed Sons”, which is one of the only decent tracks on the entire disc, is filled to the brim with inane and trite lyrics. Apparently John Petrucci wrote most of the lyrics on Octavarium, and while I respect his efforts, I sincerely think he should stick to his guitar.
Speaking of Petrucci, there’s a decisive lack of him on this album. His playing is a major part of what has made post-Awake Dream Theater so interesting for me, and here he has resigned himself to writing poppy and generic melodies. Prime example is the central melody in “Panic Attack”, which makes me want to violently smash my face into a wall… how many times and by how many bands has that progression now been used? How about the melodies in “These Walls”? Cut that song down by a few minutes and you have the quintessential radio single. Then there are the uninspired solos. In fact, there are really only two solos on this entire disc that I consider to be worthwhile – “Sacrificed Sons” and “Octavarium”. Petrucci isn’t the only one who was having feelings of restraint while writing Octavarium, though. Mike Portnoy has also apparently chosen to abandon everything that makes progressive metal drumming so exciting, opting instead to craft fairly straightforward and completely uninteresting rhythms. That was a huge disappointment to me especially, because one of my favorite things to listen to in progressive metal (and metal in general) is the extraordinary manipulation of rhythm and time by the drummer.
The songwriting took a huge hit, as well. Remember the intricate harmonies on Awake? The tremendous unisons on Scenes From A Memory? The extended instrumental interludes on Train of Thought? Sorry. Gone. Swapped out for a kinder, gentler, more appealing Dream Theater.
The only saving grace for this album, as far as I’m concerned, is the title track. It’s quite excellent, and does a great job of showcasing just what the guys are capable of. From the extended intro that reminds me heavily of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, to the tasty melodies and grooves that make up the path to Petrucci’s wonderful solo medley, and on to the inevitably powerful climax… it’s quality prog without a second wasted. This is the kind of material that, in my opinion, would have been the next logical step for Dream Theater to take. Unfortunately, they chose to fill the remainder of the album with uninspired pop tracks like “The Answer Lies Within” and generic wannabe metal like “Panic Attack”.
“Sacrificed Sons” is another great track, musically. Unfortunately, it is plagued by horrible lyrics.
As for the concept around Octavarium – I’ve read all about it, and while it’s interesting and sort of impressive, it does not excuse the pathetic music surrounding it.
A few final thoughts –
A lot of my hatred towards Octavarium comes from putting the album next to other recent albums from other bands, and next to DT’s own past albums. It’s vital that you do not misinterpret what I’m trying to say here. I was NOT expecting an album that sounds just like Awake, or SFAM, or any other album that they have put out in the past. Nor was I expecting an utter progressive masterpiece to rival the likes of Cynic’s “Focus” or Pain of Salvation’s “The Perfect Element I”.
So what was I expecting? A recording with a level of quality that’s consistent with what the band is capable of. I don’t care if it actually sounds like anything that DT has released in the past… so all the people that like to say, “You don’t like Octavarium because it’s different!” – no, that is absolutely not why I don’t like Octavarium. I was expecting them to do something new (like they always do), but I was also expecting them to do it in classic DT style and with classic DT prowess (like they always have). In other words - as long as the album is done with the creativity, mastery, innovation, and originality that Dream Theater are capable of, I don’t give a crap what it sounds like.
What I got was none of those things.
I also don’t buy all the garbage about “getting” an album. Certain past DT albums needed an adjustment period because the content on those albums was different, yet still interesting and innovative. Octavarium, however, is full of recycled music… there’s nothing to “get”. Though regardless, I don’t believe any amount of time will help me get the lack of originality, mediocre songwriting, pathetic lyrics, recycled melodies, and pop sensibility that is thoroughly prevalent throughout this disc.
Biggest disappointment of the year.
Dream Theater are in a difficult place: no matter what they do, their many fans will complain. It is true that Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence did have some major weaknesses, but Train of Thought was blasted by fans for being too heavy, not having enough keyboards, and/or wasting James LaBrie. I agree that LaBrie's vocal parts were weak, but as for the other two, it was Dream Theater evolving. Fans just complained about the fact that Petrucci's guitar was dominant and overlooked the fact that it was them at their most consistent and strongest lyrically. They didn't meander off without a direction like they constantly did in "Scenes From a Memory." Unfortunately, Dream Theater listened to those fans and tried to fix everything that those fans have complained about: Petrucci is given no room to work, another 20+ epic was written, plus they tried to make themselves more accessible. Hence tracks 2-4 were penned: 2 being a sappy ballad, 3 seemingly inspired by Coldplay, and 4 sounding like modern U2. Few are the fans that will enjoy these, although now that I think about it, if they had done something more along the lines of "War"-era U2, the results might have been different; just a thought.
Anyway, "The Root of All Evil" has been trashed by many of the fans for some reason; I thought it was great. Heavy rhythm guitars and I like the tuning that Rudess used for his solo. Petrucci's solo is short and weak, but they redeem for that with a haunting piano outro (although I admit I have a weakness for piano outro's, some of my favorite songs being DT's "In the Name of God," Faith No More's "Epic," and Opeth's "Leper Affinity"). "Panic Attack" starts out with a complex bass section by Myung, and explodes into heavy 7-string riffing. This would probably be one of my favorite DT songs if Petrucci didn't deliver his weakest solo ever. In "Never Enough," Petrucci goes for quality instead of quantity, making his solo one of his best. "Sacrificed Sons" seems about 2-3 years late, being about the Twin Towers, but the instrumental section is great. This is really Petrucci's only extended solo, and he takes full advantage. His riff after the solo is memorable as well. I love the way that Mike Portnoy completely changes the rhythm of the song about 8:00 in, even with the rest of the band continuing the same riff. "Octavarium" is difficult for me to grade, because I have only heard several songs that long. I can't really tell if it's good or not as a whole; there are many slow and boring sections in the song, something that wasn't in "A Change of Seasons" and Symphony X's "Odyssey," which were interesting the entire way through, but then again, those two set the bar pretty high. Throughout the album James LaBrie proves he is not the weak link in the band. His vocal work is his best in ten years at least; especially in "The Root of All Evil" and "Never Enough" where his singing is top-notch.
Anyway, I wish people would stop comparing this to DT's past albums. It isn't a return to Images & Words, whoever says so is wrong. It is a progression, and while there are some good and even great moments, it is far from their best. Even so, there is enough good stuff to make this a worthy chapter in Dream Theater's history.
I’ll say it right off the bat: Octavarium is Dream Theater’s weakest album since Falling into Infinity. The instrumentalism that we Dream Theater fans have come to love over the years is almost absent from the album. “The Answer Lies Within” and “I Walk Beside You” are embarrassingly bad pop attempts, the latter sounding kind of like U2 and the former containing some of the worst lyrics I have ever heard outside of emo. “The Root of All Evil” and “These Walls” are boring rehashings of the quote-unquote Dream Theater sound, and they don’t really take hold as memorable songs. Also, there is almost nothing there in the way of instrumental sections – “Root” has a short guitar solo and a short synth solo, and “Walls” has nothing. “Panic Attack” is okay, but again never really picks up into a monstrosity like it could. The only songs with real developed instrumental parts in them are “Never Enough,” “Sacrificed Sons,” and the title track “Octavarium.” Of these, “Never” has probably the worst chorus of any DT song, and “Sons” is just pretty boring. The only approximation of something worth listening to on this whole album is the 24-minute title track. It’s decent, with somewhat of a retro-prog feel to it. It’s no “A Change of Seasons,” but it at least holds interest throughout the whole thing. So basically, I recommend you download the title track, and don’t pay any attention to the rest. Dream Theater fans will probably be disappointed (I was), and if you’re not a fan then don’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. So I’m giving it a 60, or barely passing – for the title track if nothing else.
Octavarium. The 8th album from Dream Theater. I understand that the old sound is gone, where some dont. I understand that they rock out a lot more as well. I understand they have chosen to stay with The Glass Prison-esque production sound for a while. I understand they are not as progressive as they once were (although if you think about it, they've progressively gotten less progressive haha)
What I dont understand is how they made such a great album to follow Train of Thought, which was good because they made a 'heavy' album, they needed to. But to move on from that is just great. Another TOT wouldve sounded monotonous. One thing that makes this album stick out from the rest is the useage of dark elements in the music.
The music here is very diverse also. There's the rock out song in The Root of All Evil, which also follows the AA series of Mike Portnoy. Although the chorus is very melodic and insanely dark.
After a portion of the 2nd passage of the title song, the song moves to the ballad The Answer Lies Within. I was bummed when I first heard it because it just followed a great uptempo song. But the song itself is great, it has grown on me. Mostly piano and James.
These Walls is great. After I almost stopped the CD when I heard Korn type of riffing, the song exploded into what I like to hear from DT. The atmosphere is amazing. This atmosphere of being in a dimension of 0G's with stuff floating around. Very memorable.
I Walk Beside You sucks because it is Dream Theater. I Walk Beside You is the next #1 hit because it's U2.
Panic Attack is where the band held onto their TOT style for a song. Except I think this song would blow anything on TOT out of the water. It's so heavy and fast, very unlike most DT songs. James' falsetto use is amazing as well, wish he used it more in this song.
Never Enough is Muse, yes, but I like this song because the chorus just kicks so much ass. Very melodic and dark.
Sacraficed Sons is where the epic part of the album begins. It deals with 9-11, but the focus is really on the music more. When you consider the big instrumental break, you kinda forget what the song is about. Speaking of the instrumental break, Dream Theater, meet Megadeth ala Rust in Peace. Thats what it sounds like (coincidence theyre touring together?) Then they move to probably the best riff on the album. The one thats mixed with the orchestra and a whole shitload of pinch harmonics. Back to the chorus and one more time with the best riff and you have a great epic.
Speaking of great epics, a greater one follows. It is the title track. this 24 minute monster is magnificent. There are 5 passages with lyrics and i believe 8 all together. Makes sense with what Romulus141 mentioned about the 5:8 connection with this album.
The first passage is the darkest section of the entire album. Starts with effects ala Pink Floyd, explodes, then moves to really dark acoustics with flute. James' singing has never been better. The focus is mainly James and Petrucci's acoustic.
The second passage begins with Myung with a great bassline which flows through most of the passage. Melodies from this passage are heard throughout the album by the way. The 'chorus' of this passage is just so beautifully projected.
Passage 3 begins the pickup of the song. It is one of the 3 non-lyrical passages. A nice keyboard line that really caught my ear when I first heard it. The rest of the band just begins rockin out for a while.
After that, it moves to the 4th passage which is the full circle section. James' vocal line follows the keyboard for a while. Another 'chorus' type part here which is really memorable as well.
The fifth passage (again more irony, being the fifth) is the 'prog' section if you will. This is where Petrucci, where he held back on leads and wankery on most of the album, finally gets his chance to fucking let loose and create one of the most maddening sections of a song I've ever heard from a DT song. There are moments where parts of other songs from past albums are used for a second. Finally, the song becomes so chaotic, you can't believe it's the same song as the first 2 passages. From insane solos, to a part of Jingle Bells, to some Spanish guitar work for like, 7 seconds, this section is the most fun.
The 6th passage the climax. It's chaotic much like the 5th, but with lyrics. This time, James gets to let loose, except he hasnt held back this album, he's held back for the past 4 albums. A final scream is held out while screaming "trapped inside this octavarium!"
The 7th and 8th passages are similar. They feature the orchestra but the 7th is with lyrics and a bit darker.
The 8th is instrumental and is the falling action of the song. I find this to be the masterpiece section and is so epic and chilling. I get chills everytime i hear this part. Being a classical fan myself, I enjoy the final notes with the whole orchestra, like the french horn thing at the end. The orchestra sounds like one youd hear in the 50's or something. Unbelieveable song and unbelieveable album.
Points off for I Walk Beside You. This is essential DT, no matter what anyone else says.
This year has been quite the triumphant one for progressive music thus far. Outstanding showings from relatively unknown acts like Dynamic Lights, Presto Ballet, Russell Allen’s Atomic Soul, and Shadow Gallery have all posed a certain potential of gracing 2005 Top Ten lists, however, the league’s heaviest hitter has unfortunately struck out this time. The band we all expected the most out of, ends up delivering the least. Some would say that the Dream Theater discography has been on a gradual decline in quality since 1997’s Falling Into Infinity – For me, they have only failed to hit it out of the park once or twice, but Octavarium is strike three for the quintet.
There are specific characteristics that I have come to appreciate about Dream Theater, and those elements scarcely surface on Octavarium. As the disc touches briefly on some of the groups past offerings, this is unquestionably Dream Theater, yet there is something missing. The band has no trouble writing remarkable songs, but somehow they just don’t feel right. It’s almost as if they let their egos go on vacation, and during their time apart, decided to write a modest record. I have news for them; there is no place in progressive music for reserve. Over the top and out of this world is the very essence of what this scene is all about. Bluntly put, go all out or go home! Easily the tamest Dream Theater release to date, Octavarium draws closest comparison to the previously mentioned Falling Into Infinity and Metropolis II: Scenes From A Memory, but with far less complexity and edge. In the end, the album more or less takes a few steps back, stunting the band’s ever evolving sound – progression ceases.
Being that this is Dream Theater’s eighth full-length release and finds the band revisiting various points of their career, there really couldn’t be a more appropriate heading for this record than Octavarium. It’s possible that there is some other underlying significance behind the title, but I’m just pointing out the obvious. There are also eight compositions presented, leading us into the proverbial track by track breakdown and album highlights segment of this chronicle.
Octavarium begins with “The Root Of All Evil”, a song that appears to be the conclusion to a trilogy that began with “The Glass Prison” from Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence and continued on Train Of Thought with “This Dying Soul”. James Labrie even rehashes a few pre-chorus vocal melodies from the latter, but essentially fails to leave the same lasting impression. “The Answer Lies Within” offers superb orchestration and has an overall mood much like “Anna Lee” or “Hollow Years”, taking us back to the Falling Into Infinity connection once again. Dream Theater are beyond proficient songwriters and “These Walls” is not only the highlight of the album (with more technicality and catchiness than the rest), but also one of my favorite works of their entire existence. Swimming in a sea of mediocrity “I Walk Beside You” and “Panic Attack” stand to be the least appealing of the eight tracks; the former sounding like it was taken directly from the Maroon 5 ‘Book Of Achieving Airplay’. Coming in a close second place is “Never Enough”, probably best described as a heavier James Bond theme song. Packed with great melodic riffs and passages, this cut could have easily worked as the main theme for The World Is Not Enough. Closing the album is the title track; a mammoth twenty-four minutes of nothing special. This behemoth of a song starts out exceedingly slow and never really picks up. Known for lengthy compositions, Dream Theater have yet to match (in my opinion, of course) the grandeur of “A Change Of Seasons”, and they certainly don’t succeed here.
While Octavarium successfully showcases the band’s ability to craft emotive music, again it feels too underplayed (if that makes sense). Also the songs are not quite varied enough to host such lengthy run times. More than five or six minutes is too much, but most are around eight and above. Let’s face it, Dream Theater fans are an eclectic bunch with their own opinions and tastes and longtime admirers will purchase this album despite what anyone has to say about it. You will do the same.
There are some bands people just need to shut the fuck up about. Even
though two of my favourite bands are about as guilty of overhyping as Dream Theater are, no one shoves Roger Waters or David Gilmour's greatness down your throat, not like they do John Petrucci or Mike Portnoy. People will shove the technicality involved with Petrucci's method and use it as an excuse to like their music, ignore a plethora of better bands like Spastic Ink. At any rate, I don't necessarily hate Dream Theater so much as I hate their fans. I enjoy them, just in relatively small doses. So, I get "Octavarium," their eigth release, with eight tracks(Dur-hur magosh they am so smart), which I'm confident in saying is a mixed bag straight down the middle. Even beyond that, I still have a few complaints about the CD.
Can't get too hung up on being generally annoyed with the fans, though. Dream Theater are without a doubt a band that has some massive technical talent, but regardless of what most people have claimed, I sense a very noticable lack of songwriting talent. Yes, they've had their moments of catchy hooks and memorable riffs, but I can barely listen to three songs from the entire Dream Theater catalogue in successive order without getting bored, and "Octavarium" is really no different. It's all Progressive Metal that in the end goes completely nowhere, which doesn't really mend the fact that they're a band with relatively blunt teeth to begin with. I mean, there comes a point were Metal needs to have that aggressive edge. Twenty-five per cent of this CD isn't heavy, at all. So, what's so fucking Metal about it? I mean, "The Answer Lies Within" has a nice concept, "Let's put a slow, acoustic piece on this CD." In the end, it barely changes in it's five-minute runtime, manages to completely bore me for the entire length, and on top of that, promotes transcendentalism, an idea that's been dead for a reason: it doesn't work. But hey, I guess they didn't have literary courses at Berklee, eh James LaBrie?
Oh, right, Octavarium. Clever play on words.
Let's not rule out the existence of the other gamete of songs that bore, "These Walls" falsely gives you a whammy-downtuned opening that makes any typical person think, "Metal." Bzzt. Wrong. Petrucci just gives you typical power-chord rhythm and let's the synth go into effect, which at least manages to be memorable. +1 Dream Theater. I didn't get to mention the relatively boring, "Let's attempt to be heartfelt, even though we've done the same sound several times before on our other CD's" verse that sounds like it was inspired by "Welcome Home(Sanitarium)," ironically another overrated song. Dream Theater -1. The song seriously sounds borrowed from an array of radio-rock bands. Dream Theater -1. More pointless, witless lyrics. Dream Theater -1. Solo I could play with my left nut(That's the undeveloped one). Dream Theater -1. "I Walk Beside You" also follows in the generally same manner of being completely boring, it sounds like the latest Indie Jam with better drumming. Honestly, Portnoy manages to pull off some very catchy drumming here.
What did most of those songs have in common? Most of them weren't Progressive at all. Aren't Dream Theater Progressive Metal? Yeah, 'Dream Theater just don't like being labeled!' Dream Theater must not like making coherent music, either!
Now, those aforementioned tracks and "Sacrificed Sons" pretty much make up the boring tracks on the CD, leaving you with the obvious ones left, even though a good portion of "Octavarium" is useless as well. The CD falsely starts strong with "The Root of All Evil," which along with "Panic Attack" makes itself one of the most memorable two tracks on the entire CD. It's a good deal heavier than most of what's on here, and has a fairly obvious theme. Dare I mention Dream Theater's stance on music downloading and point out the hypocrisy, though. LaBrie manages to pull off some memorable and catchy vocal lines, although the chorus sounds a bit lacking. "Panic Attack" starts out with a maniacal and depressive bassline, then rushes in some fairly heavy guitar and drum meshing that builds momentum it doesn't quite execute, easily setting itself as the heaviest song on "Octavarium." Excellent orchestral piano melody, as well.
"Octavarium," the title-track, clocks in at nearly twenty-four minutes, but has alot of excessive and unneeded additions to it; some that just seem to drag along. For instance, nearly the first four minutes of the song is a solo that's supposed to be heartbraking, depressing or whatever on top of some ambient synth. Then, after it starts to bore you, Dream Theater amplify the volume, and build some fairly large momentum, and BAM. Nothing happens. Just like sex with a chronic masturbator, they popped their load a looooong time ago. Of course, that's not saying that the acoustic section is horrible, because it's not. It's actually the highlight of the entire CD, and sounds a lot like something I'd hear if Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton decided to do music together. I feel like it's all for naught afterwards, though. Relatively boring rhythm while LaBrie goes back into pseudo-introspective mode. Myung then starts indulging himself in some funky bass moves, while Petrucci delivers some likable guitarwork in conjunction with Rudess providing continuous piano. Again, it starts to get repetitive and then Dream Theater mend it falsely with an unneeded electric section where the only thing that changes is the amplification. Luckily, though, Rudess saves the day with a quirky, yet highly addictive synthesized section and Petrucci providing some finally competent rhythmic action. Finally, Petrucci initiates active mode. A solo with Rudess's often weird, circus-y synth involvement. Petrucci manages to cover a lot of relatively wide ground here, constantly switching mood and sound, form electric to acoustic, from frenetic to beautiful, all without losing a single lick of momentum. Now, this is what all of Dream Theater needs. Just as Petrucci was shining, LaBrie fucks ALL his shit up. I don't want to hear some midget yelling "TRAPPED INSIDE THIS OCTAVARIUM!" after some epic guitarwork. It's not even a real word, or feasible geometric concept. Could've at least done TesseracT a favor and mention something 4-dimensional, but he could've said it twice for added intelectual effect. No, I'm not being serious either, but read some of the ravings about Dream Theater, it'd fit right in. Anyway, the CD ends on a fading guitar solo, adding to more of the excessive amount of music that could've spared me having to be so bored.
Even then, though, I'm still bothered. Dream Theater are supposed to be Progressive. Where the fuck is the Progressiveness? "Octavarium" was the only track that showed a noticable amount of progressive structuring and songwriting, and a lot of the time, it was just false-build up one after another, or they jumped into a verse that they really could've done without. Not to mention, if they're so Progressive, why do I feel like I've listened to this exact same CD before? Y'know, John Petrucci might've wowed me for three CD's at most. Portnoy might've sounded like a complete monster for a few more; two at most. There's a point where so much technicality(Which outside of the title-track seemed nowhere to be found on the CD) would've fucked Dream Theater over by eventually not being that surprising, then leaving people to realize that as a songwriting unit, Dream Theater fail horribly. Trying to headtrip us? Failed. Trying to create some momentum? Failure again.
Dream Theater are Metal for easily entertained Metalheads when it boils down to it. This band has become uninteresting, and now they're just running on pretentious, false-intelligence so Metalheads with a superiority complex can have their flag-ship band, though they tend to think of Meshuggah as annoying, leaving Tomas Haake's obvious intelligence(The guy is an English Dictionary, and he's Swedish) unnoticed or never mention Ron Jarzombeck. Maybe other people need the cohesiveness Dream Theater have as well.
You may let in the sharks now.
On June 7th, Dream Theater's Octavarium, their 8th studio album, was released to the general public for consumption. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I found the leak of the album that appeared a little over a week before the release date. So, I've had the opportunity to digest this album in its entirety before most of the standard fanbase. In addition, I have purchased the official release, as the leak was not the final mix, and I have given that a full listen as well.
Regardless of your point of view towards Dream Theater's newer material, I think that most would agree with me in stating that Octavarium is an important release. The previous release, Train of Thought, put a lot of fans and critics on edge, as it seemed that the heavy, excessively long songs filled with long, arguably pretentious (and borderline pointless) solos were going to become the norm. I don't agree with all the sentiments that the public expressed, but I do consider Train of Thought to be their weakest studio album. The album was a one-time experiment that succeeded about 75% of the time. The solos/instrumental breaks were frequent and sometimes didn't contribute to a song's integrity (see the unison instrumental section with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess in "In the Name of God" for a good example, or the extended solo section of Honor Thy Father), and some songs felt like extended sections were tagged on for length's sake (see the last two or so minutes of "This Dying Soul"). All in all, Dream Theater established a new set of fans (particularly those with tastes in the heavier side of music), but alienated a good deal of their older fans. This puts Octavarium in a position of "Do or die." Dream Theater is aware of the criticisms that Train of Thought met. They weren't deaf (in fact, as the song "Never Enough" states, they were sometimes downright offended by the ignorant flak some fans spewed in their direction), and from listening to Octavarium it seems like they were eager to address the concerns the fanbase brought up.
In order to prepare myself for reviewing this album, I went back to listened to each and every studio album released by Dream Theater, one a day, up until the official release date. What I found interesting was how much their sound changes just from album to album, and how much Images and Words does not sound like When Dream And Day Unite, and that Awake sounds nothing like Images and Words, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, I noticed that the "wankery" that Dream Theater is accused of didn't truly surface until Scenes From A Memory, and didn't become relentless until Train Of Thought. Out of all the albums, I experienced some bad cases of boredom on Train Of Thought (especially during the later half of "Honor Thy Father") and even on Scenes From A Memory. As I expected, I enjoyed Awake, Falling Into Infinity, and Images and Words the most, with When Dream And Day Unite surprising me (I had never "listened" to that album properly, now I see some of its own magic) and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence getting an honorable mention. When Dream And Day Unite and Scenes From A Memory are easily Dream Theater's most bombastic albums, while Awake and Falling Into Infinity I find to be their most personal. Images and Words is magical and epic, like its not of this world.
I did a lot of research on Octavarium before it was even released. I listened to the early radio edits. I read nearly everything the band had to say about this album. I knew what I was going to listen to. I understood the direction they were going to take. When I listened to the full album for the first time, I was expecting a mix of Falling Into Infinity, Awake, and to a lesser degree, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, plus whatever new spins Dream Theater would pull on this album. Guess what, I heard exactly what I planned on hearing. It helps to be informed, understand the direction the band is going in, and to prepare yourself for what you will hear. It helps the appreciation process a lot.
Let me be blunt. If you dislike all of Dream Theater's material after Images and Words (and probably even Awake), you won't like Octavarium. Dream Theater is not going to return to that sound, and to expect them to do so is absurd. This record still sounds like the version of Dream Theater that was established on 1999's Scenes From A Memory after Jordan Rudess joined the band as their permanent keyboardist. On the flip side, for the individuals that thought Train of Thought was one of Dream Theater's best albums, and that their earlier work is not as interesting, then I will say that they will probably be under-welmed by this effort. A lot of the elements from their past three albums are absent, and replaced with some sensibilities that haven't been seen since Falling Into Infinity. What is the point I am trying to make? Approach this album with an open mind. It is not supposed to be part two of any of their previous albums. It is the next iteration of Dream Theater, and it takes some elements from their past, ditches others, and then introduces variety and influences that have not surfaced in Dream Theater's music up until now.
Now that the stage has been set, how is the album itself? I think that "variety" is probably the best word to describe this record. I haven't seen this range of variety since Falling Into Infinity. There are the metal songs, there is a ballad, there are a couple of hard rock inspired songs, and then there are a couple prog epics that the band is famous for. It essentially covers every base, meaning there is something for everyone on this album. They wrote these songs in the studio over the course of a month and a half I believe, and given that they took their time and put constraints on themselves, the end result is diverse and focused.
Dream Theater, for example, forced themselves to write some songs that weren't extended in length (much like Rush did at one point in their career). Those songs include "The Answer Lies Within" and "I Walk Beside You." Other songs break the five minute mark, but are much more concise in what they state musically. "The Root of All Evil," for example, is a continuation of the AA saga by Mike Portnoy that started with "The Glass Prison" back on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. This is the first song in the series that does not break 10 minutes. Unlike "This Dying Soul," it does not feel like the song meanders pointlessly. Instead, it is a focused effort that continues the AA saga and references the past songs to produce a enjoyable atmosphere.
Finally, the first seven songs are all written in different keys. "The Root of All Evil" is in A, "The Answer Lies Within" is in B, "These Walls" is in C, and so on and so forth. In Octavarium, it once again starts with the key of A, and ends on A. This artistic idea is creative, and further serves to give all the songs their own identity.
Now for the contributions of the band members.
John Petrucci - I applaud Petrucci as he showed restraint. This is the first album since Falling Into Infinity where he crafted solos that did not blaze at a mile a minute. It shows a sense of discipline, and the quality of the songs grew due to this. Petrucci also utilized some low tunings on this record to produce a soundscape that hadn't been explored previously. With all this said, shred-fanatics need not fret, as Petrucci really lets things rip on "Panic Attack" and "Octavarium." Petrucci created some catchy riffs this time around in songs such "The Root of All Evil," "These Walls" and "I Walk Beside You." Other times, he utilized an acoustic sound in "Octavarium" to create a different type of atmosphere. All around, a solid effort by Petrucci.
Lyrics Penned: The Answer Lies Within, These Walls, I Walk Beside You, Panic Attack, Octavarium (Sections I and V)
Mike Portnoy - Of all the members, he showed the least "change." In other words, the drum work on this record is the typical Mike Portnoy affair. Like Petrucci and Rudess, he shows restraint where it is proper, such as on "The Answer Lies Within." Portnoy likes to borrow heavily from his influences, so for example there is some Muse-like drumming in "Never Enough." The effect of Portnoy on this record is not so much in a change of drumming as it is in the creativity of the songs. He and Petrucci are the main songwriting team, and it shows. The overall song-feel is the more modern, post-Kevin Moore sound that was "perfected" (depending on how you view it) on Scenes From A Memory. He does some very nice bass kick work in the chorus of "These Walls." I don't recall any crazy solos however, like at the end of "Finally Free" in Scenes From A Memory. No big loss though, the drums are not supposed to overpower but to support the overall rhythms of each specific piece.
Lyrics Penned: The Root Of All Evil, Never Enough, Octavarium (Sections III and IV)
John Myung - It's nice to hear Myung once again. Poor Myung has always been lost in the mixing process, and could only be appreciated in the live CDs. But, now he has been given the space to breathe, and his work is phenomenal. He does a nice, complicated riff at the beginning of "Panic Attack" that sounds effortless and holds a riff for an entire sub-section of "Octavarium." This man is a monster on the six-string bass. Impressive work. It's a shame that he doesn't contribute lyrically anymore, but the band refuses to work around his writing style nowadays, and the man shouldn't have to compromise.
Lyrics Penned: None
Jordan Rudess - Probably the most controversial member of the current version of Dream Theater. His keyboard sound effects, continuing with this record, sound nothing like Kevin Moore's or Derek Sherinian's. But, to be fair, he toned down the bombastic nature of his sound effects this time around. He sticks to more organic sounds (and even a sound effect that sounds like a tribute to Ayreon!), and introduces the wonderful sounding instrument called the continuum in "Octavarium." As far as his solos, they are still shred-inspired, but they are limited to where they are called for, such as in the solo section of "Panic Attack" and "Octavarium." I must say though that his ballad-piano work in "The Answer Lies Within" surprised me, as I didn't think that he was capable of writing such a melody line. Well done Rudess. His other piano work (as in piano sound effect) is the standard neo-classical affair that we've come to expect. But, much like Petrucci, its more restrained and focused on increasing the strength of the song as opposed to using it to show off. In this record, Rudess got the opportunity to show his artistic chops in a variety of ways, and it came off as classy. An effective use of talent by Mr. Rudess.
Lyrics Penned: None
James LaBrie - The other controversial member, as most people either love or hate him. Let me just say "wow!" I knew that he had been reworking his singing style ever since the Train of Thought era (essentially, he got a new vocal coach that said his old coach's techniques were bullshit, so he needed to "start" all over again), and the result of this is magnificent. His range is starting to once again reach the heights he achieved in Images and Words, and there is a greater warmth is his tone and expression. I really can't see how his voice can be perceived as annoying on this recording. He doesn't sound like he is straining himself anymore. Instead, it is a true joy to listen to his range and expression. Given the overall soundscapes explored, the music compliments his timbre well. He uses doubling and tripling of his vocals to achieve harmonies that simply haven't been heard on a Dream Theater record before (they have appeared on his side projects, however). James LaBrie's showing is one of the greatest strengths of this album, and this seems to promise an incredible set of performances on this upcoming tour to promote Octavarium.
Lyrics Penned: Sacrificed Sons, Octavarium (Section II)
Finally, the song breakdown:
The Root of All Evil (9/10) - The opener of the album, and the continuation of the Alcoholics Anonymous saga that began with "The Glass Prison" and continued with "This Dying Soul." I love the intro into the song. It starts off with the final piano note from "In The Name Of God," Rudess creates an atmosphere with his sound effects (reminds me of being stuck in a thick liquid) that reminds me of the very end of The Human Equation by Ayreon, and the rhythm of the final riff in "This Dying Soul" is pounded out by Portnoy repeatedly until the first main guitar line starts. As it stands, this song is the least metal of the three entries in the AA saga so far. It's more hard rock inspired, and that's quite fine. The main riff is catchy (and reminds me of the color blue for some reason), and yet sounds at home with the previous sonic themes from the other entries in the saga. Speaking of which, "This Dying Soul" is openly referenced in this song, and makes for a very cool, haunting effect. No, Dream Theater is not running out of ideas and needs to reuse their old songs, this piece is a continuation of a much larger suite, and it is only appropriate that certain lyrical and musical themes are reprised now and again. It was done in "A Change Of Seasons" and "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence," why not here? Overall, a great rocker and an excellent way to start the album.
The Answer Lies Within (8/10) - The main ballad of the album, and it is the simplest one that has been released. This is much along the lines of "Anna Lee" in that it is heavily piano driven and quite intimate in its emotions. Some beautiful and melodic lines are played by Rudess, and Petrucci eventually joins him acoustically. The song is moving, and the lyrical theme presented is uplifting, as opposed to the dark subject matter of "Anna Lee." LaBrie has song warm moments on this track, especially at the "you're gonna shine" lyric, which gives me chills. There are no solos, which is appropriate. This piece is sincere and warm, and a solo would just spoil the mood. Unfortunately, because this song is slow-moving, one may be inclined to skip it from time to time. Unlike some of the other material on this record, this is not a piece that fits into the "listenable in any mood" mold.
These Walls (10/10) - The first of three Dream Theater classics on this album. I've been listening to this song ever since the radio edit was released, and it never gets old. The song is an excellent mix of heavy and soaring sounds, and the result is an uplifting song that has "balls." The chorus is memorable, possibly one of the most memorable they've ever written (considering the fact that a number of their songs don't have a discernable chorus). As mentioned before, I also like the bass kick Portnoy uses during the chorus. Petrucci's solo is one of the most minimal that has come from him, and it works quite well in the context of this piece. It helps to drive the piece into its final moments, and doesn't distract the listener. The vocal effect that LaBrie uses at the end with the lyric, "Tear down these walls for me / It's not too late for me" is neat, and makes me feel happy inside. Despite the depiction of struggle that manifests itself over this song, it is clear that in the end things will work out, and LaBrie's vocals really help to portray it. This is one song I can't wait to see live.
I Walk Beside You (8/10) - The first of two songs that are clearly inspired by a rock band. This song is quite U2-ish in its construction and in LaBrie's vocals. This is probably the poppiest thing Dream Theater has released on a studio album (aside from "You Not Me," but that song was a general failure), but you know what? I like it. For once I'm not feeling like I need to pay attention to the technicalities of the song. The song is written in what appears to be D Major, and that gives the song an uplifting feeling. I remember smiling broadly when I heard the familiar tick tock from Scenes From A Memory at the beginning, followed by Rudess's staccato keyboard hits and going into the melodic opening guitar licks from Petrucci. This song reminds me of "Innocence Faded" in some ways. It's uplifting, not overly complicated, and LaBrie gives an impassioned performance. This is a feel-good song that I know can make my day feel better. I take this song for what it is, and why it was written as it was, and that's that.
Panic Attack (10/10) - This is one of the greatest metal songs by Dream Theater. It completely blows everything from Train Of Thought out of the water. It has heavy guitar tones, but the keyboards are not obscured, since Rudess does not try to sound like a second guitar this time around. The piano bits with the chorus sound effect remind me of the more memorable parts of Scenes From A Memory. LaBrie gives an aggressive performance, and even mimics the singer of Muse near the end. The solo section is awesome, and actually feels like it belongs versus being inserted for the hell of it. The heavy riffs are given time to develop, and are utilized as a repeating theme throughout the song. This is THE song I want to see live. This is a serious contender for my favorite heavy song from Dream Theater.
Never Enough (7/10) - Before I had the lyric booklet and understood what this song was actually about, I remembered being a little disappointed with this one. This song sounds a lot like Muse's "Stockholm Syndrome" in the opening guitar riff. LaBrie even uses the same type of vocal distortion that is found in British pop rock acts such as Muse and Radiohead. So, out of everything on this album, this sometimes feel a little bit like a rip-off. However, the second half of the song saves itself, and I love that echoed-type sound effect Petrucci uses in his solo. Now, since I know that this song is about Portnoy's encounters with ungrateful fans (and I mean fans who verbally abuse his work without explanation, who constantly ask him to release things and then bitch when it's not to their expectations, and who chew the band out for not playing a certain song at a three-hour concert or say stuff like, "Train Of Thought was a fucking stupid idea"), the whole use of the British art rock style makes a lot more sense. Radiohead in particular has always been subtle musically when it comes to their anger towards society, and typically they juxtapose very angry lyrics over beautiful musical passages. Dream Theater does something similar. The music itself is not all that angry, particularly the verse parts. It's more haunting, and I feel that the band was taking a stab at masking angry lyrics with, more or less, standard non-angry art rock music. Does it succeed? More or less. Now that I know what its about, at least I understand why it sounds like it does, as opposed to just being a rip-off. It's still my least favorite song on the album though.
Sacrificed Sons (9/10) - Classic Dream Theater mini-epic right here. Opening with a middle-eastern twang, the song then builds into a quiet melody line. The vocal lines are haunting, and the solo section is of the traditional Dream Theater style. The build and pace of this song reminds me of "Peruvian Skies" in many ways, including the fact that both songs make me feel the same emotions and "colors." Dealing with sad subject matter, it ponders it for a while, breaks into a solo, and then turns metal and brings the song to an energetic close. As far as the lyrics go, they deal with 9/11. Yes, I know this is going to make some people uncomfortable, and some others angry that they even tackle this subject at all (either because they should "forget about it" or because they see it as overtly "pro-American," which I don't see at all). I feel that James LaBrie, the writer of the lyrics, handled it in the best way he could. It is obviously his first person account of how he felt about the whole situation, and he is NOT condemning the middle east. He is condemning the perpetrators for perverting their scripture and for sacrificing their own sons to achieve their own twisted end. It's "Sacrificed Sons," not "Evil Terrorists." "In The Name Of God" dealt with fringe cults in America in a more general sense, this deals with James LaBrie's personal feelings about the tragedy. He just didn't have the opportunity to do so until now.
Octavarium (10/10) - The closer of the album, and what a way to end things. A word of advice: just because this song is the same length as "A Change Of Seasons" doesn't mean you should expect ACOS part two. I did that, and I was sorely disappointed the first time around. This song sounds nothing like ACOS. So, on my second listen, I choose to listen to "Octavarium" instead of ACOS part two, and it that made the song click for me. The orchestra has some beautiful accents to Dream Theater's composition. Overall, this is probably the most majestic thing Dream Theater has created (I mean this from a beauty aesthetic). The song is just beautiful to listen to. Jordan's new device, the continuum, sounds great, and adds an atmosphere to the song that has never been heard on a Dream Theater album before. This epic is a nod to progressive rock from the 70s, and develops as such. In other words, this song is one HUGE crescendo. It just builds and builds as we move from one movement to the next. The solo section, when it finally kicks in, begins to build a sense of chaos that, up until this point, had been relatively absent from the song. The end of the build occurs with James LaBrie SCREAMING "Trapped inside this Octavarium!" over and over, which gives me the chills, something that I hadn't experienced since 'The Crimson Sunset' movement in "A Change Of Seasons." As for the scream, some have expressed distaste towards it for whatever reason. My response is to get open minded. The song has been building for twenty minutes, reprising themes from the entire album, and then you say a scream at the climax is "unwarranted?" It's a perfect release of tension, and from the music's aesthetic, not much else would have fit. Seriously, it's not a death metal growl (which I happen to like anyway), and its no different than the screams that were overlaid in "In The Name Of God."
Anyway, back on the song. Lyrically, it deals with a man who, as a child, wanted to live his life to the fullest, but didn't end up achieving that. He then falls into a catatonic sleep, and awakes to find out that he lost thirty years of his life. After that point, it looks like the song breaks from this story a little bit, and gives a laundry list of words that have a slew of messages in it pertaining to Dream Theater, progressive rock, and persons and events from the past thirty years or so. So actually, one could interpret that this is all the stuff that this man has missed, and it is flooding back to him. Unfortunately, it seems like he fell back into his catatonic state, and (this part is pure conjecture) Octavarium is the next thing he hears. Each of the previous seven songs are recapped, and it is revealed that he is trapped inside an octavarium, a series of eight songs, eight notes available in an octave, and that these notes flow in a perfect circle. The song closes with the ideas of coming full circle, and ending exactly where we began, which is exactly how Octavarium closes, with the opening sound effects from "The Root Of All Evil." Wonderful song, and an awesome way to close the album.
Album Themes - One thing this album has is a lot of hidden messages and "easter eggs" within the packaging and the music itself. Musically, this is something that hasn't been done since Awake (I don't count Scenes From A Memory, since that is a concept album and the style demands it), and it was something I was delighted to see return. It encourages replaying (especially with headphones, as some things will not be caught otherwise) and it really drives home the fact that artistically this is an album, not just a collection of singles. Although the songs stand alone, they are still connected in some way. I will not delve into some of the more obscure bits and pieces, as some of it is just mere speculation, but I wish to drive home the artistic merit Dream Theater has created with this album.
The first thing that I immediately noticed is that bits and pieces of melodies from songs are played in other songs. You can hear the "medicate me" melody riff in the background in "The Answer Lies Within." I know that other riffs from "Octavarium" appear in the other songs. In addition, this album seems to reference Dream Theater's past albums in some ways. There are footsteps at the beginning of "The Root Of All Evil," a tick-tock sound in "I Walk Beside You," and a guitar squeal in "Sacrificed Sons" ala Scenes From A Memory. A couple piano lines in "Octavarium" and "The Answer Lies Within" give me a serious "Anna Lee" vibe, and I don't think that's an accident. In movement four of "Octavarium," you can hear Portnoy say faintly in the background "root," "second," "third," etc. as each two line sentence is recited by LaBrie, followed by a brief clip of the song that lyric refers to.
The 5:8 connection is found a lot in the artwork. The eight refers to the eight notes to go a full octave, there are five black piano keys and eight white keys in an octave, this is the band's eighth album with five members (and eight total members have gone through the band since they've been in the studio), there are five birds and eight balls on the cover, with the birds in-between the ball where the black keys on a piano would be. There is a five point star in an eight-sided building. Finally, there is the circle of fifths, which is how the eight main letter scales of the western world are formed. Basically, this kind of stuff is all over the booklet, and is probably encoded in the music somewhere (I wouldn't be surprised if a melody line follows the circle of fifths somewhere).
The album deals with coming full circle, and ending where you begin. The album goes from lyrically upbeat songs to lyrically upset songs, to a song that encompasses it all, only to have it all recycle again with the next listen. Much like life, we go through these feelings in stages. We never escape them, and we continue to realize that a lot of life goes through cycles.
In conclusion, as can be gathered, I was extremely happy with how this album turned out. It's the most artistically engaging thing they've released since Awake, and it feels much more personal than the last three albums. I know this album will be meeting a lot of flak, for a lot of people were probably expecting something completely different. I got exactly what I wanted. This is the album they said they were making, and what we have is a diverse, focused, mature effort that drops some pretenses in order to advance the art of songwriting. Screw the fact that most of this album is not prog. What does a genre matter anyway? Good songs with artistic integrity can be found in rock, metal, prog, electronica, etc., and this album is full of them. This is a new direction for the band, and for me I feel like they finally hit the mark in the Rudess-era. What will their next album hold? I have absolutely no clue. The previous albums held small clues as to what the next album would sound like ("The Glass Prison" on SDoIT and a few moments in "In The Name Of God" and "Vacant" on TOT), but I can't pick out any of those clues this time around, perhaps because of the great diversity this album holds. Whatever it is, you can sure as hell bet that it will sound like nothing that came before it.
Great effort Dream Theater, I look forward to hearing this stuff live.
After the severely bashed Train Of Thought album (I actually enjoyed it myself) this album is the most important album Dream Theater have had to put out there since Scenes From A Memory which saw a new keyboardist in tow.
The Root Of All Evil - The next part of the Mike Portnoy AA saga. A good rocker to start the proceedings with John Petrucci and James LaBrie standing out in particular. The only downfall being that as far as the music is concerned this song does not match up to that of The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul however, I feel that the lyrics for this song were much better written than the other two. Give it time, it grows on you.
The Answer Lies Within - Some nice poignant lyrics written by John Petrucci but this will be everybody's least favourite track on the album simply because of one thing - it's bland. The music does not match up the lyrics. I think Petrucci wanted something similar to the outstanding Disappear on the Six Degrees album but it just does not work.
These Walls - And there it is! The first absolute gem coming from this album. This song for me is completely flawless, great lyrics, great musicianship, Jordan's keyboard work during the chorus is of an excellent standard and James is singing on sheer top form. Amazing song.
I Walk Beside You - Most people will instantly label this with U2 but I feel there is more of a Coldplay influence in there (Coldplay also released their new album on the 6th of June along with Octavarium over here! Conspiracies a-plenty! :p). I actually really like this song but the fact it comes straight after a song as strong as These Walls makes it seem somewhat out of place.
Panic Attack - Some immense riffage starts this one off. This is another gem in this album with the band rocking out Train Of Thought style BUT (and this includes These Walls) they know the boundaries with the heaviness this time.
Never Enough - Muse, Muse, Muse, Muse, Muse. It's all you hear which is fine but if you actually look at who wrote the thing then you'd see the name "Mike Portnoy" who also stated at the beginning of the year that he thought Muse's "Absolution" is the best album released since the year 2000 onwards. Therefore it would be a tad understandable if there was a Muse influence present. This is NOT a rip-off, the band have been accused of this many times, it's getting old guys, give it a rest eh? As for the song itself, it's actually quite good and given a chance it's actually one of the better listens on the album.
Sacrificed Sons - Before I review this song, there also is plenty of people on the bands website saying writing about 9/11 is just old now. If they actually READ the lyrics then you'd notice that 9/11 is only used as a reference in a song written about terrorism. This is James proving that he can indeed write some great stuff (Blind Faith and Disappear prove this point) with some moody keyboards supplied by Jordan. Very epic and more importantly, extremely good.
Octavarium - This is it. The epic. This song is worth buying the album for alone. Clocking in at a gargantuan 24 minutes exactly (multiply 8 by 3 and you get 24, spooky eh? :p). There's something altogether extremely sequential about this song. The very last lines being 'This story ends where it began?' and then the opening moments of the album actually being the closing moment also. What does this signify?
All in all, this album is extremely solid and up there with Dream Theater have responded to their criticism extremely well as they did with Scenes From A Memory. If you are a keyboard and vocals man then you will have a field day as Jordan and James are the shining stars on this one, which is actually really good as they are normally overshadowed by the three founding members. A special mention has to go to Petrucci though who wrote 4 complete songs and two parts of Octavarium, does Petrucci perhaps feel the strongest about the bands fate?
In terms of the significance of the Octavarium - does this mean Dream Theater will call it a day? This is after all their 8th album and the Octavarium is complete. Does it perhaps mean that Dream Theater are moving on to pastures new? A new style? Also, this is their last album for Atlantic so maybe it means the band is undertaking a new challenge by following the likes of Korn and (ironically enough) John Petrucci by self-releasing their albums? I certainly hope we find out soon, this band is too good to just disappear.
Well.....I can't tell you how much I wanted this album to be great, for this to bring Dream Theater back to the progressive spotlight, for them to do something new.
But, after listening to it many times, I think Dream Theater is a dying band. They're devoid of new ideas, and most of the members seem to be too caught up in how great they think they are to realize it.
There are several issues that plague this album. One of these issues is the production. John Petrucci's guitar sound on the albums has been getting worse ever since he got the Music Man as far as I'm concerned. I wasn't a fan of the guitar sound on SDOIT, although I love the album, and the guitar wasn't awful. However, on this, it sounds pretty bad. The production is also very muddy, not acceptable from a Dream Theater album.
The next thing, stale instrumentation. John Petrucci has apparently acquired a fetish for down-tuning his guitar and playing generic power chord riffs. That's what a lot of the playing on the album sounds like, which is unfortunate, since we know he is capable of so much. Another stale bit is Jordan Rudess' playing. "The Answer Lies Within" is what I would call one of the "good" songs on the album, but the keyboard is so stale. He's not even trying to play outside the box, just playing quarter-note chords. How boring coming from Jordan Rudess.
The other issue with instrumentation is soloing on the album. There are only two worthwhile solo sections on the album, the one in "Octavarium," and to a lesser degree, the one in "Sacrificed Sons." I laugh every time I hear the solos in "Panic Attack." John Petrucci isn't even trying; he's just doing random guitar exercises. Jordan's solos also sound uninspired on this. It sounds like they just said "oh yeah....I guess we should stick a solo in there."
The whole "dark" sound is another issue. Dream Theater just can't do it without it sounding like epic radio rock. This power chord writing, and then the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure is very boring. So a lot of the songs they end up coming out with a generic song that could have gone through it's musical variety in under four minutes, but they drag it out to eight. The other problem with this is that the vocals suffer. James LaBrie can't do the dark vocals, but they paint him into that corner, using the lower range over a heavy backing, and he sounds mediocre at best. His best performances are in the non-downtuned songs here.
The ripping off is something I shouldn't have to hear from Dream Theater. While there are Muse inspired moments on the album, "Never Enough" is a complete rip-off of Muse. I'm not a Muse fan, but I was alerted to this by someone else. The U2 chorus on "I Walk Beside You" is also a rip-off, but the rest of the song doesn't sound like that, so it's not as big an issue. The point here is not whether it sounds good or not, but that it takes no though at all to rip-off another band.
There are some good moments here. "Sacrificed Sons" is straight from Scenes From A Memory, which if not totally creative, is better than the more generic things on the album. The best track here is the epic title track, "Octavarium." Lots of interesting melodies (compared to the generic melodies they use in the "heavy" songs), a nice solo melody, great vocals from James, and the nice addition of a string ensemble for the emotional ending. An excellent song. This is what they should be doing more of here.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with "heavy" songs. Dream Theater have some really great, tasteful heavy songs that aren't just generic radio-rock fests......all the seven-string songs on Awake, "The Dance Of Eternity," etc. But this is just generic material. Especially "These Walls." It's just a seven and a half minute radio rock song.
So here is my track list from best to worst, and notice the mediocrity line.....although for Dream Theater, it should probably be the line where it's not worth listening to.
2. Sacrificed Sons
3. I Walk Beside You
4. The Answer Lies Within
5. Never Enough*
6. Panic Attack
7. The Root Of All Evil
8. These Walls
*Never Enough is good as a song, but the fact that it is a complete rip-off of another band means that it doesn't have much musical value.
To conclude.....this is a good album. It has a few great songs, and some good songs. However, this is not a good Dream Theater album at all. It's not "progressive," it doesn't introduce anything new, and with the exception of one song, they can't even go back to their old sound, so it's not even a nostalgia trip. There are quite a few points where you can hear the "progressiveness" trying to poke its head out, but those moments don't outweigh how thoroughly generic a good portion of this album is. I'm buying this album.....but unless they can pull themselves out of the gutter this might be the last Dream Theater album I can buy. Sadly, I don't see them bringing it back up because they don't seem to be able to take criticism or see any negative things about what they're making. As many know, 'Elements Of Persuasion' was originally distributed masquerading as Octavarium. Well, this album isn't too far removed from that heaping pile of garbage, but it's worse in principle just because this is Dream Theater making this. Remember what they can do? Well....this isn't it, they're holding back. If it weren't for the title track, this probably would have gotten a thirty. Even though there are some really nice moments here, especially in the "good songs," from a musical perspective, it's generic and cliché. This is what it sounds like when a good progressive band decides to do radio rock.
Buy it for Octavarium, the great song, and for the couple of other "good" songs.
Where to begin…
Dream Theater is back.
Back from the nebulous wastelands of conflicting musical identity that were Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train of Thought. Neither of these two were bad albums, per se, each having their moments of brilliance, but neither matched up to the impossibly high standards the band set for themselves with Images and Words, their second album, and Awake, the third. But Octavarium is lightyears ahead of their last few mixed-bag releases, taking the best elements of their evolution in style and musical ability, with an infusion of a new passion, and doing away with the rest: the wastefulness, the questionable songwriting, and (critics of ToT, breathe a heavy sigh) the rap. Even the album’s one reference to Train of Thought, the chorus to “Dying Soul” played during “Root of All Evil”, sounds better in the new context of Octavarium.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed both of Dream Theater’s previous albums, having never been one of DT’s “disenchanted fans”, but they lacked the magic that was strongest with IaW and was never seen to such a degree again. Until now. Octavarium has the magic again. It is brilliant. It is a masterpiece.
A part of the problem with the previous few albums was their emphasis on the album as a whole rather than the songs, and as a result some of the songs are rather weak. Octavarium shifts this focus onto the invidual songs, tightening up the lyrics, doing away with needless instrumentation, and bringing a diversity unseen since IaW. The songs flow better internally, and thus the album flows better as a whole. A new addition is the few seconds of “soundscaping” between each track that ties them all together, and interesting concept that makes everything flow together despite unrelated subject material.
The new album kicks off with “Root of All Evil”, the continuation of the Alcoholics Anonymous saga begun on SDOIT, and is probably the strongest of the three. It makes an awesome album openener, with a kickass drumline (a reference to Dying Soul) leading into a doubly kickass riff that holds the song together without ever getting old. The song is a real rocker that holds your attention from start to finish, unified and cohesive, and features some awesome (but tasteful) soloing by Petrucci and Rudess. The chorus is a showcase for Labrie’s New Improved singing, which is tighter and better than on any previous album and shows just how much he has improved as a singer. The next two heaviest songs on the album, “Panic Attack” and “Never Enough”, are both excellent. “Panic Attack” opens with possibly the catchiest riff on the album, if not in DT’s entire discography, and tears into a blazing fast cacophony that perfectly invokes the emotions of its lyrics and title. Once again we find very nice vocal work by Labrie, especially during a little falsetto bit on the bridge that reminds me in all the best ways of Queen. “Never Enough” is an odd song stylistically for Dream Theater, reminding me more of The Muse, and at first I didn’t like it for the chorus’s lyrics, but it grew on me quickly.
“The Answer Lies Within” is the album’s ballad, a strangely uplifting acoustic song that makes a perfect break after the rockin’ intensity of “Root of All Evil”. Rudess and Labrie dominate this one, and it’s one of their best soft songs, up there with Silent Man and Disappear (although lyrically and thematically the opposite of the latter). It features some very nice violin work and heartening lyrics such as ‘You’ve got the future on your side’. It transitions into “These Walls”, the catchiest song ever written in a major key, and a huge radio hit if they do it right. Radio hits? An oddity for Dream Theater, but one that reminds me of Images and Words, and that’s a good thing. “Walls” has an awesome chorus and some sweet key harmonies, and despite being an extremely simple song for Dream Theater it is excellent nonetheless. The final of the album’s lighter songs is “I Walk Beside You”, a song that could only be a tribute to U2, with some Muse influence mixed in, and just as good as any of the best that either could have written. Catchy, poppy, but I love it nonetheless.
But just for those who would complain about Octavarium’s not being “proggy” enough, DT threw in the final two, beastly tracks: “Sacrificed Sons” and the title track. “Sons” starts out slow and sad, building up through a heavy instrumental section into an awesomely heartbreaking melody and a haunting orchestrated outtro. It has lyrical ties to “In the Name of God”, featuring themes from 9-11—the title is about partly about the reverence for fanatical suicide in terrorist culture, and partly about the war in Iraq-- and has some of the best vocal and guitar work on the album.
Finally is the album’s beast, “Octavarium”, a track that picks up slowly but surely builds intensity throughout multiple musical landscapes until the chilling ending, a lyrical summary of the album that ties everything together. The lyrics are bit out, the rhythm frantic; this is Dream Theater at their most intense and emotional, and every time James Labrie bites out the words “TRAPPED-IN-SIDE-THIS-OC-TA-VAR-I-UM” in a half-scream, it sends chills down my spine. The song then closes with a melodic outtro that reminds me of some of the best work Kansas has done. Throughout the song, there are references to classic rock and Dream Theater's own work; the reference to Nightmare Cinema (DT's "alter ego" band from the FII era) was especially subtle and amusing. Dream Theater fans have asked since 1995 if they could manage an epic that would compare to A Change of Seasons. They have, and while Octavarium is a different song, it is just as surely a prog masterpiece.
Is it Images and Words? Musically, no- it reflects every stage of Dream Theater’s evolution since then. But it features everything that made IaW an amazing album: great songwriting, varied music, technical ability, melodic playing ranging from beautiful to haunting to rocking—and blends in everything Dream Theater has learned since then. It is easily one of their best albums, and a classic for the ages.
"We move in circles, balanced all the while, on a gleaming razor's edge, a perfect stand: colliding with our fate, this story ends where it begins... I'VE COME FULL CIRCLE."
For some reason, I am both very pleased and somewhat at odds with Dream Theater’s new album. On one hand, they have ditched the excessive mallcore and aimless wankery for a more progressive album. On the other hand, a lot of this album seems contrived, as if the band went into the studio with the purpose “creating a diverse album.” Usually, this is a recipe for disaster, but in this case DT manage to pull it off unlike their last contrived effort to make “a classic metal album,” Train of Thought.
The album starts very solid with The Root Of All Evil, which provides themes from the better sections of Train of Thought’s This Dying Soul as it is a continuation of the AA saga. The riffs in this song are genuine (un-nu-metal), and there is an amazing keyboard break as well as a highly solid Petrucci solo. To its credit, the solos don’t take over the song, and there is some great piano at the end. The energy of this song transitions nicely into The Answer Lies Within, which is one of contrived ballad songs that seems to have been written for the purpose of variety. It’s catchy and unusually simplistic for Dream Theater. Overall this track doesn’t offer much. Interestingly, this song also has no instrument solos, a rarity.
These Walls is a varied tempo catchy song with heavy and softer sections, keyboard melodies, a lot of hi-hat and stax by Portnoy, and a very interesting guitar solo that actually stays within the confines of the song (4:40 to 5:10). The keyboard melodies have a New Millenium vibe, but overall the song has a vibe like the Awake album. Track 4, I Walk Beside You, begins with an eerie passage that turns into a fairly mainstream U2-like rock song. There is a cool key change near the end, and again …no solos.
Panic Attack is another heavy track full of keyboard scales, 5/4, catchy melodies, crazy solos, and time changes. The next track, Never Enough, is the most interesting for DT. It is very highly influenced by the British rock band Muse, but DT puts their own virtuostic spin on it. Musically, this track is very busy and has some excellent soloing. The following track, Sacrificed Sons, is based on 9/11. It starts out much like a ballad, but around 4:15 it breaks into a classic DT instrumental section full of scales, key changes, and soloing. This section is includes orchestral accompaniment, and while it’s long, it doesn’t turn into a wankfest. The vocals come back in after this break with a much heavier background than the first 4:00 of the song.
The final track is the big wow. Obviously an attempt to create another A Change of Seasons with the 24:00 running time, it doesn’t have the honesty that ACOS possesses, but it’s a great song in itself. There are all sorts of prog influences here from Yes to Pink Floyd to ELP with more orchestra. The song begins very slowly with the vocals in a story format and doesn’t really take off until after 12:00 at the simply amazing musical interlude. After 18:00, the vocals come back in spoken and slowly build up to a scream unlike anything Labrie has ever done before.
Overall, unless you’re already a Dream Theater or progressive fan, there is little chance that this album will draw your attention. With 2 softer songs and other's with softer sections, only 3 of the 8 tracks can consistently be considered metal, but this album is much more in tune to what Dream Theater is all about. I recommend it to everyone, but don’t expect anything “true.”
Best tracks: The Root of All Evil, Never Enough, Octavarium
Dream Theater, to many, have been in a downward spiral since 1997's Scenes From a Memory, and to some, have been spiraling downward ever since their second album Images and Words. The trend stops here. 2005's Octavarium shows us yet another array of styles that Dream Theater can take on and perform successfully. The songs are much less meandering (save the 24 minute title track) and are much more to the point, yet still have that progressive touch. Petrucci plays a much angrier guitar than we have heard from him in the past. Rudess plays a MUCH bigger role in every song now. This album is one of the best showcases ever of how to correctly use keyboards, something I feel they failed to in their other albums, where Rudess was mostly limited to his spacey solos and minor background parts. Myung takes on one of the best bass tones I've heard in a long time, although he is still hidden in the background for most of the album, much like every other album (Again, save the title track, where he holds together an entire section with an amazing bassline) Portnoy is Portnoy, we all know what he can, and does do.
Most importantly, and the biggest surprise is James LaBrie. The very critiscized vocalist has EASILY the greatest performance of his career on this album. He displays an amazing array of styles, range, and actually sounds excellent. I have always liked LaBrie more than your average person, but still only recognized him as a good-great vocalist. Here, he is an exceptional vocalist. From the heartfealt The Answer Lies Within to the enraged screaming of "TRAPPED INSIDE THIS OCTAVARIUM" he puts on a stunning performance.
Anyways, the album itself has no fixed sound, but overall it leans much more towards the Train of Thought sound than any other of their albums. However, it isn't very comparable, the same way Train of Thought isn't comparable to any of their albums before that.
Song by song, each song is very different, and is a classic in its own way. Therefore, I feel I should not discuss each song individually to spoil anything, especially since this album isn't officially out for another 8 days. Just listen, and wait for all the great surprises. I will however, for fun, list the songs I consider best to worst.
The Root of All Evil
The Answer Lies Within
I Walk Beside You
To all Dream Theater fans: This album is easily their best work since Scenes From a Memory, and will absolutely not disappoint you. Have no hesitation about picking it up the day its released for whatever price you have to pay.
To those who aren't big Dream Theater fans: This album is very well worth listening to, even if you have never liked Dream Theater before. The biggest critiscism of Dream Theater is usually James LaBrie, and I guarruntee you if you listen to this whole album your opinion of him will change. This is an extremely likeable album for fans of every genre, and is the next prog classic that will spawn clones for generations to come.