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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.