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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.