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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.