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Bag of utter nonsense - 15%

Zaphod, May 14th, 2007

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 überhaupt 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.