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The Culmination of 20 Years of Outstanding Music… - 45%

asmox, December 9th, 2006

…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!”

Thanks guys.

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.