Album Review: "Octavarium" ~ Dream Theater (2005)

Posted by prla1983 on August 22, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

Trapped Inside This Octavarium

After a full blown metal album in 2003, DREAM THEATER are back to their more progressive roots, with a vendetta. While "Train of Thought" didn't do much with the latter of the "heavy, melodic and progressive" triplet on which the band takes pride to be associated with, "Octavarium" is again a big melting pot, much like most of the band's previous efforts. The interesting twist is that even though the influence of classical progressive outfits is ever present, this time we see many traits of much more recent and, some would say, surprising bands. You don't need to pay a lot of attention to the music within this record to instantly recognize, of all bands, a big MUSE influence. The truth is that if you have been following this band lately, it turns out not be that much of a surprise. The more creative members seem to be attracted to Muse lately and, if you ask me, it could be much worse. It's actually a good thing, and being influenced by a contemporary and active band shouldn't be a problem.

"Octavarium" is also another Dream Theater's stab at creating a concept piece, even if this one is a little unusual in that and not in the same sense as their own "Scenes From a Memory" or other classic concept albums like PINK FLOYD's "The Wall" or QUEENSRYCHE's "Operation: Mindcrime". This time, the concept is not in terms of storyline but in everything that surrounds the album, all the way down to the artwork and the booklet. I don't want to spoil anything for whoever is reading this and is yet to get their copy, but it shouldn't take much to actually get it when you have the thing in your hands and the disc in your player. And while we're talking about the artwork, this album would honestly warrant 5 stars, if only for it. Hugh Syme (who has worked with MEGADETH, RUSH, QUEENSRYCHE in the past and more recently did NEVERMORE's "This Godless Endeavor") has done an outstanding job working under Mike Portnoy's concept and the booklet is nothing short of remarkable, yet simple and soothing.

And on to the music...

The album opens with the continuation of the on-going alcoholism saga which is being written by Portnoy, one piece per album, since 2002's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence". "The Root of All Evil" starts ominously, with interesting samples which have been used to this effect for the first time in the band's work. And immediately die-hard fans will notice the back references to the previous songs in this series, namely to "This Dying Soul" which are in fact sprinkled throughout the song. It soon shifts into high gear and for all we know, this could be a continuation of "Train of Thought". The lyrics are very heartfelt and go straight to the point ("Never could have just a part of it"/"I always need more to get by" and "Lazy enough to sleep all day"/"And let my life just waste away"). This is a very hard rocker with instant hooks and it's definitely a great way to kickstart the album. It sure will be interesting to follow this saga onto its conclusion over the next couple of albums and to the expected live rendition in its entirety.

After the storm comes the calmness and so "The Root of All Evil" sweetly segues into the beautiful "The Answer Lies Within" which strongly nods to "Anna Lee" back in the "Falling Into Infinity" album. James LaBrie is quietly stunning in this track and, dare I say it, this is where he shines the most. His work with Arjen Lucassen on the latest AYREON album is proof of that. The mood keeps going back and forth and "These Walls" is another heavy tune and arguably one of the best tracks and that's because every member of the band really is at his best. Take the section from 04:38 to 05:08 where Petrucci does a really nice, simple and moody solo aswell as Portnoy's remarkable drum work which then goes into the buildup to the chorus from 05:08 to 05:23. This is where Rudess shines, albeit not on a technical point of view, and the same is true for the song's outro which leads to the next track, "I Walk Beside You". This song actually puzzles me because DREAM THEATER has never been a band seeking much mainstream exposure but this track reeks of that. Apart from a strong nod to U2 (imagine that!) and interesting drum work during the intro, this song doesn't really have much to recommend it and clearly doesn't fit the whole. While it's not a bad song per se, it really is the album's weakest link.

The second part of the album opens with a shredding badass bass solo by John Myung, which instantly makes you think of similar stuff in "Metropolis Pt.1" and "The Dance of Eternity". The song is powerful and it deals with... well you guessed it, panic attacks. It's interesting to see how all of the panic attack symptoms are illustrated in this song, lyrically and musically. While this could certainly be a part of "Train of Thought" aswell, the middle section features some nice soloing and instrumental show-off which is used very sparingly in this latest offering, unlike the previous work by the band. It's also where the MUSE influence is more clear especially in the way LaBrie sings the chorus. "Never Enough" is another one of the album's best tracks and again Portnoy gets pretty much to the point with his lyrics, dealing with those fans who don't know how to appreciate his hard work for the band and simply can't get enough. The lyrics can even be tough to follow, so crude, graphical and agressive (yet beautiful) they are ("Cut myself open wide"/"Reach inside"/"Help yourself to all I have to give" or "Sacrifice my life"/"Neglect my kids and wife"/"All for you to be happy"). "Sacrificed Sons" brings the 9/11 subject back to light and displays LaBrie's contribution to the lyrics department (along with part of the last song). This is what could be called a "half-epic" and features one of the best instrumental sections of the whole album. Highly recommended.

Finally, there's the epic title track which clocks in at a whooping 24:00. And the truth is that it doesn't fall short of "A Change of Seasons" or "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence". It is indeed one of the best things the band has ever done, even if the lyrics are very obscure and confusing at times which was not really the case of the previous epics. I must confess that during the first few minutes I was confused and not sure if my copy had PINK FLOYD's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" as the last song instead, but that was just for a couple of seconds there. Jordan Rudess introduces the use of the steel lap guitar (one of a few technical innovations for the band on this record) to great effect which helps on this song sounding like one giant tribute to a lot of the classic progressive bands like YES and ELP. I prefer not to go into much detail on this song because this is something to be experienced and discovered and I don't want to spoil it for anyone who is yet to do so. Suffice to say it is very very good and on par with the best output of the band.

Overall, "Octavarium" is a strong album but as always with this band it is very difficult to compare it with the rest of the catalogue. Despite some really heavy tunes, fans of DT's more progressive side will be happier than those on the metal camp, to whom "Train of Thought" was probably the best offering. It may be the best effort since "Scenes From a Memory" but then again it's not as cohesive and coherent as most of the other albums. For that and for the radio-friendly nods, I don't give it five stars but it really is a 4,5 rating. It will be interesting to see where DREAM THEATER goes from here. It really will be.

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