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Dream Theater - Octavarium CD (album) cover

OCTAVARIUM

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.65 | 1556 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I finally have the chance to review Dream Theater's latest release, OCTAVARIUM. As everybody around PA knows, I'm one of the most critical objectors of this band's music, so it's with great interest and excitement that I proceed to give my opinion about the outfit's 8th release.

After a slightly awkward release (TRAIN OF THOUGHT) that left many fans in the dry because of its emphasis in heavy riffs and strongly rhythmic songs, Dream Theater takes a slightly different approach in OCTAVARIUM: though the "metal" side of their music is still present in each and every song, melody and atmospheres have somewhat returned to the band's overall sound. We don't get a lot of extra-heavy parts like in TOT, and all of DT's members have a better chance to shine here. Yes: while in TOT all we could say was "how fast and precise these guys can play", in OC. we can praise them not only for accuracy and precision but also for pure musicianship, for true skills in balancing a showing-off of his abilities and of true great song-writing craft.

Another comment that has to be made: if there was one band member that kind of got lost in the mix in TOT it was Jordan Rudess, whose keyboards really were almost nowhere to be found. In OC. they come back from the limbo they were sent to in TOT and the mature master has the opportunity, once again, to prove all of us that he's one of the instrument's true virtuosos. The keys are very in-your-face now in the mix, and not only that, but they are used to a much greater extent than in the preceding album (or in 6 DEGREES for that matter).

Not everything is brightness and color in OCTAVARIUM, though. While the album has its ups, as I mentioned before, it also has a few downs. One: the song structures are common-ground, we don't find almost any track that deviates from the verse-chorus path, and even though the songs are brilliantly composed within this rather mundane frame, we are talking about Dream Theater here, the same band that recorded IMAGES AND WORDS and SCENES FROM A MEMORY, neither of them a collection of "normal" songs but of complex, intricate constructions. It's sad to notice that the band insists on trying to reach an audience it won't reach, the mainstream-rock audience. And, two: for the first time ever, DT sounds a little bit "like somebody else", if only at times, at a few, scarce parts, but it DOES. We can feel the LaBrie-driven Mullmuzzler influence here; that we don't mind, because that's coming from one of the band members. But when we hear a song that sounds almost like a REPLICA of a song by another band (more on that later), we have to say it out loud: DT used to sound like 100% ORIGINAL DT, not just 95%. I hope this changes in the upcoming release.

On with the songs:

The Root Of All Evil (10/10), never has a DT album kicked off with its best song, but this is the case in here, in my humble opinion. A fantastic heavy-progressive-melodic ride, a non- regular song, LaBrie in good form, atmospheric at times, soulful, great. The chorus is excellent, almost superb, sounds like if it came straight from the golden fountain of music that bred Masterpiece SCENES FROM MEMORY. Terrific song. We have a reference to one of the tracks in TRAIN OF THOUGH halfway down the song. Part of the "Mike Portnoy repentance trilogy?"

The Answer Lies Within (8/10). To all James LaBrie's nay-sayers: please listen him singing this song and then go compare him with non-singers window-breakers. The song itself is not brilliant or anything, a rather regular ballad, but the canadian master saves it from oblivion with a soulful, melodic, MUSICAL performance. 6.5 for the song, 10 for LaBrie's singing.

These Walls (8.5/10), what's up with that start? Is this Machine Head (the band)? Then the main riff comes and the song gets interesting. It sounds a little like Vanden Plas, a band that sounds a lot like DT so everything is just a circle of influences here, as DT were the creators of this in the first place. Good classy drumming by Portnoy, only with hi-hat, a treat he should use more often (he relies too much in double-bass frenzy). The chorus sounds like Mullmuzzler or like James LaBrie's Elements of Persuasion. The song is not overly original, but it's good.

I Walk Beside You (8/10) Dream Theater-meets-U2, as illogical as that may sound. Very catchy song. I have to say it again: this is LaBrie's record. At times he just eats what's behind him. he makes rather mundane songs a lot more interesting. The track is nothing to write your lost brother about, but it doesn't hurt to listen to it, either. Thanks to LaBrie and partly to Portnoy, too, for showing restraint and class.

Panic Attack (9/10) The song is violent, extremely heavy-yet-progressive, great drumming by Portnoy, the pre-chorus piano-notes reminds us of Uber-masterpiece SCENES. Great song, if a little too frenetic at times. It builds up tension, released in the falsetto-sung part by Labrie, who again shows his atributes. A highlight.

Never Enough (5/10)??? What the h...The song is not that bad, BUT (and a big, CAPITAL "but") is that it's almost the SAME song as Muse's "Stockholm Syndrome" from ABSOLUTION. Especially the first part is incredibly alike, almost copy/paste alike (yes...sadly). So this song gets no props because of that factor. Anyway, the song itself is not very interesting. The low point in the album.

Sacrificed Sons (9.5/10), Man can LaBrie sing! After such an incredibly melodic, almost beautiful start with piano and LaBrie flowering the field over it, the song enters an ambiguous, doubtful territory. Then the anthemic chorus appears and we are happy again. The middle part is true-DT, complex, difficult, virtuose. The song has many different parts, faces, it drives us through a tunnel filled with kaleidoscopic images painted by the skillful hands of the 5 new-yorkers (well, 4 new-yorkers and one canadian). Another highlight. Another one of those songs that re-affirm why I regard this band as something slightly better than your average radio-hit band (insert your blinking face here).

Octavarium (9.5/10) We know this song is a hommage of sorts to the prog-giants that helped shape DT's sound, so we won't take points out of this track because of the incredibly Pink-Floyd-ish beginning; after more than 4 minutes of pure space-sychodelia, a flute in true Genesis-like form marks the appearance of LaBrie. From this point on, the song goes through many different moods. We have bits that sound like Yes, even like some of today's bands like The Flower Kings or Beard! But LaBrie with his fantastic voice makes the trip a pleasant experience. So what we got in this song is 80% DT, 20% a lot of different bands. But in this case we know is on purpose, they even tell us that in the lyrics ("Supper's Ready" anyone?) I find the song terrific, but slightly overrated. That is: everybody gives it a 10, say it's the best in the album (even those who don't like DT or this album say this song is the best), I personally think it's not perfect. It's not up to the level of ultra-masterpiece " A change of seaons" or "6 degrees of inner turbulences", but is almost there. At times it lacks melodic interest for me. But it's a fantastic song nevertheless.

In the end, my opinion of Dream Theater's OCTAVARIUM could be summed up like this: a good album, in a different vein than that of TRAIN OF THOUGHT, more melodic, but less virtuosic; more listener-friendly, but also less unique than its predecessor.

Once again, this is, at times, James LaBrie's record.

Recommended for: DT fans, prog-metal fans, good rock fans.

Not recommended for: DT-haters, of course; people that don't like anything to metallic, people that can't stand James LaBrie, but first of all, MUSE's lawyers....

... don't listen to this. I don't want you messing up with DT's economy.

The T | 4/5 |

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