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Dream Theater - Octavarium CD (album) cover

OCTAVARIUM

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.66 | 2012 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Kempokid
2 stars Dream Theater are a band that are in a constant state of inconsistency, the changes in sound that they try often falling flat, and for every landmark album in their discography, you'll usually find a dud not too far ahead of behind. Unfortunately, they also have a similar problems with the consistency of songs within many of their albums, although often to a lesser extent. With this said, I feel as if Octavarium is the album to epitomise these issues, despite having some of the band's best work within it. The issue of an extremely clinical, emotionless feel within every element of it further exacerbates these issues by frequently derailing concepts through the band's infamous tendency to drag out a solo to its absolute limit, all without adding anything interesting to it, ultimately making this album a very mixed listening experience.

As seems to be quite common whenever I begin going into detail about why I don't like an album in my opening paragraph, the opening song here manages to avoid the majority of the issues I've just mentioned, and easily be one of the album's greatest tracks. As is standard with any part of the 12 step suite, The Root Of All Evil goes for a far more oppressive, dark tone to most of the band's work, complete with an extremely solid riff and a powerful feeling of helplessness. I love how the song is able to nicely blend aspects of The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul without taking away from its own individual identity, creating an extremely good song that shows that Dream Theater can definitely make songs full of power and emotion when they put their minds to it, even if the guitar solo wasn't really needed here, kinda doesn't properly fit in and takes away from the tone of the song, but at least it's reasonable in length, so it doesn't really bother me. The next worthwhile song to any degree is These Walls, although it's not very good regardless. This song is just straight up goofy in basically all the worst ways, with the overdramatic vocal performance by James being especially hard to stomach, especially since the vocal melody wouldn't sound good even with a more subdued vocalist. The instrumentation in general manages to be quite good however, nothing too flashy or long winded, which genuinely benefits the track immensely, as it doesn't keep trying to distract you from the core elements of the song, but genuinely works as a nice complement to the core of the song, shame that that aspect of it isn't anything special.

Panic Attack is the other song that I feel genuinely has some merit to it, outside the obvious song, as it attempts to establish a compellingly claustrophobic, frantic atmosphere that goes all out on the heavier side of the band that occasionally rears its head. First things first, that intro is absolutely amazing, for once, you can actually briefly hear the bass, before it's buried under the guitar. While the transition to the chorus is a bit forced, it overall works quite well and perpetuates the desperation that the track revels in. The constant changing of the vocal melody also works extremely well here, providing some freshness throughout, even if the chorus is frankly tedious after a single listen. Where this song fails is having Petrucci decide that he ought to play another solo which consists of more or less nothing but shredding over some downright awful riffs, and then once it seems as if the song's about to jump back into the main meat of the song, it just carries on, twice. This completely derails the tension that was building up within the song, substituting It with pointless wankery that goes on far too long and contributes nothing.

The second track is really what perfectly demonstrates the flaws in this album, because my god, The Answer Lies Within, just like most Dream Theater ballads, just straight up sucks, same with I Walk Beside You. These both are absolutely nothing other than saccharine drivel that are painful to listen to at the best of times, and if you're in the wrong mood, then these become downright frustrating to listen to. While Never Enough isn't too bad, it's hard to ignore the extreme influence from Muse's Stockholm Syndrome, especially the main riff. Now, I know that things like the chorus are different from it, but frankly, this is one of the weakest in the album, and definitely doesn't help a song that was already bordering on mediocre. Sacrificed Sons is able to be described with the sentence 'Hey, remember when DT turned a heartfelt ballad about 9/11 into an absolute wankfest?'. In actuality, this is a case where I really enjoy a ballad by Dream Theater, the other prominent example being Space Dye Vest. What I like about it is how it sounds almost apocalyptic in nature, but then with sweeping orchestral instrumentation being able to create moments of beauty within, making for a truly haunting piece. And then the instrumentation took centre stage and everything was ruined.

Fortunately, the album stops itself for being more or less entirely comprised of heavily flawed tracks (Root of All Evil excepted) with the 20 minute title track that definitely redeems the album by quite a bit, as this is what I consider to be far and away the band's best song, with each section of it perfectly fitting in with one another and escalating in a way that keeps raising the tension and intensity to the point where It impresses me so much even after listening to it countless times. The first 2 sections perfectly set the song up, with a long period of ambience that escalates into an explosion of one of the most grandiose moments in music I've heard, all before settling down to set the stage with an all around mysterious tone. This breaks into a more conventional part where the highlight is easily, once again, the bass (almost as if the bass should be a more integral part to Dream Theater overall), which is groovy and just really fun on the whole, along with establishing the gradual progression of the song through holding to a very steady beat with some more bite to it, compared to the first section, which utilised acoustic guitars and flutes. It's the third section where things begin to really pick up however, now with a more chaotic sound to it as an incredibly compelling performance from Labrie steals the show as he seems to be crying out in desperation while spouting utter nonsense in the form of various music references, definitely making for an extremely fun, interesting listen. This chaos becomes far more grounded in the 4th section, as the intensity rises, background vocals subtly counting up as a spoken word part is building up over the crescendos of each and every part of the band until it absolutely explodes with some screaming, before settling back down into a more melodic, beautiful way to end what is the greatest song Dream Theater have written.

While the album does extremely well to ensure that the listener will end the album thinking fondly, due to how amazing this final track is, it still doesn't change the fact that 6 tracks on this 8 track album are heavily flawed or just outright bad. Almost every song could have benefitted from either just not existing in the case of the couple of egregiously bad ballads, or not letting the sterile, bland guitar solos take up any time at all, because they almost all take away from the songs, rather than adding anything meaningful, since they often just devolve into shredding. What could have been something great ended up being marred by just how many aspects of it were as botched as they were here, which is a shame, considering how good the good stuff is.

Best tracks: The Root of All Evil, Octavarium

Weakest tracks: The Answer Lies Within, I Walk Beside You, Never Enough, Sacrificed Sons

Verdict: A heavily flawed album with traits of pure greatness found throughout. If the band were just able to comprehend restraint to any degree, this could have easily been amazing, since it's constantly this unbearable need to stretch out almost every song out with bland instrumentation that completely kills the album in a lot of respects, to the point where half of it being good just doesn't excuse how poorly composed most of this is. This is an album with a couple of great songs on it, but it's far from a good album.

Kempokid | 2/5 |

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