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Dream Theater - Octavarium CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.66 | 1995 ratings

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2 stars This is an interesting album that is definitely worth listening to, but not worth buying or replaying often. What strikes me about it first and foremost is the amazing production - it's scrubbed clean, but in a way that makes use of its immaculacy. Every crunchy riff becomes ear candy; typical proggy wank that usually comes off as "bleeps and bloops" instead becomes exploration of fun and quirky timbres, in the manner of the greats of the past (Gentle Giant in particular). The final track - the title suite - uses this production to the fullest, combining the previous songs of the album into one full-blown conclusion. This song reaches a *climax*, in the most powerful sense of the word, and brings together the whole listen into cohesion. And how wonderful that the concept of the album itself deals with circularity. Clearly, there was a decent amount of thought put into this aspect of the music, contrary to what the most rancorous of the band's detractors claim.

However, my praise of the album pretty much ends there, at the surface level. As far as composition goes, I'm short of impressed. The Root of All Evil starts out *very* promising, with a tense rhythm growing out of a dreamlike stupor, but it isn't long before we're being weighted down with tedious vocal bridges. The thick (and I mean THICK!) 4/4 riff that dominates this song is also pretty decent, but frankly I find it overbearing as a victim of the Loudness War. Portnoy's drumming is aggressive, but strangely static; he has the bite to match Mark Zonder, but not the taste or swiftness.

The Answer Lies Within is a wash, something of a lost cause in sappy baroque pop. If you're in a *very* specific mood, you might find it touching - but this is the bad kind of mood music: that is, the kind that requires you to be in the correct mood beforehand rather than putting you into it as part of its quality. Some decent vocal melodies, but overall, I'm not a fan.

These Walls is structurally tame, again with what I find to be an extremely unconvincing vocal bridge. There is also a keyboard riff here so wild that Kansas would hide their Moogs and ARP's in shame - this is part of what I mentioned earlier, the exploration of fun timbres. But in all honestly, something that overblown is going to have a short shelf life. Similar excess haunts the likes of Muse, which is not a compliment. LaBrie's vocals are run through a thousand toys, which doesn't endear me at all, and I find Petrucci's guitar to be lifeless. The orchestral hits near the end are an egregious offense of taste. Yes can pull it off with some success - sorry, DT, I can't say the same for you!

I Walk Beside You is a solid pop song with decent uplifting verses and chorus. It feels a bit effortless for a band whose reputation stands as such, but honestly I'm not complaining. I never found Dream Theater's noodling to be top caliber anyway, so to hear a break from it is not the end of the world. I also find the lyrics to be sincere and kind without being too overblown (though let's be honest, it's a bit cheesy), which is not too common these days. I find the section before the final set of choruses to be a bit busy, though - the vocal harmonies only weigh it down, and the rhythm guitar needs to shut up. The unnecessary thunder there really distracts from the song's conclusion, which is supposed to be the result of a powerful dynamic change. What dynamic changes can you make when you're always playing full blast? :)

Panic Attack starts out with a fine bass riff, a perfect example of where this album's production shines. It's a breath of fresh air, but altogether too short: I wish Myung could have spent some more time on his own developing that rich and sweet phrase. But no, it's not to be; the rest of the band joins in and we're drenched, particularly with Portnoy's overly busy drumming. The melodies feel confined, which is in part intentional (it's a song about anxiety, after all), but in part not. We get some dumb 80's metal throwbacks along the way in the phrasing (Anyone smell Megadeth? "Winning, sinning, beginning!" Eh he he...) The transition to the dizzying piano melody is nice and has the intended effect, but again I feel that thew song is so busy that the impact is sapped. There are also some LaBrie lines here that are clearly influenced by Matthew Bellamy; I personally am not a fan of the style, but it's not altogether a bad thing. There is also some brief melodic soloing that is reminiscent of German 80's metal such as Running Wild or Helloween.

More fun timbres kick off Never Enough, which is supported by a powerful and actually quite well written verse melody. The riffing feels trendy, though - I am reminded of Tool against my will, and the arrangement is still entirely too busy. There is another bad bridge that the band cannot seem to escape, and the tone of the song is amazingly self-righteous. The soloing is solid and for once Portnoy's drums seem to compliment it perfectly. But overall I'm tempted to pass on this one.

Sacrificed Sons opens with some kitschy audio samples that have plagued prog metal forever (...Queeeeeeeensr˙˙˙˙˙che!!!) and then segues into a relatively halfhearted attempt at being ominous in the form of a 6/8 "funeral march" (what, no snare, guys?). There's a decent synth line following the first verse. The movement into the chorus is...well, it's bad. There is some decent instrumental work later on, though - some chunky symphonic prog play that manages to drop the metal dominance at least partly for a few minutes and pump out what is definitely my favorite part of the album. A great odd-time groove holds down the beat while the guys do their thing. The overdramatic ending is pretty lame.

And finally, the title suite! As I mentioned, it does a good job of tying the record together at a surface level. But as for the song itself, it's not much more than a medley with some great moments and some hackneyed ones. Basically, we have about 5 minutes of Pink Floyd noodling (not bad), a couple pop songs (I would have gotten rid of them!), a really cool instrumental section based around a bright, energetic riff (nice!), a climax (your mileage may vary), and a softer conclusion (not a fan). Lyrically, the tribute to the prog giants of the past is interesting, but come on - I do hope the implication is not that this deserves to stand on the same level as Cinema Show, which is one of the songs referenced.

2 stars is the best I can do. Listen to it if you want a summary of the current state of prog metal.

Postulate | 2/5 |


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