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Dream Theater - Octavarium CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.66 | 1995 ratings

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3 stars I seem to have been "spoiled" by having been introduced to DT through Metropolis (which I gave 4.5 stars). I then went back and listened to Images and Words, Awake and Change of Seasons, hoping to understand the "progression" that produced Metropolis. And although I have not heard Falling to Infinity, I got no sense of "Metropolis" having been arrived at through any particular "progression" of the band. And now (although I have not heard Six Degrees or Train of Thought), having heard Octavarium, I am more convinced than ever that Metropolis was a - very happy - fluke in DT's career.

Octavarium returns DT to its roots in Images and Words. In this regard, although I gave Images and Words three stars, I qualified it as follows: "This is NOT a prog album. What this IS is a speed/power metal album with some "prog sensibilities" (some more well-realized than others) and occasional "true" prog elements. Within its own genre (speed/power metal), I would give this album four stars, since it is a particularly excellent example of that genre. But prog? As a whole? I think not."

Similarly, Octavarium is NOT a prog album, but rather an admittedly impressive metal/speed metal album with perhaps a bit more "prog sensibility" than Images and Words, but not enough to qualify the album as a whole as "prog." True, the band makes a valiant attempt to recreate some of the "magic" of Metropolis in the title track, but not only is there simply not enough "there" there to reach that level, but the band is not as successful in filtering its influences: indeed, they seem to deliberately wear some of those influences on their sleeve.

The album opens with sound effects similar to "Welcome to the Machine." After this, "The Root of All Evil" is mostly straight-ahead (if good) metal, with very heartfelt lyrics about the pains of alcoholism. "The Answer Lies Within" is a nice piano-based ballad, with a particularly sweet vocal by LaBrie. "These Walls" opens with a nice jazzy 6/8 feel (actually three measures of 6/8, followed by a measure of 5/8) in the verses with "standard" 4/4 power-metal verses. There is a particularly nice, restrained solo by Petrucci at 4:45-5:10, and the piece ends with a quasi-symphonic prog ending, into more shameless PF nods, this time a heartbeat and clocks. This brings us to "I Walk Beside You," which has "hit" written all over it. [Indeed, if you listen carefully, you will find that it was EQ'd and mixed differently from the rest of the album.] "Panic Attack" is the most successful track, a "speed metal" composition with some of the best "prog" elements on the album, including a dangerously fast 5/4 tempo, and a nice, subtle mellotron at 1:30-1:45. The breaks at 4:22-6:15 and 6:45-7:30 sound like Queen gone amok (there are nods to "Stone Cold Crazy," among other songs), with LaBrie channeling Freddie Mercury and Petrucci channeling Brian May. "Never Enough" is a straightforward metal composition, with an interesting Lennon-esque chorus and Beatle- ish approach; in fact, this is what The Beatles might have sounded like had they tried doing metal. [As an aside, every time LaBrie sings the line "Because I can only take so much of your ungrateful ways," it sounds suspiciously like something from a Beatles song.] There is also a nice keyboard and guitar break at 3:30-4:45. "Sacrificed Sons" is DT's tribute to the fallen of 9/11. An appropriately "dirge"-y waltz, it has a quasi- Crimzoid jam at 4:20-7:45, and is a wonderful composition overall.

Which brings us to the 24-minute title track. It opens with yet more shameless PF nods, with Petrucci channeling Gilmour and Rudess channeling Wright for the first three- and-a-half minutes. This is followed by a very Yes-like section (3:50-4:20), and then some Gilmour-ish acoustic guitar (4:22-5:20). From 8:45-9:40 and then again from 10:40-11:15, we get the "funky" side of DT. Then it's back to Yes (12:20-13:50), with Rudess channeling Wakeman. From 13:50-15:45 we get lyrics that are suspiciously reminiscent of Belew's "free-associative" lyrics in "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum," sung over music that sounds very Lamb-ish. From 16:45-18:30 the band channels at least four or five prog groups, including Yes, ELP and UK. And the quasi-symphonic build-up in the four minutes from 20:00 to the end is hopelessly Yes-like. Those sections not specifically noted are more recognizably DT. Despite all the weakly channeled influences, the composition works overall. But it does not have the cohesiveness or "snap" that it might have (and should have) had.

As usual, the lyrics on the album run the gamut from na´ve to esoteric to intelligent, and the musicianship and production are top-notch. But it is clear that DT has given up almost all pretense of being distinctly "prog." Yet this is not necessarily a "bad" thing. Even if Metropolis was an extraordinary "accident," DT has been, and will likely remain, the best at what it does best: power metal and speed metal with occasional prog sensibilities, comparatively good lyrics, extraordinary musicianship, excellent production, and a willingness to "buck the trend" of standard power metal and make interesting, often compelling albums.

maani | 3/5 |


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