Review Summary: Dream Theater grows as songwriters while keeping the progressive tendencies that made them famous.
Dream Theater is:
James LaBrie - Vocals
John Petrucci - Guitars
Mike Portnoy - Drums/Percussion
John Myung - Bass
Jordan Rudess - Piano/Keyboards
This is Dream Theater's 8th studio album, and for those who were disappointed by the darker direction of Train of Thought, this can be seen as a "return to form" for the the progressive metal group. Both John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess' solos have been cut down in length, but they are still the dominant force in this band. On this album, drummer Mike Portnoy shies away from the double-bass attack heard on Train of Thought (for the most part) and focuses more on completing the songs rather than showing off. James LaBrie, often criticized for his vocals, sounds better than ever on this record. Sadly, bassist John Myung is once again eclipsed by his bandmates and is extremely hard to hear in the recordings.
Alright, let's get to the tracks.
1) The Root of All Evil - Starts the album off with a lone piano note followed by quiet bass harmonics. Pounding drums and dissonant guitar soon enter, creating an impressive build-up that explodes into the song. This song revisits the 12 Step Suite outlined on songs The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul, with lyrics focusing again on alcoholism. Powerful riffing from Petrucci and simple yet effective drumming from Portnoy help to move the song along. At 5:24 the solo section begins with a jaw-dropping unison between Myung, Petrucci and Rudess. A great start to the album. 5/5
2) The Answer Lies Within - If I had to use one word to describe this song, it would be "tranquil". A nice piano melody from Rudess and good vocal work from LaBrie make for a caling listen. However, it seems out of place after the previous track, and it is my least favourite song on the album. 3/5
3) These Walls - Starts off with some crazy guitar sounds from Petrucci, and launches into a very heavy 7-string riff, sounding reminiscent of something off of Train of Thought. Great drum fills from Portnoy and a great synthesizer melody from Rudess really power the song. Petrucci plays a short, melodic solo. I really like this song, but somehow it ultimately feels somewhat forgettable. 3.5/5
4) I Walk Beside You - Starts off with palm muted guitar and ticking clocks similar to those on Metropolis Part II. This is a great song, with lyrics about friendship, and sounds like a typical pop song. Good work by the entire band here, and LaBrie's singing sounds top notch. 4.5/5
5) Panic Attack - What a monster of a song we have here. The song opens with an extremely technical riff by John Myung before exploding into a really heavy riff and pounding double-bass. Portnoy and LaBrie share vocal duties for the majority of the song, and both sound great. Rudess' piano interludes are a nice break from the crushing heaviness of the song. This is Portnoy's best work on the album - amazing drum fills and great double bass work throughout the song. The song changes at 4:37 to a triplet feel, and great soloing by Petrucci and Rudess follows - flashy but not flashy to the point of instrumental wanking. Ends with jaw-dropping drum work by Portnoy and a reprise of the main riff.Coming from someone who frequently experiences panic attacks, the lyrics do a great job of replicating the feeling of actually experiencing a panic attack. Probably the heaviest song on the album, and one of my favourites. 5/5
6) Never Enough - Opens with a technical riff from Rudess which is shortly joined by Portnoy and the rest of the band. I really like LaBrie's vocals in this one - they are are extremely emotive and are very unique. The song slows down a bit at 3:46 and Petrucci and Rudess play a nice unison/solo thing together. The song ends with the main riff. Good song, but not the best on the album. 4/5
7) Sacrificed Sons - Opens with radio chat relating to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Opens with an ominous sounding piano, which is shortly joined by the band. Petrucci is at his dynamic best here, with volume swells, Leslie pedal usage and tremolo picking. The song's lyrics focus on the 9/11 attacks. I really like this song up until the instrumental section - it just feels out of place in the song. I would give it a 4.5/5, but because I feel the instrumental passage is unnecessary, I'll give it a 4/5.
8) Octavarium - Opens with a swelling synthesizer chord and some effects before being joined by amazing Continuum work by Rudess. At 2:41, a slide guitar with heavy delay comes in, making for a nice, relaxing passage. At 3:46, Rudess returns and the rest of the band joins in. At 4:21, we are introduced to an acoustic passage with flute work before LaBrie joins in at 5:30. Drums and bass come in around 6:30. At 8:43 we are introduced to another change in feel, more upbeat, with a nice bass riff and effective drumming from Portnoy. At 12:20, Rudess comes in with his Continuum and facilitates another change to an instrumental section. At 13:50, Petrucci leads another change into a more ominous section, where LaBrie resumes singing. Portnoy's vocals during the section are alright - nothing special, but they work. At 15:40, another instrumental section begins, and climaxes with several time signature changes. At 16:46, Petrucci hits "Beast Mode" and him and Rudess play an ultra-technical riff. At 18:43, LaBrie joins in with Portnoy and the song nears its climax. James sounds more and more angry until he screams his lungs out and the song explodes back into a reprise of the main theme until the end of the song. This song is long, but it is, in my opinion, one of Dream Theater's top 5 songs. Absolutely jaw-droppingly good. 5/5
Overall, there is not much to say other than this is a great album by a great band. It seems like a return to form after Train of Thought while incorporating some of the heaviness of that album. This album, especially the eponymous title track, shows Dream Theater's virtuosity combined with their talents as songwriters.
(This is my first review; don't be too hard on me. :P)