Review Summary: A duly brilliant and conceptual work from the obsessive–compulsive themes of Dream Theater.Octavarium
is essentially a synopsis of Dream Theater's entire discography into one album, and that isn't exactly what will please every aspect of their fanbase. Here we have ballads that appear to be mustered from the band's pocket in 1992 alongside metal songs that have easily derived from the aggression filled Train of Thought
, all of which have been given a new and strict emphasis on melody. For once in their career, Dream Theater is attempting to create an album of simple songs without sacrificing their style. It isn't a show of Dream Theater's unique songwriting structures or a festival of instrumental candor. Instead it has a linear, formulaic “front-to-finish” approach on each song until the masterpiece title-track closer, a twenty-four minute song with every intention to rival "A Change of Seasons" and with every influence that the members of Dream Theater had bottled up to this point. That being said, Dream Theater's 2005 release is one hell of a memorable album.
Those who are Pink Floyd fans will instantly pick out the “Welcome to the Machine” intro in “The Root Of All Evil,” and others will notice similarities such as Styx's synthesizers, King's X's operatic vocals, Kansas' stylistic song-building and Rush's odd time signatures. The only odd moments arise when the questionable pieces are actually exact replicas, such as the blood curdling “Never Enough” and it's uncanny appearance to Muse's “Stockholm Syndrome.” LaBrie even tries to emulate Matthew Bellamy's tenor voice. The title track takes the cake though. There's a recurring Godfather reference, a Jingle Bells joke, a sour piano lick of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and the lyrical sequence about fourteen minutes in where a venturous list of double entendres runs through the band's influences.
Although these songs are all good, Octavarium
is too simple for the apparatus of Dream Theater. For all the creativity and strain built up from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
and Train of Thought
, the band limits themselves from using the full potential of their instruments until “Sacrificed Sons” and the twenty-four minute title track. “The Answer Lies Within” is worth a listen, but it quickly wears off in favor of the heavier side (Never Enough, Panic Attack). If Dream Theater's mission in 2005 was to make their music less complex in favor of music composition, then their strongest success would be the engulfing track “These Walls” where each member of the band gets to carefully display their instrument in the time allotted. There's more problems though; Myung's performance is hard to hear over the heightened presence of Rudess and his arsenal of keyboards, and the absence of Portnoy’s usual candor is questionable as well. Octavarium
has the same melodic power of Images and Words
, but without the creative instrumentation or complexity.
It's true that fans and critics alike can't expect a newer release by the prog-metal outfit to be ‘Images and Words Part 2,’ but Octavarium
does manage to be a satisfying effort. “The Root of All Evil” has every bit of groove and zeal as "6:00," and “I Walk Beside You” has it's uplifting nature that will tear the fanbase apart for a long while. The beautiful and unimaginable masterpiece though is the 9/11 themed "Sacrificed Sons." In a song recalling one of the nations most shocking recent events, Dream Theater steps up to the stage to create one hell of an emotional song. There's LaBrie's ominous vocals, Mike Portnoy’s reckless drumming, Petrucci’s heart-plucking guitar solos and the perfect harmony of Rudess' and Myung's soul sinking undertones. It doesn't stop there though. The song takes listeners though a tour of uncertainty, replanting the horror of the planes colliding into the towers, and the emotional aura surrounding the heroic acts of those who worked against the catastrophe, and the song doesn't end until the violins run down the very crumbling pieces of steel, flesh and bone.
It's certainly nice to hear Dream Theater’s old fashioned ballads again, but it's difficult to see why any of Octavarium
makes any sense as a concept album until the revelation at the very end. There the band claims “We move in circles, balanced all the while…a perfect sphere, colliding with our fate.” I'm sure Fates Warning is wondering where in the world they came up with that ‘circles’ idea.