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DREAM THEATER is a band that will always lead to controversy. Their latest album "Train of Thoughts" was often subject of discussions, not at the least because the music was very heavy and was tending towards pure metal. Therefore a lot of prog fans have turned their back, maybe already after tracks like "The Glass Prison" on "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence". But let there be no single misunderstanding, "Octavarium" will be acclaimed by many music lovers, ‘metal’ has been replaced by a mix of alternative rock, sympho-progressive rock, space rock and some progressive metal. Certain tracks are very ‘catchy’ and could score very well in hit parades, considering they would receive a bit of airplay. It’s not getting that commercial you know, but the guys have to earn their money like everybody else, who can blame them? It seems that they want to please all their fans this time (not obvious), the ‘8’ tracks are very diverse, and yet there is a clear DT-sound, despite the references and influences of other, recent and not so recent bands.
Except for the variation there are a lot of other new elements compared to the previous albums. First, the keyboards are very present and Jordan Rudess is having a major role on this release (Petrucci is a bit modest here), this explains partially the progressive character of this album. Mike Portnoy shows his virtuosity less on the double bass drums, but is now a magician on the hi hats and the cymbals. James Labrie delivers one of his best vocal performances ever, he proves to be one of the best singers in the circuit, although he was often criticised in the past.
The album starts with a few sound scapes, a technique used throughout the album at the beginning and the end of many songs. "The Root Of All Evil" sounds pretty ‘heavy’, but is not determinate for the sound of the album. This track is the continuation of the story about the ‘alcoholic addiction period’ of Mike Portnoy (after The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul), and different themes and riffs of before have been renewed, both Rudess and Petrucci are playing stars from heaven. The end of the track on grand piano and the chimes (intro of Glass Prison) sets the beginning of the first (and not the last) ballad. "The Answer Lies Within" is very quiet and sensitive with an excellent Labrie, for sure a serious anti pole of the first track. Especially the symphonic fragments (piano and strings) remind me of the ballads of ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA.
Petrucci is simulating the sound of Formula 1 cars on the intro of "These Walls", this track has been sent to radio stations for promotion and is a typical ‘DREAM THEATER song’, melodic and technically perfect, a catchy refrain ( "Tear Down These Walls For Me"), accessible progressive metal with a wonderful guitar solo of Petrucci. They have chosen for ‘songwriting’, rather than for instrumental highlights. Nevertheless, at the end of the track there is an impressive interplay between all instruments with again a symphonic support, where after it ends with an intriguing ‘heart beat’ and a clock ticking in "I Walk Beside You". This up tempo song is more appropriate for hit parades, both on length as for the song structure, the refrain has touches of U2, only it is music- technically spoken way better than the Irish, with all respect.
Back to the heavier work then, because "Panic Attack" pulls out all the stops, although it’s never getting as hard as on "Train of Thoughts". This is purely progressive metal, full of surprising twists, breaks and contra rhythms (like DREAM THEATER has invented them). Rudess and Petrucci are delivering whirling solos. At the end you can hear again some surprising ‘electronic’ sound scapes, this seems to be a new element in their impressive work.
Mike Portnoy had shown his admiration for MUSE and in "Never Enough" it seems clear that they’ve listened well to Bellamy and his friends. In "Never Enough", you can hear the same bass and guitar riffs, the drum pattern and even the voice on ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Surprising and perhaps also ‘the’ way to attract younger people, so they will at last listen to an album like "Octavarium". If course, some die hard fans will say they’ve sold their souls by being ‘too’ commercial, but this is really a very good song, alternative rock on a DT basis. Even the guitar solo at the end could appear on a MUSE album, this is really no coincidence.
And at this point there is still more than 30 minutes of music to come, most of the other bands would have lack of inspiration, but here the best is yet to come. "Sacrificed Sons" starts with spoken fragments and interviews about terrorists (like ‘The Great Debate’), an emotional ballad takes off, but later on this will continue with many tempo changes. After 4 minutes the guitars are taking the lead, but Rudess takes his chance again and brings the progressive touch to this ‘melodic’ progressive metal, what a ‘power’. It is a lot more difficult nowadays to hear the difference between guitar and keyboards, surely when Jordan uses his new toy ‘The Continuum Fingerboard’.
And the album ends with an epic of 24 minutes! In fact, you can subdivide this track into 6 parts of some 4 minutes each, no idea if this was on purpose or not. The first part is PINK FLOYD of the "Crazy Diamonds"-period, after that a ballad, again in FLOYD style but it can be compared with the ballads of ALAN PARSONS PROJECT (again beautifully sung full of emotion by Labrie), the third part starts with a strong piece of bass playing by Myung (he is great as ever) supported by Portnoy, giving the ballad some extra pigment, the fourth part is progressive rock at his best with influences of the seventies (even Lucy in the Sky is mentioned ), try to find the references to ELP, YES and TRANSATLANTIC. And if you think ‘The Flight Of The Bumble Bee’ is going fast, then just listen to the instrumental section at about 17’, impressive again. At the end it becomes a bit heavier and darker with a ‘screaming’ Labrie, but immediately after that you can hear the most symphonic piece of the album, it culminates "Octavarium" to an absolute climax.
The conclusion is simple, this album is an absolute must for every music lover. And the variation on it could make it the best selling album of DREAM THEATER. Critics will always have their comments, but for me this one of the best albums of the band, and I don’t give a … if others will once again refer to "Images & Words". The band has given another direction to their musical career and you have to give them full credit.
1. The Root Of All Evil (8:25)
[VI. Ready, VII. Remove]
2. The Answer Lies Within (5:33)
3. These Walls (7:36)
4. I Walk Beside You (4:29)
5. Panic Attack (8:13)
6. Never Enough (6:46)
7. Sacrificed Sons (10:42)
8. Octavarium (24:00)
[I. Someone Like Him, II. Medicate (Awakening), III. Full Circle, IV. Intervals, V. Razor's Edge]
Total Time: 75:58
- James LaBrie / vocals
- John Petrucci / guitar
- Jordan Rudess / keyboards
- John Myung / bass
- Mike Portnoy / drums & percussion