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Octavarium

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★★★★☆
(401 Reviews)

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  • First of all, I have been a die-hard Dream Theater fanatic since 1989 so my reviews might be considered “Biased” but I will try to be as objective as possible.

    For the first time in a long time, the first 2 tracks off the new DT CD didn’t impress me. I am not saying that they are bad but I just feel that they were somewhat “Stale” and regurgitated, reminding me of tracks from “Train of Thought” and “Anna Lee” from Falling Into Infinity”.

    Things got better with “These Walls” and the VERY U2 sounding “I Walk Beside You” but then came “Panic Attack” and I got those old goosebumps that DT has given me over the past 16 years. This song just rocks your sock off and could have easily been on Train of Thought. “Never Enough” is a good song but the CD really get exciting and worth the money when you get to the last 2 songs, especially the title track “Octavarium”. This is what Dream Theater is about…it’s hard, it’s mellow, it’s both. it’s complex, it’s ORCHESTRA!!…It’s AWESOME! Can you say another epic in the mold of “Change of Seasons”??

    I CANNOT WAIT to see some of these songs live, especially “Octavarium”. Like any Dream Theater CD, this CD will (and is) get better with every listen because it is just impossible to absorb the complexity and beauty with one or two listens. That is why I love these guys so much…their CDs don’t get old fast and they give you a LOT of good music to digest.

    It is unfair to rate this CD to other Dream Theater CDs because I need to listen to it about another 300 times! 8-) However, as far as first impressions go, I would rate it over “Train of Thought” (mainly due to the versatility of this CD…not just “Heavy”) but definitely lower than “Scenes From a Memory”, which I consider the best CD ever, PERIOD!.

    Bottom line, if you are an old time Dream Theater fan like me, you will love this CD because it contains all the elements of “Classic DT”. However, if you came onboard the “Train of Thought” CD, this CD might shock you because only 2 of the songs (“Panic Attack” and “The Root of all Evil”) are heavy enough to qualify. Still, if you are a musician or just appreciate beautiful, complex music by the greatest ensemble of musicians in one band on the planet…BUY THIS CD NOW!

    Posted on December 9, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Dream Theater are in a difficult place: no matter what they do, their many fans will complain. It is true that SDOIT did have some major weaknesses, but Train of Thought was blasted by fans for being too heavy, not having enough keyboards, or wasting James LaBrie. I agree that LaBrie’s vocal parts were weak, but as for the other two, it was Dream Theater evolving. Fans just complained about the fact that Petrucci’s guitar was dominant and overlooked the fact that it was them at their most consistent and strongest lyrically. They didn’t meander off without a direction like they constantly did in “Scenes.” Unfortunately, Dream Theater listened to those fans and tried to fix everything that those fans have complained about: Petrucci is given no room to work, another 20+ epic was written, plus they tried to make themselves more accessible. Hence tracks 2-4 were penned: 2 being a sappy ballad, 3 seemingly inspired by Coldplay, and 4 sounding like modern U2. Few are the fans that will enjoy these, although now that I think about it, if they had done something more along the lines of “War”-era U2, the results might have been different; just a thought.
    Anyway, “The Root of All Evil” has been trashed by many of the reviews for some reason; I thought it was great. Heavy rhythm guitars and I like the tuning that Rudess used for his solo. Petrucci’s solo is short and weak, but they redeem for that with a haunting piano outro (although I admit I have a weakness for piano outro’s, some of my favorite songs being DT’s “In the Name of God,” Faith No More’s “Epic,” and Opeth’s “Leper Affinity”). “Panic Attack” starts out with a complex bass section by Myung, and this would probably be one of my favorite DT songs if Petrucci didn’t deliver his weakest solo ever. In “Never Enough,” Petrucci goes for quality instead of quantity, making his solo one of his best. “Sacrificed Sons” seems about 2-3 years late, but the instrumental section is great. This is really Petrucci’s only extended solo, and he takes full advantage. His riff after the solo is memorable as well. “Octavarium” is difficult for me to grade, because I have only heard several songs that long. I can’t really tell if it’s good or not as a whole; there are many slow and boring sections in the song, something that wasn’t in “A Change of Seasons” and Symphony X’s “Odyssey,” which were interesting the entire way through, but then again, those two set the bar pretty high. Throughout the album James LaBrie proves he is not the weak link in the band. His vocal work is his best in ten years at least; especially in “The Root of All Evil” and “Never Enough” where his singing is top-notch.
    Anyway, I wish people would stop comparing this to DT’s past albums. It isn’t a return to Images & Words, whoever says so is wrong. It is a progression, and while there are some good and even great moments, it is far from their best. Even so, there is enough good stuff to make this a worthwhile purchase.

    Posted on December 9, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • It seems it’s recap time for one of the most intelligent metal bands around: while they mainly continued reaching in new directions with Six Degrees and Train of Thought, this one is more of a summation of what they learned to do right on those two albums, minus (mostly) the missteps. There’s some of the grand proggy bombast of 6D, but here it’s not overblown and actually serves the songs, especially in the big closing title track. Likewise, the angry-metal-ish bent of ToT is present in spots but it seems appropriate rather than forced. If you haven’t heard either of those yet, this still shouldn’t disappoint.. if you’re completely new to DT this could make a good first pick, but you still need Images & Words to make your life complete.

    The sound is as varied as they’ve ever done, although perhaps somewhat more ‘light’ overall than usual. “The Root of All Evil” is the next part of Portnoy’s recurring series (trilogy)? and so it’s just as fierce and heavy as “Glass Prison” and “This Dying Soul” with some reprises of previous themes to tie them together. “I Walk Beside You” with its joyous soaring (even radio-friendly) chorus has been getting comparisons to U2 all over the place – though it’s not nearly as bland/cheesy as that may suggest – and “The Answer Lies Within” is a lovely simple ballad in the tradition of “Eve” or “Anna Lee.” Those who scoff at more straightforward ‘poppy’ stuff won’t find much to like there, but I don’t see a problem. “Panic Attack” should make up for it for the progheads – it’s a frightening eight minutes of laser-sharp hyper riffing frenzied enough to induce claustrophobia.

    It’s probably inevitable that any band under the ‘progressive’ umbrella has to use an orchestra at some point, but that’s pulled off excellently as well. “Sacrificed Sons” has a palpable air of doom and sorrow despite being fairly melodically & lyrically predictable, and the huge title track weaves the strings into a several-movement epic to rival “A Change of Seasons.” It’s derivative of a couple obvious 70s prog bands, but this is the album’s finest moment: it’s sweeping, it’s powerful, it goes from restrained/subdued to all-out virtuosity to sweepingly gorgeous to crazy-scary and back without blinking an eye. I’m not sure how else to describe the thing since I haven’t really even started unraveling it. It’s a nice touch that it ends with “the story ends as it began,” closing with the same piano hit that opens the album. Fun.

    Thematic-connection lovers should eat this disc up. It’s their eighth album (hence the title), there are eight tracks, and the insert pictures have 5s and 8s all over the place. The tracks & lyrics in the booklet are set under a music staff labeled 1/8, 2/8, 3/8 etc. and though there’s plenty of time-sig-jumping, they tend to stick to the appropriate number (“These Walls” is primarily 3/4, “Panic Attack” has a recurring case of 5/8 and so on). Each set of lyrics also has a key signature above it, and if I knew any music theory I could probably say whether the keys evenly span a full octave over the course of the disc. But I don’t, so you’re on your own.

    Overall: I say it’s their best work at least since Metropolis 2, and if the last two left you lukewarm in spots, this should come as a welcome relief. And if they didn’t, then there’s no reason to hesitate here. It’s one to devour.

    Posted on December 9, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The eighth DT album, Octavarium, is much more diverse than its predecessor, the dark “Train of Thought”. At first it appears less coherent than TOT, but after half a dozen listenings I can only appreciate the variety of moods DT so elegantly offer on this CD.

    The opening track, “The Root Of All Evil” is a hardrocker that could have been on TOT. In fact, there is a 15 second insert of “This Dying Soul” in the middle of the song. The second track, “The Answer Lies Within” is to me a less impressive soft breather. Not really my cup of tea, but still a fine song when you’re in the right mood. “These Walls” with its spacious sounds during the verse and melodic chorus over metal guitar sounds is quite radio friendly, and after hearing the U2-like “I Walk Beside You” the progrock enthusiast may wonder where this band is heading. These songs are certainly enjoyable, but not typical of DT. Especially so with the lack of instrumental virtuoso passages typical of DT during tracks 2-4. But not to worry, the remaining four songs represent the diversified DT at their best. The hard rockin’, up-tempo “Panic Attack” immeaditely became one of my all time DT favourite songs even before it got to the awesome solo sections by Rudess and Petrucci. “Never Enough” with ethereal vocals of LaBrie climaxes with a beautiful guitar passage towards the end. The epic “Sacificed Sons” deals with the 9/11 tragedy. After starting off smoothly the song builds up to typical DT characteristics. The title track is a 24 minute epic starting off with soft soundscapes featuring only keyboards and guitar. This intro sounds like Pink Floyd, later like Yes. LaBrie comes in at 5+ minutes and the song enters an instrumental pre-climax at 12+ minutes. We hear – among other things – (early)Genesis/Marillion-like keyboard passages and later, after further vocal parts, Zappa-influenced instrumental exercises. This piece of work grows on every listening and – although it after a mere 5 listenings may not appear very compact – is an all time DT’s epic classic candidate.

    As with any DT album, the musicianship amazes. The musical style and songs on some DT records may not have made justice to James LaBrie’s abilities, but on this record his versatility has to be appreciated in a big way. Despite my one ore two worries during the first playback of this CD I feel now that this is an essential piece of work by DT. If you are new to Dream Theater, the musical diversity makes this CD a good introduction of the band alongside with “Images and Words”, which may require less listenings for full appreciation.

    Posted on December 9, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Since 1994, Dream Theater has followed an uncanny pattern in album excellence. “Awake” was unbelievable – “Falling Into Infinity” was pretty good – “Scenes From a Memory” is the best album of all time – “Six Degrees …” has its creative merits – “Train of Thought” is an unstoppable beast. So, by this logic, their next album will be good, but not a towering sonic monolith.

    So, is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s hard to tell.

    “Octavarium”, Dream Theater’s ninth studio album, is definitely a change in direction from “Train of Thought”, which was a guitar-heavy album. Dream Theater’s newest release is an atmospheric composition that focuses more on symphonic keyboard textures than it does on meaty guitar riffs. This particular ambience (along with the addition of a symphony) has taken over the spotlight, making each song more structured, accessible and consistently catchy, which was not the case with their last release. Petrucci and Rudess’ virtuoso deliveries (more commonly known as “shredding”) are kept down to an absolute minimum on this album. One may suppose that the band realized that the songs on “Train of Thought” were following a decipherable pattern: intro, verse, chorus, long instrumental fireworks, chorus, finish.

    So what do we have, exactly? We have an album that explores various areas of the progressive world. We have “The Root of All Evil”, a continuation of Portnoy’s multi-album suite (beginning with “The Glass Prison” and continued by “This Dying Soul”), which starts the album on a relatively heavy note. In it’s 8-minute run, it re-visits riffs, rhythms and even lyrics from its predecessors (namely “I can feel my body breaking – shaking”) and a shaky, unimpressive chorus that borrows from James LaBrie’s forgettable experience with Tim Donahue. “Panic Attack” is a look back to Liquid Tension Experiment’s rapid fire guitar riffs and blitzkrieg drums, never slowing down in its spectacular 8-minute duration. It is the fastest Dream Theater song to date and an explosive standout track.

    Aside from those songs, the rest of the album is considerably slower and softer than anything we have heard from Dream Theater since the collection of ballads found on 1997’s “Falling into Infinity”. The serene “The Answer Lies Within” begins with the sounds of crickets and a lonely piano, leading into a soothing song where Rudess’ delicate melodies journey alongside a quiet troupe of strings, which have a brief “solo” where Petrucci would normally show off. The song is very (and I mean *very*) reminiscent of “The Spirit Carries On” in its folksy, feel-good song construction and melodies. But it is nowhere near as poppy or infectious as the upbeat, radio-ready “I Walk Beside You”, which is the closest Dream Theater has come to sounding like Hoobastank or the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s still a great song, despite the predictable and sugarcoated rock riffs.

    Speaking of predictability, Dream Theater have yet another politically interested song, following in the footsteps of 2001’s “The Great Debate” and 2003’s “In the Name of God”. In fact, this album’s 10-minute “Sacrificed Sons” is, most accurately described, “In the Name of God Part 2″ with the same lyrical theme (religious fanaticism) and similar threatening atmospheres as its predecessor.

    Then there’s the surprise. The 24-minute prog-rock title track. I didn’t know what to make of “Octavarium” at first as it was a complete surprise. It is a total departure from “A Change of Seasons” (the band’s other 20+ minute epic). It seems that Portnoy’s prog-rock experiences with Transatlantic have leaked out into Dream Theater. The metal is gone, replaced by a softer rock that sounds a lot like IQ and Spock’s Beard with synchronized guitars and keyboards, and a myriad of different sounds (like juxtaposing a solitary acoustic guitar for a few seconds and stomping on it with a catchy prog melody). After the first painfully long four minutes, the guitars kick in, paving the way for a truly memorable experience, headlined by acoustic guitars, soothing vocals, lots of piano, a curious flute (a surprise) and later a full symphony (a shock).

    The symphony is difficult to digest. Dream Theater have always proved to be masters of their craft by working wonders with their instruments – and their instruments only. Now we have a symphony adding a supporting fill to their already organic songs. Fortunately, it isn’t ubiquitous (à la Nightwish’s “Once”) or thinly spread out (à la Pain of Salvation’s “BE”). Instead, it’s prominent and heavy at select times like an active volcano. The strings punch out in short bursts at the majestic end of “These Walls”, subtly guide the keyboards of “The Answer Lies Within” and, with the help of some horns, bring “Octavarium” to a stunning finish.

    Every song on the album is unique one way or another (except “Never Enough”, which doesn’t take off until its instrumental delivery 2/3 of the way into the song) and form the parts of yet another great Dream Theater release. Although the album may not survive the test of time like “Images and Words” or “Scenes From a Memory” have, it is still a delightful listen and an impressive creative output.

    Sure, they *are* my all-time favorite band, so my standards are extremely high. Despite the surprises and occasionally awkward moments, “Octavarium” passes my intense scrutiny.

    See also: Dream Theater – “Falling into Infinity”, Dream Theater – “Images and Words”, Transatlantic – “SMPT:e”, Spock’s Beard – “V”

    Posted on December 8, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now