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.