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.