on 7 June 2005
It seems like only 5 minutes ago that Train of Thought was released when, in actuality, it was two years past - where does the time go? That was a very angry album. Scratch that, it was a furious album, both lyrically and musically, outdoing Metallica at their own game, and yet somehow it seemed to have lost some of that Dream Theater essence, some of its soul. It wasn't until I saw the band playing the material live that I began to understand.
Octavarium is a different beast altogether, as is immediately apparent from the machine gun drum attack of opener The Root Of All Evil, ripped straight out of the previous album's This Dying Soul, coughed up and spat out into a killer riff that opens the album in style.
A combination of Train of Thought's ferocious riffing back through time to Images & Words via Scenes From A Memory with copious amounts of Awake and A Change of Seasons thrown in for good measure, Octavarium contains some of the band's best song writing in years. Stripped of much of the over-indulgence it is more tightly focussed and melodic, and contains some truly amazing musicianship that manages to impress whilst also being much more restrained than in recent efforts.
Portnoy's drumming, as technically brilliant as always, seems much more in touch with the feel of each song, rather than playing fancy fills every five seconds. Jordan Rudess has also reined himself in after a couple of less than convincing moments on the last two albums. The Cheese Man's vocal performance is as tight and convincing as ever, and he has some very good lyrics to sing here.
But for me the star of the show this time around is John Petrucci. Again, much like Portnoy, he seems to have pulled himself back on this album: there is nothing in the way of overly showy guitar solos here, instead he is content to settle for a mixture of texture, phenomenally powerful riffing, and his trademark dexterity as he duels with Rudess. It is a fine performance, with John Myung going about his business in the background with some truly stunning bass work.
They've even gone so far as to write a bonafide, hands-in-the-air hit single in the shape of I Walk Beside You, should they ever feel like releasing it. An example of the album's increased maturity, it has a killer sing-along chorus and has the good grace not to overstay its welcome. Class.
The songs touch on some familiar subjects such as alcoholism and terrorism, touching base with 9/11 in style on Sacrificed Sons.
It would be wrong to say that the album is all about the title track, but Octavarium is simply stunning. It's like the years have melted away and you're listening to a combination of Rush, Yes and ELP at the height of their powers (I'll temper that by saying that, having seen them last year, Rush are still at the height of their powers) with a dollop of ELO thrown in for good measure. Yes, there's an orchestra on show, but it isn't even remotely out of place. This track is one of the most evocative I have heard in years, with a marvellous six minute instrumental opening that layers texture upon texture (I'm not ashamed to admit that when the flute kicked in it brought a lump to this listener's throat). Portnoy is even smart enough to name-check songs from yesteryear during Part III, Full Circle, and when he mentions the likes of Yes's Machine Messiah it's enough to bring a smile to the face - it just feels right. Twenty-four minutes has never flown by so fast.
And after the previous two albums opened with the closing bars of their immediate predecessor, Octavarium infuriatingly closes by returning to the opening bars of The Root Of Evil. Why infuriatingly? Because it's just so clever! As Labrie sings "This story ends where it began" it's an open invitation to cue up track 1 and start again.
And you will, I guarantee it.
on 6 June 2005
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 (with - sorry to say this - quite cliched lyrics). Not really my cup of tea, but still okay. "These Walls" with its spacious sounds during the verse and melodic chorus over metallic 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. Especially so with the lack of instrumental virtuoso passages typical of DT during tracks 2-4. But not to worry, the remaining four songs are 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 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 has left James LaBrie somewhat unconfortable, 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.
on 6 June 2005
The month-long wait for Dream Theater's new album, Octavarium, has left many fans with baited breath - after all, 2003's Train of Thought split the fanbase in two. When DT announced that the new album would be a reaction against the heaviness that permeated the last disc, many were relieved (to say the least). But what Octavarium would sound like was effectively unknown. Amidst the tension, Dream Theater has produced one of the most startlingly focussed and effective albums since 1991's Images and Words.
The CD starts as Train of Thought left off - with a low F played on the piano. The opening track, "The Root of All Evil" is soon underway. This appears to be the continuation of Portnoy's 12-step saga present on the last 2 releases. Thankfully, DT have opted not to shred away in B minor for 11 minutes (which worked well for 2 tracks, but gets old) but constructed an almost Zeppelin-influenced song. The reprise of "This Dying Soul" gives me chillbumps every time and the piano outro at the end, which introduces on of the album's main themes, is pleasantly understated. One thing that is immediately noticeable is that Rudess is a major force on "Octavarium" and Portnoy and Pretucci have resticted many aspects of their playing. This works well - there were 17 guitar solos on Train of Thought alone!!!
"The Answer Lies Within" is a positive, subtle song with a string quartet wedged in the middle. It sounds unlike aything they've done before and works well. We're veering into Colday territory with this one - albeity more interesting harmonically.
"These Walls" was released before the bulk of the album, and deserves radio airplay - it is blessed with an infectious chorus and an emotional guitar solo. This quickly moves into "I Walk Beside You". The song is relentlessly poppy, and I was first put off by it. But it is actually an album highlight. Labrie's vocals sound great, and Petrucci and Portnoy don't ruin the song by extending it past its diminuitive length of 4 minutes.
"Panic Attack" and "Never Enough" are Muse-influenced and create a tense, frantic atmosphere (as the titles would suggest). There is a return to the traditional DT solo section, but since its hasn't been overused the listeners are awed by the virtuosity instead of bored. John Myung's bass intro to Panic Attack is outstanding - this song in particular will be a live favorite for some time. "Never Enough" is synth driven with an intense unison section. Despite some poor lyrics, the band just about pull off the modern-rock vibe.
The final two songs, "Sacrificed Sons" and "Octavarium", are among the best two songs that band has written. No review could do them justice, and so I wont try. But these final 35 minutes are a stroke of genius. (NB - look at the lyrics to "Sacrificed Sons" very carefully before dismissing them as one sided, conservative, etc.)
Are there flaws? Yes. Sometimes the commercial atnosphere of parts of the CD can be irritating. Some ambient sections can go on for too long. But taken as a whole, "Octavarium" (especially the song) is a career highlight that all prog-rock fans should have.
Note: Yes, it is a concept album. LaBrie lied. I won't give it away though.
on 7 June 2005
DT's previous outing certainly generated diverse opinions. Personally I found it enjoyable but containing too many lengthy Petrucci solo's. Octavarium is a return to form and probably as strong as "scenes from..". It contains two superb tracks for us prog fans. The 10 minute "Sacrificed Sons" and the 24 minute "Octavarium". What strikes me about both of these tracks is that Rudess's keyboards have taken centre stage. At last we can hear Myung's bass clearly in the mix and LaBrie does some of his best vocals in years. The longer track is quite "Yes" like early on but then kicks into a fantastic instrumental section. Throughout the album Petrucci's solos are concise and welcome, no more so than on this track. The use of an orchestra works very well.
Panic attack, is TOT notched up a couple levels on the hard metal scale and is a great track. There are a couple of good ballads, of which "I walk beside you" is very U2 like. The remaining tracks are excellent too, heavy but not overly extended with solos. In summary a great return to concise song writing (even the 24 minute epic is concise in that it doesn't have any unnecessary parts). As always the playing is great and the band really seem to be on top form.
on 9 June 2005
After listening to Dream Theater's eighth studio album Octavarium, I came to the conclusion that it was their best since 1999's Scenes From a Memory. Having strayed into thrash metal for their last album Train of Thought, I was left yearning for the more progressive side in their music - and thankfully, here it is! The Root of All Evil nicely continues the saga that began with 2002's Glass Prison and 2003's Dying Soul and is one of the more heavy songs on the album. The Answer Lies Within sees the band delving back into ballads, an area they hadn't explored since 1997's Falling into Infinity. The addition of a string quartet (and full orchestras on Sacrificed Sons and Octavarium) further broadens the musical canvas. These Walls is a traditional Dream Theater song reminiscent of Images and Words and When Dream and Day Unite and has some skilful percussive backing from Mike Portnoy. Sometimes the album seems to be a tribute to past achievements, hence the return of the 'tick-tock' sound of Regression at the start of I Walk Beside You, a song that for some reason, reminds me of U2? Panic Attack starts with some seriously good bass work from John Myung, and the song itself is a perfect work-out for the whole band. Never Enough evokes the gothic style of Muse (a favourite band of mine), and in this and the song before it, James Labrie seems to be using Matt Bellamy's singing style. Sacrificed Sons sees Labrie and Company take an unusual political stance with lyrics that obviously refer to 9/11 - perhaps a subject that is close to them - they are New Yorkers! However it is the title track, Octavarium that is the icing on the cake. An extended suite in the tradition of A Change of Seasons and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the track acts as a tribute to just about every major 70's Progressive group. The introduction sounds like Pink Floyd's Shine on you Crazy Diamond, complete with steel guitar (Jordan at work?). Numerous other tributes appear in the music with a Tony Banks style keyboard solo and a passage that could come from any Emerson Lake and Palmer album. The lyrics also include references to Genesis's Supper's Ready and Cinema Show, the Beatles' Day Tripper and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Pink Floyd's Careful with that axe Eugene, Yes' Machine Messiah, and the Who's My Generation. The song closes in epic style with band and orchestra at full bombastic volume and grandeur. Thus ends Dream Theater's eighth opus, a return to their progressive roots. My only reservation is that the album could have been mixed slightly better (no Kevin Shirley this time around) as sometimes the album can sound slightly muffled and lacks power in some of the heavier passages. However, this is only a minor quibble as the songs alone make this their best album of the new millennium.
on 15 February 2007
... would make this album better.
It is quite a varied song list:
The Root of All Evil is a stonking track, 'nuff said!
Another Day is VERY tame. I quite like it, but it is relegated to an easy listening compilation - it is a little cheesy.
These Walls is just plain boring.
I Walk Beside You - commonly known as 'The best U2 track that U2 never wrote' is a great song - but again doesn't fit, although it just stays in my 'Octavarium Playlist'
Panic Attack is again a stonking track - absolute furious prog metal!
Never Enough has some good parts, but never rises to more than just 'interesting'
Which brings us to the last 2 tracks:
I have read a complaint regarding Sacrificed Sons that 'Political themes ruin songs'. This is entirely unjustified as there is very little that is political about it. It is much more a call to look at current events from an emotional perspective. As a prog rock track it is absolutely fantastic. Awesome structure, with a great 'variations on the theme' mid-section.
Octavaruim - I would disagree that this is you classic 'epic'. It has a large size (25 minutes long), but no greatness of scope that is to be found in Metropolis or Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It DOES have a mind bending intro, and the mid-section is also top-notch. Like SDOIT the ending is very powerful too. Maybe my definition of 'epic' has been distorted by the size and scope of their previous epics, but for me it is just a 'quite long track'!
In Summary, I would say that this IS a fantastic Album - but with a couple of duff tracks, and a very mixed classification.
WELL WORTH buying though :)
I am a long term fan of DT and await each new release with fervent trepidation. I have given this 5 stars but that represents a measurement against all the other rock acts out there. In terms of DT's own work, I would give it 4 stars.
There are certainly some standout tracks on this - Answer Lies Within, Walk Beside You, Sacrificed Sons and, of course, Octavarium. The first 2 of these stand out as a breath of fresh air and, to a certain extent, a back to basics approach. Answer Lies.. is just brilliant, a cleverly crafted ballad with surprisingly restrained playing, reminiscent of both the Beetles and early Elton John, believe it or not. Octavarium is the typical epic which we have now come to expect from every DT album - it takes a good few listens to fully appreciate, though, and you could apply that to the whole record.
Why haven't I given this 5/5, I hear you ask? Well it pains me to suggest that on a few songs the band seem to have struggled to come up with original ideas. Some of the choruses and general chord progressions are pretty weak by DT standards and some of the solo work can be heard in modified forms in previous songs. That said, there is no doubt that the musicianship is up to the usual peerless standards. Each individual member is nothing less that a grand master of their respective instruments and, combining that with the very high standard of overall production, conjures up some truly awesome musical moments.
In summary, a great album despite one or two slightly disappointing songs. Streets ahead of the competition, though, and I have no hesitation in recommending your immediate purchase.
on 8 April 2006
After reading a couple of reviews I thought why not do one yourself. But before I do, why are so many refering back to there previous albums - move on and enjoy.
I awaitited this release with anticipation, although I am 52 and a grandad. I only discovered DT when 6 Degees was released, I was hooked, and have since purchased all of the back cataloge.
I wont review every track, all Dt fans have there own take on what they like and dont like, needless to say, I play it at least once a week. Sacrificed Sons is a work of art, and captures in my opinion how the world and america in particular felt post 9/11. a very tastefull tribute to all who perished.
On there last album it seems that Jordan was pushed a little into the background. Where on Octavarium the keyboards are back with a vengance ( listen to his last solo album ) and it makes a difference to the flow and the melody making. DT fans may moan but at least our heros move on and try to give us some variety. role on the next album in a year or two.its my number two album after Scenes from.
3/ 6 degrees
on 6 June 2005
Dream Theater is back.
Back from the nebulous wastelands of conflicting musical identity that were Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train of Thought. Neither of these two were bad albums, per se, each having their moments of brilliance, but neither matched up to the impossibly high standards the band set for themselves with Images and Words, their second album, and Awake, the third. But Octavarium is lightyears ahead of their last few mixed-bag releases, taking the best elements of their evolution in style and musical ability, with an infusion of a new passion, and doing away with the rest: the wastefulness, the questionable songwriting, and (critics of ToT, breathe a heavy sigh) the rap. Even the album's one reference to Train of Thought, the chorus to "Dying Soul" played during "Root of All Evil", sounds better in the new context of Octavarium.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed both of Dream Theater's previous albums, having never been one of DT's "disenchanted fans", but they lacked the magic that was strongest with IaW and was never seen to such a degree again. Until now. Octavarium has the magic again. It is brilliant. It is a masterpiece.
A part of the problem with the previous few albums was their emphasis on the album as a whole rather than the songs, and as a result some of the songs were rather weak. Octavarium shifts this focus onto the invidual songs, tightening up the lyrics, doing away with needless instrumentation, and bringing a diversity unseen since IaW. The songs flow better internally, and thus the album flows better as a whole. A new addition is the few seconds of "soundscaping" between each track that ties them all together, an interesting concept that makes everything flow together despite unrelated subject material.
The new album kicks off with "Root of All Evil", the continuation of the Alcoholics Anonymous saga begun on SDOIT, and is probably the strongest of the three. It makes an awesome album openener, with an awesome drumline leading into a doubly awesome riff that holds the song together without ever getting old. The song is a real rocker that holds your attention from start to finish, unified and cohesive. Labrie's singing is tighter and better than on any previous album and shows just how much he has improved as a singer. The next two heaviest songs on the album, "Panic Attack" and "Never Enough", are both excellent. "Panic Attack" opens with possibly the catchiest riff on the album, if not in DT's entire discography, and tears into a blazing fast cacophony that perfectly invokes the emotions of its lyrics and title. Once again we find very nice vocal work by Labrie, especially during a little falsetto bit on the bridge that reminds me in all the best ways of Queen. "Never Enough" is an odd song stylistically for Dream Theater, with some definite Muse influence there, but not a bad thing.
"The Answer Lies Within" is the album's ballad, a strangely uplifting acoustic song that makes a perfect break after the rockin' intensity of "Root of All Evil". Rudess and Labrie dominate this one, and it's one of their best soft songs, up there with Silent Man and Disappear (although lyrically and thematically the opposite of the latter). It features some very nice violin work and heartening lyrics such as 'You've got the future on your side'. It transitions into "These Walls", the catchiest song ever written in a major key, and a huge radio hit if they do it right. Radio hits? An oddity for Dream Theater, but one that reminds me of Images and Words, and that's a good thing. "Walls" has an awesome chorus and some sweet key harmonies, and despite being an extremely simple song for Dream Theater it is excellent nonetheless. The final of the album's lighter songs is "I Walk Beside You", a song that could only be a tribute to U2, and just as good as any of the best that they have written. Catchy, poppy, but I love it nonetheless.
But just for those who would complain about Octavarium's not being "proggy" enough, DT threw in the final two, beastly tracks: "Sacrificed Sons" and the title track. "Sons" starts out slow and sad, building up through a heavy instrumental section into an awesomely heartbreaking melody and a haunting orchestrated outtro. It has lyrical ties to "In the Name of God", featuring themes from 9-11-the title is about partly about the reverence for fanatical suicide in terrorist culture, and partly about the war in Iraq-- and has some of the best vocal and guitar work on the album.
Finally is the album's beast, "Octavarium", a track that picks up slowly but surely builds intensity throughout multiple musical landscapes until the chilling ending, a lyrical summary of the album that ties everything together. The lyrics are bit out, the rhythm frantic; this is Dream Theater at their most intense and emotional, and every time James Labrie bites out the words "TRAPPED-IN-SIDE-THIS-OC-TA-VAR-I-UM" in a half-scream, it sends chills down my spine. The song then closes with a melodic outtro that reminds me of some of the best work Kansas has done. Throughout the song, there are references to classic rock and Dream Theater's own work; the reference to Nightmare Cinema (DT's "alter ego" band from the FII era) was especially subtle and amusing. Dream Theater fans have asked since 1995 if they could manage an epic that would compare to Change of Seasons. They have, and while Octavarium is a different song, it is just as surely a prog masterpiece.
Is it Images and Words? Musically, no- it reflects every stage of Dream Theater's evolution since then. But it features everything that made IaW an amazing album: great songwriting, varied music, technical ability, melodic playing ranging from beautiful to haunting to rocking-and blends in everything Dream Theater has learned since then. It is easily one of their best albums, and a classic for the ages.
on 2 June 2007
DT have been at the forefront of the neo-progressive rock/metal scene for a many years and this is their 8th studio album. All of the elements that one would expect from a prog/metal album are here, the 6-7 minute rockers, the slow number and the 20 minute epic. As such it offers existing fans more of the same without providing anything significant or new to attract or appeal to a broader audience.
The bands strength is in their undoubted musicianship and this is demonstrated with ample style on the opener `Root of All Evil' a powerful but melodic rocker.
The album also suffers from the bands familiar flaws. The slow number `The answer lies within' is one of their worst so far though with a bland tune and some of the most banal and clichéd lyrics I have ever had the misfortune to listen to.
`These Walls' starts out interestingly with growling motorcycle guitar effect and chunky riff, but soon descends in mid tempo blandness again. The main complaint here is that the song's lyrics and style are completely at odds. The theme of the song is madness and isolation but when the words are articulated so meticulously and the playing is so measured it just doesn't work.
`I Walk Beside You' is in a slightly different style. It starts with the chopping bass riff of a Melissa Auf Der Maur song before morphing into mid-eighties U2 style arena rock.
In `Panic Attack' the theme and music are at least in accord with frenetic guitar and drumming driving the song along. Again though La Brie's counter-sung harmony is too measured and precise, undermining the effectiveness of the mood.
`Never Enough' is straight-forward and efficient rock track with hints of a Muse-like harshness to the vocals and La Brie sounds for as pleasant change like he means what he is singing.
`Sacrifice Sons' is reminiscent of an earlier DT song The Great Debate in its use of sound-bytes to establish the mood and context before the song proper starts. The subsequent sequence is melancholy piano led ballad which despite being at odds with the lyrics (again) is pretty successful creating the image of slow motion and disbelief within a scene of carnage. The song builds towards a tremendous climax and is one of the better songs on the album.
`Octavarium' is the epic closer on the album and starts in Pink Floyd mode with long stretched out guitar/keyboard sounds. As the song progresses through a number of musical sequences we get glimpses of other influences like Rush and Genesis along the way. It's a good song and while some of notes might not always be new, they're certainly the right ones.
Overall the album is representative of Dream Theater's broader body of work, the musicians are superb craftsmen but they're let down by truly appalling lyrics at times (Yes, Genesis etc proved long ago that weird and quirky were better than banal). La Brie too is a mixed blessing. He hits the notes but often fails to deliver the phrasing that would help people to connect to the music emotionally and as the bands human voice that's the really got to be his job.
This is music that can be enjoyed and admired but it rarely transcends craftsmanship to become art.