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. Simply awesome.
16 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?