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Artist: Dream Theater
Label: Atlantic
Length: 8 tracks / 73:32 min

The single most distinguishing characteristic of progressive rock is experimentation.  Artists of this genre are not confined to a single sound. They borrow liberally from other genres and see what works.  In their last album, Train of Thought, Dream Theater blended in a heavy dose of the old Metallica sound and it worked well.  In Octavarium, they blend in a lot of Muse and more mainstream elements.  If you like these, you’ll probably enjoy Octavarium.  But being more of a metal fan than a pop fan myself, I don’t like this particular blend and must put this album at the bottom of the Dream Theater menu.  In other words, “I understand what the Iron Chef was trying to do.  I just don’t think it works for this dish.”

The first song, “The Root of All Evil,” is a typical Dream Theater filler song.  Nothing wrong with it, but you’re ready to move on to the next dish.

The slow Muse influences begin to present themselves subtly in “The Answer Lies Within,” which would have made a nice inclusion somewhere in the middle of a heavy concept album, but placed here at the beginning of the course, it is dreadfully bland.

“These Walls” is a bit heavier, at least in the chorus, but the construction of the song is so conventional, it leaves the listener feeling like he’s heard it before.

“I Walk Beside You” is a modest success despite it being fairly straightforward.  The verses balance Madonna’s “Die Another Day” and The Cure’s “Lovesong” while the chorus carries a U2/Muse feel.

“Panic Attack” is one of the more solid tracks, a symphonic/industrial speed metal piece that fits well with the lyrics and concludes with a heavy Muse aftertaste.

I hesitate to criticize “Never Enough” with lyrics like:

What would you say if I walked away?
Would you appreciate
But then it’d be too late
Because I can only take so much
Of your ungrateful ways
Everything is never enough
Nevertheless, I would have enjoyed it more if James LaBrie (vocals) had sang it in his normal voice instead of imitating the depressed-English-metrosexual-underwater vocals that so characterize Muse.

“Sacrificed Sons,” a great track criticizing the religiously motivated 9-11 attacks, opens with a news montage like “The Great Debate” on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.  LaBrie sings:

Words they preach
I can’t relate
If God’s true Love
Are acts of Hate

Who would wish this on a people
And proclaim that His will be done
Scriptures they heed have misled them
All praise their sacrificed sons

If John Petrucci (guitar) had added some “swell” effects or some tremolo on the trail of the E-C-Bb riff immediately following the chorus, it would have been killer.  Hopefully, they’ll bump this one up a notch when they play it live.

The last course is the title track, which can’t be bad since it’s 24 minutes long.  The first half is slow and unremarkable for the most part but the second half puts the “pro” in “prog” and builds into a poetic frenzy, reminiscent of Carman’s “The Champion,” with LaBrie shouting “Trapped inside this Octavarium” several times.

Octavarium is easily better than most rock albums out there, but because it’s the weakest Dream Theater to date, I can’t give it any better than…

Dan Singleton  7/11/2005

This CD will be their "controversial" one when it comes to fan loyalty and opinion.  Dream Theater's Octavarium rocks the boat as they change tack in their tried and true formula for success.  Ballads, epics, and some pop are introduced to this band's "Shred-Prog" image and they come off smelling like roses.

"The Root Of All Evil," reaches into the symphonic genre as much of the trademark virtuosity display gives way to trusting the talent and allowing the listener to see beneath the veneer.  A simple guitar riff atop ethereal backdrop in contrast to Mike Portnoy's signature complex rhythms. The surprising ballad of the CD is "The Answer Lies Within," featuring the capable voice of James LaBrie and the uncomplicated piano of Jordan Rudess. Performed with a full orchestra, this proud tune is honestly uplifting and totally "outside the Box" when compared to previous works. "These Walls" is a powerful track with heavy riffs and aural candy dynamics. The more balanced combo of Petrucci and Rudess is a fantastic improvement on their already trademark sounds.  Courage to address the galvanizing event that effected and shaped the recent world "Sacrificed Sons" gives validity to their sensibility of expressing their point of view of 9/11.  Starting off with a "sound-design" of audio-bytes from the media, the tune bleeds into a slow burn of realizing the magnitude of the events.  LaBrie's lyrics are tasteful and yet brave enough to ask the question of motivation to the attacks.  Rudess's keyboard backdrop is in full swing here. The song quickly changes directions and rolls off into a wonderful prog-instrumental section with Petrucci dancing like a whirling dervish atop the support. The title track is no doubt the CD's masterpiece.  Pink Floyd would be proud of the intro to this song as it pays homage to their PF's prog trailblazing. Rudess' lapsteel solo is simply breathtaking and not to mention his nod to the caped one from Yes with a Mini-Moog solo and organ. As in the allusions to the progressive influences in Portnoy's lyrics of this piece, all can be recognized: Beatles, Kansas, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Genesis.

Octavarium has most definitely created quite an Internet fan storm as they either hate it or love it.  I think it's amusing and humbling to see such passion and energy spent on such things. Craftsmanship, outstanding production, and an abandon to fresh and eye opening worlds.  More info: 

Jon Rice 7/27/2005


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