Released: 2005, Atlantic Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Editors Note. Metal-Rules.com was founded in 1995 as a forward thinking site. Our goal is, and always has been, to support Real Metal. The decision was made that very rarely do we ever go back and review an album from before 1995. Does the world really need another CD review of Master Of Puppets, Powerslave or Screaming For Vengeance? We don’t think so. We have always supported what is happening now.
Starting in January, 2014, as we head towards our 10,000th review and the 20th Anniversary of Metal-Rules.com, we are looking back and filling in a few gaps in the review database. We want to complete the post-1995 review catalogue of some of the bands that we have supported since 1995, when very few, if any website were supporting real Metal. It’s fun to go back and revisit some of these albums that we did not review when they were first released. Enjoy!
Do you need an introduction to Dream Theater? Shall we pretend you do? Ahem - Dream Theater are an American prog metal band, featuring renowned guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy... you know what? Do your own research. Or we'll never get to talk about OCTAVARIUM.
Apparently said album's structure was based around the concept of the octave. No prizes for guessing where the name stemmed from. Look, I said no prizes. Anyway also worth noting is the fact that with OCTAVARIUM, Dream Theater were looking to make an album of less complex music. Although you'd hardly call the 24-minute title track easy listening.
Born out of the end of TRAIN OF THOUGHT, the excellent “The Root Of All Evil” starts OCTAVARIUM off with a good dash of the heavy stuff, and high hopes for what follows. It also fulfils another part of the AA-inspired Twelve-step Suite, don't you know.
Unfortunately things come to a crashing halt with “The Answer Lies Within”- a cheesy ballad of the most sickly variety. Now we're not opposed to ballads per se. Some bands do them very well, like Aerosmith say. (Yes yes, not prog, blah blah, but you can't deny they know their way around a humdinger of a ballad). But “The Answer Lies Within” sounds like something a sing-a-song-for-us talent show contestant would churn out a weak performance of. Complete with the obligatory stand up from the stool for the chorus.
Putting up such a song so early on threatens to derail the listening experience, but if you can make it through the other side is much better. Promise. Ok there's another almost ballad-y one, “I'll Walk Beside You”, but it's ok – this one is not too bad. The music is certainly much more engaging. Makes you wonder why they bothered with “The Answer...”.
It's not all soft though. “Panic Attack” goes back to the riffs that have been missing proper since track one, whilst “Never Enough” sounds like the band projected Muse over the recording session. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as the song is quite enjoyable for the most part, but it feels odd. Like finding someone else's tongue in your mouth.
The questioning “Sacrificed Sons” starts with running news coverage, before abruptly moving into sombre piano, befitting its attempt to deal with the events of 9/11. It all continues very nicely, if you can say that about such a subject, until four minutes or so in when the bass makes a break for it and the rest of the band follow. This intricacy, this refusal to stay on one straight path, the ability to weave and double-back without any of it seeming like a misstep is one of the great strengths of Dream Theater. It also makes “Sacrificed Sons” one of the delights of OCTAVARIUM. Which again feels like a poor choice of words given its context.
So comes “Octavarium” itself – a behemoth of a song. Theatrical, complex, orchestral - “Octavarium” begins unhurriedly (which might explain the running time), but that's ok. You don't seem to want it to run, you're happy to make this journey with Dream Theater at a slower pace. And just as you've got comfy in that dream-like quality, the funky bass jabs you in the ribs because it's going to get weird and you can't be asleep. All crazy synth, and god knows, it's prog rock ecstasy of the purest indulgence.
Then it ends as the album began, and in the process creates this endless loop by which you could listen inevitably. Or you could if there weren't those few bumps in the road. But hey given the length of the title track you could always just listen to that. That can be your OCTAVARIUM. Because whilst the album shows what Dream Theater can do with their influences, “Octavarium” shows what they're truly capable of.
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs