Album Reviews

Dream Theater – Octavarium

(Atlantic) UK release date: 6 June 2005

Dream Theater - Octavarium When a budding music critic goes to Reviewer School (if there is such a thing), one of the first things they are taught is not to review albums track-by-track. When faced with an album by Dream Theater this code of conduct is a little hard to comply with. After all, what else are you to do when the long-player has a grand total of eight songs?

Eight songs? Yes, Dream Theater are probably the planet’s most popular progressive rock/metal band and so words like “short”, “brief”, “succinct” and “punchy” are not in their musical vocabulary. However, before you turn away and run off to the style police magazines who try to tell you that such prog rock is desperately uncool, I have one word for you. Muse.

As if to reinforce the point that the Devonian trio may have got some of their ideas from what many of their fans would consider the most dubious of sources, there are at least two tracks on Octavarium that recall the likes of Stockholm Syndrome. Panic Attack and Never Enough bristle with heavy, hyperactive guitars, space-age keyboards, neo-classical instrumentation, the odd gothic harmony and rhythms that play out exactly what the lyrics are describing (“Rapid heartbeat pounding through my chest”). Vocalist James LaBrie even goes into high-pitched Matt Bellamy territory on occasion. I probably “shouldn’t” like it but I really can’t help myself…

If the sound of prog metal’s premier act Musing is bizarre, then even more peculiar are when they sound like a sweeter, American (good, even) version of Embrace on The Answers Lie Within and a more rocking Killers on I Walk Beside You.

The former begins a bit melancholy, West End musical-like with LaBrie accompanying a lone piano, but unlike Danny McNamara the dude can sing, and by the time the strings have come in the whole thing has a decidedly uplifting air to it. Meanwhile, I Walk Beside You is surprisingly memorable with a decidedly radio-friendly, anthemic feel. It’s “only” four and a half minutes long too. I smell a single…

Elsewhere, Sacrificed Sons comes good after straying dangerously close to musical territory again, and by the end it’s difficult not to be swept up by the grandiose strings that accompany the seemingly anti-Bush sentiment (“Who would wish this on our people and proclaim that, ‘His will be done?'”).

It’s not all good news, however. The Root Of All Evil is pretty much Dream Theater by numbers – a semi-aggressive, metallic-styled affair that doesn’t “go for it” like much of last album Train Of Thought did. The slow and steady These Walls also disappoints slightly, particularly after a promising intro of scrunching guitar noise that sounds like a leviathan trying to wake up.

Unfortunately, The Theater leave the worst till last in the bloated shape of the 24-minute title track. You may wonder what on earth a single song can do for 24 minutes. In Octavarium’s case the answer is four minutes of oh-so-Pink Floyd, dreamy psychedelia, getting silly with a flute, bringing in some meandering vocals, changing to an Adult-Oriented Rock happy feel, bass and drums pretending to be funky, keyboard solos, guitar solos, time signature twisting and bits of acoustic guitar randomly thrown in. LaBrie even barks like a dog close to 20 minutes in before a predictably drawn-out ending. My beard now needs trimming and my fingernails clipping…

Still, the fans who once bought Dream Theater’s other 25-minute epic, A Change Of Season, will love it, while there’s enough on the remainder of Octavarium to keep the rest of us interested and the prog rock haters whining dismissively. In short, Dream Theater’s million-selling cult status is still assured.

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More on Dream Theater
Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos
Dream Theater – Octavarium
Dream Theater @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
Dream Theater – Train Of Thought