Dream Theater – Octavium
Many of the songs here are actually decently-paced, with memorable themes and thematic shifts, along with convincing group interplay. Still, for those that believed Train of Thought’s monomaniacally fast riffage was “real metal,” Octavarium’s shift closer to Dream Theater’s older style may come as a disappointment.
For me, it’s a relief. There are still hints of the last album, particularly in hyper-aggressive songs like “Panic Attack” — and even this song is pretty breathtaking for a while, but it far outstays its welcome, as an eight-minute song that should have been three. And at the other extreme, it appears that no one told these guys after Images and Words’ embarrassing Kenny G tribute “Another Day” that they just shouldn’t go near the ballad format. “The Answer Lies Within” is this album’s mandatory power ballad, and it’s the most compellingly skippable track of the year. Despite these predictably lame moments, Octavarium does have its charms. The harder-edged sound of recent albums combined with the more moderately paced compositional style of the band’s early era gives some of these songs — the opener, “These Walls,” the second half of “Sacrificed Sons” — a real kick.
The epic title track is what everyone’s talking about, though, and shockingly enough I find it to be pretty overrated. The first two thirds of it are good enough, if a little overly tribute-ish, opening with what could be Pink Floyd archival material and including a vocal passage in which LaBrie drops some prominent proggy names. (And hey! There’s a bass solo — perhaps the first time John Myung has actually audibly appeared on a Dream Theater studio album!) But it all falls apart in the last eight or ten minutes into a supremely disjointed mess. Rudess and Petrucci start doing their can-you-believe-how-annoying-I-can-be act again, and the song hits rock bottom when LaBrie shrieks “Trapped inside! this! Octa! var! i! yum!” with all the convincingness of a porn star trying to act. Verdict: 16 minutes of decent if not particularly amazing music, 8 minutes of some of the most obnoxious stuff Dream Theater has ever recorded.
If my review sounds overly negative, consider that I think Octavarium is this band’s best studio effort since Scenes From a Memory. Sure that’s pretty faint praise, but while I found very little to like in the last two albums, at least this one offers some solidly enjoyable moments among the lameness. It’s been in my CD player far more than I would have expected given Dream Theater’s recent output.