Dream Theater - Octavarium


Year of Release: 2005
Label: Warner/Atlantic
Catalog Number: 7567-83793-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 75:46:00

Evaluation:

What is it?

At first glance, Dream Theater's eighth studio album looks to be much the same as the preceding few ? as is their wont, DT's artwork and overall concept doesn't reveal a thing; instead, the band opts to let the music do the talking, leaving the imagination of the listener to find the relevance?

I, for one, have never drawn solace or impetus from Dream Theater's lyrics, and have always related their album concepts to the artwork of Salvador Dali ? engaging to look at, but ultimately pastiche?

"What does it all mean?" has been the question I most often ask myself when presented with a new DT disc?

My biggest criticism of "progressive" music is bands' tendency to wallow in narcissism, indulgence, and, most frequently, pomposity, both lyrically and conceptually. Rare indeed are the few who, despite these afflictions, create music that overwhelms (or at least mitigates)!

Consequently, only a handful of albums have succeeded in this endeavor. DT's Images And Words is one of them. I hesitate to compare Octavarium to Images? because the bands responsible for the two albums are different in makeup and intent. More importantly, the two albums were produced by vastly different sets of ears?

Analysis:

What it is:

I'm going to go out on a limb and make two statements that will likely render the rest of this review moot for some readers...

Firstly, the departure of Kevin Moore left DT bereft of their greatest strength at the time: orchestrational acumen. The sound of Images And Words was deeply rooted in the arrangement of guitar and keyboard parts, and while John Petrucci was the focal point, due to his ability to weave intricate clean textures in and out of his distorted rhythm-work, it was really Kevin Moore and his symphonic approach to counterpoint and fugue (whether studied or intrinsic) that created the harmonic lift and the exhilarating element in their music. When Moore left, the band floundered compositionally, the sound became riff-driven, thicker, and more reliant on parallel motion between guitar and bass for impact. The drums and heavy guitars took center stage, forcing a detrimental change in James LaBrie's vocals... relegating him to a supporting role as another instrumentalist, albeit without the space to conjure the melodic elegance prevalent on Images?

Secondly, and this was really the watershed, the turmoil between producer David Prater and members of the band resulted in grudging acquiescence on the part of Portnoy and Petrucci (at least) concerning the arrangements and the mixing. I contend that Images? is as much a result of that conflagration as of the compositional symbiosis between Petrucci and Moore. Prater, by some accounts, was unyielding in the studio, and his attention to panning, effects? in short, the sonic elements that make recordings interesting to listen to, were critical to the sound of Images?.

As Portnoy and Petrucci exercised greater control over their own vision, ultimately producing DT's records, the sound mutated for the most part into a blur of instrumental excess with arbitrary vocalizations on top of it, and the quality of their subsequent albums began to slide inexorably into the perfunctory ... no less astonishing technically, but musically unsatisfying. The passion and sophistication of Images? was left behind for heaviness and aggression ? sophistry over substance?

Until now?

Octavarium is nothing like Images? yet it is reminiscent of the finest elements of it.

Jordan Rudess, superior to previous keyboardists in all facets, asserts his influence subtly, providing critical elements: counterpoint, voice-leading and sounds that pique the listener's interest without resorting to chicanery? but on Octvarium his keen sense of arrangement and orchestration are at the fore, adding a superbly authoritative and sophisticated edge to the entire disc.

Petrucci's clean chordal work is emphasized, and he understates his role as the rhythmic driving force to great effect, relying less on muted, power chord zeitgeist and more on restraint and the interaction between instruments? no less technically adept, his playing sounds mature and free ? free of competition and of expectation, unfettered ? an interesting reversal of roles has taken place though ? in DT circa Images..., Moore provided the sonic bed for Petrucci's linear thoughts to preen over, but on Octavarium, Rudess fleshes out the harmony with rivulets of contrary motion while the guitars underscore?

Of all of the instrumentalists, Mike Portnoy evidences the greatest maturation. His cymbal work and use of "chiaroscuro" has developed, and his attention to the dynamics necessary to make this type of music breathe has never been more attenuated ? the supercilious quality evident in his playing so apparently since Images? is gone ? his drumming sounds less like a clinic than an inspired performance than ever before ? ferocious, yet delicate at times, the once-self-proclaimed "lead drummer" has obviously benefited from his time in other bands (particularly the Beatles and Led Zeppelin cover bands, where simplicity and support were essential)?

Bassist John Myung is also liberated ? the lock-step guitar/bass arrangements of the past few albums have been replaced with space for Myung's riveting bass work to create expansive stretches of movement that rely less on doubling for emphasis than on interesting non-root movement ? again, the art of arrangement taking precedence provides an exulting sense of lift?

LaBrie sounds magnificent. His vocal lines are far more melodic than on previous albums, rising and falling across the chord progressions, cutting rich powerful swaths, at times hearkening back to the stunning beauty of his work on Images? and he has returned to using his trained voice ? for a period of time, he seemed determined to sing in a more aggressive style to which he was not as well suited ? as an added bonus, he resorts less to the breathy, close-mic'd sound found in abundance on previous discs, instead focusing on power and dynamics to much greater effect.

The addition of strings and symphony orchestra, the more prominent use of background vocals by Petrucci and Portnoy, and the creative use of effects will do much to assuage the Image And Words devotees, but Octavarium offers much more to the discerning listener. Lyrics that have often been somewhat obtuse and kaleidoscopic now hint at deeper truth and spiritual meaning without resorting to the maudlin or the pointillistic ? shades of Pink Floyd, Kansas, Genesis, ELO and mid 70's Elton John (don't balk at that ? way back when, Elton was prog too!) have risen to the surface, and, most importantly, the compositions are stronger, and are at the same time better songs?

Rating: 5-/5 (the minus is for the artwork - not the execution or beauty of it but rather because it seems incongruous?)

Summary:

Superb craftsmanship, a truly stellar production by Portnoy and Petrucci, and, most importantly, a return to the sense of freedom in the music that has been missing since Images And Words marks Octavarium as Dream Theater's finest work to date.

As I mentioned earlier, I have never gotten more from DT than I could glean musically, but I have to admit that I found myself reading the lyrics for the first time and finding things I could, and did, relate to ? I am grateful for this.

Octavarium more than mere images and words?.


Tracklisting:
The Root Of All Evil (8:07) / The Answer Lies Within (5:26) / These Walls (6:59) / I Walk Beside You (4:29) / Panic Attack (7:16) / Never Enough (6:33) / Sacrificed Sons (10:42) / Octavarium (24:00)

Musicians:
James LaBrie - vocals
Mike Portnoy - drums, vocals, percussion
John Petrucci - guitars, vocals
John Myung - bass
Jordan Rudess - keyboards, continuum, lap steel guitar

Discography:
When Dreams and Day Unite (1989)
Images and Words (1992)
Live At The Marquee (1993)
Dream Out Loud (1994)
Awake (1994)
A Change in Season (1995)
Falling Into Infinity (1997)
Once In A Livetime (1998)
Scenes From A Memory (1999)
Cleaning Out The Closet (Xmas CD 1999) (1999)
Scenes From A World Tour - Christmas CD 2000 (2001)
Live Scenes From New York (2001)
Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002)
Train Of Thought (2003)
Live At Budokan (2004)
Octavarium (2005)
Score (3CD) (2006)
Systematic Chaos (2007)
Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) (2008)
Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)
A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011)
Dream Theater (2013)

Metropolis 2000: Scenes From New York (DVD) (2001)
Live At Budokan (DVD) (2004)
Score (DVD) (2006)
Chaos In Motion (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: June 14th 2005
Reviewer: Jan-Mikael Erakare
Score:
Artist website: www.dreamtheater.net
Hits: 1232
Language: english

  

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