Dream Theater is back and as impressive as ever. I don’t think these guys have released an album that I haven’t liked yet. That is not to say that I don’t like some over others, but they all have a consistent level of musical ability on display.
Epic songs are the order of the day. If you are looking for short radio styled rock songs, you will have to go elsewhere. Dream Theater excels at long songs with a variety of time changes and pacing. The type of song that will drag you in and get you involved wondering which way it will turn. This is especially true of the 24 minute title track which takes you on a melodic journey.
The first track on the album, “The Root of All Evil,” opens quietly but soon explodes into a heavy riff letting you know that they mean business. Eight minutes of pure heavy rock. A great way to reel a guy like me, who is a sucker for a heavy riff, into the album. One of the more outright aggressive tracks I have heard from them. Everyone is just digging in and chugging away.
This is immediately followed by “The Answer Lies Within.” A song which is completely opposite of the opener. It opens with a light piano playing behind James Labrie’s soft vocals. A song of hope, a look to the future. A very mellow song that just floats into your ears, a very easy listen in stark contrast to the prior aggression.
“These Walls” is next, opening with some dissonant guitars that turn into a heavy opening riff before settling down for the words to come in over top. This song combines the qualities of the first two, adding a little brightness to the initial heaviness and a little heaviness to the slower portions. This is used to create an atmosphere of hope in a song that centers on someone who is sinking and looking for help.
“I Walk Beside You” is a good song, also focusing on the theme of hope and how there is always someone there to support you.
The heaviness exhibited in the opening track returns with “Panic Attack.” This time speed accompanies the riffing. This is the song to put on in the car, turn up the volume, and just cruise. It is heavy and aggressive, great.
“Never Enough” seems to take on fandom. It questions how much has to be done to be appreciated. It may seem like all of the hard work and effort can be taken for granted. If they choose to leave would they come back out to support them then? Would it be too late?
The next song is the first one I can think of where the topic has more of a political bent based on current events. “Sacrificed Sons” gives an interesting take on the events of the past few years. Questioning why this was done. Questioning the faith that would require people to commit this acts and how they must have surely been misled. But instead of expressing hatred or anger, it requests that we essentially pray for those who have died. It is a beautiful song.
Rounding out the album is the 24 minute title epic, “Octavarium.” History doomed to repeat itself. A musical journey that takes the listener through a progression of different sounds and styles, from the soft and melodic, to the heavy and dissonant. It is a song that exists to be experienced.
Each song evokes a different atmosphere, but all distinctly Dream Theater. The album as a whole is about hope and discovering it. The album is thematically on the darker side, but the music and the direction the dark takes sheds light. You may be alone and losing hope, but there is always something or someone for you to hold onto and overcome the darkness.
Another in a long line of musical successes. This is one of the most talented group of musicians working today. They have never failed to impress, or develop. Over the last few albums it seems as if they have been tempering their obvious technical expertise with more service to song structure. Now, don’t read that wrong. They have aways given each song a lot of thought and structure, it just seems that lately the soloing is more sparse and built into the song, making the song the focal point rather than having the song serve the solos. There are also a number of great solos in the mix here. It is just a very good album.
Bottomline. This is a given for any fan, and a need to listen to for those who are looking for something new. Dream Theater is one of those bands that puts out consistently excellent albums without catering to the populace, although I think that there music should have a wider appeal. Basically, any fan of music should give this a listen, a truly excellent album.
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