On June 7th, Dream Theater released their eighth album, Octavarium. I've had the album for awhile, but with some bands I've learned it's best not to trust first impressions as their music either fades with time, or on the flip-side of that coin grows on you.
The opener, The Root of All Evil, is the 3rd part of drummer Mike Portnoy's ongoing opus about his struggle with alcoholism (the first part The Glass Prison was on 2002's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the 2nd part, This Dying Soul was on 2003's Train of Thought). Each song has several movements, this most recent piece of the opus brings us up to part VII, all told there will end up with 12 parts (one part for each step of a 12 step program). It's heavy it's crunchy and makes reference to the previous two songs in the opus both musically and lyrically (mentioning "glass prison" specifically and repeating lyrics from This Dying Soul at another point). Much like with many of Dream Theater's other "heavy" works, the classically trained piano skills of Jordan Rudess tame some of the fire they put into their music.
As soon as you have the chance to catch your breath, Dream Theater picks the pace back up with These Walls. Luckily the song starts with a nice mid-tempo rhythm that builds in intensity. The song expresses feelings some of us have when we build walls to keep others out... many times we got lost behind the very walls we build and need someone to tear those walls down and rescue us from ourselves.
I Walk Beside You has "single" written all over it. It's the most radio-friendly (and at 4:29, the shortest) song on the album-- it could just as easily have been done by U2 or Coldplay. It's got a catchy refrain that compels the listener to sing along, "I walk beside you, wherever you are, whatever it takes, no matter how far, through all that may come, and all that may go, I walk beside you, I walk beside you." Despite having elements of U2 and/or Coldplay, instrumentally the song still has Dream Theater's fingerprints all over it.
And once again Dream Theater seems to shift from about 2nd gear into 5th (or 6th) with Panic Attack-- a song not at all for the faint of heart. It starts at about 90 and never seems to slow. There are parts where John Petrucci's guitar and Jordan Rudess keyboard seem to be going toe to toe in a duel.
Being ever adventurous, Dream Theater also decided to tackle "nu-metal" with Never Enough, a song vaguely reminiscent of what one might expect from Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit.
Sacrificed Sons is James LaBrie's 2nd offering on the album. A song about 9/11 in which LaBrie implores, "Who would wish this on a people, and say that His will be done?" The song remains politically ambiguous-- merely a search for answers that no one has and the frustration from the lack of answers.
The song closes with its title track, Octavarium is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. It's laden with symbolism, tributes to other bands (Yes, Genesis, and Pink Floyd to name a few). At 23:59 the song is a bit of a time investment, but despite it's rather cumbersome length, it's the one song I find myself going back to the most often. It starts with Pink Floyd-esque ambeince and introduces a King Crimson-esque flute before LaBrie's vocals enter the mix (a little over five minutes into the song). This song was a collaborative effort, there are 5 parts, each part written by a different member of the band-- "five" and "eight" are recurring themes in the CD sleeve and in the title track and throughout the album. There are several reasons- 8 notes in an Octave, 5 lines, 5 members of the band performing on their 8th album, etc. etc. For those who are more musically inclined than I, an entire phD thesis could be written about the musical and lyrical symbolsim used in this song. I'd even go so far as to say that this album is worth it for this song alone-- the other seven tracks are "gravy" and truly augment this brilliant piece.
All-in-all this is one of Dream Theater's best albums, and has quickly become not only for me, but also for several others, a fan favorite. (**** out of ****).