Sound — 9
I'll start off by saying that this is my first experience with a Dream Theater album and i'm very impressed. All 4 instrumentalists show their amazing technical abilities and LaBrie's voice can fit perfectly into the heaviest and lightest songs on the album. Actually, from what i've heard, this album is much lighter than most dream theater albums but for me, the classically trained pianist, that's just fine :). So let's go through the songs, shall we? 01. The Root Of All Evil: amazing opening song. Begins sort of like Speak to Me by Pink Floyd with white noise and sound effects which are joined by pounding drums and a dissonant guitar chord repeated until it all drops out and the song breaks into a fast, thrashing riff which just kicks ass. The song keeps driving onward with a keyboard break and a guitar solo in the middle right until the final chord which fades out over a piano playing this melody and chord progression which you hear later in Answer Lies Within and Octavarium. Amazing song, amazing opener. Period. 02. The Answer Lies Within: probably the lightest and most normal song on the album. I love it and frankly, it's beautiful with some great piano work from Rudess and AMAZING singing by LaBrie. If any song were to showcase the singer on this album, it's this one. Metalheads who get this album probably won't like this song and, in a way it doesn't fit with the rest of the songs which at least have some heavy parts and jump all over the place with time signatures; this song never gets heavy and I'm pretty sure it's in 4/4 the whole time. Awesome, beautiful, next. 03. These Walls: this is a good song, not as good as the last 2 but still okay. It's primarily in 6/8 but there's one jarring bar of 5/8 thrown in every 4 bars. It's still a great song but I'm pretty ambivalent about it. There are some great drum fills by Portnoy. There's a so-so guitar solo by Petrucci. He's a speed wizard but this is more of a slow, soulful solo yet he's no David Gilmour so it's not very impressive. But whatever. It's okay. Moving on. 04. I Walk Beside You: the other sort of "light, normal" song on the album except a bit heavier than Answer Lies Within but just as good. There's not much to say, it's just your sort of basic love song about being there for your special someone. Actually, this sort of seems like DT's tribute to U2. Mostly because of the chorus, it sounds almost exactly like U2. I don't really know how to describe it, you gotta hear it and you should cause it's pretty good actually. Next, oh boy! 05. Panic Attack: let me be totally honest: I LOVE THIS SONG. it's the heaviest song on the album and it's 8 minutes of pure awesome. This song begins with an amazing bass intro by Myung and then he's joined by the rest of the band who continue the bass riff at breakneck speed. The song shifts into 5/8 and moves through infinite time signatures and riffs and finally makes it back to the first riff getting more and more frantic until the final chord, repeating and fading into white noise as the tension is finally released. In short, this song kicks ass. If it wasn't for the title track this would easily be the best song because shows all the band member's skills especially Portnoy as he effortlessly switches meters and Petrucci who gives a great speedy solo and Myung with the great opening. F--king Awesome! next... 06. Never Enough: I've never really cared for this song. It's one of the heavier songs on the album. It just sort of drags on like panic attack would if panic didn't have the intensity. It simply doesn't interest me at all. It's not a horrible song, it just can't compare to everything else. I usually just wait through it until the next two songs... 07. Sacrificed Sons: I love this song. Definitely one of the best on the album, it's written about the 9/11 terrorist attacks so the lyrics can be very powerful and suit the bombast of the music perfectly. It begins in 6/8 with a lone piano and the instrumentation builds up until there's an orchestra and the full band joining in. After this beautiful, sad orchestral section, it segues into a very heavy middle part in 4/4 and in total contrast with the first section. This includes a guitar solo and eventually moves back into 6/8 with some melodic guitar lines and finally returns to the main theme and ends with a final crashing chord. Great song but it will always sit in the shadow of... 08. Octavarium: THE BEST song on the album by far and the most interesting 24 minute song I've ever heard. It begins with an obvious tribute to Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd with the droning synth opening and the continuum and lap steel guitars. Out of the delayed, distorted salad comes this ripping synth note which leads into the bombastic orchestral opening fading away into the first section about a man who declares that he will "live each day like it's my last" but ends up bored with his new life (or something like that). This section and section two are the most conventional sections of this song. Section two is similar to section 1 and talks about a man who awakes out of a coma that he's been in for 30 years and he realizes that he's missed most of his life. Great lyrics and music in the first two sections. Section 3 begins with an amazing synthesizer solo over various time signatures which the band moves effortlessly through until they finally settle on 7/8 for the best lyrical section in this album which combines various pop culture references into one long running sentence switching between 7/8, 6/8 and 5/8 and various times. We leave this section into more synthesizer craziness and random time signatures (which are all awesome). Then the band takes it down and then the lyrics reflect each of the songs as a degree in the scale and give a little stanza about each of them until the song reaches it's climax with James LaBrie screaming his hardest in the whole album. I love it. The song quiets down into a nice safe, slow 4/4 and presses onward right to the end with chord after chord, multiple guitar runs until finally the building tension is released and that same theme heard at the end of root of all evil is heard again with full orchestra and band and that final chord finally resolves with a fatal roar from a french horn and then dies away into silences. I could literally write a whole review about how awesome this song is but this is probably the greatest prog song i've ever heard and shows all band members at their finest. Except for a few songs, this album kicks ass and amazes at every turn.
Lyrics — 10
Although this is a concept album there isn't really any unifying theme in the lyrics. Despite that, the lyrics fit each individual song very well; the lighter songs have lighter, simpler lyrics, the heavier songs have more disturbing, dark lyrics and the bombastic songs have important "chord-srtiking" lyrics. My favourite lyrical section is probably the "full circle" section of Octavarium where all the pop culture references are strung together into one continuous train of thought. It's just awesome and extremely creative. James LaBrie is an excellent singer as well, with his tender melodic voice shining most in The Answer Lies Within. That, of course does not disregard his heavier voice which conveys the heaviness of the instrumentation around it but remains melodic. Also his frantic screams at the climax of Octavarium really add power to that whole section. Overall, both the singer and the lyrics suit the music to a T, especially in an album where a few songs could likely be just as amazing without lyrics.
Overall Impression — 10
My overall impression of the album was how amazing and complex the music was yet how emotional and powerful it can be at the same time on the same album and this is obviously enough to make an excellent album. Then, I did some reading about the actual concept of the album which is sort of about full circles using a musical scale as a metaphor. The "intervals" section of Octavarium shows this best by describing each of the 8 songs as a degree of the scale. This is interesting enough that they intentionally put 8 songs on the album for this to work but each song is written in the key that represents it's place on the album. For example: The root of all evil is written in f minor, answer is written in g minor, these walls is in a minor and so on until we go full circle and get to octavarium which is written in f minor. There are also innumerable examples of a 5:8 relationship on the album cover (the number of black keys:the number of white keys in an octave on a keyboard). It's also a time signature that shows up quite a bit in this album This concept was very creative and well planned and gives meaning to the whole thing. Also, each member is an extremely talented musician. Petrucci is a flawless guitar player, as is Myung on bass. Portnoy is a beast on drums, giving sensitive fills at the right times but pounding on them at other times and it's all flawless. He is easily one of the best drummers of all time. Rudess is also an amazing keyboardist and his atmospheric additions and amazing synth solos make many songs what they are. And LaBrie's vocals are definitely the icing on the cake with his ability to switch styles in a heartbeat. I love everything about this album (well, maybe except for never enough) and I would definitely buy it again if it were stolen.