"Octavarium" is the album where DREAM THEATER tries to forge its power of the tranquility that most of the songs inhabit.
Of course, there are a few exceptions, for example the opener and part of the famous twelve-step suite "The Root Of All Evil" to mention a good example, a complex and difficult opener that becomes more interesting and addicting the more you listen to it and the more you are able to see it in the context with its other parts. "Panic Attack" is also an exception and a very hectic and annoying track that is technically amazing but musically crushing every head and a rather negative example. Everything is played fast and in a very low tuned aggression and terrible vocal sound effects make the whole thing sound very artificial, technical as if a robot was singing. I really don't like this experience.
Concerning the smoother songs, there are at first hand the ballads "The Answer Lies Within" and "I Walk Beside You" that are dominated by keyboards, smooth guitars and the calm vocals but those tracks don't show anything new or interesting and never reach the level of older ballads like the magic "Surrounded" and eventually fail. The first track is extremely smooth and at least fits to the general atmosphere of this album but it sounds rather like an EVANESCENCE Pop song meets the aesthetic boredom of a weaker "Awake" rip off. It's a song I normally skip on this record because it makes me disconnect or fall asleep after a very strong opener. "I walk beside you" sounds like if BON JOVI met U2 so purist Metalheads should be warned right now. This song is interesting but nothing more than an average experimental track. "These Walls" is another rather smooth song with a very strange introduction that fits to the style of the album but doesn't have anything surprising to be truly recognized or kept in mind eventually. It really seems that DREAM THEATER wanted to try out something completely different once again after the surprising and heavier "Train Of Thought" and from that perspective they have truly succeeded and added another element or piece of style to their diversified universe.
"Never Enough" sounds like MUSE meets TOOL and has smoother and harder parts but lacks of an own addicting identity. It is the only song that neither fits to the rest of the album and its two different styles and seems misplaced and lost. It would have found a better place on the "Systematic Chaos" record in my opinion. This song is surely not a bad one even if it is not groundbreaking but goes somehow under on this album and feels like a disturbing piece that doesn't fit into the whole puzzle.
Let's now talk about the two tracks that are really strong and dominating this album. Those two songs make this album worth to be listened to because the other tracks are all disturbingly weak and often even not of an average quality. Those two songs, the last ones of the album called "Sacrificed Sons" and "Octavarium," save this album from being the band's worst offering ever. What a chance that those two songs last over more than half an hour and that means that at least half of the music on this record is very good if you only take a look on the length.
"Sacrificed Sons" begins with a very cinematic and weird introduction that goes over to a very smooth and calm melody that fits to the overall style and appearance of the record. The guitars sound very experimental, dreamy and eerie during the calm introduction while the chorus is harmonic and peaceful. This track slowly elaborates a feeling of smooth magic like the band was used to do so on the better moments on "Awake". After a while, the song gets a little bit faster and the instruments prove their talent in various solos and surprising breaks without losing its epicness.
The title track "Octavarium" is than a smooth and experimental masterpiece of tranquility where TANGERINE DREAM meets GENESIS meets KING CRIMSON. Just lay down, close your eyes, listen and dream or fly far away as this song creates magic moments and shows us the true quintessence of this album. Especially the keyboards and guitars sound as if they were from another world with their weird effects that create a new kind of sensations that DREAM THEATER haven't explored before. The smooth orchestrations like violins, violas, cellos, flutes and French horns that have already been used in "Sacrificed Sons" but that were less present in the overall sound add now something new to the musical universe and harmonize with the usual instruments and overall song writing. Of course you have to be patient with this long masterpiece and it won't be easy for every Metalhead to attentively listen to such a calm song for twenty-four minutes. But once you get used to this style, you will surely appreciate this epic piece of tranquility with its smooth changes and floating rhythms that are completely different from what he have been used to with songs like "In the Name of God" from the last records.
But sadly the last two great songs can not let us forget the weaker six first songs that are rarely convincing and consistent. "Panic Attack" and "The Answer Lies Within" on the other hand are maybe among the worst songs the band has ever written. And that's why I can't give a very high rating to this album and must give you the advice to be really patient and open-minded to appreciate this record and that you may really admire it you more you listen to it.
(Online March 23, 2012)