On June 7, 2005, "Dream Theater" released their eighth album "Octavarium".
As the band's eighth album, its main theme deals with the number 8 and hence its name. As is well known, "Octave" indicates a series of eight notes on a musical scale, as does the number of songs on the album.
When the band started working on the album Mike Portnoy told his friends that it would be their eighth studio album and that since so far they have released five live albums, it reminded him of a piano that contains within one octave 8 white keys (full tone) and 5 black (half tone). This idea has already been enough for the rest of the band to promote the concept of the album.
The aforementioned album includes 8 tracks, each of which was written by the band in a different key, according to the sequence that exists in an octave. In this way, the opening song "The Root of All Evil" is written in the key of (F), the song followed "The Answer Lies Within" is written in the key of G, and so on, until the epic song that seals the album "Octavarium" that closes the circle (and the octave) and was also written in the key of F, like the opening song. But the band was not content with that. They made sure to place short passages between the songs, that marked the 5 halftones (the black keys on the piano). For example, at the end of the first song, there is an 18-second segment called "Nature Sounds" that connects it to the next song and is written in the Key of (F#). The album has 5 such short passages, as the number of black keys in the octave. One can learn about the placement of these five tracks on the album by looking at the black keyboards on the album's back cover.
Similar to the octave that closes a circle between two similar notes, the secondary theme of this album is also related to "closing circles".
This is the band's last album recorded at "The Hit Factory" in New York and the band's last with "Elektra Records". In addition, this album closes the sequence of the "mega album" that the band started as part of "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory", where the ending note of the previous album is also the opening note of the next album. In this way, the opening song "The Root of All Evil" begins with the last note of the previous album "Train of Thought" which began with the last note from "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", which in turn began with the static noise that ended "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory". Drummer Mike Portnoy said he realized he had dug himself a deep pit that he did not know how to get out of, because he felt the band was expected to do so on every album over and over again. Portnoy finally found a golden opportunity to resolve this matter on "Octavarium", whose secondary concept is "closing circles". And so, the last track on the album ends with the same opening note as the first track. This made the album a cycle in itself, allowing the band to start with a "smooth page" on the next album.
If we have already mentioned the concept of the album and the digits "8" and "5", then it is interesting that the cover designed by Hugh Syme also corresponds with the above themes, when Newton's pendulum includes 8 balls and 5 birds are flying in the sky.
As for the musical material. After epic albums such as "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory" and "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence", the band decided to produce a classic "Dream Theater" album, which would rely on the styles and artists from which the band was influenced. Therefore, you will find in this album and especially in the theme track clear influences from bands like "Yes", "Pink Floyd", "Genesis" and more. At the same time, the band made an attempt to make their music less complex (except, of course, for the theme song). They aspired to produce songs that would be easier for listeners to absorb and appreciate. To achieve that, the band based their writing primarily on Rudess's piano playing and John Petrucci's guitar. Despite the clear direction and conscious choice to create more receptive music, drummer Mike Portnoy rejected claims that this album was an attempt to write a more commercial album. He noted that the band members also like bands like "U2" or "Coldplay" and that they have no problem with shorter songs, on the contrary, he claimed that it is actually easier for them to write long pieces. Indeed, songs like "The Answer Lies Within" and "I Walk Beside You" are examples of short tracks that Rudess saw as "radio-friendly" songs that still retain the basic style of "Dream Theater."
The album opens up with "The Root of All Evil" and a lone and unique piano note by Rudess that gives the signal for the opening of Portnoy's drum attack. What an amazing pace and what a crazy riff by Petrucci. A mighty opening song that is the third part of Portnoy's "Twelve Steps Suite", describes his journey through the "Alcoholics Anonymous" rehab method. The song contains the sixth and seventh parts of the suite: "Ready" and "Remove" respectively. It all started with "The Glass Prison" from the album "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" which refers to the first three stages of the method, then "This Dying Soul" from the album "Train of Thought" describes the fourth and fifth stages, the song "The Root of All Evil" refers For parts six and seven of the method, "Repentance" from the "Systematic Chaos" album represents the eight and nine parts, and the song "The Shattered Fortress" from the "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" album ends the saga with the last three sections of the story.
Immediately after that comes the ballad "The Answer Lies Within" which is led by Rudess' piano playing and breaks us to pieces with each re-listening. Not for nothing did Rudess choose to include a version of the song on his solo album "Notes on a Dream", from 2009. It is interesting to note that the band is aided here by a string quartet that accompanies this marvelous piece.
The third track "These Walls" is one of the great tracks on the album, that best explains what the band meant when they decided to produce a classic "Dream" album. There are all the "main food groups" we know well from this amazing band and "Dream" manages to connect them all in such a beautiful way, which does not embarrass its youth nor does it sound like a repetition of things the band has done before.
"I Walk Beside You" is the shortest on the album and perhaps also among the shorts of the band ever. A song meant to be a "hit" and flirt with the radio, but we really have no problem with that. Why? mainly because the band manages to do this without losing a drop of its DNA or respect. The C part that leads to the chorus is one of the band's melodic and beautiful, just a sheer delight!
It seems to us that there should be no controversy at all as for "Panic Attack". Starting with John Myung's crazy bass, through Petrucci's brutal riff and Rudess' virtuoso playing, it's a tremendous and rare display of musical ability and precision, on which "Dream" has based an entire career and which many bands and artists can only envy.
"Never Enough" has clear influences from "Muse". From the sound of the keyboards and guitar to the effect on the vocals of James LaBrie. Portnoy wrote the lyrics in response to fans who complained about the band. He noted that on the one hand, he appreciates the dedication of "Dream Theater" fans, but on the other hand, he was frustrated because he felt he was giving everything of himself to satisfy the fans, but still, some of them complain that they went to the show and did not hear "Pull Me Under".
"Sacrificed Sons" is actually a musical work that lasts almost 11 minutes. The lyrics were written by lead singer James LaBrie, and deals with the 9/11 attacks. Keyboardist Rudess noted that the band felt comfortable at times writing about more serious topics. LaBrie noted that during the work on the lyrics there were many discussions about the song and how direct it should be. Listen to the ending section starting at 10:18, it reminded us of the ending to another song "Diary of a Madman" by Ozzy Osbourne listen there starting at 5:24.
"Octavarium" is the longest track on the album, 24:00 minutes in Length. It is divided into five parts. Petrucci stated that the band wanted to write an epic song to accompany it with an orchestra. Indeed, so it was. This is the first time "Dream Theater" has worked with an orchestra, conducted by Jamshied Sharifi (who studied at Berkeley College of Music with Portnoy, Petrucci, and John Myung). The orchestra was selected based on its ability to read notes, which allowed all of their parts to be recorded in just two takes, even though they had never heard or played the music before. This epic is a tribute to all the classic prog bands "Dream Theater" grew up on and especially "Genesis", "Yes" and "Pink Floyd", but it also mentions some of the other songs on the album and instrumental tracks from other "Dream Theater" albums. Starting with the instrumental introduction, which corresponds with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" from the album "Wish You Were Here", performed by Rudess using a device called "Continuum Fingerboard" that imitates the sound of a lap steel guitar (which he also plays here unusually), this is a salute epic to the prog giants the band grew up on. This piece is also full of references to other progressive rock songs, even in lyrics. For example: "sailing on the seven seize the day tripper Diem's ready Jack the Ripper Owens Wilson Phillips and my supper's ready lucy in the sky with diamond dave's not here I come to save the day for nightmare cinema show me the way to get back home again".
No matter how you look at it, it's one of the band's most beautiful and delightful albums and we have no problem with the claim of "commercialization", if only for creating the phenomenal epic theme song that contains all the staples of progressive rock. We think that since "Images and Words" no album of the band has flowed smoothly for us like "Octavarium", and we are not talking about the level of writing and sophistication, innovation, "musical quality", nor making a comparison to albums like "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory" and "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence". We intend that this album just flows smoothly from start to end, despite the great variety between the songs that range from kicking metal ("The Root of All Evil" and "Never Enough"), through the familiar prog-metal of "Dream" ("These Walls", "Panic Attack"), soft ballads ("The Answer Lies Within"), friendly "hits" ("I Walk Beside You") and of course a prog-symphonic epic work ("Octavarium").