Featured Song: Octavarium

I mentioned in my last Featured Song post that I’ve been dabbling in progressive metal. That dabbling led to my (re-)discovery of Dream Theater, one of the genre’s defining bands.

I say re-discovery, because I had listened to some Dream Theatre over a decade ago, including to some of their most popular songs at the time, “Pull Me Under” and “Metropolis” (both from their 1992 album Images and Words). I somewhat liked them, but also found them somewhat tedious / boring, and ultimately wasn’t motivated to check out more of their work.

More recently, however, a comment on the “Elysium” video I featured last time prompted me to check out some of their more recent albums, such as Octavarium (2005) and Systematic Chaos (2007), and, thanks to the evolution of both their style and my tastes over time, my impression was quite different: this stuff is great!

The title track of Octavarium, in particular, captivated me immediately, and that is what I’m featuring today.

At 24 minutes (26 in the live performance I’m linking to), this is the longest song I’ve featured to date (I promise, they will get shorter going forward!), and yet I do not find this song tedious at all – each part of it is different and interesting in its own right, and contributes to a very satisfying whole.

One particularly notable passage from this song is the extended fingerboard intro. While I’m not generally a huge fan of synthetic sounds, this passage in this piece is really well placed, and sets the atmosphere for the rest of the song perfectly.

My favourite part of the song, though, is “Intervals” (beginning at around 16:42 in the linked video) – the slow build-up of tension that leads to the screamed “TRAPPED INSIDE THIS OCTAVARIUM” lines – and the climactic sequence / dénouement that follows and takes you to the end of the song.

(What is an “octavarium”, you ask? The only prior use of the term that I could find was in the name of a liturgical book, but the root word is “octave“, and if you listen to the lyrics, the notion of cycles and the end being the beginning (a property which musical octaves have) comes up repeatedly – so I interpret “trapped inside this octavarium” as meaning “trapped in a cycle you can’t break out of”.)

My one complaint about progressive metal is that some of the extended keyboard / guitar solos (such as, in this song, the ones in the 2-3 minutes leading up to the “Intervals” section), while being technically challenging and intricate, lack some of the “interestingness” (for lack of a better word) of similar solos in power metal. For example, DragonForce‘s guitar solos, while being every bit as fast and technically intricate as Dream Theater’s, also have a sense of “movement” that the latter seem to lack. I think this is what I disliked about older Dream Theater songs like “Pull Me Under”, and I like “Octavarium” so much because it covers a lot of other stylistic ground.

Without further ado, I invite to you enjoy this live performance of “Octavarium”:



As one might expect from a song of this length, there is a lot of speculation / discussion of exactly what meaning it intends to convey. If you’re interested in that, or just want to see the lyrics, check out its SongMeanings page.

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