Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these 🙂 Not for lack of musical inspiration, mind you — I’ve discovered a number of great bands over the past year that I’ve been itching to share — just been lazy to actually write the posts, I suppose. Going to try and do it more often!
“Alone You Breathe”, from the 1994 album Handful of Rain is a heartbreakingly sad and beautiful song that Savatage co-founder Jon Oliva wrote about his brother and fellow band member Criss, who had passed away in an accident the previous year.
In a tribute to Criss, the song reuses a stanza of lyrics (quoted below) from “Believe”, another really beautiful Savatage song from their 1991 album Streets: A Rock Opera which Criss wrote.
I am the way, I am the light
I am the dark inside the night
I hear your hopes, I feel your dreams
And in the dark I hear your screams
Full lyrics and some discussion can be found here.
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.
Recently, I’ve been flirting with progressive metal – or at least, symphonic / power metal with significant progressive influences. The more recent albums of Stratovarius (who I’ve featured several times before) – particularly the ones after guitarist Timo Tolkki’s 2008 departure from the band – fall into that category.
Today’s selection is the title track of the 2011 album Elysium. At 18 minutes, I believe it’s the longest song I’ve featured to date – but then such is progressive rock/metal 🙂
I listened to this album not long after its release, but it’s only after re-listening to it recently that I feel like I’ve come to truly appreciate it for the masterpiece that it is.
The song has a bit of everything, from multiple intricate guitar and keyboard solos that typify progressive metal, through calm and contemplative sections that help build tension, to Stratovarius’ signature dramatic orchestral passages.
In all honesty, I do find it a bit long – I think the first 11 minutes could have been condensed to ~5 without the song losing much value. Past the 11-minute mark though, the song really picks up stylistically, delivering a very emotional series of passages culminating in a climactic ending. So, if you give it a listen and start to get bored, I recommend skipping forward rather than giving up, lest you miss the best part!
It’s been a while since I wrote a Featured Song post. Today, I’m going to share a song from a band I’ve discovered in recent months, Blonde Redhead.
A small band with just three members (none of whom, incidentally, is blonde or a redhead 🙂 ), their music has a unique sound and a contemplative atmosphere that I’ve taken to.
I particularly enjoy lead singer Kazu Makino‘s thin, clear high voice which gives the band’s sound an almost ethereal twist. She also has really good stage presence (check out some live recordings of the band).
The song I’m featuring today – my favourite of the Blonde Redhead songs I’ve heard so far – is the title track of their 2004 album Misery Is a Butterfly:
Remember when we found misery
We watched her, watched her spread her wings
And slowly fly around our room
And she asked for your gentle mind
Today, rather than featuring an original piece, I thought I’d give a shout-out to all the wonderful talent out there on YouTube, and feature a cover of a piece by a YouTube artist – or, in this case, two artists.
I’ve never played any of the Final Fantasy series of games, but I’ve been a fan of their soundtracks for a long time. I find this cover particularly compelling due to the interaction between the two pianists, which adds a dimension to the performance that you don’t see in a solo act.
“Zanarkand” is the name of a (ruined) city in the fictional world of Final Fantasy X.
For reference, here is (a magnificent live performance of) the original piece from the sountrack. Very much worth checking out in and of itself!
And, as a bonus, here’s a violin cover of the same piece by the incredibly talented Taylor Davis:
Futures is a darker album than Bleed American, and that really shows through in today’s song, “Pain”, which is probably one of Jimmy Eat World’s angstiest works to date. Naturally, it is precisely this intensity that makes me like the song so much.
I’m also going to give mention to a very memorable acoustic cover of this song that I came across on YouTube:
I find this cover very unique because, it addition to the cover artists obviously being quite talented, their interpretation of the song gives rise to a cover that has a very different sound and atmosphere from the original song, and yet is still very compelling. Kudos to them!
I remarked at the time the similarity in sound between that song, and some of After Forever‘s preceding works, unsurprising due to both being the creation of composer Mark Jansen.
Despite an early similarity to After Forever, Epica has over time developed a distinctive sound of their own, which is at times more upbeat and adventurous. Today’s selection – “The Last Crusade” from Epica’s second full-length album, Consign to Oblivion – is a good demonstration of this. Still touching on religious themes, it’s a more fast-paced and cinematic song than “Façade of Reality”.
This song is also another example of Mark Jansen’s fondness for telling stories that span several songs; much as “Leaden Legacy” and “Façade of Reality” were part of a collection of songs spanning different albums (and, in this case, bands!) called “The Embrace That Smothers”, so “The Last Crusade” is the first part of a new collection of Epica songs, again spanning multiple albums, called “A New Age Dawns”.
It’s also worth checking out a live version of this song, performed by Epica in Miskolc, Hungary for their live album, The Classical Conspiracy. I really enjoy the descant that lead singer Simone Simons throws into the works at the end of the song.
Don’t be afraid, participate and
Just give us all your trust
Your soul will be saved
Just follow me, I’ll set you free so
Get ready to join the
Very last crusade
As it’s the holiday season, I thought I’d feature something Christmas-themed.
This is “Christmas Canon” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO), from their 1998 album The Christmas Attic; it’s a beautiful interpretation of baroque composer Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D, featuring a five-part harmony sung by a children’s choir, with orchestral accompaniment.
I performed this piece as part of my high school choir back in the days, and have been fond of it ever since.
The video below is of TSO performing this piece live, spectacular as always.
TSO later recorded a rock version of this piece, on their 2004 album The Lost Christmas Eve. Here’s a live performance of that (it’s a fan recording, but great quality):
Hope you’ve enjoyed them! Happy holidays once again, and Happy New Year!