Roundtable Talk: “Octavarium”

“It’s wonderful to know
That I could be
Something more than what I dreamed
Far beyond what I could see 

Artist: Dream Theater

Song Meaning

The end is the beginning is the end and so on.

Prog Metal Porn

If you listen to any portion of the 24-minute clip above and think this isn’t your thing, please hold on for a second. That’s kind of the point.

Dream Theater’s Octavarium, from a writing and composition standpoint, could be the greatest musical achievement of our lifetime. This comes after spending a whole day reading the album’s Wikipedia page and another whole day listening to the album. I enjoyed the reading portion the most.

Octavarium is a prime example of where the end result cannot do the production process justice. Still, the brilliance must be known.

This is the final track of a 75-minute journey through Octavarium, a lesson in octaves. There are eight songs on the record (their eighth), each performed in a different key (from A♭ to G). Each song progresses to the next key in succession, ending in this track, which is in F. This title track then leads into the first song on the album, thus completing the loop: “Trapped inside this OCTAVARIUM!”

There are so many inner references to octaves, there are songs within songs and then there is the utter completeness. This album is infinite. You can play it forward, backward, side to side and it still maintains it’s shape. Dream Theater achieved musical perfection (see the second bullet point below).

However, I cannot prove this by listening, I can only read about the album and salivate at the detail that went into its creation. I can’t appreciate the album when it’s just me and the music. Everything is so big and grand and my puny instrumental mind cannot comprehend the subtleties. So, while there are some tremendous moments on the album, I am not equipped to fully revel in its glory.

It bums me out, but it happens a lot when a musician has escaped all confines of physics and does something completely nonsensical. You can find this in some classical music, most jazz, Frank Zappa or “YYZ” by Rush.

Some call this ear porn. Is it good? I don’t know. But for drummers, this is Jesus turning water to wine. Does it take talent to do what I just heard? Most certainly.

Music, however subjective, must also be credited on merit when appropriate (with Dream Theater, it definitely is). But how am I to give proper credit when I am not worthy of such a task?

I’m not. I think the point of this type of music is to do it for artists’ sake. It’s an exclusive club, one I am not a part of. It’s a swimmer taking on a frigid English Channel or Coyote Peterson sticking a bullet ant into his forearm. Do I get it? No. But I appreciate it.

Some of you may “get it,” but glory glory, they did it. And that is something else entirely.

Random Notes

  • This is coming from the perspective of a listener who has no background in musical composition. I did learn a lot from this writing.
  • This is the third Roundtable Talk in a row with wordplay! The fun never ends. Let’s dig:
    • Around the 18:40 mark of “Octavarium,” the last interval revisits all the topics from the previous songs on the album.
    • You know how rappers do that word-association trick (“He ain’t even go to class. Bueller.” or “I met this girl on Valentines Day, f*cked her in May, she found out about April so she chose to March.”)?
      Chew on this while trying to find the multiple Genesis, Beatles, Judas Priest, Cheech and Chong, and Mighty Mouse references while you’re at it:

      “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.”

    • Seriously, there are literally around 30 music and Dream Theater inside joke references in those four lines.
    • On the fourth line of “Trapped inside this Octavarium,” vocalist James LaBrie hits G5, which I’m told is a pretty high note.
  • The first track of this album, “The Root of All Evil,” picks up the same note from where Dream Theater’s previous album left off. This is commonplace in their albums, but Octavarium‘s infinite loop allowed them to start fresh on their follow-up.
  • From what I have read, Mike Portnoy sounds like an absolute genius.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.