Octavarium: My take on Dream Theater’s epic

Originally published 2010 for a now-defunct Dream Theater fan club

Dream Theater’s “Octavarium”: A Lyrical Investigation

This took many weeks to complete, and it is a rather nerdy approach, but I hope it solves some of the magnificence of the song – the lyrics are stunning and metaphorically intelligent.

UPDATE = I noticed the Wikipedia article for Octavarium has practically ripped this analysis off without adding a citation or link, so if you edit Wikipedia, please give credit where credit is due.

I.           Someone Like Him

  • 0:00 – 8:47 (8:47)
  • Lyrics by John Petrucci
 [I. Someone Like Him]

I never wanted to become someone like him so secure

Content to live each day just like the last

I was sure I knew that

This was not for me

And I wanted so much more

Far beyond what I could see

So I swore that I’d

Never be someone like him

 

So many years have passed

Since I proclaimed

My independence

My mission

My aim

And my vision

So secure

Content to live each day like it’s my last

It’s wonderful to know

That I could be

Something more than what I dreamed

Far beyond what I could see

Still I swear that I’m

Missing out this time

 

As far as I could tell

There’s nothing more I need

But still I ask myself

Could this be everything?

Then all I swore

That I would never be was now

So suddenly

The only thing I wanted

To become

To be someone just like him

Opening with a lengthy Continuum / lap steel guitar solo by Jordan Rudess, this section is told from a first-person perspective. It portrays the thoughts of a person as he decides on what to do in the course of his lifetime, as well as his wish to never become an ordinary person. Draws from the “Carpe Diem” theme visited later on within the lyrics.

The man succeeds in living an extraordinary life, but reflects upon it, and ends up wishing he had become an ordinary person, ‘Someone like Him’. This is also in line with the ‘Full Circle’ theme of Octavarium: “this story ends where it began”.

II. Medicate (Awakening)

  • 8:48 – 13:49 (5:01)
  • Lyrics by James LaBrie
 [II. Medicate (Awakening)]

A doctor sitting next to me

He asked me how I feel

Not sure I understand his questioning

He says I’ve been away a while

But thinks he has cured me

>From a state of catatonic sleep

 

For 30 years

Where have I been?

Eyes open

But not getting through to me

 

Medicate me

Infiltrate me

Side effects appear

As my conscience slips away

 

Medicate me

Science failing

Conscience fading fast

Can’t you stop what’s happening?

 

A higher dosage he prescribes

But there’s no guarantee

I feel it starting to take over me

 

I tell him not to be ashamed

There’s no one who’s to blame

A second shot

A brief awakening

 

I feel the relapse

Can’t break free

Eyes open

But not getting through to me

A person wakes up to discover a doctor sitting at his bedside. The doctor informs him that he has been in catatonic sleep for 30 years. The doctor, however, believes he was able to cure him. Suddenly, the patient is in dire need of help as he feels overwhelmed, almost returning to the sleep (“conscience fading”). The doctor prescribes a higher dosage of medicine, but it fails to help. Despite the doctor’s failure in assisting him, the patient tells the doctor that he’s not at fault, and that he shouldn’t feel ashamed. Eventually, the patient slips back into unconsciousness. This is in line with the events of the movie Awakenings

The plot begins to resemble “Awakenings” which was a non-fiction book written by Oliver Sacks which was later turned into a film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. The book narrates the life of those who had been victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic.

Again, this also reflects the theme of ‘ends where it began.’

 

III. Full Circle

  • 13:50 – 18:27 (4:37)
  • Lyrics by Mike Portnoy
[III. Full Circle]

Sailing on the seven seize the day tripper Diem’s ready

Jack the Ripper Owen 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

 

Running forward

Falling back

Spinning round and round

Scream without a sound

Stumbling all around

Find I’ve come full circle

 

Leaning over

Crawling up

Stumbling all around

Losing my place

Only to find I’ve come full circle

 

Flying Off the Hand With careful with

That axe Eugene Gene the dance machine messiah

Light my Fire gabba, gabba

Hey hey my my Generations home again

 

Running forward

Falling back

Spinning round and round

Scream without a sound

Stumbling all around

Find I’ve come full circle

 

Leaning over

Crawling up

Stumbling all around

Losing my place

Only to find I’ve come full circle

 

Perhaps the most complex lyrically as well as musically, this section focuses on progressive rock influences and Dream Theater’s career and inspirations, as well as mentioning personal friends of the band. The stanza features a subliminal message before vocals which is reference to Isn’t This Where We Came In? – Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

I’ve broken it down to:

Sailing on the seven seize [Sailing on the Seven Seas – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark]  the day [translation of Latin phrase “Carpe Diem”] tripper [Day Tripper – Beatles] Diem’s ready [diem = day] Jack the Ripper [Jack the Ripper – Morrissey] Owens Wilson [Tim “Ripper” Owens – ex-Judas Priest and Iced Earth singer][Owen Wilson, actor] Phillips and my Supper’s ready [Wilson Phillips – band][ Supper’s Ready – Genesis]

Lucy in the Sky with diamond Dave’s [Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – Beatles] [Diamond Dave – David Lee Roth] not here [Dave’s Not Here – Cheech and Chong] I come to save the Day [Here I Come to Save the Day – Mighty Mouse] for Night [Day for Night – Spock’s Beard

]mare Cinema[Nightmare Cinema – Dream Theater’s 90’s parody, where members would swap instruments] show [The Cinema Show – Genesis ]me the way [Show Me The Way – Styx]to get back [Get Back – Beatles] home Again[Home Again – Pink Floyd’s Breathe (Reprise)]

 

Flying Off the Hand [Flying off the Handle – Peter Blegvad, King Strut] with careful [Handle with Care – Traveling Wilburys] with

That axe Eugene [Careful With That Axe, Eugene – Pink Floyd] Gene the dance machine [Gene Gene the Dance Machine – The Gong Show / character in the film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind] messiah [Machine Messiah – Yes] Light my Fire [Light My Fire – The Doors] gabba, gabba Hey [Pinhead (Gabba Gabba Hey) – The Ramones] hey my my [Hey Hey, My My – Neil Young] Generations [My Generation – The Who] home again [Home Again – Pink Floyd’s Breathe (Reprise)]

 

 

 

 

IV. Intervals

  • 18:28 – 19:51 (1:23)
  • Lyrics by Mike Portnoy

Before each stanza in the lyrics, Mike Portnoy says a scale degree. In each stanza, a song from Octavarium is referenced, and an audio clip from that song is played in the background. Mike Portnoy says “Root” which then leads the section “Take all of me” from 3:03 in The Root Of All Evil to play in the background. Root = 1, as in “the root of the earth” or “the original”

Mike Portnoy says “Second”, which then features “Don’t let the day go by” from 4:21 in The Answers lies Within to be heard through the layers of instrument mixes

When “Third” is said, a clip from These Walls is heard

“Fourth” — 1:06 in I Walk Beside You is heard

“Fifth” — 3:55 in Panic Attack is heard.

 “Sixth” — 3:03 in Never Enough is heard

“Seventh”A clip from Sacrificed Sons plays

“Octave” – The reprisal of lyrics side effects appear from 11:52 in Octavarium part II is slightly perceptible.          Octave = 8, as the abbreviation P8 is used in music terminology and would be commonly seen on sheet music as one of the more common notes. This derives from the Latin octavus, from octo (e.g. Octopus = 8 legs)

The next part of the track is divided by the 7 other tracks found on the album, explaining why and where the earlier samples were found

Root

Our deadly sins fill his mortal wrath
Remove all obstacles from our path



Fifth

Tortured insanity, a smothering hell
Try to escape but to no avail


The Root of All Evil

Panic Attack

Second

Asking questions, search for clues
The answer’s been right in front of you



Sixth

The calls of admirers who claim they adore
Drain all your lifeblood while begging for more


The Answer Lies Within

Never Enough

Third

Try to break through, long to connect
Fall on deaf ears with failed muted breath



Seventh

Innocent victims of merciless crimes
Fall prey to some madmen’s impulsive designs


These Walls

Sacrificed Sons

Fourth

Loyalty, trust, faith and desire
Carries love through each darkest fire



Octave

Step after step, we try controlling our fate
When we finally start living it’s become too late


I Walk Beside You

Octavarium

To finish this act of the song, LaBrie repeats the line “Trapped inside this Octavarium”, meaning that the narrator is trapped in the Octavarium’s full circle, which begins and ends the same.

By the time the song reaches the fourth repeat of the line, his voice has reached as high as G5, the highest vocal note heard on a Dream Theater studio song, this beating the famous F# in “Learning to Live”. Although far-fetched, it is also acclaimed that F and Sharp # are beaten here for the purpose of F being the 6th letter of the alphabet and # being the +2 needed to make another 8. This is because the sharp # is nearly always described as being two parallel lines with strikeouts, rather than being 4 lines. For example – strikeout

V. Razor’s Edge

  • 19:52 – 24:00 (4:08)
  • Lyrics by John Petrucci

This movement simply emphasizes the cyclical nature of all things, as well as the album, as it begins where it ends, using the same melody as the end of the first track, it also ends with the same note that The Root of All Evil begins with. There is also an alternative ending where the main flute theme is reprised and faded at the end of the song.

This movement also serves as the capstone for the song and the album which shares its name, being the fifth movement in the eighth song on the album. In this way, it continues the 5:8 leitmotifs.

Another way in which this part ties into the repeated and recurring nature of the album is that it is part five of Octavarium. The first song on the album, The Root of All Evil, begins with part six (as it is continuing the Twelve-Step Suite).

The song also uses the theme that things revolve around the numbers of 5 and 8 (this theme is used as the unifying theme of the album).

 “Octavarium” is the eighth song on the album and it has five different sections. The album itself is the eighth studio album by Dream Theater with the constant five members in the band.

The same theme occurs during “Panic Attack” being the fifth song on an album of eight songs. The Root of All Evil starts with part 6 and Octavarium ends with part 5.

Note that Octavarium has 5 parts. It also has 3 instrumental sections, for a total of 8 sections. Octavarium also has 5 syllables. Octavarium is exactly 24 minutes long (3 times 8 equals 24, and 8 minus 3 equals 5. The number 24 also references the number of hours in a day, another cycle.

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