Symbolism in Dream Theater's Octavarium

Written/Compiled by Spatter



The Octavarium Romanum is a liturgical book which may be considered as an appendix to the Roman Breviary, but which has not the official position of the other Roman liturgical books. The first mention of this book dates from Sixtus V. In order to introduce a greater variety in the selection of lessons, he ordered the compilation of an Octavarium to comprise the lessons proper to each day of the octaves, the 8 days following a feast.


However, this is a very obscure reference, and most likely has nothing to do with the Dream Theater album.  A different approach to find meaning would be to dissect the word itself.


The word Octavarium can be split into the Latin octa, meaning "8," and varium, meaning "different".  So, one interpretation would be that Octavarium means "8 variations."


Or, you could split the word into octave, meaning "group of 8" and the Latin suffix arium, meaning "a place where something is kept."  Perhaps the best interpretation for the word Octavarium would be "an 8-sided room," which is something you could obviously be trapped inside.


An octave also has special meaning in music as the grouping of 8 notes, in which the first note is the same as the last note, but an "octave" higher.  A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A


Prominent symbol throughout the artwork is the 5-pointed star inscribed in an octagon… hence, the numbers 8 and 5.


General Information


  • Octavarium = 5 syllables, 5 vowels, 5 consonants
  • 5 members in Dream Theater (at any given time)
  • 8 total members in Dream Theater (5 current members, plus Charlie, Kevin & Derek)
  • Octavarium is the 8th studio album by Dream Theater
  • Dream Theater has released 5 official live albums
  • '85 = the year Dream Theater was formed



CD Case


  • 8 ball on pool table (look in CD case, under the CD)
  • 8 white piano keys on back of case
  • 5 black piano keys on back of case
  • The 8 white keys correspond to the notes F, G, A, B, C, D, E, and F, known in music as the F Lydian mode octave.
  • The 5 black keys correspond to the notes F#, G#, A#, C#, and D#, known in music as the Pentatonic F# Major Scale.





  • The booklet contains 8 pages



Booklet (Cover Image)


  • 5 birds on cover (look at front and back cover at same time)
  • 8 balls on cover
  • The location of the 5 birds within the 8 balls represents the same F Lydian mode octave (white keys) and Pentatonic F# Major Scale (black keys) shown on the back of the case.



Booklet (Domino Image)


  • 5 birds on cover + 3 birds in domino photo = 8 birds
  • Closest domino has sum of 5
  • Furthest domino has sum of 8
  • Taking the sums of the dominoes yields part of the Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is a sum of the previous two: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…   (2+3=5, 3+5=8).  Dividing any Fibonacci number by its previous Fibonacci number results in the golden mean (a number that approaches 1.618 as the sequence approaches infinity.)  The golden mean ratio 1:1.618 is prominent in the construction of a 5-pointed star.  A 5-pointed star consists of 5 intersecting lines.  Each intersection divides each line into 3 parts.  The smaller part, which forms the pentagon inside, is proportional to the longer lengths, which form the points of the star, by a ratio of 1:1.618.



Booklet (Spider Maze Image)


  • 8 sides & corners of maze
  • Spider = 8 legs
  • 5 pathways in maze (surrounding the inner spider chamber)
  • 8 exits in maze (allowing passage from a pathway)
  • It is impossible to navigate the spider maze, unless you "tear down these walls." (lyrics from same page)



Booklet (Underwater Image)


  • Octopus = 8 legs
  • 5 fish
  • 8 sides & corners on sign



Booklet (Blueprint: Star Inscribed in Octagon)


  • This appears to be a blueprint for a 8-sided room. 
  • The drawing is labeled fig. 8 of OCTAVARIUM.
  • Drawn to 5:8 scale
  • Sides of Octagon are labeled "F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F2" = F Lydian mode octave
  • 5 corners on star
  • Written around the star in green = "F#, G#, A#, C#, and D#" = Pentatonic F# Major Scale
  • Each corner of the octagon shows a ratio (1:8, 2:8, 3:8, etc.)  These ratios correspond to the time signature shown for each song on its respective lyrics page.
  • Each side of the octagon is shown as 12' 3".  This number is the hypotenuse of a right triangle with 2 sides measuring 8' 8".



References to 8 & 5 within the music


  • 8 songs on the album
  • 8th song (Octavarium) is broken into 5 parts
  • The bell chimes 8 times at the beginning of "The Answer Lies Within"



Full Circle References


The idea of coming back to where you began is a theme prominent in this album.  Several times you will find ties between the beginning and the end.


  • The flute solo in part 1 of "Octavarium" is repeated quietly at the end of the song.
  • The first song, "The Root of All Evil," ends with a piano theme (Medicate theme) from the last song, "Octavarium."
  • Last lyric of "Octavarium" is, "This story ends where it begins."  An octave technically ends on the same note in which it began.



"Octavarium Part IV. (Intervals)"


This section of "Octavarium" consists of 8 stanzas building up to the climax of "Trapped inside this Octavarium."  Each stanza also corresponds to one of the 8 different songs on the album, both lyrically and musically.  Each stanza includes 3 references:


  • Each stanza starts with Mike quietly referencing the corresponding note name for the scale. (Root, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Octave)
  • The lyrics act as summaries or extensions for each of the 8 songs.
  • There are faint clips of each of the 8 songs played in the background of each stanza.


Stanza 1:

"Our deadly sins feel his mortal wrath / Remove all obstacles from our path"

  • Mike starts it with "Root."  The first note of an scale is the called the root.
  • Lyrics correspond to "The Root of All Evil"
  • A music clip from "The Root of All Evil" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 2:

"Asking questions / Search for clues / The answer's been right in front of you"

  • Mike starts it with "Second."
  • Lyrics correspond to "The Answer Lies Within"
  • A music clip from "The Answer Lies Within" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 3:

"Try to break through / Long to connect / We fall on deaf ears and failed muted breath"

  • Mike starts it with "Third."
  • Lyrics correspond to "These Walls"
  • A music clip from "These Walls" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 4:

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

  • Mike starts it with "Fourth."
  • Lyrics correspond to "I Walk Beside You"
  • A music clip from "I Walk Beside You" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 5:

"Tortured insanity / A smothering hell / Try to escape but to no avail"

  • Mike starts it with "Fifth."
  • Lyrics correspond to "Panic Attack"
  • A music clip from "Panic Attack" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 6:

"The calls of admirers / Who claim they adore / Drain all your lifeblood while begging for more"

  • Mike starts it with "Sixth."
  • Lyrics correspond to "Never Enough"
  • A music clip from "Never Enough" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 7:

"Innocent victims of merciless crimes / Fall prey to some madmen's impulsive designs"

  • Mike starts it with "Seventh."
  • Lyrics correspond to "Sacrificed Sons"
  • A music clip from "Sacrificed Sons" plays faintly in the background.


Stanza 8:

"Step after step / We try controlling our fate / When we finally start living it has become too late"

  • Mike starts it with "Octave."
  • Lyrics correspond to "Octavarium"
  • A music clip from Part II of "Octavarium" plays faintly in the background.



Negative Time: Song Intros and Time Discrepancies


Stick the CD in your computer and you will find that the total play time for the album is approximately 75:44.  Yet, if you add up the song times on the back of the CD case, the total comes to 73:26.  Where is the extra 2:18?


Going back to the idea of each song being a different "white" key on the F Lydian mode octave, as viewed on the back of the CD case, this extra 2:18 is expressed as the "black" keys. 


According to the CD case, "The Root of All Evil" has a track length of 8:07.  Yet the track is actually 8 minutes and 25 seconds.  The song itself seems to end at the 8:07 mark, but the track continues.  It plays 18 seconds of nature sounds which lead into "The Answer Lies Within."


The last 18 seconds of track 1 is actually part of the second song.  Therefore, the second song starts 18 seconds before the second track.  This is referred to as negative time, as you would have to "rewind" the CD 18 seconds from the start of track 2 to get to the start of song 2.


This occurs for many songs on the album.  Below is a chart showing the actual ending times for the songs and any negative time.




Start Time


End Time







"The Root of All Evil"





Negative Time intro to "The Answer Lies Within"





"The Answer Lies Within"





Negative Time intro to "These Walls"





"These Walls"





Negative Time intro to "I Walk Beside You"





"I Walk Beside You"





"Panic Attack"





Negative Time intro to "Never Enough"





"Never Enough"





Negative Time intro to "Sacrificed Sons"





"Sacrificed Sons"









As you can see, the album's song separations follow the piano key pattern shown on the back of the CD case. (White, Black, White, Black, White, Black, White, White, Black, White, Black, White, White)



Musical Allusions


  • 06:32 of "Octavarium" - Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
  • 09:00 of "Octavarium" - Arpeggio bass groove of "Anna Lee" vocal melody
  • 17:47 of "Octavarium" - Jordan plays Jingle Bells


Lyrical Allusions in "Octavarium Part III. (Full Circle)"


Verse 1:

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


Verse 2:

flying off the handle with careful with

that axe eugene gene the dance machine

messiah light my fire gabba gabba

hey hey my my generation's home again


  • 14:00 of "Octavarium" - "Isn't this where we came in" (spoken) = Line from the end of "Outside the Wall" by Pink Floyd
  • Sailing on the Seven Seas = Song by OMD
  • Seize the day = Popular quote and theme from "A Change of Seasons"
  • Day Tripper = Song by The Beatles
  • Per Diem = popular Latin phrase and business term meaning "each day"
  • Jack the Ripper = Famous serial killer
  • Ripper Owens = Vocalist of Iced Earth (ex-Judas Priest)
  • Owen Wilson = Actor
  • Wilson Phillips = Band name
  • Supper's Ready = Song by Genesis
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds = Song by The Beatles
  • Diamond Dave = Album by David Lee Roth
  • Dave's Not Here = Cheech & Chong routine
  • Here I Come to Save the Day = Mighty Mouse quote
  • Day for Night = Album and song by Spock's Beard
  • Nightmare Cinema = Dream Theater’s alter ego
  • Cinema Show = Song by Genesis
  • Show Me the Way = Song by Styx
  • Get Back = Song by The Beatles
  • Home Again = "Breathe" reprise on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
  • Flying off the Handle = Popular quote
  • Handle with Care = Song by Travelling Wilburys
  • Careful with that Axe, Eugene = Song by Pink Floyd
  • Gene, Gene the Dance Machine = Memorable act on The Gong Show
  • Machine Messiah = Song by Yes
  • Light My Fire = Song by The Doors
  • Gabba Gabba Hey = Lyrics by The Ramones & name of Ramones tribute band
  • Hey Hey, My My = Song by Neil Young
  • My Generation = Song by The Who
  • Home Again = "Breathe" reprise on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon