Sunday, August 14, 2011
Songs I'm Obsessed With: The Count of Tuscany by Dream Theater
This is something I'm hoping to get into doing on a weekly basis: posting about a song I've recently taken a liking to. If you want to suggest something, comment or email. Just remember that I have to not only like the song, but I have to pretty much get hooked on it to the point that I have to listen over and over again.
My experience with Dream Theater is that they really like to put this sprawling, epic symphony of a song at the end of their album. In 2003 they had "In the Name of God," a song about violence and wrong-doing based on faith a la the crusades and, more recently, Muslim extremism in the middle east, which clocks in at around 14:00. In 2002 they had "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence," which is so long (about 42 minutes) it had to be split into eight parts. In 2005 they had "Octavarium," which is probably the most challenging to enjoy. It's not really because of the length (exactly 24 minutes), but the song itself is pretty much a play-by-play of going insane. It really is scary stuff, but its majestic climb from beginning to ending warrants at least one listen.
But I'm not here to talk about those songs. I'm here to talk about their more recent entry: The Count of Tuscany from Black Clouds and Silver Linings. I realize I'm a couple of years late, but you know what? Fuck that, because time shouldn't matter when listening to music. It's not their longest song at only (only) 19:16 but I think it has ended up becoming my favorite. Of theirs, at least.
The song itself doesn't start until you get four minutes into the track, as the traditional extended instrumental intro kicks off the song. It starts off like a song you might play a baby to put it to sleep, with only a smooth repeating guitar line to its name. It's not long before a guitar solo comes in, and everything changes to something that's just a little off. It's not long after this that the song realizes it's supposed to be a prog-metal track (not that what it was doing was bad, I actually really like it when Dream Theater goes soft), kicks up the amps and blasts full speed down the highway.
The next five minutes are composed of Dream Theater's characteristic speedy prog-metal, which is the first part of the song that fans will likely think of when someone mentions the name. Predominant lyrics about fear of death and such abound. The guitar goes all out in a rush of riffs that feel inspired by some kind of battle hymn, which is somewhat odd compared to the subject matter of the song. It doesn't seem very long at all before the song comes to another extended instrumental section. The guitar and keyboards go into the signature evil carnival-type music that we all know and love, but even that doesn't last long before the song goes into... what? A spacey section? That's unexpected, especially right after the evil carnival. It's not unwelcome, though, because it serves to set up the final part of the song (it even borrows some of its melodic themes towards the end). It's a meditative experience that might actually serve a yoga session well if taken out of the rest of the song.
The final five minutes of the song is almost the entire reason you listened to the first fourteen. Cue the solo acoustic guitar and vocals. The music becomes sentimental and even beautiful as the speaker pleads with his "captors" for answers. The song explodes into a chorus of explanation and relief and the song rises to mountainous heights. "Whoooooaaaaaahhh whoa whoa whoa" has never sounded so good.
At first I was confused by the lyrics. The speaker talks about meeting a man who takes him on an adventure that leads him to a castle where the man's brother lives. But all of a sudden, he's afraid for his life? It didn't really make sense to me. Slowly though I started to think I might by kind of scared too if I were picked up by a total stranger and brought to a place like that. Apparently I missed the word "cannibal" in the beginning, referring to a character inspired by the count's brother. The song also refers to fables that told of soldiers who hid in the castle's barrels of wine, but who died there. Then, I think, the count offers the speaker wine. Perhaps the speaker is afraid of being eaten, or simply being killed and having his blood drank. Nevertheless, it all turns out to be false as the speaker confronts the count, who explains everything and assures the speaker that he is in no danger and can leave if he wishes. It's unclear what happens next, but the long "whoa" section at the end could actually be "oh" instead, so he could in fact be giving one long "oooooooohhhhhhhhhhh" out of realization. Okay, maybe not...
But in all seriousness, this song has really caught my attention lately, even though I've had the album since it came out two years ago. I find time to listen to it despite its much longer-than-average length. I hope I've shared with you something you'll enjoy, too.