Posts Tagged death
Works of art, painted black
Magniloquent, bleeding dark
Monotonous palate, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited
Food for thought, so prolific
In contrasting shades, forcedly fed
Abstraction, so choking, so provocative
A canvas to paint, to degenerate
Dark reflections – degeneration
A canvas to paint, to denigrate
Dark reflections, of dark foul light
Profound, aesthetic beauty
Or shaded, sensory corruption
Perceptions, shattered, splintered, mirroring
In deft taints, diluted, tinted
Spelt out, in impaired color
Denigrating, going to paints to pain – not a pretty picture
Works of heart bleeding dark
Black, magniloquent art
Monotonous palate, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited
Prolific food for thought
Contrasting, fed with force
Abstraction, so choking, so provocative
Bleeding works of art
Seething work so dark
Searing words from the heart
Heartwork is a statement of purpose. Its story belongs not only to Jeff Walker and Carcass but also to anyone who has ever spent a significant stretch of time staring into the abyss. Why do we gaze into the darkness? What are we looking for? What is it that makes some people gravitate toward existential questions that are presented in extreme music? Heavy metal, for all intents and purposes, is a death factory. Trying to find ten songs on your hard drive that don’t deal with some form of horrific strife, violent rage or terrible suffering is a nearly absurd task for those who are obsessed with The Sound. Even power metal, with all of its uplift and ecstatic jubilance, often contains elements of profound sadness and pain. To spend your life pondering terror, strife and human suffering hardly seems to be time well spent, but its appeal, at least for me, is undeniable.
There seems to be a popular school of thought that encourages people to “think happy thoughts”. The idea of perseverating on horror is felt by many to be a recipe for dangerous feelings of sadness and detachment from the world. On one level, there is something that seems correct about this idea. Good vibes in, good vibes out. Perfect equilibrium. Yet, no matter how much goodness and light we choose to bathe in, we still suffer and we still die. Spending life trying to fill ourselves with the beauty around us may be the best way to live for some, but it feels disingenuous to me. Death and suffering are all around us. We are, in fact, all living out a slow motion disintegration. I cannot hide from it; I cannot pretend it isn’t there. My fear of the eventual fate that awaits me is a critical element of who I am.
There is an authenticity that comes with accepting one’s fate. Beyond that, there is a strange feeling of liberation that a person can achieve by coming to terms with the worst elements of existence. Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai whose insights were collected in a book the Hagakure in the early 18th century, makes a fantastic case for this sort of thinking. One of the most stirring passages of the book says, “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.”
This meditation on death seems like a morbid exercise, but how else is a person supposed to rationally process the mortal terror that comes with the recognition of one’s finiteness. We cannot change it, but we do not have to run from it.
In the song Heartwork, Walker is stating the necessity of recognizing the dim, murky reality of our being. The artist, coming to terms with this awareness, can do nothing of value but create an art that reflects the degeneration of our spirits and bodies. The goal is not to shock people, nor to frighten people, but simply to state in no uncertain terms, that everything is not okay. This type of dark art can provide the audience with the gift of catharsis. We are not alone in our terror. We may have to accept the terrible terms of our existence, but we don’t have to do so by ourselves.
Here’s the video…..
The second song on the record “Carnal Forge” is one of the more lyrically challenging songs I’ve encountered. When I first got a copy of the record, I sat there with a dictionary for an hour trying to figure out what on earth Carcass was talking about. Jeff Walker is known for having a remarkable vocabulary and this song proves it. Unless you scored in the top one percentile on your college boards, you are going to need help with a few of the words he uses. As a service to our readership with IQs below 160, I took the lyrics and clarified them a bit.
(A massacre that takes many different forms)
(A vulgar, disgusting display of death)
Sublime enmangling steelbath
(A glorious, destructive bath)
Of escheated atrocities
(Of things lost to the State through terrible acts)
Enigmatic longanimity of ruminent mass graves
(Quiet graves that show a mysterious ability to suffer without sound)
Meritorious victory, into body-bags now scraped…
(A great win worthy of recognition that is shown by a high body count)
(The authority and power of piles of dead bodies)
The dead regorged
(The dead shot out of their graves)
Osculatory majestic wrath
(A union of beautiful anger)
This carnal forge
(Human forms beaten and molded like a blacksmith working with metal)
Desensitized – to perspicuous horror
(No longer able to feel the awfulness of horror)
Dehumanized – fresh cannon fodder…
(Humans reduced to objects and killed on the battlefield)
(Something awful being praised for its greatness)
(An obvious massacre)
Dehumanized – cannon fodder
(Murder in a way that is clean and neat)
(Murder made holy)
Desensitized – to genocide
(No longer capable of feeling what is wrong with mass murder)
(Piles of dead bodies ruling over the land)
(Death shot upwards)
(Being drenched with blood)
(Bloodshed and death turned into something else)
In the cold, callous dignity of the mass grave…
(Respectful mass graves without feeling)
(Violence taking different forms and leading to a massacre)
Cruel, mendacious creed
(Evil, lying system of belief)
Sublime, murderous bloodbath
Of fiscal atrocities
(A massacre having to do with money)
Inexorable mettle in redolent consommé
(Unstoppable courage blended into a pleasant smelling soup)
An opprobious crucible of molten human waste…
(A disgraceful furnace of melting bodies)
(Bodies piled up to the sky)
(Endlessly shot upwards)
The smelting butchery
(A process of separating metals, a process of slaughtering animals)
Of the carnal forge
Desensitized – to pragmatic murder
(No longer feeling the horror of murder which is committed for practical purposes)
Dehumanized – into cannon fodder…
(Turned into non-human form and destroyed without feeling)
“Carnal Forge” is a searing study of the horrific nature of war. The whole “war is bad” theme has been done to death in heavy metal, but through the use of clever language and Joycean puns, Carcass is able to breathe life into a hackneyed lyrical concept. The major motif in the song is the monstrous merger between mechanized and human form. The effect is that the listener has a difficult time distinguishing between the two. This melding of forms stresses the concept of dehumanization in an even more immediate way. When Walker sings of “inexorable mettle in redolent consommé” he is giving the image of a soup made from mettle (courage) but also a soup made from metal (the human form turned into scrap). “Fiscal atrocities” means the destruction of capital, but also is meant to imply physical atrocity (the destruction of the human form). In these puns, we see a world where the lines blur between the animate and inanimate. When this line is obliterated, so are we. Our willingness to see humans as objects makes it possible for us to murder those who share our likeness. It is in the Carnal Forge of war that our human characteristics are lost.
The ultimate irony of this destruction through desensitization is that it is so engrained in some circles that it is not greeted with horror. Instead, it is celebrated. Soldiers who return are feted with parades; those who do not are given dignified, stately memorials. The dead do not care about these things. They do not care about the flags that cover their caskets, they are not interested in the soldiers firing skyward in their honor, and they do not gaze proudly at their names etched into stone walls. They cease to feel anything in the name of country or God or safety or resources or land or whatever-reason-was-given-to-them as they take their final journey into endless night.
There is no honor in death. The dead only know coldness and silence. Yet through a stroke of pure madness, many believe that the great wrongs that have been committed can be righted through ceremony. The louder we shout our love for the soldiers, the easier it is to forget the great waste of life that has been sacrificed in our names. Even the veneration of the dead is an act of objectification that makes future suffering more possible and even more likely.
Remembrance of their anguish does not wipe the slate clean. It is not for them; it is for us. A genuine act of contrition would be to create a world where massacres are entirely unacceptable, no matter who commits them. We do not live in that world. Instead, we live in a world where idle actions and traditions absolve us of our responsibility to stop the madness of war.
(Special thanks to Metal Matt Longo for his brilliant edit of this. Thanks to his fine work this article is being simulcast by the good folks over at MindOverMetal.org. Stop on by. Tell’em Keith sent ya!)
Vladimir: So….you take a watch and you put it in a bag….
Estragon: What type of bag?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter.
Estragon: Well, what type of watch is it?
Vladimir: Again…not important. You put the watch in a bag. Now, you take a hammer and you smash it.
Vladimir: Just see if you can follow me here. You smash the watch into a hundred pieces….
Estragon: Is it a digital watch or a nice one?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter….You take the watch and you smash it into….
Estragon: Well, why are you smashing the watch?
Vladimir: Okay, that’s really not important! The important thing is…
Estragon: What kind of lunatic would break a perfectly good watch?
Vladimir: It’s a metaphor. Nobody is really breaking a watch with a hammer. The idea is to prove a point.
Estragon: But how can you prove a point using an example that is completely unrealistic.
Vladimir: I don’t know. It’s not important! Just listen.
Estragon: Well, if it is a digital watch with one of those plastic bands it’s not going to break with a hammer
Vladimir: Fine. It’s a Rolex. A really nice gold Rolex.
Estragon: A Rolex is really expensive. Why would you want to break an expensive watch? And I don’t know if a hammer will break a Rolex into a hundred pieces.
Vladimir: Fine. It is an inexpensive magical watch that magically will break into a hundred pieces. Can I get back to my point?
Vladimir: Okay, so you break the watch. You shake it up in the bag?
Vladimir: Does it re-form into the same watch?
Estragon: Well, of course not!
Estragon: See what? I’m not sure I follow.
Vladimir: Evolution is impossible.
Vladimir: Something has to be there to assemble the watch if it’s going to come back together, right?
Estragon: I guess.
Vladimir: And the watch has been reassembled into a perfect whole, right?
Estragon: That is what you said.
Vladimir: Well, then there has to be a watchmaker who has a plan, right?
Estragon: Uhmmm. Okay. So, who is the watchmaker?
Vladimir: God is the watchmaker! Otherwise the watch would still be in pieces.
Estragon: Wait…so God reassembled the watch?
Vladimir: What do you mean why? He’s God. He doesn’t need a good reason.
Estragon: So, God just goes around putting broken watches together? We’re not sure why. That’s just what he does.
Vladimir: Exactly. He loves us. Maybe he wants us to have a nice watch. Maybe he wants us to be happy. That’s for Him to know.
Estragon: If he wanted us to be happy, why didn’t he just stop us from breaking the watch in the first place?
Vladimir: Free will!
Estragon: So, wait, he loves us so much he is willing to fix the watch, but he won’t stop us from breaking it?
Estragon: That’s not a very efficient system.
Vladimir: Well, He doesn’t have to be efficient. He’s God. He doesn’t have to explain anything.
Estragon: Well, if he’s going to go around smashing watches, I think he owes somebody an explanation. That’s pretty rude. If he smashed my watch I’d be really angry!
Vladimir: Okay…forget the watch. We’ll use another example. Pick something.
Estragon: A piece of ham
Vladimir: So, you put a piece of ham in a bag…
Estragon: Ham….in a bag?
Vladimir: Yes! And you smash it into a million pieces.
Vladimir: It still tastes like ham and smells like ham and looks like ham. RIGHT?!?!?
Estragon: Yes…I think.
Vladimir: So there has to be some kind of ham designer, right?
Estragon: Yes…well….maybe…I guess….
Vladimir: Evolution couldn’t have designed ham.
Estragon: Wait…why not?
Vladimir: Because it is perfect.
Estragon: What is perfect?
Vladimir: Ham! Ham is perfect!
Estragon: Compared to what?
Vladimir: To a universe without ham.
Estragon: How can you tell?
Vladimir: God wouldn’t have created it if it weren’t perfect. Ham is in our universe. Therefore, ham is perfect.
Estragon: Okay, now I’m really confused. If God is perfect and created a world that is the most perfect possible world for us, why does he create people who smash ham and watches in bags?
Vladimir: To test us.
Vladimir: To see how much we love him.
Estragon: Oh…so we show him we love him by not smashing things in bags?
Estragon: I see. So that’s the point of the whole thing!
Vladimir: YES! That’s the point. We have the choice whether to smash ham or watches or even possums in bags. If we choose not to, we do it because we love God. And if we do that we will be rewarded.
Estragon: With a nice watch?
Vladimir: Maybe with a watch. Maybe with eternal happiness. We’re not exactly sure. We just know that the reward is going to be REALLY good.
Estragon: And if we smash things in bags?
Vladimir: Then bad things happen to us. REALLY bad things. Things like sickness or eternal suffering or boils on our face.
Estragon: Boils on our face?!?!?!
Vladimir: It won’t be a problem for you if you just do what you are supposed to.
Estragon: So these are the rules?
Estragon: And if I follow them, I’ll be…………happy???
Vladimir: Unless God has another plan for you. But eventually you’ll be happy. At some point.
Estragon: Will I get a watch?
Vladimir: If that is what you desire and that is God’s plan and you follow the rules then, yes, you will get a watch.
(At this exact moment, a giant meteor hits the earth obliterating smashing it into a million pieces. The entire human race, including Estragon and Vladimir, are destroyed in a firey, horrible instant without warning)
Posted by Keith Spillett in Articles I Probably Shouldn't Have Bothered Writing, Health Tips for An Early Death on May 21, 2011
Stage fright is a truly terrible feeling. Many people confront it, but usually they manifest their experience in different ways. Some people cry, some talk louder, some simply feel a vague sense of dread as they move through the speech. What I’ve noticed in talking to people about it over the years is that the experience of it changes dramatically from person to person, but it is always quite miserable if you feel it.
I have an awful fear of speaking on stage. As a teacher, I never feel nervous speaking to a roomful of high school students, but once a year in May I am asked to speak in front of a large audience on a stage with a microphone. The speech itself is something I’m honored to give, but the fear I feel starts around January and becomes nearly debilitating by the end of April. It is only a three-minute speech but my fear of it consumes months of my life.
People are always very supportive and try to be compassionate but usually the advice I get doesn’t help all that much. If you mention you have this fear you will get a lot of guidance, but often I’m not sure if the people who give it really understand the parts of it that make it so terrifying. It is an irrational feeling and most rational suggestions fail to address it in a way that is practical. You get advice like “Try to imagine them all naked”. If everyone in the audience were naked I’m sure I’d be even more terrified! How could the thought of hundreds of naked humans staring at you be even remotely comforting? Other people ask you “What’s the worst that can happen?” They have no idea of the circus that your brain becomes for three minutes. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be on stage giving the speech. People simply can’t comprehend why a relatively simple act like this can cause such suffering. I don’t really understand it myself.
The following is an attempt to describe the experience in real time. Some of this will sound silly, but every single thought written down has gone through my mind on stage. The goal of this piece is to create a running record of what stage fright actually feels like for me.
Alright, here we go. Need another sip of water. If you act confident, the fear won’t come. Okay, time to stand up. They just called me. Fix my jacket. Three buttons…how many should I button? I need to keep it buttoned cause my tie is too short. I look like Oliver Hardy. Someone once told me leave the bottom unbuttoned. Okay. Here we go. Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Just read. You should make some arm gestures. Just hold the podium. Don’t fall. Hands sweating. The podium is see through. Are the spots around my hand fogging up? Do they see me sweating? Act confident. Here it comes. Here it comes. I should have left them all unbuttoned. I should have acted more confident. Now IT is HERE.
Hot. What if I pass out? Falling, hitting my head. Would someone catch me? I’m too big. Where am I? Did I just miss a line…no, no, I’m okay….page one is over. Don’t look up. They are all looking at you. They are all looking at you. Is my fly zipped? Don’t look up. Fast. Dizzy when I look up. Falling, hitting my head. IT IS HERE.
Does what I’m saying make any sense? Do they hear me? I didn’t practice enough. I practiced wrong. Fast. I practiced too much. What if I forget how to read? Sweating. Pain in the top of my head. Antler pain. I feel like antlers are going to sprout out of the top of my head. Stay focused. Where am I? I am reading, but I don’t know how. There is another me reading. I don’t even know what the other me is saying. Why are they laughing? Did I say something funny? Did I do something embarrassing? I didn’t write that to be funny…what’s happening???
FOCUS!!!! Antlers. Sharp, sharp pain in the top of my head. Halfway done. Sweating. What if I can’t breathe? Slow down your breathing. What if I can’t? I don’t control my breathing. Long way to go in this speech. Lots of words left. What if I start saying weird things? What if I start shouting random nonsense? NO CONTROL. What if I burp? What if I start cursing? What if I lose control of my body? Sharp pain in my head. Antlers are growing inside. Will they pop out?
One page left. Downhill, downhill, breathe, another minute…..breathe. If I can just get one more page. What am I talking about? Where am I? DON’T LOOK UP!!!! THEY are watching you….breathe….breathe….you are going to fast…..no one understands….breathe….one paragraph now…..look up once…try it…..try it….dizzy….FOCUS….DON’T LOOK UP…..clapping…no more words….handshake….get to the chair….don’t fall….don’t pass out…get to the chair…..sit down…..breathe….
Heartwork, the 1993 release by Carcass, is easily one of the most compelling metal albums ever recorded. First and foremost, it is an explosion of monstorous guitar riffs, frenetic drumming and raging energy. The music is captivating and overwhelming. Heartwork is a remarkably powerful lyrical album that deals intelligently with issues like globalization, dehumanization and existential dread. The music has been widely praised by many music journalists. The lyrics, however, have been given scant attention. Jeff Walker, the band’s singer, bass player and chief lyricist, envisions a world that is entirely devoid of human feeling or empathy. Walker’s adept use of language, particularly double entendre, lays bare the man’s inhumanity in all of its baseness. His world is an empty one, filled only with sorrow, guilt and deep-seated hatred.
The album behaves like a book, each song a chapter examining a set of widely held beliefs and contrasting them with his vision of a world gone completely insane. Over the next few months, I will attempt to analyze the themes and ideas song by song in an attempt to convey the inventiveness of Walker’s lyrics as well as the perspicacity of his message.
Welcome, to a world of hate
A life of buried dreams
Smothered, by the soils of fate
Welcome, to a world of pain
Bitterness your only wealth
The sand of time kicked in your face
Rubbed in your face
When aspirations are squashed
When life’s chances are lost
When all hope is gone
When expectations are quashed
When self-esteem is lost
When ambition is mourned
…All you need is hate
In futility, for self-preservation
We all need someone
Someone to hate
Buried Dreams is a nightmare vision of a world completely unconnected to its humanity. It serves as an overview of the themes that are addressed in each song and is a great starting point because it contains the most unambiguous lines on the record. In Walker’s “world of hate”, humans begin their journey in life filled with hope only to see that hope slowly eroded by the fixed nature of reality. This reality is the death and pain experienced by all humanoid beings. It is immovable, unchangeable and constant. Humans search blindly in the dark for some reason, some deeper meaning that will connect the dots and make the pain they experience intelligible. We fill ourselves with illusions in order to soften the blow of this horrible truth. As the truth becomes more real, we grasp harder at the illusion but ones commitment to an illusion will never make that deception a reality. We slowly come to terms with the understanding that there is no connection, there is no one tending the fire and the center simply does not hold. Once this veneer of meaning has been stripped away there is nothing left to hold onto but pure visceral hatred.
By experiencing hatred for something, we are given the ability to overcome our basic alienation from ourselves all the while connecting to the other beings around us. Love would be another way to connect, but the drawback of love is that it is fleeting. Its initial joy is snuffed out by the understanding that our basic existential problem, death, will cause love to one day give way to sorrow and despair. If you connect with hatred you never have to feel loss because the eventual vanquishing of your foe will be greeted with a feeling of joy and accomplishment. No one mourns the death of their enemy.
On the surface, the lyrics could be read as a simplistic explanation of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 30s and 40s. A society like Germany, which was drowning in debt and filled with impoverished humans recovering from the insanity of years of mindless trench warfare, was ready for the message of hate that Hitler brought. I believe the song is meant to have much more of a timeless message with broader overtones about the human condition. The line that universalizes this song is “in futility, for self-preservation, we all need someone…someone to hate.” This is a Hobbesian view of a world of beings so frightened of death that they are willing to do anything to avoid it, even if they know that their actions are eventually pointless. We are willing to create a Leviathan that may kill us for our disobedience in order to be safe. The wall each of us run into is death and we are willing to embrace any idea that allows us to fully avoid thinking about our eventual consequence. We are willing to embrace ideas that are self-destructive in order to escape the fear of death. If this isn’t true, then how do you explain war? This horrible irony of our basic condition is that we long to avoid death, but we do so in a way that often hastens its coming.
And so our dreams are buried as we are carried kicking and screaming to our own certain demise. We mask our fears with delusions of enemies all around us. We think that we can stop the inevitable if we bomb that thing or execute this thing but with our last dying breath we are reminded of the futility of all of it. Even hate cannot save us. The final, horrible irony of our Buried Dreams is that we will eventually be buried next to them.
(I am pretty darned excited to announce that this series will also be running at MindOverMetal.org, one of my favorite metal sites. Special thanks to my homeboy Metal Matt Longo who not only agreed to run the thing, but even gave me a fantastic title for the series and some killer editing ideas. Anyway those dudes speak truth and wisdom over there, check’em out)