album review, books, coleridge, culture, death, donne, entertainment, Ireland, Irish music, Kevin McKidd, Literature, metal, music, primordial, redemption at the puritan's hand, Riders to the Sea, Rome, songs, sonnet, television
This post is quite unique, not only because it is Litflick’s first post on the lyrics of a music album, it is also the first time that Yours Truly ventures into the Metallic pastures of critical music-listening. Due to these firsts (and the fact that university was eating up most of my time), this post is long overdue. Apologies are due to my good friend (and awesome music journalist) Mark a.k.a. Angel – but who should also be thanked for getting me to listen to some metal in the first place…
‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’ by the Irish metal band PRIMORDIAL is an intriguing album from 2011; not only because of the epic style of the narrative it builds, but also because the narration is done rather well indeed. Sure, some lyrics are of a higher standard than others – but all in all, it’s a pleasurable experience to read through the texts.
One of the key reasons for this, I think, is that the subject matter tackled is intellectually engaging and requires some level of attunement to intertextuality. The opening track – ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ – is a shining example of this (click here for the full lyrics).
Immediately on the first read, echoes of John Donne’s ‘Sonnet 72‘ came to mind. Both pieces share Death as their theme – and even though both are rooted in an all too vivid awareness of the fact that everyone must die, they still throw their gauntlet at Death personified.
Compare the second stanza from ‘No Grave Deep Enough’, here:
O, Death where are your teeth
That gnaw on the bones of fabled men?
O, Death where are your claws
That haul me from the grave?
To the opening of Donne’s sonnet, below:
DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake
A certain ambivalence is inherent in both though, which punctures the arrogance that the narrator seems to ‘swell’ with – the same quality s/he accuses Death of having. The voice in ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ sings “O Death, I am not ready for the grave”, whilst Donne’s final line – “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die” – though seemingly cocky, serves to underscore Donne’s mortal need to convince himself that Death is not the Master.
The concept of having a grave that is ‘not deep enough’ is interesting. From what I gather through the final line of this track (“No grave is deep enough to keep us in chains”), this is presenting the grave as being in cahoots, as it were, with the ‘chains’ that restrict freedom and liberty. Remarkably, however, a ‘deep grave’ is thought of in a much more positive light in J.M. Synge’s play Riders to the Sea (Litflick’s thoughts on it here). The Aran Isles (of Primordial’s native Ireland) where the play is set are characterised by a wet slushy soil which implies that a deep grave is created with a lot effort – thus it becomes a sign of deep respect to the deceased.
MAURYA: You’d do right to leave that rope, Bartley, hanging by the boards. (BARTLEY takes the rope.) It will be wanting in this place, I’m telling you, if Michael is washed up to-morrow morning, or the next morning, or any morning in the week, for it’s a deep grave we’ll make him by the grace of God.
‘Lain with the Wolf’ (full lyrics here) is steeped in myth and beliefs, rather than purely literary texts. The ‘lamb’ and the ‘wolf’ therefore act as powerful symbols, conjuring up the image from the biblical prophecy (Isaiah 11:6). However, the first-person narrator of these lyrics is mysterious; initially we are told “I have lain with the lamb”, and later “I have lain with the wolf”…suggesting there is a third-party present. The atmosphere becomes more ominous as the song progresses:
If I give name to my furies…
You cannot escape the beast when you wear his mark
Another song that stands out for me is ‘The Mouth of Judas’ (full lyrics here). I particularly like the metaphor of the ship which is reminiscent of Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. This is suggested by the references to the “deadened hands upon the rudder” and “the cursed song of slaves”, as well as the ballad-like nature of the text.
The songs ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’, ‘God’s Old Snake’ and ‘The Black Hundred’ are some of the weaker ones in the album. ‘The Black Hundred’ is particularly mystifying in the not-so-good sense. Lines like “the iron hearse sent on bitter tracks to the Gulag” and “the people’s utopia moulds an industrial horizon” are rather bewildering in the album’s context, and therefore (I think) need elaboration. As it is, one gets a sense of the pastiche style – which isn’t intrinsically a negative thing, but something I’m not sure they were aiming at.
The title track, ‘The Puritan’s Hand’ (full lyrics here), provides a significant climax if you consider the whole album as narrative. The figure of the Puritan is painted as one who encapsulates a moral dichotomy – his hand “throttle(s) all life” but simultaneously it is – by definition – where one must “seek redemption”. The search for forgiveness is a turning point for the protagonist that in itself seems to redeem. However, you must “bend your broken knees” for the Puritan…just like you must “bend your knee before the majesty of death” (in ‘The Mouth of Judas’)…
The last track on this album is entitled ‘Death of the Gods’ (full lyrics here), and it is by far my favourite. Perhaps it is the Ancient, Pagan setting or the powerful rhetorical style with which is written that garnered my admiration. Whatever it is, singing along to these lyrics yields the same adrenaline rush that convinces you, for 9 minutes 22 seconds, that you somehow belong to the echelons of Lucius Vorenus (semi-fictional character from the amazing TV show Rome).
A pretty good accomplishment for a song, I think you’d agree.
All in all, this album conjures up a fantastic world that allows your imagination to run free with it. Of course it has some weak points, but – really – they are more than made up for by virtue of the last song alone.