*prognotes – Alkaloid’s The Malkuth Grimoire, Part II

Hello and welcome to this, the second part of our *prognotes installment analyzing Alkaloid‘s The Malkuth Grimoire. I usually don’t make a big deal out of it but, in this case, it is absolutely essential to read the first part this post, which you can find here. I won’t spend too much time re-introducing the band or the album; suffice it to say that the first part of this album was very heavily steeped in the occult and in Lovecraftian imagery, as an entity beyond the bounds of space and time sought to escape its prison in a black hole by reaching out to mankind and giving it forbidden scientific/occult knowledge. That little “/” is key to understanding the second part of the album. Nominally, it turns to harder science fiction and brings those elements into the forefront more than the first half of the album did. However, that view is a bit simplistic; the reality is, that in Alkaloid’s vision, the barrier between science and the occult falls apart.

So, before we embark on the four part track which makes up the beginning of the second half of the album, let us set the stage a bit more completely: in their effort to free their master/god/nightmare from its singular (get it) prison, the disciples twisted by its art and knowledge need energy. How much energy? A whole lot of it. The problem of energy on a cosmic scale, of the kinds of output which humanity will need should it ever hope to found an extraterrestrial presence, has been on science fiction’s mind for a while now. How do you create the frankly stupendous amounts of power needed to propel spaceships? Burning mass and using the energy released is crude and inefficient; you run into all sorts of mathematical and physical problems when you realize that every liter of fuel you take with you is, well, another liter you need to move. There are ways to tilt that equation in our favor (go ask SpaceX or NASA) but there’s a limit to how much that equation can be gamed.

So, science fiction needed to break from the numbers in a radical way, especially if it wanted to talk about travels outside of our Solar system. Some went to a fantastical realm in order to conquer the problem, conjuring things like faster than light travel, slipstreams, ansibles to take care of the logistics of running interstellar travel. But what if you’re a scientist tackling these speculative problems and would like to propose possible, if extremely out of reach, solutions to the problem of energy? Well, if you’re Olaf Stapledon (who we’ve mentioned on the blog before) the answer is “simple”: you build a sphere or other such megastructure around the sun. That way, you don’t have to settle for the truly puny amount of energy that gets sent here to Earth, energy that’s only a fraction of the sun’s true power at eight minutes light distance. Instead, you mainline the sun’s energy and propel your civilization into an age of “cosmic scale production” where things like terraforming and stellar engineering (yes, this is a speculative thing which has been thought out) become possible.

This idea was popularized by one of the great scientists and mathematicians of the 20th century (and beyond), Freeman Dyson. Alongside important concepts in quantum physics, mathematical physics, and genetic engineering (yes, he’s prolific) Dyson also turned Stapledon’s idea into a scientific proposal, looking into the many perturbations of such a mega-structure. At the bottom line of all of this lies that basic equation which we drew up above: how do you get enough energy to, oh I don’t know, free your monstrous overlord from beyond space and time from the prison in which it resides, deep in the bowls of a singularity? You really don’t have many options and, as the brilliant children’s choir at the beginning of “Mining the Oort Cloud”, the sixth track on The Malkuth Grimoire tells us, it’s time to build a Dyson Sphere!


“Just a time now of matter”

Right in the name of this track, we encounter our next stomping ground: the Oort Cloud. This belt of inert matter is theorized to exist at the very edges of the Solar system, already into interstellar space. This “belt” is composed of stellar bodies ranging from tiny, asteroid like objects to planet like masses is a natural source of building materials, rare and more mundane, for anyone looking to build a mega-structure inside the Solar system. Essentially, you have to go outside the “busy” shallows of the Solar system, where bodies clash into each other and scatter their materials, making them un-extractable. As the track says:

Meager pickings in the Kuiper Belt
But for the guardian on the cliff
In her pelt comets melt
And moons burst, but only if

Her 13 brothers didn’t get them first
Out here, the dark hides more than gases 
Beyond Nemesis we celebrate 
Quite a few more Jovian masses”

There are two planets and one astronomical area named here that help us get our bearings. First, the Kuiper Belt is an area like the asteroid belt (between Mars and Saturn) but much larger, which stretches from the orbit of Neptune outwards from the Sun. Thus, Neptune is the “guardian on the cliff”, its pelt of course the gaseous nature of the planet itself. Due to its gravity and many moons (“13 brothers”), the useful and larger masses that we might find in the Kuiper Belt are gone, spinning to their death inside the planet itself. At this point, the construction project doesn’t have enough energy to mess and harvest planets; that’ll come later. In fact, the levels of energy and what our constructors can handle will be a recurring way point in our journey, tracking how the progress of the Dyson Sphere.

For now, the project must move further and past “Nemesis”, the hypothesized ninth planet of the solar system (remember, Pluto is not currently considered a planet) to find “Jovian masses”, bodies of matter that can compare to the massive Jupiter (sometimes also called Jove in the Latin, meaning “father god” as he is their version of Zeus the, well, father of the gods), prime real estate for our workers. But wait, we keep referring to “constructors”, “workers” or “the project” but who is building this thing? The distances to the Oort Cloud, while dwarfed by the distance say, to the nearest star, are still interstellar and thus preclude a human working force (due to all sorts of questions of food, radiation, acceleration and the such). So who is going out there to mine these materials and bring them into the Solar system for construction of the sphere? Please give a warm welcome to the Dyson swarm which the rest of the track will introduce us to!

“The Oort cloud is demonic
Giants crawl, robots trawl 
The Swarm went transplutonic 
All is spun towards the sun 

The Oort cloud is fantastic 
Tyche fell out of hell 
Times are dire, and measures drastic 
Gotta mash her before the crash

They broke the lightyear barrier 
From the debris they spawn 
Navigation on radiation 
Ages at .c have dawned 

The myriads that sweep the fringes 
Conjoined they haul and hurl 
and hug and tug, so thinnest fog 
Becomes the oceans of the world”

So, our intrepid workers are in fact robots, machines that are capable of “Ages at .c” (that is, long periods of time spent in relativistic speeds, which would wreak havoc on human bodies). They use their speed and durability to set out beyond Pluto (“transplutonic”) like a swarm of so many insects to mine the Oort Cloud. They then “haul and hurl / and hug and tug” the materials mined there into the center of the Solar system, taking care not to miss even the fog of interstellar dust, “ice” (actually volatile elements in a solid state) and the such to weave our sphere. Note that this Swarm, in Dyson’s thought and here, already begins to produce energy; by harvesting these materials, and by functioning as the first of the Dyson sphere themselves, the Swarm has more power at their robotic fingertips. This is evidenced by the destruction of Tyche, a hypothetical gas giant which resides in the Oort Cloud.

As the project beings to take form, our energy levels are starting to allow for the manipulation of bigger and bigger bodies in space. This, in turn, fuels the Swarm’s ability to create more power and…you see where this is going. Driven by this dreadful equation, where power creates the means for ever more power, the Swarm is flexing like a muscle, extending itself deeper and deeper into the Oort Cloud and mining more of its materials. The term “isotonic” in the next lines refers to muscle like activity, the contracting and warping of a cell, the Swarm itself moving now as one and tightening its hold on the Cloud:

“The Oort cloud is demonic
Thrusters heave, spiders weave 
The Swarm went isotonic 
Interlace Hilbert space 

The Oort cloud is surrounded! 
Higgs Fields retch, tendrils stretch 
Absorb what once abounded 
Move as one towards the sun 

They are now the Oort Swarm 
Dyson Cloud 
Oort Swarm 
Dyson Cloud 
Just a matter of time now 
Just a time now of matter”

It is indeed “just a matter of time now”, as the Swarm accelerates its potential and starts creating so much energy that they affect the Higgs Field, a hypothetical form of energy that is thought to permeate the known universe and being to mess around in “Hilbert space”, a mathematical abstraction of our Euclidean space.

Once the energy levels start to reach these hypothetical heights, the Dyson sphere looms ever closer and it is time now to start “Assembly”. Remember how the Swarm didn’t have enough power for stellar engineering? Yeah, that’s in the past now. As all our materials coalesce in the Solar system, the true design beings to take shape: putting all that mass in one place triggers the formation of a singularity, a black hole that stars to suck in the entire Solar system into its chambers, using them as even more fuel:

“As gases flee
And mantles rear 
Let’s get it on 
This Dyson Sphere 

What night sky now 
What empyrean 
Too late to die now 

What night sky now 
What empyrean 
Too late to die now 

Rolling stria 
Glowing, Cytherean 
A stellar Pangaea”

Alkaloid hit us with the thesaurus in this passage while describing the formation of the mass which becomes the Dyson sphere and creates the black hole so let’s unpack this for a moment. “Empyrean” means relating to heaven or the skies, basically “stellar”. “Stria” are stripes and allude here to the spinning stripes of the Dyson sphere as they revolve around the Sun and begin to leech its energy. “Cytherean” comes to us from the goddess Cytherea, another name for Venus. The void around the Dyson sphere begins to glow like Venus, with the power being collected. And finally, “Pangaea” is the mega-continent which geologists believe was once the form of all continents on Earth before they drifted apart, meaning here the way in which the materials from all across the Solar system collected by the Swarm come together.

“An astral nervous system”

Phew, OK, so what exactly are we witnessing here? Simply put, this is the “on” moment, when the Dyson sphere is assembled (as referenced in the track’s name) and first turned on; energy on an unbelievable scale starts to come from it, setting the “skies” (actually the void of space) alight with its power. Just like the Swarm itself, feeding on energy to enable it to process even more matter which, in turn, created more energy, the Dyson sphere uses the absurd amounts of power now inside of it to create a “pocket” (because it is contained within the sphere) singularity and start to use that to, you guessed it, feed on even more matter and thus increase its energy. As we all know, due to their massive mass (get it), black holes create huge gravity fields which then draw objects into its eager maw. So what happens when you “turn one on” inside the Solar system?

“Sucking giants into spirals
With a pocket singularity
Sucking giants into spirals
With a pocket singularity

Mercury’s iron bones
Venus’ carbon wisdom
Mars’s rocks and stones now
An astral nervous system

An iron prison
Sucking giants into spirals
To catch a star
With a pocket singularity
An iron prison
Sucking giants into spirals
To catch a star
With a pocket singularity


Saturn was easy
His moons a treasure trove
Uranos made us queasy
And Neptune downright sick; but Jove

– Torn apart between two black holes,
a thousand earths almost fell,
crushing all, out of control –
That did not go so well.

Darkness wanes –
The Swarm’s embrace
Has been attained
As everything
clicks
into
place

If you pay close attention to the above, you might notice that we are dealing with two black holes now. Whether this new singularity was formed by Jupiter’s collapse (as seems likely) or whether it was always there and Alkaloid just didn’t tell us, the image still fits. Two singularities, spinning around each other, contained within the Dyson sphere. Sounds like a forge or a place where things assemble and the next track confirms that image while adding another important term into the mix.

“Kardashev 2.1-The God Oven” blatantly contains that image of the forge, calling it an “oven” instead to allude to that breakdown between the biological and the physical which we discussed earlier in the album; within this Dyson sphere will Cthulhu, or the entity we might as well call that, awaken in a process which is both physical and biological. “Kardashev” refers to the famous (at least in geek circles) Kardashev Scale, a method of hypothesizing about a civilization’s progress based on how much energy they can harness. Indeed, the concept is inherently tied to the Dyson sphere since a Type II civilization is defined as one which can harness their star system’s full energy potential via tapping into the very star’s power reserves. Thus, the track’s name hints at what we’ve said before: we’re witnessing a civilization going stellar, in more ways than one.

If we look at the track’s lyrics more closely, we get confirmation for much of what we have theorized above but adds a key twist to the tale. We have our swarm of drones, sentient but not, a part of the hive mind which built the sphere. They congregate around and inside the sphere whose power continues to grow exponentially as it feeds on the solar system. All of this to free the ancient entity which lies imprisoned beyond space and time but what form shall this freedom take? With what body shall it emerge? The answer becomes clear as the track nears its end:

A sentient surge as minds merge
What will awaken? 
Post-biotic ascension 
A continuous expansion 
All must converge now! 

What will awaken? 
The Great Beast stirs in a brand new body 
Profusion through astral veins 
Evolution sheds all chains 

What will awaken? 
Kaleidoscope to mosaik to hologram 

Code turns to spell 
Turns life forms to cells 
In circuits and covens 
The hive mind is woven 
Stirs in its shell 
The God Oven 
In its shell 
The God Oven

The hive, the swarm itself, will become the god’s new body. This makes sense; after all, its mind must be vast and earlier segments in the album even alluded to the fact that its mind is not located in one place, instead somehow bound into the very firmament which makes up the universe. It will need a body bigger than a simple host and what’s better than a swarm? Especially poignant is the line “Code turns to spell / turns life forms to cells”. First of all, it’s this segment’s first return to the idea that the lines between physical phenomena, biological ones, and spiritual ones is thin. With the right perspective, they all collapse into one and machinery and magic lose their borders.

Secondly, it also brilliantly describes that it means for the ancient mind to take over the swarm: each individual members is now a cell in the god’s new body. The God Oven has completed its task and re-forged a form for the ancient entity. But what now? It’s not yet fully formed, the swarm acting as an intermediary for it; the hive mind is woven but it “stirs in its shell”, only slowly awakening. Well, what do swarms do, in the natural world? They feed and the breed. It seems as if this swarm is planning to do just that and what will a swarm born from the death of a star feed on? That’s right, more stars!

Sol Omega
Now all is one
Centaurus and Vega
Let’s join the Alpha party
Sol Omega
The seeding has begun

Nurtured on boundless power
Event horizons dawn
There’s more stars to devour
Mite to raptor, we must spawn

Sol Omega
Let’s get the fuck out of here
Sol Omega
Let’s get out of everywhere

Thrusters flow, star in tow
Plasma grows where lasers nestle
Iron rolls to the poles
The Dyson shell becomes a vessel

This twist is one of the coolest in the entire story. Having sated itself on its home star, the swarm now turns its eyes towards the stars using the same singularity that was their God Oven as an engine! This enables them to travel between the stars and feed on them. What’s more, they obviously plan to create more individuals, to grow the swarm (“the seeding has begun”). The first stanza makes things even cooler; if you think about it, this is the solar system itself in motion, since the Dyson sphere’s bowels are now technically composed of all of its planets. If that’s not a cool example of how over the top science fiction can be, then I don’t know what is.

Naturally, a track called “Sol Omega” would signify some sort of ending point (seeing as “Omega” is the last letter of the Greek alphabet), not to mention the fact that including Alpha and Omega in the same place is a clear reference to the fact that we’re dealing with a god here. And, indeed, this track is the last of the “Dyson Sphere” meta-track. It ends with the Dyson sphere itself breaking away from the confines of its own location and turning into a giant engine for interstellar travel (“We have propulsion / We have embarked / Sol Omega / The God Atom / Sol Omega / Genesis Ark”). “Genesis Ark” is a great name for what the Dyson sphere has become; like Noah’s ark, it carries a multitude of life forms, cast adrift in an inhospitable sea. But unlike that famous ark, it can also create more life both inside its God Oven and through the proliferation of the swarm itself.

“Taking god out of the equation”

Now, un-tethered as we are, is the time for Alkaloid to bring things home. The next track, bearing the album’s name, is another complicated stroke of genius. It opens up with a cryptic series of passages which beg deciphering as they swim between what seems to be gibberish and coherent meaning. Let’s take a look at them together, analyze the message itself, and then propose a theory for who’s speaking these words:

In zen, ChiMeras turn
silKen, sunLit, azure
suMMoning a Feral air
unlike arDenT
asHennnn orGasms

ninth sun, Crazier Me
in zen’s salute I LurK
Alloyed, a markinG
a griM insane ForMula

nine hertz CraniuMs
raze sunK nulLities
saCruM, inner zenith
orgasM, aFlaMe in ruin
like Truth, a Grim hoMe

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way: if those capital letters stand for something more complicated than simply implying an air of madness to whomever has the perspective here, then I haven’t found what that thing is. But they certainly achieve that goal; the entire passage seems unhinged, both due to the weird letters and the odd wording. But the message comes across pretty clearly nonetheless: who ever is speaking is standing at the center of the God Oven (“saCruM, inner zenith“) , right next to the god being born, and looks on both on the physical manifestations of this event and the “formula” which has enabled it to happen, the insane marriage of code, spell, spirituality, biology, and physicality which make up the forces that are being born.

So, who might this be, bearing a “nine hertz carnium” or, since the last word is plural, one of the inner guard, of the original progenitors which stood in the center of this entire process? My theory is that we’re talking to the Hadron Machinist, he who was originally the conduit for the god’s manifestation, from which knowledge first flowed into our realm, from which everything began. Who better to play the figure of the insane prophet standing in the sanctum sanctorum, looking out as the insanity unfolds? He stands there, gazing on the corrupting thing being born (“a flame in ruin”) and experiencing the full range of emotions such a terrible event might spawn (“orgasm…like truth, a grim home”).

At its middle point, the track wildly shifts its perspective and twists the story once again. Moving away from the perspective of the first stanzas, whoever it might represent, the lyrics buck one of the very basic ideas that we’ve put forth, namely the one which states that any of this is spiritual! It’s unclear whether this is Alkaloid themselves telling us that there’s nothing spiritual or religious here, in spite of the numerous clues and hints they’ve dropped pointing otherwise, or whether these lines are simply meant to represent the characters’ perspective on things. Regardless, the rest of the track is vehemently opposed to any such interpretation, spiritual or otherwise:

Taking god out of the equation
This is the Malkuth Grimoire

A grim insane formula
This is the Malkuth Grimoire

All that’s needed
A universe of parts and particles
Waiting to be rearranged

All ingredients are here
Nothing needs to be added
Let alchemy suffice

Spirit – into form distilled
Nothing else required to build – a world
Architects of evolution
In Malkuth we reside

In Malkuth we belong

God? There is no god here. Spirituality? Nonsense: this is “a universe of parts and particles, waiting to be rearranged”. This is the Malkuth Grimoire then, a series of formula which enable those that understand them to reconfigure our reality, to perform “alchemy”, to distill spirit into form. There is no rebirth through the Tree of Life, which we described earlier in the album. This is Malkuth, our world is the pinnacle of creation, where we reside, where we belong. So what’s happening here? Does the entity being birthed exist or not? Is this a physical phenomenon, a metaphor for energy or the black hole or something else entirely? Is this divine or not?

If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably gather that the answer is “Yes and no”. What we are witnessing here is all those things and none of them; remember that the physical and the spiritual have collapsed, that the line between what is “normal” and “insane” is long gone. We’re dealing with energies on a cosmic scale here, creatures from beyond space and time, entities which can take and give life with a whim, swarms of sentient beings, gods and demons. What use are simple categories of exclusion and inclusion? Self contradiction is the rule of law and a source of strength rather than something to be resolved; the entire idea of the story is to portray things beyond our ken, impossible, cosmic, secret things. Expecting them to make sense and to make one cohesive vision is folly.

And thus, skipping over a short instrumental track (whose name contains an allusion to the speed of light), we arrive at the end, the last track, aptly named “Funereal For a Continent”. In keeping with the spirit of the complexity and contradiction described above, this track immediately sets out to contradict the previous one:

Under the world
In timeless frost and fire cocooned 
Cloaked in winged death 
A vast tectonic moon 

Ten million years, 
Scorching rock and flesh, descend, 
Howl their epitaph 
A funeral for a continent 

Within the naked bones of earth 
Crushed in mummified embrace 
Where stony fangs claw into space 
A slow cold heart awaits rebirth 

Rumbling in his grave 
Pounding in the deep 
Putrid fuming Erebus 
Stirs in his sleep

Hmm? No god you say? Well, how about a titan? Erebus is one of the primordial beings imagined in Greek mythology, its name translating to darkness. Just like that, we’re back to Lovecraftian mythology. In fact, what this track describes is that hidden planet within the singularity which was referenced in the earliest tracks on the album; it is the place where our Cthulhu like entity resides, trapped for ages in its icy prison. What’s more, it appears that the disciples hinted at throughout the track, the Hadron Machinist and his companions (perhaps those with “nine hertz craniums”) have broken through the veil and now draw near their god in earnest.

And from the East
The storm’s atrocious blades 
Bring heaven’s wrath, 
Skewer and cascade 
Upon the brave 
Desperately they creep 
Ride the tail of the buried Beast 

Above the skeleton of god 
In endless midnight, spectres dance 
Where land and sky in endless trance 
Dream in the dark of living blood 

Lie in wait 
Bide their time 
Craving flesh 

Arise 
Man against rock 
Heart against ice 
With devil’s tongues the mountain calls 
Bodes blinded glory 
To the worm that crawls 
Taunts mortality 

Eyeless whiteness 
Soundless 
With devil’s tongues the mountain calls 

A summons for the damned 
Shades of Azrael 
With devil’s jaws the mountain mauls
” 

Naturally, this place they find themselves in is a cruel and terrible place, being the prison of a timeless entity that only dreams of destruction. What’s more, there’s an interesting parallel between this realm and space itself; both are cold, frozen, without air or life (“Yawning chasms, ghostly waters / Falling through a maze of blue”). There is no escape from this place, no real salvation to be found at the altar of this cold, ancient, and inhuman god.

Then why? The question begs itself; why would anyone come to this place, why would anyone even seek to free this entity? Why is this entire story even happening? What is the allure which draws the Hardon Machinist and, later on, his entire race, to the very jaws of death only to launch themselves into cold space for obscure reasons? The answers come in the final passages of the album, as is fitting, and they are the answers of the fanatic, of the mystic, of the ecstatic.

Here, at the end, a deep meaning of what mysticism is is referenced, a meaning interlaced throughout Lovecraft’s work and, indeed, throughout the entirety of Western culture. It is simply that mysticism’s goal is self-annulment. The sweet kiss of the divine is the kiss of death; no one gazes on their god and survives. Either they are already dead or they die upon success; when you merge with your god, nothing remains of you inside its infinite power.

And yet, in the ultimate contradiction which fuels all religion and philosophy, in that death is ultimate life. That is the final message of The Malkuth Grimoire, the final metaphor which completes the circular, contradictory, and mystical poem that is the album’s story: in death, life. In an end, beginning. Beyond all time, beyond all life, the secret to life and death themselves. To those secrets, we all drift, whether through religion, through science, through belief or through “cold formula”. To transcend ourselves we will sacrifice anything, destroy ourselves and all we know, drawn by an inexorable desire for rebirth.

This is what motivates the cultists gathered at the feet of the terrible god. This is why they have created the God Oven, destroyed their own solar system, turned into a faceless hive, un-tethered themselves and set out among the stars. It’s almost like a fever, an itch you can’t scratch; the deeper you dive into it, the less likely you are to come out, but the sweeter the promise. The promise is to “Defy the weight / Of earth and sky”, to both set out among the stars but to also gain immortality, to move beyond “our vermin fate” and become something more:

To elevate
Our vermin fate 
In the abyss 
We take the bait 

Defy the weight 
Of earth and sky 
Rejoice to die 
For one brief kiss 

Deep in the bowels of the earth 
Magma heaves towards the void 
Unseen thaw feeds mangled rock 
And within it, secret life

Comments

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.