We at Heavy Blog love concept albums. There’s something special and thought-provoking when a band is able to communicate a good story through music and lyrics, and it’s a phenomenon that seems to be most prevalent in progressive rock and metal, which just so happens to be our main collective genre of interest. *prognotes is a play on the idea of *sparknotes, a website that aims to help readers understand the context and story of literature. We’ve always wanted to highlight and detail the stories of our favorite concept albums, and we’ve finally gotten around to doing just that. Have a suggestion for an album you’d like us to cover? Let us know! – Ed.
Obscura‘s Omnivium is one of my all-time favorite albums, and most people don’t really know about its concept, so I wanted to tackle this album that gets deeper and deeper the more you look into it. So, let’s jump straight into it with a quote from drummer Hanness Grossmann:
The basis for the lyrics is Friedrich Schelling’s “On Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World“. I am pretty sure that talking about lyrics is one of the most boring things for each death metal fan out there, but maybe a handful of people are interested in this. On all of the lyrics everyone can have a personal opinion, a personal preference, and a different view on the topic itself, especially on the point with religions. There is always a link to real life, those ideas never get old. But I do not tell people what to do, what to think or how to live their life. With Omnivium, everyone should find his own truth. For instance, the title Omnivium is a black vortex within the universe, an immortal downward spiral annihilating all kind of matter, life and elements to create something new. Somebody may call this a definite god. Destroy to create — this therm you find in all religions if you search for.
For those unfamiliar with Schelling, he is a German idealist philosopher whose work was overshadowed by Hegel, because Hegel had a more absolute ideology and Schelling’s concepts were more ethereal than empirical. Schelling argued that Nature and some underlying Spirit coexist together as facets of each other; and that they are linked. One of the main themes of Schelling’s work “Clara, Or, On Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World” is that the body, spirit and soul were originally one, but they have become separated; and their ultimate aim is to reunite.
Omnivium takes Schelling’s ideas, and adds to them a cosmological theme to serve as a backdrop. The brilliant opening track ‘Septuagint‘ sets the stage by introducing basic concepts of Schelling’s philosophy and establishing the space theme:
I assume a true above and below
One more and first of all
Where double stars moving alternately
Round each other but not round a third one
A whole that does not tolerate a middle
As masses of light flow into each other
I assume a separation of powers that be
When we can pass over into the other
A world, pure and silent through death
This empty space extending on all sides
A true above, a true below
While the lyrics aren’t exactly in line with the themes of Clara, the influence is clearly visible, especially in the lines I’ve highlighted. Perhaps some explanation is warranted here. The referenced work, Schelling’s Clara, has a storyline that hinges on a crisis of faith. Clara (the soul), a priest (the mind/spirit), and a doctor (the body) get together over the seasons, and discuss the connection of the Spirit and Nature, how life and death bring these elements together. The priest is generally framed as having incorrect views. Clara asks why Nature is so destructive. The initial argument made by the doctor, which represents Schelling’s views in his early life, is that Nature is inherently creative, thus an external element makes it destructive, and that element is Man, because Man is separated from the Spirit world. He argues that only through death can Man can progress into the spirit world.
The passage about stars is especially interesting to me, because it is very deliberate yet doesn’t immediately seem to connect to Schelling. But assume that the two stars represent Spirit and Nature. Earlier in the book Schelling argues that we flow from Nature to Spirit, and later he argues that we flow from Spirit into Nature. I believe this duality is at play here. The third star that they don’t revolve around is what stumped me for the longest time, but I believe I figured that out by connecting it to the last chapter of the work, where Clara accepts that the mind and the body have their respective parts in Spirit and Nature, but where does the Soul fall? The book is incomplete, as the role of the Soul is unknown until we die, and Schelling has no experience in that area. As it is, this philosophy has no place for the soul, which is highlighted by the passage about the stars.
The next track ‘Vortex Omnivium‘ is referred to as the title track of the album by the band. The themes of Schelling are quite clear here, so I’ll just post the entire lyrics and briefly explain how they’re relevant.
For the very reason a part gets the upper hand
The might within space represses the internal
So that they have become two worlds then
Divine determination, free, pure and unadulterated
Vortex Omnivium-Where consciousness is the end of all
Divine revelation, and words become flesh
Vortex Omnivium- When arousing transitory
Sentiments become pure anger and wrath
Our thoughts will come to rest only at the final unity
United life will follow separated subsistence
Within this whisper of life, within this sensible world
This substantive being will break the tie of eternal rest
This song is very directly about the journey of Clara. The first stanza is about the contrast between Spirit and Nature introduced by the doctor, and how they conflict within Man, keeping the two worlds separated. Going back to drummer Hanness’s comment, “Omnivium is a black vortex within the universe, an immortal downward spiral annihilating all kind of matter, life and elements to create something new”. The vortex is the singularity where Nature turns into Spirit and vice versa. Recall that the priest is representative of the mind, which ties into the Spirit. “Where consciousness is the end of all” means that the mind (consciousness) is the end of all at the vortex, i.e. the vortex is the gate from Nature to Spirit. Conversely, “divine revelation, and words become flesh” is a direct quote from Schelling (as are many lines on this album), where it refers to the Word of God. The written Word is the endgame of divine revelation, how Spirit (revelation) passes over into Nature and becomes physical (flesh).
Essentially, the Omnivium is, for all intents and purposes, God. It creates, it destroys, it is the beginning and the end. However, Obscura frame this scientifically instead of religiously by making God a black hole, referring to the Big Bang Theory, and more importantly the Cyclic Model. The Cyclic Model is a theory that asserts the universe is in a constant state of Big Bangs followed by Big Crunches. Essentially, the universe starts expanding (big bang), reaches a tipping point, starts contracting (big crunch), reaches a tipping point, repeat.
WAIT A SECOND!
Let’s go back to the lyrics for ‘Septuagint‘.
If this universe increased to its extremity
When the other side transists into a black hole
A downward spiral of the corporeal masses
our existence is complete in both directions
This refers to the Cyclic Model! The universe expands, reaches a singularity, then contracts (downward spiral). These two songs tie Schelling’s philosophy into the Cyclic Model, how life constantly flows from Spirit to Nature, how the universe is in constant oscillation. Let’s dig deeper. What does ‘Septuagint’ even mean? Septuagint comes from “versio septuaginta interpretum“, which, when translated from Greek, means “translation of the seventy interpreters”. Septuagint is the title of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that comes from 70 independent and isolated interpreters. This version of the text is very important, because it was valued greatly by the Church and it was considered the definitive interpretation of the Word for centuries, thus it also influenced the writing of the New Testament. Essentially, the Septuagint is the original religious text that everything else is based upon. I am unsure of the significance of this title for the song, but I would assume that it is meant to imply that the Cyclic Model and Schelling’s ideology are the true interpretation of the universe.
It is known that ‘Ocean Gateways’ is more of a tribute to Morbid Angel‘s ‘Where the Slime Live’ than anything. Just listen to the two:
Where the slime live
(They are the lowest forms of life)
Where the slime breed
(They make a new one too corrupted)
When the wind blows
(The winds of truth are blowing now)
And the cradle falls… down
Their poison fingers that wrote the poison lies
Their poison lingers
What a tragedy when their fingers are removed
Where the slime live
Their burning dogma
Introducting to our minds – lies
They plot for the total control of the morals
And what a tragedy when the “god-hearts” are removed
They crawl, they breed, they hide but we see
I see the smoke of the funerals rising
God lives in their hearts now laid ro rest
What a sight
As their kingdom comes tumbling down
We burn – the ones with contrite souls be gone !
Long gone are the filthy liars
Long gone are their filthy lies
I know they’ll come again some day
I consider our Earth as a part of the lowest area
We live as we were at the bottom of the sea
Where nothing is pure and undespoiled
Where everything is eaten and eroded
Where the grips of externality is unable freely
To emerge beyond a certain space of this one
Where nothing is pure and undespoiled
Where everything is wet and salt
Where earth and spirit unite
An opposition to the visible
A call of the purified souls
Emerges beyond, breaks free
Deliverance – an acroamatic halo
Deprivation – in particular obedience
Eclipsed – shackled and torn apart
Emptiness – devoid of heart and soul
Even the lyrics have similar themes, and Obscura even replicate the weird effect Morbid Angel use on their vocals. Of course, ‘Ocean Gateways‘ includes a Schellingian concept, and this time it’s quite obvious: “Where earth and spirit unite”. The first stanza refers to Earth as a realm far from the Spirit (the priest posits that there are intermediate realms), how the Earth is corrupted and soiled (nature is destructive) because we are not in touch with Spirit. Because we are impure we can not “emerge freely beyond a certain space”. Both songs refer to the depravity of mankind, but Obscura ties that to the arguments of the doctor, Man has turned their back on the Spirit world, so Nature can not progress. Note that Schelling doesn’t refer to this in the traditional religious fashion of “You have sinned, thus you are condemned to suffering” but more of a “Man has lost its connection to what makes it whole”. Think of it as Plato’s concept of the ideal, we are separated from the ideal when we are in Nature. Remember that the doctor argues that death is how Man connects Nature with Spirit? The Ocean Gateway is death. The Ocean is Nature, the Gateway is death, and what’s beyond the Gateway is Spirit.
So far, I’ve covered a third of the album, and this is only a small dip into Schelling’s philosophy too. I shall continue this analysis in later installations, and in the meantime let me know what you think so far. Also, if you’re interested in Schelling’s work, I would definitely recommend checking out “Clara, Or On Nature’s Connection To The Spirit World“. It is a very thought-provoking read that is easier to read than more rigorous philosophical texts because it is presented as a story, a series of conversations between three interesting and conflicted characters and over a period of time. I hope I was able to at least intrigue you. I know that this article isn’t up to quality standards of a full blown philosophy essay, but I would rather show the tip of the iceberg and have you discover the rest of it yourself than bore you with an exhaustive analysis with references to page numbers of quotes from Clara. Either way, see you next time!