Hey there folks! Welcome to Part II of our *prognotes episodes, featuring the land down under’s Arcane [read Part I here]. In case you don’t remember, *prognotes is our once dead, now revived, series delving into the wonder and mystery of concept albums. We analyze the lyrics, ideas and themes, going deeper into some of the stories that have moved us. Last time, we explored the first album in the doublet that is Known/Learned, a touching story of The Soldier (as we have dubbed him), torn by war and internal struggle from The Mother and The Child. We rode alongside him as he struggled to find the balance in his life, finally realizing that what he needs is his family and home. But, well that be so easy? What prices, social and psychological, must he pay for his family? Let’s find out in the second part, as we delve into the elusive hands of Learned.
Calling this album “elusive” was not a mistake. Its lyrical themes are much more complex, weaving ideas and images from the first album alongside brand new motifs. The music itself is also much more subtle, as Learned is a much quieter and “smaller” album in many regards. Which is perfect for its concept: a journey of discovery, release, acceptance and melancholy rather than of fiery exploration, struggle and war.
“Hunter, Heart & Home” is the perfect opener for such a tapestry. It begins with hinting towards The Child, describing The Soldier singing “his own lullaby”, a turn of phrase which has given me many a smile. However, we are quickly reminded that The Mother is here as well and has just as big a part to play in this:
Skin to skin
she rises gently
resting safe where fire meets water
rising hands chase shivers
She sang to the Hunter,
“Heart and Home is all I hoped for.”
By giving The Soldier’s counterpart words, but not directly describing her as The Mother, Grey has conflated the two in our minds. The return then is not the simple reunion of lovers but the joyous coming together of family: Child and Mother blend in The Soldier’s eyes, a melding that will have some painful repercussions as the album moves on. In case we needed any more cues that this album was about the whole and the part, the relationship between coming home, bringing together and breaking apart, the track’s other main refrain drives the ideas clearly home:
“Oldest man knows the world’s not the same.
He gave more than most to conquer his change.
Here in this breath, sweet joining of souls
the broken is mended, the unfinished whole.”
The idea of melding, devoid for now of its downside, appears in the second track, “Little Burden”, one of my favorites from this album. Underneath the incredibly infectious, lilting guitar, we hear that The Mother is gone. Perhaps childbirth took her, a thematic idea which would resonate well with the further submersion of The Soldier into her existence:
“Light folds you to me
I hold you in new sheets.
I see her in you.
I follow you into sleep.”
“I’m still here.
Just you and me, little one.
I’m still here.
I’ll Never let go, I swear.
These are of course natural and positive reactions of The Soldier as a father, but the album will soon show us how these can easily go to far. For now, The Soldier has found something new to consume his life. He “is better now”, driven by a new need: to make a home for him and The Child, to ensure that she is never alone in what he already knows to be a very cold and harsh world. The explosive ending of the track, as far as music goes, takes us back to the first album, perfectly explaining the juxtaposition: The Soldier once fought for peace and now he fights for The Child. The line “I am better, now” hints towards an element that we might have missed in the last chapter: The Soldier appears to be have suffered from some form of depression, whether from the death of The Mother, his struggles or both.
Later on, it’s even hinted that The Mother died alone. While The Solider might have made it to see her deathbed, as we claimed in our analysis of Holding Atropos, it’s possible he missed/misses the time right before that, while fighting and spending his life elsewhere (I’ve since spoken to Grey about this and found out his intention was otherwise. Apparently, Holding Atropos is The Soldier bemoaning his own death, not his wife. However, I’m going to stick to my narrative). This can be seen in the next track, “Impatience and Slow Poison”. At the very end, there is a conflation between the songs that he and his soldiers sang and the song that The Mother sang:
Over and on,
Over and gone, she was…”
By placing them at the same time, Grey creates a sense of time lost, time that could have been spent otherwise. While this could be interpreted as the song he and The Mother sang to each other, I think that by using “she” at the last line, the plural is separated, hinting that the first “we” is The Soldier and his men rather than him and The Mother.