*prognotes breaks down and analyzes your favorite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.
Have you seen/read The Fountain? If not, you really should. The movie (and the comic book) depict a greyscaled story of consciousness, birth, death and spirituality. It’s a sub-genre that’s existed on the fringes of science fiction ever since Philip K. Dick wrote Valis and perhaps even before, with the darkly eerie works of H.G. Wells. In any case, these tales draw on the concepts of self-realization, actualization and psychological distress while casting all of these onto a darkly astral landscape. The aesthetic is usually austere, with the colors being utilized to stress extreme moments of passion, realization and growth. From out of the blackness rise spires of color across fantastical palettes, symbolizing inner explosions and revelations.
This is exactly the type of aesthetic that informs, creates and makes possible Uneven Structure‘s 2011 masterpiece, Februus. It’s an album which follows the birth and psychodrama of some sort of unspecified entity, from its first steps through adversity and, finally, to freedom and grace through power. Musically, the album was cast into the djent movement. This is somewhat justified, since it manifests plenty of the tropes of the sub-genre: palm mutes, thick bass drops and harsh vocals interspersed with clean ones are all present. However, the album is much more structurally esoteric than most djent albums and displays a visual language which, while drawing from astral topics, shifts the focus from expansive space worship to internal self worship. Regardless, it definitely warrants comparisons to TesseracT’s One and early Monuments, although it goes beyond both these releases in its ambiance and melodic tendencies.
The lyrical content however is where this album truly transcends all others. It’s not only extremely innovative in its complexity, especially for the genre in which it was spawned, but its poetry is also impressive. It manages to create a journey that’s both harrowing and rewarding, bringing the protagonist to fulfillment and apotheosis. This journey begins, as plenty of hero journeys within this genre of storytelling do, with the very conception of our hero. This immediately inserts the listener into the kind of sidereal/mythical universe which this tale will inhabit, as no specifics of location or of the progenitor are given. Instead, energies, fields and forces are referenced as well as an ethereal and unspecified womb. From the very first track, “Awake”, to the transcendent ending of the album, it’s clear this is no ordinary human being born but rather a symbol representing mind, heart, consciousness or the literary device of the hero and their struggle:
“A dense, dull quiver can be felt from far away
Morsels whirl all around, melting down
An aberration into the womb breaks the microcosm
Aurora of a new abstract and elaborated macrocosm
This irrepressible fever plucks on stimulations
A dim halo appears at the heart of this randomness
Its bracing radiation projects patterns all over
The splendor conveys me into a boiling torrent
Freed from the womb, an overwhelming light surrounds everything”
In fact, in the next few lines, it is hinted that perhaps the whole world of our tale is created along with our hero. This can also be seen from the lines above, hinting towards the link between “microcosm” (or the specific existence of the hero itself) and the “macrocosm” (or the general context in which the hero operates). These terms are also linked to a multitude of philosophical theories, ranging from the spiritualism and alchemy of the Renaissance to the esoteric psychology of Carl Jung. The latter is especially important to our tale (and also to The Fountain) as the particular blend between the astral journey, the hero’s journey, self actualization and myth was spawned from his writings and ideas. In that sense, Februus draws on the duality between the outside world and the internal world and the ways in which movement through the former creates and makes possible progress through the latter.
The next two tracks, “Frost” and “Hail”, are a doublet reinforcing and exploring these generative ideas. “Frost” describes the very first experiences of our hero as they awake to the chaotic world around them. Unable to make sense of their surroundings, their mind is unable to enforce meaning on the outside world. This leaves them floating in a void, where the only path to escape (and “escape” here means actualization of reality and, through it, self) is through the mind itself. However, since no conscious solution can appear without a reference point, the subconscious must create the initial features of the world around the hero and by extension, the very first focal points of the nascent, inner self. From these points can arise not only that selfsame sense of self but also the beginning of an instinctual, early understanding of the world around the hero:
“As the pain slowly reabsorbs and lets the channels free
Motionless ashes structures the horizon
Mentally building an uneven grid
Polygonal nests modeling brightless patterns
The only visible waypoints giving a comprehension
An understanding of the depth of this non energy
The subconscious strings can be felt now
Controlling the actions as a puppet master
This manikin state avoids me to make mistakes
Every little stimulation reproduces an ersatz of freewill
Informations run through these freshly born pits of senses
The reinvigorating effect buries the verity of the context
Now the assimilation (is done), host of an education“.
However, this does not come without a price. This new network of understanding sends a shudder through the world/self, an outpouring of knowledge and sensory perceptions. This is released in the form of “Hail”, one of the most aggressive tracks on the album. It also contains one of the best transitions between two tracks ever, with the explosion of the vocals in the beginning of the track immediately setting the tone for what the lyrics describe. As we mentioned above, the violence that overtakes the system is only a part of the learning process, an experience that must perforce take place before the next step in the materialization (taken here in its literal sense) of the world/self duality at the center of this journey. By going through the pain created by this metaphorical hail, the hero gains a better understanding of the world and it in turn becomes more real. If we go even further we can see that the foundation of the next steps in the journey, which will rely on both the embrace of the earth and escape from it are born here:
Walls of rain washes out the innocence
The magnificent flood carves the letters down the flesh
Hierarchy slips into the felt strings – Alterating it all
Facing the prey as if they were real threats – Schism
Paranoid illusions leading to an higher step of evolution
A lull in the storm
At the break of the day
The allayer of fears
Dissipates the marks
Dries out the swamping lands
As water resorbs, ground can finally be seen
Very first sensation of an embodied existence
Fertility welcomes an higher comfort
An abode where experiences can melt“.
From that ground mentioned in the last few lines, the first real manifestation of physical reality upon the realm which the story inhibits, the next step of the journey will begin. Interestingly enough, it also takes the form of a first. “Buds” introduces the existence of life-forms outside of the hero/narrator, even if in the form of imagery alone. In actuality, these buds are the flowing outwards of the hero’s personality, manipulating now actual matter. Born out of its inherent desire for pattern, a desire common to us all, it begins to further articulate the dimensions around them. However, this time the articulation comes not from a sub-conscious instinct or vector but rather from a conscious desire, a sort of extravagance flowing from the ego which is despicable:
“The fragile balance is lost
Too soon to dive in, too late to scarper
I glimpse the aggressive vastness of this mental fluctuation
Essence is corrupted by vice emanating out of knowledge
And that unbeatable volition of tasting to ultimate perfection collapses
Magnifying the shadow of failure toward the ramparts of sageness
Now is the moment where my reign begins”
In the last few lines, one of the most emotional and heavy musical passages on the album, we discover the further dichotomy we had hinted at above. This is the duality between knowledge and instinct, surface mental structures and deep instances of vector-like necessity. Depending on the origin of genesis, twisted if the former, perfect if the latter, the reality created is completely different. Here, the resulting structure is twisted, corrupted, egotistical. Earlier in the track is it compared to the tower of Babel and that is no coincidence; reaching for the sky, it falsely builds its foundations on the ego’s hunger for knowledge and the self-serving nature of such endeavors. The next doublet, “Awe” and “Quittance” is all about a flaying destruction, a purifying will to destroy and break free from this absurd and lewd creation.
The duality between the outside and the inside is now inverted. Instead of the outside working its forces on the inside, operating on it and changing it through violence and pain, now the inside takes control and begins to work itself on the outside manifestations of the internal journey. While “Awe” furthers the story only by a little, also being one of the weaker tracks on this excellent album, “Quittance” is an absolute masterpiece and one of the bands finest moments. Lyrically, it describes a pivot moment where the extent to which our hero is lost becomes clearer. The top of their tower of Babel holds power and wonder, as “Awe” tells us, but yet the tower itself is unsound. In a move which can be tied to foundationalism, a philosophy going back to the great skeptics and Rene Descartes chief among them. In this philosophy, one must first break apart all that one knows and find the core on which everything rests. Once one has doubted even that and found some security, one can begin to construct again his world view on firmer ground. Compare with “Quittance”:
“Why this discrepancy
A cause lost into fraudulent behaviors
Depicting a strong weakness of the self
All integrity shattered in million pieces
Mislead into temptation
This is not a denial, this is the true face of resentment
I demand redemption for all my transgressions
Prepared to strip myself down to the gist“.
By stripping themselves down to the core, the hero strips reality as well as their own ego. We would do well to remind ourselves of the album’s name at this point. Februus is an Etruscan/Roman god of purification. From his name (or, more accurately, the name of his feminine precursor, Februa) we get the English February, as the festival of Etruscan and Roman purification took place on the 15th of that month. It’s interesting to note that Februus also comes from the same root that created the word “fever”, a word which appears in the very first lines we quoted. The ramifications of this name for our album, taken in conjunction with the foundationalism we had mentioned and the Jungian duality of the micro/macrocosm, are clear. To purify oneself is both to separate oneself from the outside but also to create, shape and mold the outside via internal processes. More than that, operating on the outside can aid in the process of purification, as external causes have internal effects. The violence of this process of purification is the channel through which it operates on the outside world. Here, it has aural manifestations:
“I feel now freed from that perturbed shallowness
Ready to take one last impulse and lift off
I am aloud in the escape
Allowed to leave this place“.
And so, after a short instrumental sojourn within “Limbo”, we find ourselves at the end of our journey. Lifting off from the perceived shackles of the physical realm and its shallowness, unburdening themselves from the weight of egotistical structures as they exit, our hero can finally find the end of this journey and its reward. Contrasted with the shallowness, the last track is called “Plenitude”. Within it, we find that, as is the nature of all of these journeys, that the road was cyclical. The hero finds themselves returning to a state similar to the one they were originally in. But now, of course, everything has changed. No longer is this ethereal state of primordial existence devoid of color. Now, it is suffused with all colors, a bright light that washes everything. The image here is of a substance filling a vessel, of an almost fluid optical material which illuminates everything. Illumination of course is the ultimate metaphor for knowledge and, here too, the process of enlightenment is one of understanding:
“No longer connected to the ground
The ultimate ascension is triggered
No longer obstructed from my condition
Everything is revealed
Curves crossing and dead ends are all past
The vivid chunk is standing out in front of me
Still out of reach it irradiates my essence
Last breath before air turns into light
The dim contrast of the experience vanishes
Colorless patterns are filled with a permanent brightness“.
At this crux, this final confrontation with truth, experience once again melts away into primal, nascent and innate movement. This then is the point of termination for our journey, the convergence of all that has come to past in this well of light. Returning to our fluid metaphor from above, we can imagine bridges and dams falling before a flood, the torrent making everything the same. Underwater there are no different colors or distinctions between matter; everything is blue and drowned, all boundaries erased by the aquatic weight. This is where the album ends (apart from three more instrumental tracks which could merit a post by themselves), where all collapses into one, the microcosm and macrocosm finally united into one being, a being which sees, contains and reveals “Plenitude”:
“The convergence of every challenge and disillusions
Spurs me beyond the very state of grace
A measureless momentum where matter and mind
Collapse together to commute into Plenitude“.
Is this being divine? Yes, in the sense that the fulfilled mind is divine in Jung’s works. Is this being omnipotent, present, or prescient? Yes, in the sense that all places, knowledges and perspectives are contained within it. Is this being free? Yes, in the sense that actualizing yourself leads to ultimate freedom, freedom from the power the external has on us, a freedom found in the ability to recognize the correspondence between outside and inside which has plagued the minds of thinkers since the dawn of philosophy. As the final sounds of “Plenitude” fade, we can perhaps glimpse that place in the ambient, drone like passages of the last three tracks. All purchase is gone and there is only existence; all explanations and thus language disappears and leaves us with meditations upon the void, upon the self, upon the fact that they are, now, finally, one and the same.