Why, hello there! Welcome back to *prognotes, our series where we sacrifice every free, waking second we might have to write way too many words. Uh, I mean, the series of posts we love doing that analyze our favorite concept albums! It’s a little bit of both, to be honest: while any album we write about here is obviously an album we love, these posts are always a huge undertaking. However, I’m also always glad when I write them since they seem to create a connection with our community like no other. Or, at least, at this moment, when I’m looking down the barrel of another crazy long post, is what I try to tell myself. OK, enough tortuous, meta-exposition. Let’s get to the meat of things!
Haha, just joking! We have a lot of setup to do here, as we stand at the outset of tackling Dvne‘s Etemen Ænka (from here on referred to as Etemen, so that I don’t have to constantly copy-paste that annoying diphthong). If you’re saying to yourself “hold on, I know that name!” then you’d be completely right. First, you might know it from the many, many posts we’ve written about this very release in the last few weeks; Etemen is one of those albums which has captured the imagination of more than one staff member, reaching across tastes and genre orientation to captivate the hearts and minds of basically everyone who writes for the blog. But secondly, you might remember Dvne from a previous *prognotes entry, where I broke down their previous release, Asheran.
In fact, going back to that previous piece and reading it is probably not a bad idea, seeing as Etemen is the prologue to that album. That’s right folks, in case you hadn’t pieced it together yourselves, Etemen is yet another entry into the same universe that Asheran took place in. In fact, it describes the events which led to the galactic migration that takes place in the past of that album and gives context to the ethnic split which informs that album’s story. “Wait, hold on, what? A what-now migration? Ethnic split? Jessie, what the fuck are you talking about” are all things you might be saying now. That’s OK, you didn’t do your homework and you didn’t read the previous *prognotes post. I’ll wait for you to do so…
I’m joking, of course; allow me to summarize the events of the previous album right here, in one (or two) digestible paragraphs. So, Asheran opens with the return of an exiled people the, you guessed it, Asheran. They have been on an (inter)galactic voyage, a self-imposed exile, a “Hegira“, if you will. Now, they have come back to their home planet, looking for the paradise of their long, long gone past. They find that Eden (that’s my name, whoa) but they also find its guardians; apparently, not everyone was so interested in leaving their planet behind. In fact, they built an entire religion around resisting the technology which allowed the Asheran to leave, letting the remnants of said technology fall into disuse and decay.
That is, until the Asheran return and said technology wakes up, triggering a reunification of the two ethnicities and a new, golden era for the people of the planet. There are many other touch points throughout Asheran which Etemen echoes but the most important one comes on “Scion”, the closing track of Asheran. There’s a line in there which explains why the Asheran were attacked upon their return: “Ignorant creature of lessons unlearnt / We’d forgotten myths of form and deities to hail”. This failure to praise the proper gods is what unleashes retribution and violence upon the Asheran. But when that album ends, there are still many questions left open: why did the Asheran forget to honor the gods? Why do the gods have to do with this technology in the first place? This all hints towards the fact that the Asheran weren’t the ones to build the technology in the first place; well, who did?
All of these questions are answered by Etemen. Of course, you have to do some digging if you want those answers and by “some”, I mean “a lot” so here we are and it’s time to get started. A small note before we begin proper: metal bands are usually not linguists and they use ancient languages while making mistakes. This is true in Dvne’s case as well but here, according to several interviews which you can find online with the band, these mistakes are actually pastiches, intentional inaccuracies and loans from other languages. This is meant to create a Stargate like effect, where the source for the myths and languages of humans is hinted at as alien and far older than humanity itself. Therefore, any “translations” that I undertake during this article will keep that in mind and approach the original words with a measure of grace and a broad brush. Don’t be coming into my inbox and correcting my Latin; I’ll unleash my classicist wife upon you (who helped a lot with this article by the way).
Oh, one last last thing: I won’t really be talking about the music here, except to maybe point out a few times when the music and the lyrics in a way which adds to the meaning and understanding of the lyrics. For more information on what this album sounds like, go into the search above and type in “Dvne”. Seriously, we’ve written about this album in a lot of places.
OK, enough disclaimers, introductions, and vague threats: let’s get to it!
We begin, you guessed it, at the beginning. In fact, Dvne have made sure that we’ll understand it is the beginning, if we’re a bit clever. The first track on Etemen is titled “Enûma Eliš” and oh boy, here comes our first digression! The Enûma Eliš (appearing in italics when I mention the original work and in quotations when I’m talking about the track) is the Babylonian creation myth. Its name, “when on high”, is the incipit of the text, that is, the first few words of the text. It describes the origins of creation from Apsu and Tiamat, the first primordial entities, the creation of gods, the slaying of Apsu and the creation of Marduk (the supreme god of the Babylonian religion), the subsequent slaying of Tiamat and the creation of the sky from her body (ancient world mythologies did not fuck around), and, lastly, the creation of humans as the slaves of gods. If any of the names cited above ring a bell by the way, it’s because the Enûma Eliš had profound influences on many of the ancient texts which underpin “Western” culture, as well as on popular culture (“Marduk” is still a popular name for villains in fantasy stories and, you guessed it, where the metal band gets their name).
OK, so what does the Enûma Eliš tells us about “Enûma Eliš”? First, as I said above, because it’s a creation myth, it tells us that the track we’re about to listen to is also the creation myth. But the creation myth of what? The world in which the story itself takes place in is clearly not being created here; we haven’t gone that far back. Nor is the universe or any other celestial body being created. So, what does that leave us with? That’s right, this track is a creation myth in the sense that it underpins the story itself. This is where the origins of the events of Asheran, of the conflict between the two ethnicities, has its roots. Which leads us to second the point: how does the Enûma Eliš start? I’ll tell you: it starts with Apsu and Tiamat “their waters commingling as a single body”. The story starts with the two primordial entities united and, crucially, progresses through them first being split apart and comes to an end with Tiamat being rent asunder, half of her body making up the sky.
So! Two entities that start as one and then, at the beginning, are ripped asunder. Rings a bell? We are of course being shown the point where the Asheran and the nameless “faithful” (they’ll get a name soon enough, don’t worry) are divided. They are the same people but something divides them. What is that something? From the lyrics, which we will turn to in a second, it appears there is a technological and social component to this separation. Put more simply, the Asheran are the upper echelons of the society, possessed of great power and technology:
Dust falls on the old
Blackened cloaks of steel
Blaze on the wind
Feared were the hounds
Their lore surpassed our creed
Flesh and machine synthesised
So, what do we have here? First of all, the Asheran are clearly marked as separate from the rest of the population: “the unadorned”, those who do not wear the “blackened cloaks of steel” (probably armor or perhaps just a sign of office or standing that the Asheran wear) are those which are beneath them. The Asheran also wield superior technology (“lore”) but are more distant from the religion of the oppressed (“creed”). If you can start to see how the pieces fit with the story of Asheran, kudos to you; Etemen wastes little time in tying itself to the previous story. In these lines, we can start to see why the Asheran would return to the planet and forget the gods; they never were close to religion.
In addition, there’s a small additional hint as to what makes the Asheran technology superior and what they do with that superior technology. If the proximity of the words “tindalos” and the word “hounds” tickled something within you, this is no mistake. The Hounds of Tindalos were first created by Frank Belknap Long in the story of the same name. They were later incorporated in to the Cthulu Mythos and became infamous for the mind-bending and imagination-provoking nature of their description. These are hounds which travel at “angles to time”, whereas humans and other creatures travel in “curves”. If you garner their attention, mainly by time-travelling yourself, they will hunt you wherever you are. They’re able to appear from any corner and will never give up their query.
The hounds are important here for the themes which they convey to the Asheran technology; I don’t think that the Asheran literally use something like the Hounds of Tindalos and there is no time-travelling involved (at least I hope there isn’t, because that would make my life much more complicated). Instead, the idea is to “paint” the Asheran technology in the colors of brutality, relentlessness, and violence. Going on the last line, “Flesh and machine synthesized”, we can surmise that we’re talking about some sort of cyborgs. Regardless of their specific form, the idea is that, to the downtrodden, these machines are absolutely relentless and ruthless. The Asheran show no mercy in persecuting the fellow denizens of their planet and they do using their technology.
The last few lines of the track perfectly blend into the next one: “Embrace the turning of winds / Lodos Rising / Tempest Rising.” Lodos is a south-westerly wind in the Mediterranean which frequently causes storms and squalls. I believe this part is an embellishment of the story-teller relying the history of the downtrodden, invoking their listeners to wait, to remember that the Asheran might return again. That is, the story-teller is telling this story right before Asheran the album happens, when the downtrodden have remained on the planet and they fear the return of their oppressors. The “tempest rising” are the Asheran and, like the wind that turns, they might return again one day to destroy the others once more (this is all supported by the last two tracks and I’ll cite the lyrics when we get to that).
For now though, in the aftermath of the Asheran’s campaigns against the oppressed, their civilization lies in ruins, when we come to the second track, “Towers”:
We walked through ghost cities
An enforced edification
The river of exiles deserts the ashes
Leaves lifeless debris
A vista of footprints spread before us
A pilgrimage of indentured spirits
We cling to the promise of gifts we shall never receive
For the unborn
Like many defeated people, the downtrodden dream not for themselves but for their children, that they may live better lives. The Asheran’s have ground them into dust, “educated” them on their inferiority and the Asheran supremacy. But, cruelly and ironically, as has happened countless times in the history of humanity, the defeated are those who end up re-building the civilization now destroyed, toiling for the oppressors. When you’re reading the next lyrics, you should remember the previous album: remember all those deserted cities with their mighty towers and technology? They are being built right here, with the blood and the toil of those the Asheran have oppressed and destroyed. In addition, another set of images should be flashing in your minds: that of the tower of Babel. Seeing as the album’s concept communicates with Babylonian myth, “towers reach up to the stars” and “grand sepulcher” should conjure the myth of the tower of Babel. Remember that that myth is one of misunderstanding, of division, and of conflict born of hubris. Sounds familiar?
In dust, in blood
Colossus stones are birthed
Generations of labour ignite
a distant ray of light
Gold forged and gleaming
we dig out mountains to the sky.
From quarries of serpentine
Tinos’ pillars arise
Foundations of greater times
Symbol of our might
To our kin
We build castles to the sky
Brick by stone by bold libation
Ziggurats, gilted ossuary tolling
As towers reach up to the stars
Shadows lengthen into the light
Eclipse of noble edifice
Penumbral healing of our scars
There’s a very interesting dichotomy which happens “Towers”. The nature of the structures themselves and what they mean for the oppressed is mercurial and contradictory. On one hand, they are very clearly building these structures to serve the Asheran: “An undertaking / To our kin / We build castles to the sky”. Beyond just the mention of “kin”, castles are structures which are built for nobles, not for the lower classes. But, on the other hand, the builders take genuine pride in their artifice; building these mighty structures offers a “healing of our scars”, a chance for them to unite and find a common purpose beyond just being the defeated of the Asheran.
In fact, this is quite clever commentary on how the oppressed often end up finding their unity and the power to resist in the real world. One might say it is almost an Hegelian understanding of the role of the master and the slave (yes, we’re doing it, it’s Hegel time). Actually, if we think about it, the entire story of the Asheran and their oppressed kin (their name is coming up soon, sorry) is a Hegelian sort of story. OK, now comes the part where I try to explain to you Hegelian master-slave dialectics in less than a thousand words, so please excuse any inaccuracies and take everything here with a grain of simplified salt. If you want to learn more, this is a good book to read.
So, Hegelian master-slave dialectic works like this: two beings (AKA, humans) meet. They are both subjects who are aware of themselves, as you and I are aware of ourselves. However, looking at the other being, they cannot yet recognize that this being is also a subject. They look at it and they see an object, although strangely reflecting themselves in a sort of narcissistic, sickening way. This strangeness leads both of the subjects to fight to the death, to try and subjugate the other. If one side kills the other, then the journey to true self-awareness will fail; the subject remains alone, only vaguely aware of itself and the world around it. However, if one side succeeds in subjugating the other without killing it, a master-slave dialectic emerges. Both sides are now almost completely self-aware: the slave is aware of the master because the master controls them and threatens them with death. The master is aware of the slave because they become dependent on the slave, for the slave is the one which makes everything the master needs to live.
But therein lies the rub and the tie in to our story: the more the slave makes, the better they become at making those things. The better they become at making those things, the more they start to recognize themselves, their artifice, and their skill in those things. This leads them to find pride in their work, to care about it, to be less alienated by it. The more they do that, the more they start to realize that the master is actually the slave because they rely on the slave for everything they need. All they need to do is realize that this is the case, recognize their own mastery and their own skill, and they will be free. Enter Marx, wielding a red-flag, screaming “Communism will win”.
Bringing it back to our story, this is exactly the process that we are seeing happen with “Towers” but also with the entire “cycle” at large: the Asheran oppress the others, then set them to work on their mighty castles and towers. The others start to understand that they are mightily skilled and take pride in their work. The Asheran are instead obsessed with the lofty stars, needing to put their technology and science to some sort of use, and leave the planet, while the others stay behind to tend to their creations and their religion. When the Asheran return, a conflict breaks out, the Asheran realize they need the others, and (maybe, not clear on that part from the lyrics) a final synthesis between them happens and the end of history arrives, bringing with it a paradise.
OK, cool, but we got a bit carried away with ourselves there. Let’s reel it back in and take a look at the next step, where the Asheran become actually obsessed with the stars and start their long journey towards their exile/migration. First, is appears that, from the height of the towers constructed for them, the Asheran being to peer into the sky and see the stars. But more than that, this proximity to celestial bodies is starting to inflate what was already a very grandiose sense of self and of the group. These following lyrics should be, of course, read with a fair measure of irony and even disgust: knowing what we know now, it’s obvious that there’s nothing ascendant about the Asheran at all. they didn’t build the towers; they didn’t build the arches or the “prodigious spirals”. Their slaves did. Their “true glory” should be read as folly, as hubris, which makes sense considering that pride cometh before the fall and their entire venture into space is doomed to return in a pointless loop to their planet of origin.
We tread paths of Marble
We glimpse true glory
The city, radiant, rivals Suraya
Outshines the starlight
We built true glory
Before we move on, a note about terms used here (and elsewhere) on the album: as I said in the opening segments, Dvne take some liberty with words and linguistic influences. That means that some words cannot be translated except from context. So, for example, “suraya” means “star” in Arabic, which makes perfect sense here, but “Etemenæ” is not a “real” word (all words are real, get out of here prescriptivist scum). It’s probably a portmanteau or another word with the “æ” diphthong added to it. Wait, another word but with that ending? The ziggurat dedicated to Marduk (he of the Babylonian creation myth) was called “Etemenanki” . Close enough. From that, we can understand Etemenæ to be the name of the city/tower/temple that the oppressed built for the Asheran. But that leaves us with a different conundrum, since it is very similar to the album title’s first word. How do we unravel this mystery?
Well, one solution is to note that the lyrics use a lot of Latin (there’s a lot coming in just one track). The diphthong “æ” is very common in Medieval Latin, much of the words used later are Latin words in their infinitive form, etc. How does that help us? Well, we can remember that Latin has “cases”, that is, words change according to their role in a sentence. For example, the word for “water” is “aqua”. If “aqua” is the subject, as in “this water is great” then we’d translate “water” as “aqua”. This is called the “nominative” case. But in the term “a bottle of water”, “water” would be translated as “aquae”. This is the “genitive” case, denoting possession or belonging (and also many other things, please don’t make me teach you Latin in a post). Lesson over! But wait, why do we care?
Well, maybe the difference between “Etemenæ” and “Etemen” is the case! So “Etemenæ” might be “the city” or just the form the word takes as a name (yes, Latin also declined names according to case, fucked up language) and in the album title it means something else. What though? Who knows! Without speaking the language, it’s very hard to tell how a word declines. But let’s try and take a guess. At the end of the track, we find the line: “We’ll lead our kind to the gates of Ænka”. So, the “Ænka” in Etemen Ænka is the name of a place! And a place the Asheran are going to. So, and this is where I am purely speculating, maybe “Etemen” is the “ablative” case of the word? Ablative is often used to denote “away from”. If you put all of that together, the name of the album becomes “From Etemen to Ænka”. Keep in mind this is the least solid part of this post; this could all be completely wrong. But hey, I had fun thinking about this and typing it up so who cares? Kidding, I fucking care. Dvne, if you’re reading this, please let me know if I’m right. It will make me feel good inside.
OK! Back to the story:
In plates of ivory and byzantine
Await celestial paladins
A divine court
The Gatekeeper presides
We best of kind
We best of kind
Of dawn eternal
Our worth affirmed
We earned our thrones amongst gods
Freed from our mortal shells
We’ll lead our kind to the gates of Ænka
Ezos Eyota Valere Ezos
Summarizing bluntly, the Asheran begin to view themselves as ascended, as some sort of holy guard protecting their leader: the Matriarch. This should ring all sorts of Homeworld bells, as the “Hegira” in that game is also led by a woman. In the previous album, the Asheran (or rather, the guardians/statues built on the planet which we now know were built in their form) were described as guardians, centurions, holding spears and shields. This is where it all fits in. From the lyrics below, “celestial paladins” are the Asheran themselves, the elite lords with their elite weapons and armor, guarding the Matriarch. Not much is told to us about her but we can surmise enough: she’s the one who has the idea of how to get to the stars. Maybe she’s an engineer? That would line up with Homeworld‘s Karan S’jet, who was a neuroscientist. It would also make sense with the term “The architect / Of dawn eternal” appearing in the above.
The last bit here is all the rest of the funny words. Put shortly (or else this post will spiral out of control very quickly), the “ezos liniari” appears to be another name for the elite guard of the Asheran. How do I know? Magic. No, I’m joking; “ezos liniari” sounds like a Roman guard of honor (if it were spelled “liniarii”, I’d be dead certain) and they’re also very exalted in these lyrics. “Transcendere” is not hard to decipher: it’s the infinitive of “to transcend”. So too “valere”, which means “to matter, to count, to be worthy”. “Eyota” is a bit more slippery but some sources point out that it means “great” in several Native American languages and that interpretation fits with “valere” and the rest of the theme.
OK, so now we’re done with all the weird words and Latin, right? Right?! Wrong, you sweet child of Summer because now it’s time for “Weighing of the Heart”. This is probably one of the clearest cases of the band taking some artistic freedom with language; the following track, representing a prayer among the oppressed, is filled with Latin, Old English, and Egyptian words. What’s more, some of the words I have been entirely unable to track down or decipher but we can, again, try to infer them from context. Beyond the “simple” meanings of the words, what’s important for this track is that we understand that the role that religion comes to play for the oppressed of our story. Through it, they start to tell their own story, set apart from the Asheran supremacy under which they toil. Let’s take a look:
Anubi eros sublima
Osiri eros sublima
Eahtatene. Ammit. Eahtatene
Religion, as it does and has done in the real world many times, is a path for the oppressed to reconfigure the temporal weakness they see around them into a moral victory. Nietzsche didn’t like that; he famously said that this leads to ressentiment, to the vengeance and limitations that the weak use to hold back the strong. Morality is one of those limitations, as the weak reconfigure being weak (“and the meek shall inherit the earth”) into something good rather than a weakness. However, Marx had a different idea. As the famous, and often misquoted, passage reads: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” The idea is that religion is something which gives those who suffer a way out, a meaning in a meaningless world controlled by the strong. If we abolish religion without abolishing the strong, we take away from the weak the only thing they have left, their only hope.
We can see how this impacts our story directly. In the face of their oppression, our heroes are robbed of everything. They are forced to toil for their oppressors as slaves. As we’ll see later, in “Sì-XIV”, they also live in squalor, at the bottom of those great towers which they built. Religion become their only escape and, through its mythic storytelling of justice and morality, their only way to conceptualize themselves as worthwhile. Let’s go back to those lyrics and figure out how this happens. “Yumathir”, as far as I can tell, is our hero. They might be some sort of Moses like figure or perhaps something closer to a Sigurd, a mighty champion who leads their people to confront their gods. “Assidēre” is the infinite (again, not the correct form here) of “to sit”, as in “to be situated”. I have no idea what “Yumatatene” but “Limina” means “borders” so I assume, from context, that “Yumatatene” is the land of the dead.
So, “Yumathir” sits at the border of the land of the dead and who should he find but the Egyptian gods of the dead? First, Anubis, he who weighs the hearts of the deceased and decides whether they go on to Du’at (the Egyptian land of the dead) or are eaten by “Ammit” (yes, the same “Ammit” from lower down in the track). Then, Osiris, the first mummy, the lord of Du’at, the general of the dead. Both of them love (“eros”) Yumathir. “Sublima” relates to him and, as you can probably already tell, means “sublime”. So, Yumathir goes to the land of the dead and Anbuis and Osiris love him for he is sublime. “Eahtatene” means eighteen in Old English and I only have the faintest theory about what it means (“Sigma”, which is used to refer to the oppressed in the next track, is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet). In any case, he meets Ammit, the heart-eating crocodile (Egyptian religion was wild y’all) and he transcends (“transcendere” is the infinitive of transcend). “Maikoho” might be a reference to “Maikoh”, which means “wolf” or “leader of the pack” in Navajo, which makes sense since it’s followed by “Eyota”, which we already translated as “great” in Native American languages.
Deep breath. So, we’re left with a classic narrative: the hero goes to die but charms the gods of the dead with his virtue and might. From there, they transcend. And, perhaps, in the word “eighteen”, the people who believe in the hero are referenced as well, implied to be transcending by their side. Whichever is the case, this religious narrative is of great political importance; it helps the oppressed see they are oppressed, as evidenced by “Omega Severer”, the next track (and the first single released from the album). Here, we see the oppressed, the believers, realize (as believers have done from time immemorial) that the world they have helped build, and the world they’ve come to live at the bottom of, is a complete lie. This begins with a reconceptualization and even ownership of their sacrifice; like with Jesus, sacrifice starts to be perceived not as a weakness (“Yumathir died for our sins”) but as a role, a weight to carry, but one which is essential:
I am nameless yet others name me.
An Epithet to fathom.
I live on the wind
Grandeur I no longer need
Once Sigma, Severed
Now Omega, Deserved
A mortal state, Obsolete
New paradigm, Divine
“Once Sigma” hints towards the fact that they might call themselves, or be called, “the eighteen” in their language or in their society (maybe a caste number?). They were “severed” by the Asheran and now they are “Omega”, the last letter of the alphabet. But now being “Omega” is “deserved”. The state they find themselves, the “mortal state” is being discarded; being last is nothing if you look at it from a divine perspective (again, “and the meek shall inherit the earth”). We can see here the culmination of how their social and political circumstances, of being oppressed, lead to and blend with their religious perspective. Their response to their oppression is to find a way to re-contextualize it with religion; “a new paradigm, divine”. Under this paradigm, two things happen: one, as we’ve already seen, the believers find a new power within themselves and stop to see themselves as oppressed. But the second thing which happens ties directly into the future showdown between the Asheran and the believers: contempt starts to form towards the Asheran. Instead of mighty lords and warriors, the Asheran are now seen with contempt and, once that happens, the entire social structure starts to collapse:
With vacant eyes
And empty shells
They hold their spears
With no will to yield
As time kneeled down
Our myth of merit
And grandeur for us all
The myth of lies
An obscured reality
The sacrifice of the Shudra
We already know who “they” who “hold their spears” are; none other than the Asheran. So, with this religious re-contextualization, the Asheran begin to be seen as disconnected. The strong become the weak. Yielding takes willpower; not turning the entire planet in one giant machine, not leaving in the search of some lost home in the stars, not subjugating everyone who is different from you, all of these take strength, not weakness. It is on this basis, the rejection of the “myth of merit” that the oppressed will come to understand themselves and their relationship with the planet they’re on. Oh, remember when I said earlier that we’ll find a name for them further down the line? Well, here we finally are! In the track, they are referred to as “the Shudra”. The Shudra are a real thing; they are the lowest of the four castes of the Hindu society. Scholarship on who they were exactly differs but what’s known for sure is that, when Indian society moved into contemporary times, Shudras were included in the lowest rungs of Indian society, alongside the “untouchables”.
The use of their name here is clear; both the real caste and our protagonists on this album are of that lower part of society, destined to toil away in the favor and benefit of the higher classes. The journey we are witnessing on this album is that of this caste coming to recognize themselves, their power, and their liberation, through religion. Now that we’ve established this main thrust of the album, things get much easier and quicker from here. The next track, “Si-XIV”, is a bit of a zoom in, an exploration of a singular story within this broader milieu. It starts by describing the current state of things: as the Asheran conquest and “development” of the planet continues, the people at the bottom of the social order suffer more and more from what the powerful (the “oligarchs”) call profit:
Passing of seasons
Harvest grown stale
Oligarchs transform Harudo
Oligarchs mercy turns pale
Oathless and ignored.
Wretched cabled and sure
Divine myths endure
In order to keep the Shudra, the oppressed, from rising up, the oligarchs use technology to keep them disconnected from their world and from realizing how bad things really are. Technology becomes a “golden cage”, providing them with everything they need, with a world on top of the real world, keeping them safe but also docile and sheltered. Try not to think about that for too long as you read the lyrics or the similarities with our own situation will start to become apparent (and depressing). This adds yet another layer to the hate that we find in the next album between the religious that stay behind and the technology superior Asheran which leave. It’s not “just” that technology was and became even more of a tool in the hands of Asheran for oppression; it’s that the technology was the very thing keeping the oppressed docile and disconnected from their world:
In soothing dreams of silk
electrically induced joy
fragile euphoria, my shelter
A shallow asylum
Worthless haven of chaos sanctified
Dimensions unfold in layered daze
My mind of shards – Labyrintyine
That last part is pretty interesting, since it shows how the technology seeps into the mind of those who use it. It’s more than “just” a piece of equipment but rather a way to order the world, in this case “sanctifying chaos” by enshrining random and pointless indulgences of pleasure in lieu of the natural rhythms of life and the world. Again, try not to think too hard about this because it will make you depressed; this is, of course, how our own brand of techno-capitalism orders the world. Think of your social media feed or how you’re exposed to news. It’s all stochastic, random, obeying an algorithm with very little relations to how humans might otherwise perceive the world. It’s not that the “natural” is necessarily superior to the “artificial”; these dichotomies are meaningless. Rather, in both the album and in real life, it’s more than these new spaces, cyber-spaces that is, aren’t organized around human needs and desires but rather on the desires of machines which are, of course, the desires of capital.
However, there is indeed a “natural” flavor to the solution which the oppressed choose in the album. We already know what that is, from Asheran: it is the disconnection, the rejection of technology in favor of the natural world. “Mleccha”, the next track, is simple enough (in that it describes things we already know) but is actually the keystone to our journey so far. It shows the step that separates the Shudra from the Asheran, setting them free into their planet and forever creating the gulf between them and their oppressors (the track also happens to contain my favorite riff from the entire album, the one that calls in the outro with its illustrious cymbal work and undeniable groove):
Awake to be awoken
A new dream outwidth dreams
The substantial actuality
Meaning and purpose, newly found humanity
Remove oneself from synthetic light
from catacombs of heart and mind.
Into forested freedom
Meaning and purpose, clean air and clarity
The first part is simple enough, right? The Shudra awake from the technological dream that the Asheran would imprison them in and, consequently, explore what remains of their planet beyond the giant ziggurat/city/temples that they helped create. They discover parts of the planet that are still wild and unbuilt, finding within them the peace and clarity that they longed for in the cities. What’s interesting is that Dvne, keeping true to their namesake, draw a parallel between this religious and ecological understanding and a political one. The Shudra not only reject the way of life and technology of the Asheran, but they also begin to re-conceptualize ideas such as power, virtue, worth, and competition. In short, the break is not just conceptual or ideological, it is also social, affecting the way in which these people now organize their society:
Pivotal connection to our own future –
Their mirages we no longer pursue
No birthright to uphold
No sovereignty to chase
Victims of their own egos
and unquenched thirst to rise
Andromeda captured their glare
But the stars they won’t possess
I love that line about “Andromeda”. Ironically, or perhaps not, considering they built the cities, the spaceships, and the technology the Asheran will probably use to go into space (because, remember, the Asheran technology is focused on weaponry), the Shudra already know that the Asheran odyssey is doomed to fail. They see the sheer ego involved in this journey to a heaven or to some forgotten promised land; the “pivotal connection to our own future” is probably their understanding that the Asheran will fail and that their failure means that they will one day return. Indeed, that understanding leads us to the second-to-last track and, from a lyrical perspective, my favorite on the album. This is because “Asphodel” once again zooms in on a specific individual, this time bringing us a song of the Shudra themselves. This song is something found in almost all societies on Earth: a lullaby with some sort of moral lesson or warning:
Behold my child,
The broken fields
The land that mourns for trees
Become my dear,
The first and last,
The guardian of vows.
Listen my child
And face the west
Attend the storms arrival
The oaths we took.
And tell your child the same
Return of the season
Return of the season
Cycles of Asphodel
The song does exactly what these songs are planned to do, that is impart knowledge, duty, morality, and history on children when they’re young enough to understanding things on a visceral level. The idea is to imprint on them ways of behavior, methods of belonging, that will become instinct. This is important because those who write the songs think that these things are immutable and critical; that is, they describe a danger or an opportunity so great that it will forever remains a danger or an opportunity. Thus, it needs to remain beyond reason and opinion; it needs to be coded into the very fabric of society and the way to change that code is through education, the earlier, the better.
In this case, the danger is, of course, the technology of the Asheran and their eventual return. The song begins by describing “the land that mourns for trees”; this signifies the cities the Shudra built for the Asheran, where technology destroyed nature in the name of the hubris of the Asheran. It then reminds the child of the vows, the same vows we will see/have seen on Asheran, to protect the wild places still left and let no one reactivate the horrible technology still on the planet. Remember that Lodos metaphor from the opening of the album, the wind that brings the storm? It’s a metaphor for the Asheran and it’s utilized here as well to warn the child that the Asheran will return. Why west? That’s probably where the cities are in relation to where the Shudra have escaped and they (correctly) intuit that that’s where the Asheran will land. The song ends with the remonstration to pass this song on to your own children (as many of these songs and tales often do). “Asphodel” is a type of flower, a lily, associated with death and the afterlife in many ancient mythologies (but primarily the Greek one). The metaphor here is clear: generations come and go and, one day, the Asheran will return. We must keep watch until that day and prepare to resist them in the name of nature, as we have sworn to do.
Which, and you knew this was coming, brings us full circle to meet with Asheran. With “Satuya”, we see the events which kick off that album, namely the return of the Asheran, as prophesied (“visions whole”), from the perspective of our current protagonists. You have all of the pieces to understand it yourselves now (except maybe for “Satuya” and “Eletva”, which I’ll admit I couldn’t decipher myself) so I’ll leave you to it. Perhaps the next album from Dvne, hopefully soon, will show us the day after Asheran, where the two peoples might reunite as one? Whatever direction the band decide to take this in, you can bet that themes of political revolution, religion, history, ecology, and personal belief will return. Until that time, there are still plenty of unsolved mysteries hidden in Etemen Ænka; I urge, nay, beseech, you to solve those problems I was unable to myself. Or, you know, just sit back and enjoy one of the finer albums of 2021.
Vales of arcus advance
Reclaimed weeds torn from dead roots
Storms Speak Decrees
Lords Speak Decrees