Lyrical Analysis: Insomnium – While We Sleep

Posted by on Apr Sat, 2020 in Black Metal, Death Metal, Folk Metal, Hard Rock, Heavy/Traditional Metal, Lifestyle, Lyrical Analysis, Melodic Death Metal, Metalcore, Progressive Rock | 0 comments

Lyrical Analysis: Insomnium – While We Sleep
Insomnium is a melodic death metal band based in Finland.

Intro:

This track is from the album, Shadows of the Dying Sun, released by Century Records in 2014. Even the album title is a juxtaposition of light and dark. The greyscale color scheme of the music video, is another example of this contrast. It also hints at moral ambiguity. Why are relationships so complex? What does it mean to be ambivalent? Is there something beyond the concepts of “good” and “bad”, like the power of love, or simply power itself? Let’s find out, with the lyrics to While We Sleep, by Finnish melodic death metallers, Insomnium!

Lyrics:

When your heart gives out and your love collapses

When the hand that never lets go is there no more

When you reap and sow only throe and resentment

When there’s no one else but you to blame it for

Love is sacrifice. Even friendship is difficult. Two people can connect, but only so much. And sometimes, the things you have in common, are glaring personality flaws. Hypocrisy, selfishness, greed, envy, spite. You can enable each other’s self destructive tendencies in a misguided attempt to connect. The closer you are to someone, the more you see each other’s faults.

Sometimes, you are the toxic person, pushing everyone else away. If you grew up with dysfunction, then you are a product of your environment. But it is your prerogative, and yours alone, to rise above it. Nobody will save you from yourself. If you bite the hand that feeds you, then that will be the last meal they ever give you. And then you’ll have to find a new scapegoat. Eventually, you will run out of people to exploit.

When all you ever wish for is to go back once more

When all you ever wish for is to change it all

When all you feel is remorse, pain and regret

When you dwell in the past unable to move on

It is normal to feel sorrow, to regret your mistakes. But don’t let it consume you. You can never undo the things that happened, nor can you redo the things that you wish had happened instead. Your past is static and unchangeable. Your present and your future may be in your control. At least, to a degree.

And we drift far away in our dreams

Gather further distance while we sleep

Everyone likes to think that they are “woke”, or enlightened, surrounded by a bunch of brainwashed sheeple. However, we all claim to hate the hivemind herd mentality, yet we lack the creativity to think of insults any more original than “sheep” or “sheeple” clichés. We claim to be rebels and individualists, while desperately seeking validation and approval from the other misfits. We judge everyone else for being too judgmental. Our impulsive emotions and contradictory thoughts have the same primitive anti-logic of a lucid dream.

Build a wall of glass thick and deep

We hear but choose not to listen

We might as well be asleep, like Snow White in her glass coffin. Is she alive? Is she dead? Asleep? Awake? It almost doesn’t matter, because she is helpless and inactive. These are bitter pills to swallow, so most people live in ignorance or denial.

The wall of glass could also refer to the proverb: “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”, or “Let him without sin cast the first stone”, or “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I can’t point the finger at anyone else for being a hypocrite, because I am one, too. Same with all my other vices.

And we drift far away in our dreams

Gather further distance while we sleep

This doublet is repeated, reinforcing the symbolism of drifting away in a deep slumber. Like clouds on a rainy day, our thoughts and emotions are fleeting. You might love someone one minute, and hate them the next. You can be happy one day, and depressed the day after. Some people might perceive you as nice, maybe even to a fault, like a pushover, or trying too hard to be liked. Yet others might think that you are outspoken, maybe even too rude and abrasive. People are not simple, we are complicated. I am not sure if there is such a thing as a “good” or “bad” person, just flawed human beings who are capable of both helping and hurting each other. Even good and evil are subjective concepts.

Still the bridge is inflamed with fire

Leave all the love we had behind


This is an obvious allusion to “burning bridges”, or cutting someone off completely. Ghosting your friends, disowning your family, divorcing an ex-spouse. These are all relationships that had their ties severed asunder. But maybe when you burn a bridge, you risk collateral damage. You could get burnt, yourself.


When you realize that your life is a one-way road

When you realize that there’s no point of return

When you understand that you can’t go back anymore

When you understand you can only move onwards

Again, there is no changing the past. You can remember the good times fondly without being overly nostalgic. You can feel normal remorse for the bad times without ruminating in it. But if you obsess over something that is impossible to fix, you will drive yourself mad. And it will also hurt the people around you. Maybe you can’t help how you feel, but then that means that they can’t help their feelings, either. If others feel disdain, disappointment, or resentment toward you, that’s ok. They are entitled to their own emotions, as you are entitled to yours. But someone has to move on eventually.

And we drift far away in our dreams

Gather further distance while we sleep

This doublet is repeated for the third time. This repetition drives home the concept of natural patterns. The human life cycle has birth, childhood, adulthood, and death. Every year has spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Every day has a dawn, morning, evening, and night. And with this organic cycle, we all go to sleep every night, or at least try to. It is no coincidence that the band’s name is Insomnium. With these analogies, it is clear that sleep, night, death, and winter, are all correlated.

Build a wall of glass thick and deep

We hear but choose not to listen

This doublet is also repeated from the last chorus. It reinforces the symbolism of glass walls, which I picture as a glass coffin or a glass house. Either way, the imagery is transparent and reflective. You can look through the glass, to see other people, or if you adjust your focus, you see your own reflection.

And we drift far away in our dreams

Gather further distance while we sleep

We waste away in our metaphorical sleep, which could symbolize willful ignorance, or even death itself. We push each other away, and then cry because we have nobody on our side. We are all a bunch of stupid, selfish, flawed, horrible hypocrites. But we still need each other anyway. I’m not much, but I’m kinda all you got. And the feeling is mutual. Beggars can’t be choosers. We live in a chaotic world where life was a lucky coincidence (some might say a miracle). We are lucky to even exist at all, let alone form long term, meaningful relationships with each other.

Again, the use of repetition, especially in the chorus, emphasizes the significance of patterns and cycles. This can be seen in predictable days, seasons, years, and lifetimes. It can also be seen in the idiosyncrasies and habits of an individual. Actions speak louder than words. Someone might brag about being a romantic lover, but their exes might beg to differ. Or someone might boast about what an honest and true friend they are, but our interactions suggest otherwise. Or someone might see themselves as an ambitious professional, but their employer may disagree. We all like to think of ourselves as intelligent, attractive, and ethical. But reality is not so flattering.

Still the bridge is enflamed with fire

Leave all the love we had behind

All trust is a gamble. Sometimes love is one-sided and unrequited. Sometimes it is parasitic, benefiting one person but hurting the other. Sometimes it is mutually destructive, hurting both. It can even be codependent, with each other’s need and greed, ironically destroying the very affection they so desperately crave.

And again, some people bond over their mutual flaws. Functional alcoholism, materialistic greed, using each other for personal gain. Bleach has a lot in common with ammonia – They are both strong liquid chemicals, they are both used for household cleaning, they both have an intense smell, and are even packaged in similar containers. But if you mix them together, you get toxic freaking tear gas. Just because you relate to someone, does not mean that you’re good for each other.

We need to slow down

We need to slow down

We need to slow down So I can catch you

I pride myself on my work ethic. I work a stressful day job, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Even in an international crisis, I still get the work done from home. Hell, I even used to make appointments and do chores during my lunch hour, so sometimes I was too busy to even eat. After my shift, I wrap up my errands, get some exercise, relax with some down time, and do some writing, every single day. Between all the hustle and bustle, it’s nice to, I dunno, shower and/or eat on occasion. Before I know it, it’s already 7:00 AM, and I’m reaching for the snooze button again.

So if you ever threw a tantrum because I couldn’t drop everything to babysit you on some random weekday afternoon, this is why. It’s called adulting. You should try it sometime. If you’re mad at someone who works hard and pursues their passions, then maybe you deserve a bum.

We need to slow down so I can catch you

We need to slow down so you can catch me

Sometimes I resent my loved ones. I feel like my family takes me for granted, assuming that I will always forgive and love them unconditionally, even if they don’t return the favor. Or like my friends take advantage of my generosity, only reaching out when they want something: A couch to crash on, a ride somewhere, money to spend. Hell, I even have a love/hate relationship with the music industry. Sometimes I feel like I spend hundreds of dollars, and do hours of free labor, with no acknowledgement whatsoever. I have plenty of experiences to corroborate these feelings. But I also have examples of people being kind, and generous, and professional, going above and beyond to help me when I had nothing to offer in return. I’m sure everyone else has dirt on me, too. If you cut off everyone who criticizes, insults, or offends you, then you’re not going to be on speaking terms with anyone whatsoever.

I used to fancy myself as the “strong friend”, the responsible one with a job, car, house, and even a bit of money to spare. But this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes I was the couch surfer, the party animal, the broke slacker. Same with my family. I was sullen and rebellious, full of angst and spite toward everyone. No wonder those fuckers had a falling out with me. I thought I was being respectful by being distant, because I was giving everyone the same personal space that I wanted for myself. I don’t want to waste time with small talk and trivialities. I never bothered anyone unless it was important.

But that’s’ the point. I hated it when others only hit me up when they had ulterior motives, but I was unwittingly doing the exact same thing. I still am a hypocrite. Just like everyone else. Some of the most manipulative people, are the ones who call everyone else “toxic” or “narcissistic”. Many self-proclaimed “empaths” are tone deaf to other people’s feelings, instead projecting their own assumptions and emotions on others. The same people who complain that I’m antisocial, are the ones who ghosted me, stood me up, or left my unanswered messages on read. Similarly, I was accusing everyone else of being cruel and self-centered, after convincing myself that I never even needed anyone anyway. I hate to admit it, but I guess I do need some people. But just a few. And only sometimes. Not often. And I’m going to grumble about it anyway.

We need to slow down so I can catch you

We need to slow down so you can catch me

Slow down

If you want people to accept you for who you are, then you need to accept them as they are. I tend to get annoyed by people who I perceive as needy or clingy, but they resent me because I seem aloof and stand-offish. If you want to be accepted for the attention craving tag-along that you are, then you can accept me for the independent bitch that I am. I guess it wouldn’t hurt me to try to be more empathetic, but maybe others could put an effort to be more considerate of my boundaries. All relationships require compromise. We need to meet each other halfway.

Instead of burning myself out and trying too hard to be a workaholic, maybe I should make time for others. I need to slow down. And maybe others need to make plans in advance, and invite me ahead of time, instead of expecting my life to come to a screeching halt, just to “hang out” or whatever. They need to slow down, in their own way. We all could use a breather. Stop worrying about something petty that happened several years ago. Don’t get upset over social media, which is literally designed to evoke an emotional reaction, to keep people addicted. We need to slow down, to catch up with each other.

The best relationships are when people are together by choice, not by necessity. If you only like somebody because they do things for you, or even because of how they make you feel, then those are selfish motives. It’s like a dog that wags its tail to anyone who feeds it table scraps, but growls at strangers who have nothing to offer. That’s utilitarianism, not friendship. But if you are able to look past someone’s many sins, and into their heart, your risk might be rewarded with genuine companionship. This is the gamble we take with every lover, friend, colleague, relative, and even ourselves.

The song concludes with the final command: Slow down.

Outro:

Society and individuals are both complex. There are no easy answers. Even morality itself is amorphous, and subject to change. We grapple with our own internal struggles, including mental illness and depression. Other people are not responsible for your healing, just like you’re not responsible for theirs. You can accompany each other, but asking someone to “make you happy” or “take care” of you, is as ridiculous as expecting them to puke in your stead when you feel nauseous, or to blink your eyes for you because you’re too lazy to do it yourself.

Your circle of friends are as broken as yourself, each with their own battles to win. Whether out of ignorance, malice, or a combination of both, it is inevitable that you will disagree, argue, and even hurt each other sometimes. True relationships should have mutual compromises, not just one sided sacrifice. It’s up to you to decide who is worth the effort, but everyone else can also judge whether or not you yourself are worthy. If you don’t make the cut, you have only yourself to blame.

While We Sleep is a single from the 2014 Insomnium album, Shadows of the Dying Sun.

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