04/16/2024

Undead Goathead

Dedicated to metal, music, and mischief.

Lyrical Analysis: Baroness – Choir/The Dirge

Stone is the latest release from North American heavy metal titans, Baroness.

Inro:

Okay, this is kind of a weird situation, but of course it is. It’s me, Cheryl! What were you expecting, normalcy? Honey, please! I will make everything awkward, all the time, no matter what. So when Baroness released their latest singles, starting with Last Word, then later including Shine and Beneath The Rose after the fact, I forgot the fact that those tracks were part of the greater whole of the album. Most people seem to concur that Beneath The Rose leads into Choir leads into Dirge, kind of the Beatles’ medleys on certain albums, such as Abbey Road.

I love John Baizley’s voice. I don’t have perfect pitch, I’m not sure if he’s a tenor, baritone or even a bass. All I know is that, even when he whispers softly, you can still tell that he’s a big, beefy dude. And when he belts it out like a barrel-chested opera singer? My God, his loud screams and roars are earth shattering!

If Baroness was an incense, they would be something smoky and intense, almost pungent, like dragons’ blood, nag champa, or frankincense and myrhh. That might seem like a weird comparison, but the band are no strangers to synesthesia. Their albums are named after colors, after all. Even if this is following the trend set by the Beatles’ White Album, which in turn inspired Metallica’s Black Album, Type O Negative’s Green Album, Despite Loyalty’s Pink Album, etc. Baroness are just as visually stunning, as they are musically talented. Songs so good you can practically taste it!

Ah, Choir. The follow up to Beneath The Rose. One of the landmark singles of Stone that I analyzed before I knew it was directly connected to other tracks, as well as the album as a whole. A song that is, and I quote, “spooky as shit“, as Reddit so eloquently stated. Yes, I agree, and thus we have a unanimous consensus: This song is incredibly creepy. Let’s unravel the mystery behind these disturbing lyrics!

Lyrics:

Choir:

Hear the dark Madonna
In golden chains of fire
With flesh like sunburnt varnish
A tapestry of scars

This stanza is ominous and borderline blasphemous. I’ve been open about my occult and supernatural experiences. I’ve talked about prophetic nightmares, dark tarot card readings, and even a decapitated dove. Well, I recently found an even worse omen of misfortune , yet another dead dove. But it wasn’t just headless; it was completely eviscerated! And worse yet, it was right next to my car, laying on the parking lot, directly in front of my driver seat door, almost like someone put it there on purpose.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. But… It’s a little too deliberate. For the sake of my sanity, or what little remains of it, I’m going to tell myself that a stray cat really likes me, and left me a gift. Yup… That’s gotta be it…

She stalks the unlit corners
She haunts my room at night
That I might use my eyelids
As a shield against her light

This probably refers to the same “dark Madonna” from the opening line of the song. She seems to be a ghostly figure. I also like the subversion of the trope of “light = good and dark = bad.” Sometimes the dark is cozy and comforting, while blaring lights are strange and scary. Sometimes the sun itself is cold and black, such as during an eclipse.

For her the sweet Behemoth
That slavers while it grins
With fangs of burnished copper
And milk beneath its skin

Behemoth is one of the most terrifying Biblical monsters, and also the name of an incredibly morbid Black Metal band. It usually doesn’t have connotations of being “sweet”. Then again, it’s possible that the Biblical Behemoth is simply a medieval interpretation of a hippopotamus. Yeah, maybe in cartoons, hippos look cute and cuddly, but in reality, they kill in cold blood. They don’t even kill for food, since they are herbivores. They do it just because they can. Whatever kind of monster this “sweet Behemoth” might be, its evil grin, copper fangs, and milky skin paint an eerie, grotesque picture.

Along with fierce Leviathan
Who walks below the waves
Have laid their jaws upon your lap
To rest beneath your grace

Leviathan! Another Biblical beast and black metal band! But again, the primeval terror is subverted as the monster acts as tame as a house cat, curling up on your lap and resting on you. Somehow, the cuddly creature is even more disturbing, like it’s lulling you into a false sense of safety and security, before it shows it’s true colors.

These fiery beasts of heaven
That burn the surface clean
Will render hell in shades of amber
Black and emerald green

This apocalyptic imagery is about the inevitability of Armageddon. Color psychology again comes into play. “Shades of amber, black, and emerald green” makes me think of dancing flames and dark shadows playing off against each other.

The whispered words of tourniquets
Come spilling through the gauze
To split the crackling plasma
With soft and tender claws

Again, the monsters bare their claws, but somehow the fact that they are “soft and tender” makes it even more disturbing than if they had just attacked you outright. Perhaps it’s implying that you are possessed by demonic entity, or a victim of eternal damnation. Why else would the beasts of hell act like your domesticated pets?

Something shines behind their eyes
Something deep inside
And when they’ve stripped me to the bone
There’s nothing left to hide

I’ve seen BPD being described as feeling like your skin is inside out, or even nonexistent, with the soft pink flesh and tender nerves endlessly exposed to the harsh elements of the outside world, feeling everything extremely and intensely… Especially pain….Well this particular psychotic episode feels like I don’t even have any skin anymore, no heart, no brain, no vital organs whatsoever, like I’ve been “stripped down to the bone”. I’m just a skeleton now, everyone has already taken everything I can possibly give (and then some). Even my marrow has been sucked dry. I’m not even a complete human being. Just the scaffolding.

Even though I’m just a sorry sack of bones, I still want to share what little I have left. Here’s a rose for all my lovers, and thorns for all the haters!

Behold this spoiling carcass
That swings before you now
Who’s bound in rags and rubber bands
And strung up to your boughs

Oof. This disturbing imagery is clearly about a  body hanging from a tree. But why is it strung up to “your” boughs? If the tree belongs to you, then perhaps so does the body. Like a ghost watching their own death.

I wander through your garden
On bones of broken glass
To chew your shining halo
With teeth of molten wax

This passage is vaguely erotic. Wandering through the garden is a common euphemism for sex. There are also intimate implications of Eden. Even the lyrics about drug abuse and mental illness are vaguely sensual. Their clever wordplay and lyricism includes innuendos and double entendres. It’s like when you’re so damn depressed that the only thing that can neutralize it, is the physical and emotional thrill of an orgasm, and sometimes even that isn’t near enough. Not even close.

The bones of broken glass are poetic, but to be honest, it also reminds me of the episode of SpongeBob where the scam artist chocolate salesman says he has glass bones, and paper skin, and every day he breaks his arms, and every night he breaks his legs. Even in such a profoundly deep and dark song, there is a glimmer of humor. Gallows humor, sure, and perhaps even unintentional, but humor nonetheless.

The ‘teeth of molten wax” strike unnervingly close to home. I suffer from bruxism, or grinding my teeth. I used to joke that I’m slowly crushing my own mouth bones into a fine powder. But now that it’s coming true, the punchline isn’t even funny anymore. Even after years of dentistry and orthodontics, my molars are so chipped and rough around the edges, that I literally have to use wax to keep the jagged corners from cutting my tongue, gums, and cheeks. One time, it was so painful, that I just grabbed a metal emery board from my manicure kit, and stuck it in my jaw to file down the offending tooth.

I hide between the shadows
Of your homemade oubliette
I know they’re out to get me
But they haven’t got me yet

Society: “I hate it when anyone says that people with depression should ‘just cheer up’ or ‘not be sad anymore’! So annoying!”

Also society: “Oh you suffer from paranoid delusions? Have you tried uhhh not being paranoid and delusional anymore? Don’t worry, it’s all in your head! I know they feel real, but your superstitions are completely irrational, so if you could just snap out of it, that’d be great.”

Also also society: “I don’t have to apologize for anything I say or do while depressed, because ‘I feel bad enough already.’ Anyway, you did *what* while having a psychotic/manic episode?! Ugh. So toxic and problematic. You should take some heavy duty pharmaceuticals for *my* convenience.”

Also also also society:  “Oh, your meds had side effects and adverse reactions? That’s so sad! Someone should totally help. Not me, though. But, y’know… someone.”

And then y’all wonder why people with personality disorders/psychosis/paranoia think you’re all out to get us…

Also, technically, you’re only paranoid if you’re wrong… Considering how many times I’ve been hurt and betrayed and all the bad things that have been happening in general, I have every right to mistrust everything and everyone… Including you…

I hope she sings forever
In silver notes of woe
For when the dirge is over
We go to ground alone

I assume that “she” refers to the selfsame “dark Madonna” of the previous passages. Perhaps this song is about a spirit who saw their own corpse, as previously mentioned, and now the Dark Madonna is dragging him into the underworld. However, his soul cannot be claimed, until “the Dirge is over.” And so, for now, we have a cliffhanger, until I analyze The Dirge itself!

The Dirge:

When my ship is sailing
When my race is run
When my breath is failing
I’ll know my time has come

Jeez, talk about mood whiplash. Immediately after the modern and progressive musical stylings of Choir, Dirge suddenly changes the whole tone, in a quite literal sense. This minimalist song harkens back to Baroness’ traditional Appalachian roots. This sounds like something a 18th century pioneer would hum to themselves while strumming a one-stringed banjo. However, even with these starkly different rhythms and tempos, Dirge still appears to retain the same  literary meter and poetic rhyme scheme as Choir: Quatrains with an ABAB pattern, and roughly five to seven syllables per line.

And then we’ll be together
You and I as one
I’ll feel your light forever
And burn beneath your sun

Seems that the protagonist and the Dark Madonna are destined for an eternity together, in some kind of metaphysical afterlife.

Now my ship is sailing
Now the race is run
I know my breath is failing
Now my time is up

The character of the song seems to have overcome the terror and dread of Choir, as in Dirge, he ultimately embraces his fate with open arms. He is now at the final stage of grief: Acceptance. At long last, his spirit is ready to move on, with humble grace and quiet dignity.

Outro:

Choir perfectly captures the painful paranoia of curling up in bed and cowering under the blankets, hiding from something that may or not even be real. Hell, I’ve even admitted to literally jumping at my own shadow in the past. But I’ve also written about the fact that most monsters aren’t supernatural. They’re just ordinary people. There’s nothing otherworldly, or even special, about dysfunctional families, violent criminals, or annoying rivals. Honestly, they’re all a dime a dozen, as common as ever. I shouldn’t be so worried about demons and ghosts, when I should be more concerned about the creeps who stole my purse, chased me upstairs, set fire to my building, and broke into my car. Heaven and Hell, God and Satan, or angels and demons, may or may not actually exist. But bad people DEFINITELY do.

Oh well.  Resentment and self pity won’t do me any favors. Neither will ruminating on distorted memories of the past, nor anxieties about the future. It’s not easy to conquer your own self doubts and fears, let alone mental illness. But the alternative is even worse. You have to fight to survive, no matter the cost. That’s where a short n’ sweet song like Dirge comes into play. This human need for connection is emphasized, as Choir is mainly sung solo, whereas Dirge is sung in harmony, with more than one voice coming together in unison. Any community is still a community, no matter how small. If you have even just one friend in your corner, while it seems like the world is conspiring against you, then you’d better cherish that person like the treasure that they are.