“I saw six men kicking and punching the mother-in-law. My neighbor said, ‘Are you going to help?’ I said, ‘No, Six should be enough.’” – Les Dawson
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
“A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance.” - Gian Carlo Menotti
“If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.” – George Carlin
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” – Mark Twain
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams
“Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” – John N. Mitchell
“What you perceive, your observations, feelings, interpretations, are all your truth. Your truth is important. Yet it is not The Truth.” – Linda Ellinor
“The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.” – Chuck
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”― Franz Kafka
New Music Friday is a tradition that my brother and I have shared since I left home to attend college. Every Friday (or as often as we are able), we trade albums that we believe will be worthy of discussion or debate. They don’t have to be new releases – just new to both parties. Sometimes we come across music that is just too interesting to keep to ourselves, and so I will share here, for you, dear readers, my impressions of a recent New Music Friday listening session.
This week’s selection: twin concept albums Heliocentric and Anthropocentric from The Ocean.
The Ocean (sometimes referred to as The Ocean Collective) is a heavy, sludgy, experimental metal band from Berlin. These two albums were released in April and September of 2010, respectively, and were my first real exposure to the band. Musically, they remind me of other acts like Between the Buried and Me (aggressive vocals and thoughtful lyrics), Ihsahn (spooky saxophone) and ISIS (sludgy riffs), as well as a dash of Hurt (piano and violin interludes) and, if you can believe it, a single track (“Ptolemy Was Wrong”) that reminds me of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
But lyrically, they are like nothing I’ve ever listened to.
Both of these albums tackle the tricky subject of religion. I hesitate to say most (but let’s face it; I’d be right) metal bands out there attack Christianity with about as much poise and finesse as an underage drinker parking his mom’s Toyota in the produce section of the local Wegmans. They pose and posture and create such intense impressions of Godless heathens that they end up looking like laughable parodies of themselves (I’m looking at you, Cradle of Filth. And you, Dimmu Borgir – although I found your 2010 album Abrahadabra to be uncharacteristically thoughtful.).
The Ocean has instead constructed two albums that critique Christianity and indeed, faith in general, in an exceedingly grown-up manner. They don’t rail against God and Providence – they attempt to understand Him and His, and find out along the way that the Christian Argument doesn’t hold a lot of water.
It’s heavy stuff, and it’s certainly not for everyone. But no matter what your religious persuasions are, it remains a moral imperative, as far as I’m concerned, to step outside our comfort zones regularly and immerse ourselves in perspectives that differ from our own.
I think the point at which the lyrics started demanding my absolute and undivided attention was “Metaphysics of the Hangman,” from Heliocentric, as it was the first pointedly critical song on the album. Following it up is “Swallowed by the Earth,” which seems to be using the Old Testament flood as a condemnation of God’s oftentimes disturbing idea of morality. Bass riffs reminiscent of Tool abound here. But natural disasters are one of the go-to arguments against the “loving and caring god” theory. So is there nothing new here?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that tracks 9 and 10 – “The Origin of Species” and “The Origin of God” – are two of the most important songs I’ve ever heard in my life. I said earlier that these albums are thought-provoking on every single level. Let me explain one of these levels.
Screaming. There are thousands of bands in the world that utilize vocals like these; some better than others. But as I listened to these albums, I was, for the first time, debating the purpose of death metal vocals. Oftentimes the subject matter of a so-called “screamo” or “hardcore” or “black metal” – or any genre with “death” as a prefix or “core” as a suffix – doesn’t really gel with the vocal delivery. Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth has always understood this; his music would not make the kind of sense it does if he screamed every single lyric. It seems to me that deep and guttural screaming needs to be used sparingly to mean anything at all; you can’t scream about everything and expect to be taken seriously. It would be like typing everything you ever write with caps lock on. No one wants to read that. No one will ever give you the time of day.
I am not, generally speaking, a fan of this vocal style. But there are a handful of artists I love that do it spectacularly well. Full disclosure: I found some of the death vocals on these albums to be distracting and unnecessary. That is, until I got to “The Origin of Species.” I feel that using such harsh vocals on this track go beyond a stylistic choice and become representative of a veritable crisis of faith; the narrator admits as the song opens that it’s difficult to imagine the world coming into being without an “engineer” and then begins to systematically dissect and defeat his own premise. Damn! That’s the most metal thing I’ve ever heard! How could he *not* be screaming until his throat bleeds? As he wrestles with his own interpretation of the world around him, he reminds us that no one on earth can begin to fathom the hugeness and complexity of the natural processes we pretend to be able to understand. Our lifetimes, after all, are just an instant. The universe will never know we were here.
But that’s not enough. It’s followed up with “The Origin of God.” I knew I was in for a ride as soon as I read the title.
“A prime mover only shifts the problem.” Holy hell, this is brilliant. Let’s face it: belief in God is a cop-out in so many ways. In grappling with our origins, mankind chooses to cleave to the belief that some man in the sky created us. Like Richard Dawkins (who they later quote), in Ben Stein’s 2008 documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, citing alien intervention in the creation of the human race.
But where did God come from? This track makes me realize that this question, which I’ve wondered idly about since I was a child, and have managed to be satisfied with evasions or non-answers, is actually the single greatest blow to religion, and probably the most important question anybody could ask.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been tempted toward a crisis of faith by metal before… and God knows how many metal bands there are out there who have tried… poorly. I quite simply am astounded at how well this band vocalizes the questions that have always been in the back of my mind, that I’ve never been able to ask, or didn’t know how to ask, and the answers to which I’ve always, on some level, feared.
And that was just the first disc. Deep breath.
The opening/title track of Anthropocentric is ferocious right out of the gate. And the screaming here represents…what? Triumph? Perhaps. A man finally come to terms with the questions he’s been asking. As I listened to this album, I was jotting down quotes that struck me particularly hard. This song has several of them:
“[Christianity's] legacy of fear and submissiveness prevails in many brave man’s heart and soul.”
“Condemned to inertia.”
He’s putting Christians in their place, isn’t he? And it makes me wonder if it isn’t the ultimate expression of narcissism to believe that mankind is sanctified and blessed and singularly important in this gigantic, unfathomable universe.
The airtight arguments continue in “The Grand Inquisitor II: Roots & Locusts”:
“Who would want to worship such a maker anyway?” In speaking to the notion that mankind was put on earth solely to worship Him (many Christians will tell you that this is our singular purpose), the singer asks the simple question: is such a being worthy of our praise?
“It is not God that I do not accept; it’s this world of God’s, created by God, that I cannot agree to accept.” An interesting turn here. There’s a faint suggestion that the notion of God is not at the root of the problems he describes, but instead he objects to the circumstances that God allows to exist and persist, despite the fact that He’d have us believe that He is loving and just. These are familiar arguments, but here they somehow feel fresh and novel and yes… haunting.
“Sewers of the Soul,” while musically not as interesting as other tracks, and in fact slightly tedious, has some of the most important lyrics: “Christianity has been from the beginning life’s nausea and disgust with life… merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life.” This is brilliant. And it makes the image of millions of Americans getting up early and going to sit in pews among other believers every Sunday to get in God’s good graces and one day escape this mortal coil look so suddenly depressing, craven, and possibly insane. He reminds us that we ought to make every single second of this life count; it is, after all, the only life we can ever be sure we’ll have. Anything else is a gamble.
The main character in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, after expounding his convictions and moral beliefs and describing the truths and absolutes that define his life, is asked, “What about the afterlife?” His (paraphrased) answer: “This is the life I am living, right now. I am concerned with no other.” Something I’ve often thought about.
“The Almightiness Contradiction” is another headtrip and an awesome closer for these two albums, and another nearly airtight argument. “For if He knew everything, He could not do anything different from what He knows.” God is, then, either omnipotent or omniscient; He cannot be both.
I was reeling as the final notes played out. I don’t know if I’d say that my faith is actually shaken, but I know that this is the closest I’ve ever come. I find myself torn between two ideas:
(1) Unanswered questions are what life is all about. That’s why they call it “faith.” Faith is the name we give to filling in the gaps of our very imperfect knowledge with unquantifiable beliefs that, in truth, have no basis in reality and can never be tested or verified.
(2) Nothing about God adds up; belief in Him is not an answer in and of itself, and organized religion is a deeply imperfect, hollow, and ultimately meaningless exercise that gets us no closer to heaven than we already are.
There are profound and simultaneous feelings of joy and absolute horror to be found in reveling in such huge questions. And I suppose that in a weird way it takes the pressure off; these albums are a reminder of just how small we are, and that we don’t understand anything at all in the grand scheme of things. And maybe life’s ultimate goal is to learn to be okay with that.
Christians and agnostics alike learn different versions of humility: Christians humble themselves with the knowledge that there is a power greater than our comprehension, who set the worlds in motion. We are as nothing compared with Him. Agnostics are humble in the understanding that they (and humanity as a whole) are powerless to understand anything at all, from the origins of the universe to its innermost workings. The march of science and progress will provide some of these answers, but they remain comfortable, somehow, knowing that certainty is a myth.
In short, I don’t think I’ve ever been affected by lyrics quite this way before. The music itself ranges from bold and captivating to dull and uninspired, but at every turn it’s the lyrics that challenge and intrigue and inspire and infuriate me. I was born and raised in a Christian household, and even now it’s the faith with which I associate most closely.
So I think I have an answer to one of life’s important questions: why am I here? Because God allows me to be. To what end? I don’t have a damn clue.
Wonderment is asking questions. Faith is accepting imperfect answers to impossible questions. But without anything to challenge our faith, our answers don’t mean anything at all.
After his mother’s death, Tom’s family has never been the same. But when a young woman named Carine arrives on their farm, the boy and his father are strained to their breaking point as they fight for her affection. Kitamura’s second novel, Gone to the Forest is a fiery story of a family that is just as explosive as the volcano about to shake their nation.
“…Kitamura is very much her own writer, and makes you feel keenly the tragedy of her three lost souls.”
Sean Bull is nine years old and surrounded by change. Politics alter the world he’s experienced for only a short time, but it’s all he’s ever known. Now that Margaret Thatcher has become Prime Minister, the people around him (especially his uncle) want change and revolution. But as time goes on, the change never comes. There is only one solution in Sean’s eyes: he must kill Margaret Thatcher.
Calliope Jenkins’s best friend Josh calls her with a chilling warning—“Watch out for the hidden things.” Hours later, the police inform her that he has been found dead, and murder is suspected. Adding to her shock is a voice mail from Josh left an hour after his body was found. Calliope leaves for Iowa in search of answers and meets a man who claims to know not only what happened to Josh but also the means to get him back.
Call it a midlife crisis, but after being sent to the slammer over thirty times and finally kicking his heroin addiction, Matthew decides it’s time to turn his life around. Parker gives his true-life rags-to-riches account of his move from the jail cell to the classroom. He shows us that it’s not easy to change one’s destiny, but it definitely is achievable.
A nontraditional romance on many levels, om love tells a love story through the eyes of a man as he falls for his new yoga teacher. The two of them explore all of the ways their bodies and lives can entwine, but soon find themselves awakened from their dream world as harsh realities come knocking.
A young woman is tied to St. Mungo’s Cross in order to be cured of her madness. Morning comes to reveal her beaten and strangled to death – still tied to the cross. Gil Cunningham is assigned to the case and suddenly the saintly clergy and cathedral staff seem a lot less pious. Are there demons of a less magical kind hidden in the hearts of Glasgow’s holy men, shadows that may strike again soon?
Fifteen years after Theodore Tate’s first crime scene—a young girl named Jessica, found dead in “the Laughterhouse”—a new killer has kidnapped Dr. Stanton (a man linked to the girl’s case) as well as his three daughters. Tate needs to work quickly to figure out the connection between this killer and Jessica’s, but can he figure it out before more blood is spilled?
The Investigator – a normal man as ordinary as any other – arrives in Town. He has been assigned to look into a string of suicides that have occurred at the Enterprise. But his train is delayed, the weather gets worse, and the Investigator is becoming impatient. As he grows more tired, cold, and confused, he can’t help shake the feeling that he is being watched. This story plays with the more surreal points of human existence in a way that would make Kafka proud.
Introducing a verse novel, one that explores what it means to be a high school student living in suburban LA in 1965. In an age where our young minds are trying to find voice, here they will find echoes of the same. Not only does Purple Daze explore the universal themes of teen life, love, sex, and friendship, but it touches on race, riot, and war too—highly relevant to today’s ever-shifting and turbulent culture.
A reimagined beginning for the Dark Knight, Earth One explores the boy before the bat. Young Bruce’s thirst for vengeance transforms him into something fierce, and no one can stop him. The timing for this graphic novel is perfect, especially for when you’re waiting in line for The Dark Knight Rises, coming out on July 20th.
Lucy, daughter of a former president, has been nothing if not perfect about upholding the family’s image…until now. Escaping from her own wedding on the back of a beat-up motorcycle with an obscene man is the one thing she could do to upset that. Lucy finds herself physically and mentally in unknown territory as she tries to figure out her own life as well as her new love’s. Can she learn to distance herself from her upbringing? And how does one get to know a man who reveals nothing about himself and only paints an ugly picture on the surface?
After detective Michael Bennett sends a Mexican crime lord to jail, he decides it’s time for a relaxing escape to an old family cabin. But the town he remembers and the town in which he arrives now are far from similar, and what’s worse: steel bars aren’t holding back his recent prisoner’s wrath back in NYC. Can Michael keep his family safe in one town while fighting to protect New York from an uprising?
Oscar Lowe, a young nursing home assistant, feels alone amid the crowd of college students. But he soon falls for beautiful, brainy Iris, a medical student, and finds himself swept up into her quirky world, specifically when it comes to family. Iris’s brother, Eden, is emotionally detached and believes that he can heal people by the power of music, and he’s willing to go to devastating lengths just to prove it. Can Oscar and Iris determine Eden’s next move before things take a turn for the worse?
For Anna and Francesca, leaving childhood is an exciting time. New curves and more passionate imaginations have taken over, and there’s nothing the girls want to do more than to headlong into womanhood. But after a stunning blow to their friendship, the girls separate only to find their sexuality taking them down roads they never thought they would travel.
A truly gripping selection of horror stories, this book features classics from noted writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Christopher Fowler, and Neil Gaiman, just to name a few. This collection will surely chill your blood and it is recommended that you read it with the lights on!
Andrew Dahl is thrilled to be a new recruit for the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid. However, he soon learns that there are three rules that constantly seem to run their missions:
1)Every mission involves some confrontation with hostile aliens.
2)During these missions, the captain, chief science officer, and handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive.
3)One low-ranked crew member bites it.
Needless to say, these low-ranking crew members–including Andrew–try their best to not get picked for these missions. But then Andrew finds some crucial information that completely transforms his coworkers’ understanding of what these missions are really all about.
Think you know American history? Think again! The weird “facts” we thought were true–all that nonsense about hatters getting mad off mercury, woman had teeny-tiny waists, people bathed once a year–are exposed in this laugh-out-loud collection of debunked myths and legends.
Renouned chef Marcus Samuelsson shares the rags-to-riches story of his life. It starts with his humble beginnings as a young boy orphaned through tuberculosis and soon leads us on a journey of adoption, new cultural surroundings, and a whole lot of chicken-cooking. From early on, there was no doubt what Marcus would be when he grew up.
Amanda’s lost her exotic husband to another woman and it’s now time for her to heal. She knows she needs an escape and decides to do so through a lovely beach vacation. The relaxing atmosphere seems like just what she needs…until she is approached by an older divorcee who gives her all of his attention. Is this the opportunity to move on she so desperately wants and needs?
When Nick’s wife, Amy, disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary, all fingers point to him as the killer. And with dangerous daydreams filling his head, he can’t blame them. But as tensions rise and new secrets come to surface, Nick finds it harder and harder to prove his innocence, even with the help of his twin sister, Margo, who stands by his side.
Xanthe has her abusive past-master’s name spanning the space between her shoulder blades. Japanese student Yoshiko feels too old for her spider web tattoo. Zairah is a trainee lawyer who now sees herself fiercer than the Mickey Mouse on her hip makes her feel. These three women, each with a tattoo representative of a past life, are ready to move on.
Fabrice is an alluring tattooist with the ability to cover their old markings with exquisite new ones, all the while carving barely-noticeable marks in their minds. All of the women become victims to his artful snare; only one can guess his true intentions.
After being unjustly charged with the death of one of his patients, Endo is sent to an island that is home to a small elderly community struggling to keep their fishing industry afloat. However, the islanders are vocal in their stand against outsiders. After several attacks and a mysterious death hit the newcomers, Endo soon learns the villagers’ past is just as ground-shattering as the massive earthquakes that strike the island.
Lena Mattacascar’s father disappeared into the land of Scree–a mysterious wilderness inhabited by an unusual and extraordinary people called “Peculiars”–when she was very young. Now, as she turns 18, she decides to set forth and find the answers to her questions: Where is her father, and what happened to him? Who, really, is the man she meets along the way, and why do strange folk disappear into his home? And (perhaps most importantly), are Lena’s own special characteristics indicative of being a Peculiar?
Gujaareh is an ancient city where Gatherers–the keepers of the peace–employ their magical arts in citizens’ dreams. They soothe the minds of the city’s people and sometimes, when judgment has passed, those deemed corrupt are killed. But someone has taken that judgment into their own hands, and innocents are being murdered.
Ehiru, one of Gujaareh’s most famous Gatherers, finds himself questioning everything he has ever been taught. As shadows fill the streets and the hearts of the citizens, can he protect the woman who may become the next victim—a woman he had been sent to kill himself?
An enlightening look into the history of women in one of the oldest and largest societies in the world today, Galaxy of Immortal Women investigates how females influenced Chinese culture throughout the centuries. It explores a wide range of topics, from religion to folklore to the arts, weaving together a comprehensive history of this influential society through the eyes of womankind.
The Queen of Whale Cay is a wonderful portrait of “Joe” Carstairs, a London-born heiress to a large American fortune and a rebel to boot. After leaving her husband at the altar, Carstairs journeyed across Europe, bought and reigned over an island in the West Indies, and built war ships in Florida. It is as much a love story as it is a cautionary tale about money and madness.
However much of a BAMF you thought Bear was, you were wrong. He broke his back in three places—the doctors thought he would never walk again. Then he walked up to the top of freaking Mount Everest eighteen months later…at 23 years old! And that’s just one of many insane and mind-blowing accomplishments in this autobiography. By the last page, maybe you’ll be motivated to drink your own pee too.
Superstitions, secrets, storms, snakes, and murder – Belle Vue is about to be turned upside-down by such forces it has never seen before. Amanda, an American missionary, finds her story intertwined with those of the locals of this city in the Belgian Congo. With every twist and turn, more lives are cut short by the hand of this unknown killer. Could Amanda and her friends be next?
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