Thursday, August 19, 2010

William Blake: The Traditional Perspective

William Blake approached the world with the honesty of a child, the imagination of an artist, and with the vision of a true prophet; he saw light where others could only see darkness, and he could only see emptiness where many others had founded their entire worldview. Having considered a significant portion of his art and corresponding philosophy, and how it contrasts sharply with the ‘ideals’ of his modern world, of our modern world, we can only come to agree with Kathleen Raine when she states that ‘Blake was a traditionalist in a society that had lapsed from tradition’.

Within the many chambers of wisdom that the Vedic legacy has to offer us, there is a particular process by which the initiate may come to know God (or His work), a search of negation that arrives at the treasure it seeks by confirming what is not gold or silver: ‘neti, neti’, he says, stripping away the chaff surrounding a single gemstone. William Blake tore through the excess with a caustic perception until he could bring the principles he sought into a clear and definite form; even physically, in the way that he engraved, he literally works until something perfect emerges from the base and worthless material. The prophet of London continually shaped, melded, gilded his perception to the point where it fully accorded with a vast and surprisingly comprehensive ‘system’ that adulates internalized beauty, and that scorns the ugly exterior of a fallen, materialized world.

If we were to define ‘humanism’ as the belief that man and his own reason, both empirical and rational, is self-sufficient without the existential need for a higher Intellect beyond immediate comprehension, it would be quite foolish indeed to assert that Blake is infact a humanist.  We would be similarly mistaken, however, if we were to ignore the particularly ‘anthropocentric’ aspect of his vision. Humanity is the greatest of all creation; all nature is subject to our intellect, our sense of order, for humanity is the only created thing gifted with a spirit that transcends mere animal instinct. Jesus Christ is the normative and quintessential man: he is the self-actualized mediator, the immortal bridge between humanity and divinity. So Blake reminds us of our position in the scholastic ‘chain of being’, and yet he undoubtedly entrenches himself in the firmly human point of view, organizing all reality from the perception of a fixed personal psyche.

Situated on the climactic battlefield of ‘mental warfare’, Blake’s ‘Devils’ are arrayed against the ‘Angels’ of the modern world, an irreconcilable duality that persists throughout all time and space. Like countless other men of his virtue, Blake understood himself to be physically alone in a titanic war against the very architects of modernity; and this feeling of utmost solitude (not loneliness) drove his vision to ever greater heights, far beyond the sterile reasoning of Locke, Bacon, and Newton, or ‘Satans Watchfiends’. Blake’s fiery imagination sprung new life with every glimpse of Golgonooza, with every artistic definition of a ‘Minute Particular’. William Blake belongs to the select few minds of genius who have mastered the ‘art of mythology’, or the act of bringing an abstract divinity into a tangible, symbolic, and meaningful representation that is not only comprehensible to the wise man of his age, but is utterly profound and wonderfully resonant to the alert and listening spirit, the wise man of every age.

‘Blake was, in spirit, a denizen of other and earlier ages of the world then the present material one to which chance had so rudely transplanted him. It is within the last century or so, that the heavens have gone further off. The supernatural world has during that period removed itself from civilized, cultivated humanity than it ever has before – in all time, heathen, or Christian. There is, at this moment, infinitely less belief in an invisible world, or even an apprehension of it, than at any previous historical era… It is only within the last century and a half, the faculty of seeing visions could have been one to bring a man’s sanity into question. Ever before, by simple-believing Romanist, by reverent awestruck pagan, or in the fervent East, the exceptional power had been accepted as a matter of course in gifted men, and had been turned to serious account in the cause of religion.’ William Hazlitt

Final biographical quotation:

‘(William) died on Sunday night at 6 Oclock in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ – Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and He burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.’ George Richmond, a friend

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anathema - We're Here Because We're Here

Any fan of Anathema will be quick to tell us what kind of themes that the band like to dwell on: despair, longing, tragedy, fallen romance, etc. etc.; and all of that pretty much dries up with this, Anathema’s eighth full-length. After gradually drifting away from their doom/ death origins in the mid-nineties, this English six-piece have been fairly steady in releasing material steeped heavily in a gloomy atmospheric rock that blends the real-life storytelling of Pink Floyd with a truly melancholic sense of melody that gives this type of music the sincerity it needs. As we are well-acquainted with the relatively unusual history of the band, we were most anxious to hear what they had to offer us this year…

The striking difference in this album is eminent: there is life blooming in every song. While we are typically accustomed to experiencing some dark tragedy that dominates the stage, and thus a deep inclination towards death, with We’re Here Because We’re Here we are faced with an immediate positivity which is at once hopeful and refreshing, and thus we experience a total affirmation of life. Metaphorically speaking, this music is like a rejuvenating ray of sunlight beaming through a crack in the cave of some tormented, forgotten hermit.

The most important part of this endeavour is, evidently, the vocal and lyrical aspect; it is the clearest passage through which this seminal message is conveyed. Vincent Cavanagh’s vocals are more ethereal than ever before; singing in a lucid, almost faint tone, his voice is furnished with an emotive conviction that provides the music with depth and authenticity. Lyrically, this band is exploring entirely new territory: we are no longer mourning the untimely loss of a loved one, and nor are we bemoaning the seeming vacuity of existence; instead, we are ripping off Burzum lyrics! Remember ‘suddenly, life has new meaning’? Anathema mimics it to perfection, but with a much different intention: while Burzum seems to derive meaning from unearthing some secret truth from beneath the soil, behind the darkness, Anathema is struck by a revelatory flash of light, where the meaning found is truly sudden. The rest of the album follows the same course: heavenward, entrusted with this new strength of faith and courage.

As important as the vocal and lyrical aspect in this album is, in this kind of band, it still does not really detract from the necessity of rhythm and melody. The rhythm section masters its role dutifully, leaving the guitar work to excel in the art of crafting the appropriate melodies, something which is even more important in a band that deems the demonstration of pathos as so critically essential. A key feature of this record is how the music slowly builds into a powerful atmosphere before pouring out into a perfectly indulgent climax; this is primarily achieved by perseverance in melody, where the guitar lines consistently follow the vocal lines toward that certain pitch that completes the movement and falls off into the next. Simply stated, the guitar work is successful in creating the right mood and impression which is precisely the equivalent of the lyrics: sunny, golden, and brimming with hope. 

The basis, the very core of We’re Here Because We’re Here is quite easy to define due to the simplicity of the lyrics and the corresponding lyrics; but what’s not so easy to define is how to place this album in the context of its predecessors. It could plainly be the fulfillment of the broken wanderer who, having endured the wild tragedies of reality, has at last returned to the sunlit estates of his father, but perhaps not. Whatever the context, it is patently clear that we have been made witness to an album that focuses not on the empty yearnings of the fallen and bitter mind, but on the spirited campaign of an embattled soul, a campaign that finally leads him to a land of peace, the land of his father. 

I've found my way to fly free from the constraints of time
I have soared through the sky, seen life far below in mind;
breathed in truth, love, serene, sailed on oceans of belief;

searched and found life inside, we're not just a moment in time...