Lyrical content can fall by the wayside in the gargled and gurgled world of metal. After all, songwriters don’t really need to write strong lyrics when the vocals do not allow for easy consumption (or comprehension!). In addition, printing lyrics is somewhat redundant due to digital distribution and file sharing; who knows how many listeners actually take the time to read them online or in the lyric booklets? And a lot of band’s don’t print lyrics because it adds to the impenetrable nature of the music while others don’t even employ song titles or even lyrics of any kind. In addition, the genre’s tropes can get predictable quickly and even fall to the levels of parody and silliness (Granted, there is a level of absurdity in vocalizing like a demon frog, a monster with long hair growing out of its mouth or a tentacle bearded entity, especially to non-fans). At the same time, there are the tried and true tropes that can deliver very, very weighty and thoughtful content. One of my favorites is the relationships between fathers and sons.
The case in point here is Nile’s ‘Usar-Maat-Re,’ from their 2005 record ‘Annihilation of the Wicked.’ Along with excellent music, Nile’s lyrics have always been the strongest aspect of their creations in my opinion, and the inclusion of liner notes (well, most of the time) along with said lyrics makes them even better. ‘Re’s’ lyrical content imagines the the relationship between the reigning Ramses II (Usar-Maat-Re) and his dead father, Ramses I (Seti). What made the song striking to me was the fact that guitarist/vocalist/lyricist of Nile, Karl Sanders, described Ramses II as the kind of man who heard voices, ones from his father which reminded him/tormented him that he ‘had done nothing’ even with all that he accomplished in his long and eventful reign.
Or in Sander’s own words:
“I have often wondered what drove Ramesses to go to such megalomanical lengths to accomplish so much in his lifetime…I like to think that it has something to do with a son’s desire to live up to his father’s and predecessors’ legacy…when I wrote the lyrics to this song, I envisioned a man hearing voices in his head. For each accomplishment he would hear his father’s voice telling him, ‘You have done nothing,’ which in turn drives the man’s obsession to live to his father’s seemingly impossible expectations.” -Karl Sanders
‘Usar-Maat-Re’ popped up many times prior to the lyric reading, but the song’s power grew many fold once the story was complete.
The fanbase of metal and similar types of music is predominantly male, and that being the case, relationships between fathers and sons can hit close to home with many of these men/boys. It is a nearly universal relationship, exempting men who never knew their fathers, and must instead find surrogates or deal with the faceless figure who had a hand in their birth but not their lives. For me and probably the great majority of my fellow men the world over, the figure of the father is indeed a large looming figure, be it the hero, the demon, the jester etc. Reaching far back to Oedipus, to our childhoods with Simba and Mufasa or even the bizarre practice of exposing the biological fathers of children (both female and male) on daytime television, is there a place the story of Ramses I and II cannot be overlapped?
Here is my own.
My father told me early on in my life (five or six) that ‘Hamlet’ was the greatest work of the English language (and possibly Western lit in general). I watched Mel Gibson’s version (underrated) of the play prior to his statements, and now that I am older I can see why. It is primarily a story about a son and the ghost of his father, retold many times and perhaps lived through many, many more times. It is something that my dad has lived with since the death of his own. And I will face if I survive him.
My father mentions his own dad from time to time. I never knew grandfather, as he was long dead before I could take breath, but his influence weighs heavy upon my own father. Being that my dad chose to leave his ancestral land for new opportunities strained their relationship…and my dad tells me that his father never forgave him. Several times in my own life, dad has threatened to never forgive me if I were to take certain actions like moving away or asserting myself. Thus is the weight old Indian man that I have only seen in a handful of pictures. He is tall, dignified and serious. I think is what my father pushes himself hard to be in the face of his own personality traits. It has been something like 30 years since the death of my grandfather, 30 years in which my dad has not conversed with him in person. What conversations does he have with the ghost of my grandfather?
And in my case, if I am to survive my father, what will I hear him say when his body has ceased to be? I have felt and feel greatly inferior to him in nearly every way and doubt that I will be able to equal to a fraction of him in my lifetime. He is cunning, beautiful, intelligent, of pure blood, strong, charismatic, incendiary, passionate, charming and nearly every other positive subjective I can think of. Ramses II’s character in ‘Usar-Maat Rae’ comes even closer to home:
O Seti, Great One, My Father
I Hath Finished for Thee Thy Temple at Abydos
And Made Known the Lineage of the Blessed
Those Who Came Before
I Hath Exalted Mine Ancestors
I Hath Honoured with the Blood and Sweat of Many
The Legacy of Thy Conquests I Hath Glorified
Thy Temple of Set in Avaris
In Karnak, Hath I Raised the Great Hall
In Thebes, Sublime Monuments, Grand Pylons, Obelisks and Colossal Statues
Are Inscribed With My Name
By Divine Right I Hath Usurped the Monuments of My Predecessors
I Hath Created Imposing Rock Hewn Temples
Monumental Colossi in Mine Own Image
Like as unto the Images of Amun, Re, Ptah
I Hath Caused to Rise a Formidable Legacy Carved in Stone
In the Mountains of Meha
Intended to Endure a Million Years
In the Violence of Sekhem
I am Become Montu
God of War in the Two Lands
I Hath Suppressed the Rebellious
I Hath Driven Back Chaos and Disorder
The Conquered Chiefs of All Foreign Lands are Beneath My Sandals
I Hath Emblazoned My Countless Victories In Immortality
Carved in Rock as Living Images of the Ritual Massacre of Mine Enemies
I am User-Maat-Re Setepene-re
Sovereign of Sovereigns
Beloved of Amun
Chosen of Re
I Hath Made Manifest the Grandeur of My Empire
To be Worthy of Thy Legacy
O Seti, Great One…
Thou Hast Done Nothing.
My name, my father’s name, can fit into these lyrics. The monuments, wars, and deities can be replaced with locals from our own lives. But the result is the same.
O Surrinder, Great One, My Father…
Arjun Singh Arman
Thou Hast Done Nothing.
What can I do, when the story of many men before me, both fictional, real or somewhere inbetween has resulted in such great pain? I have not killed my father like Odin or other Indo-European gods, slighted him in the manner of a traitor or conspired against him with total devious intent, but my own existence seems contrary to his own. The birth of the son signals the end of the father. In a way, my life has robbed father’s of his own. Doom for the great parent and a section of life for the inferior offspring. Not all men see their father’s as greater than they are, but what of us who do? And no matter our actions, will continue to exist as weaklings miring in the memory of the strong.
It has something to do with the changing definitions of masculinity in the western world. Strong men of the type of Ramses I and his troubled son cannot exist anymore, and are relegated to the world of fantasy projections. This is one of the reasons for the male-centered nature of metal, it exists as a way for boys and men to place themselves in situations far more meaningful or fantastic than their own lives, very much in the fashion of fiction in all its forms. After all, I have such a thing with this article have I not?
In a time where masculinity is a joke, the stuff of Old Spice commercials, superhero avatism, or bad (or worse) behavior throughout the world, being a man in the traditional sense makes less and less sense. I am of the opinion that such a thing is mostly for the better, but where do we (yes, I am one of them), those men who are part of the transitional period live out the last evidence of our father’s stories in peace and (some) dignity without harming others?
Metal? Superhero films? Fantasy in general? My much hated status as a ‘nerd?’
Such places surely pale in comparison to our fathers and the worlds which birthed them.
Our kingdoms are indeed inferior, and we are weakling rulers of them.
Boy kings of toy kingdoms.