The Intensities and Perplexities of [headspace]

Review of [headspace], ALL THAT YOU FEAR IS GONE (Insideout Music, 2016).

Tracks: Road to Supremacy; Your Life Will Change; Polluted Alcohol; Kill You With Kindness; The Element; The Science Within Us; Semaphore; The Death Bell; The Day You Return; All That You Fear is Gone; Borders and Days; and Secular Souls

headspace all that you fear
All That You Fear is Gone (Insideout, 2016).

Bread and Circuses rule the day, or so it seems.

Threshold-March-Of-Progress-Nuclear-Blast-e1353388399435
2012.  One of the best metal albums ever made.

On their second album, ALL THAT YOU FEAR IS GONE, prog metal act and somewhat supergroup [headspace] delve into some rather deep social and cultural problems.  Specifically, the band asks, just 1) what is it that The-Powers-That-Be be do to distract us, and, perhaps more importantly, 2) why do we let them?

Lyrically, this album follows the first album rather closely.  That is, the themes follow logically from before.  If I’m interpreting the lyrics properly on the second [headspace] album, Wilson is even more writing a sequel to Threshold’s excellent MARCH OF PROGRESS (2012).  All three albums, though, radiate a form of individualist libertarianism and anarchy.

Throughout its illustrious and long history, prog rock rarely fails to engage such problems and pose such questions, though it often does so through employment of symbolism, metaphor, and allegory.   On ALL THAT YOU FEAR IS GONE, some symbolism exists, but the lyrics seem rather straight forward: the moral and virtuous individual, though rare, must resist the tyranny of the mass mind, whether that mass mind is found in schools, bureaucracies, corporations, governments, or neighborhoods.

From what little I’ve been able to glean from the internet, Wilson had little to do with the lyrics on MARCH OF PROGRESS, but he wrote nearly all of them for ALL THAT YOU FEAR IS GONE.

Regardless, there’s a lot of young Neil Peart hovering over this album.

And yet, not completely, especially when it comes to matters of religion.  I’ll get to this in a bit.

Musically, the album is glorious prog metal, more driving than Dream Theater but not as much so as Threshold.  And, where Haken might be playful, [headspace] is intense.  Indeed, intense is the most proper and best way to think of the band’s music.  And yet, within such prog metal intensity, there is to be found much variation.  The opening track, “Road to Supremacy,” begins with a heavy Philip Glass minimalism before Wilson’s soaring vocals force us to look to the heavens.  Tracks 2 through 11 mix everything from melodic ballads to folkish auras to classical guitar runs, but always with—here’s that word again—intensity.

What perplexes me and interests me most is the final song of the album, “Secular Souls.”  First, musically, this is an extraordinary song.  Not only does it reveal the wide range and power of Wilson’s voice, but every one of the musicians in [headspace] is in top form.  No hyperbole here.  The best of the best comes out here.  Though there’s not a dud on this album, this is the best song of the album, and it is the perfect conclusion to what the album has built and earned over the previous eleven songs.

I’ve not mentioned the members of the band yet–but it really is a supergroup (a term, I dislike, generally, but it applies here).  In addition to Wilson on vocals–Adam Wakeman on keys; Lee Pomeroy on bass (if you want to be blown away, watch Pomeroy on the Genesis II Revisited DVDs); Pete Rinaldi on guitars; and Adam Falkner on drums.  Sheesh.

Second, the lyrics deal with the mystery of the Catholic Mass.  “What!?!?!,” I thought when I first heard this, scratching my head and furrowing my brow.  Is Wilson mocking the Mass?  Though Catholic myself, I will be the first to admit, I’m a pretty bad Catholic when it comes to actual practice.  Culturally and intellectually, though, I’m pretty much in full agreement with the Church.  Whatever my beliefs about the next world, in this world, I have more respect for the Church—despite its rather blatant and often terrible failings—than for any other institution in existence.  I write all of this not to convince you, the reader, of anything other than this: I take this stuff seriously.

Listening to the final song, one could arguably claim it is as anti-Catholic as it is pro-Catholic.  Given the deep sensitivity with which Wilson sings the words of consecration (the part of the Mass in which Catholics (Anglo- and Roman-) believe the bread and wine become flesh and blood) and the placement of the song as the final song, it seems to me that Wilson is serious.  And, at many levels, this works with the other criticisms of the album leveled in the previous songs.  After all, from the first song on, this album praises in no uncertain terms the righteous individual.

If so, that righteousness ultimately stems from grace, not will.  That grace comes through the rigors of faith.  Just as Rome’s “bread and circuses” failed, so too will our modern equivalents.  The only hope for Rome (or, really, the West) was the rise of an obscure sect from out of the catacombs, a sect preaching loving and sacrifice.  These truths do not change, whether in 312AD or 2016AD.

1280x895
2016, though it could be 1982!

You as well as Damian Wilson might be reading this and, legitimately, thinking: what the hell is Birzer talking about?  If so, I apologize.  But, until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume that [headspace] embraces both libertarianism and Catholicism.

Wishful thinking on my part, perhaps.

Regardless, this is an excellent album.  How many hours of enjoyment has it given to me already in the first ¼ of 2016?  I couldn’t even count the hours.  I can state this with certainty: I’m listening to [headspace], and I will be for many, many, many years to come.

5 thoughts on “The Intensities and Perplexities of [headspace]

  1. Very good review, Brad. When I first heard “Secular Souls”, I stopped what I was doing and just listened. I wasn’t sure if Wilson was mocking Jesus or not, but after listening several times and reading the lyrics closely, I agree with you and I don’t think he is. However, it’s hard to say. There’s at least one other biblical allusion – “Drying your feet with our hair”, and in another song he asks, “Did ancient time appear to know better”.

    My overall impression of the album is that Wilson is describing how difficult it is to believe in anything transcendent these days. Our culture is aggressively secular, yet we have eternal souls. One minute he’s “Just glowing with belief in/Everyone is so good hearted”, and the next he’s being treated for depression: “I can taste metal/And my depression grows.” “Semaphore” seems to be about a guardian angel trying to prevent him from boarding a train that is doomed to crash: “I’ll never know why/I’d taken the last train that evening/I should have just gone straight home/Didn’t they know why/The signal had changed”, but at the end he believes the “angel’ is just a figment of imagination.

    I wish someone had proofread the lyrics. “How I’ve long sometimes to be held and bathed” makes better sense with “longed”; I would phrase “Ticket in hand/Bounded for openness” as “Bound for openness”; and I think “Innocents over/What’s meant by the secular soul” works better as “Innocence over”, but I could very well be wrong! Regardless, it’s quite a powerful album.

    Tad

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a thoughtful reply, Tad. Not surprisingly. Yes, I could be wrong–it really might be a case of wishful thinking on my part. I’ve gone back and forth several times, trying to decide if Wilson is mocking or not. In the end, I came to the conclusion that I did ONLY because of how well he sings it. And, even if it is mocking, there’s more respect in his mocking than there is in MANY hymns used in Catholic parishes.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Andrew Bennett

    Damian sent me a message about the song once and said it “definitely wasn’t anti [religion]” because I was concerned it was. His father was Catholic, I believe. Whether he believes in anything specific has been suggested both ways at various times throughout his lyrical career but I am led to believe a leaning towards yes. His exact beliefs are private.

    Liked by 2 people

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