The death that lurks within is the war that sets you free
– Beyond The Golden Throne
Paolo Girardi’s depiction of a bustling portside city from Roman times, complete with Doric-Tuscan facades and triremes, instantly and aptly sets the mood for Into Oblivion‘s third full length album. In theme, ambition, and construction, Paragon is nothing short of Homeric; as has been this band’s wont, one might say, but even considering their penchant for exhaustively detailed narration, Paragon is truly gargantuan of scope, an epic of heroism and existential dread couched in the cryptomystical poetry of the haruspices, balancing the transformative arc of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha with the mad, didactic exuberance of Zarathustra.
On opener ‘Gates Of Destiny‘, we are presented with the all-conquering protagonist hero, universally feared and respected as adversary and ruler. He has traversed the known reaches of the earth and laid low all those who’ve come before him, yet now portent gnaws at his soul, a clouded vision hinting at times of hardship in his future. Despite all riches and accolades, he sees himself as nothing more than a “slave marching in amaranthine chains“, a slave to will and avarice, to warring instincts, and the vicissitudes of time. To seek some glimpse of what lies ahead, he confers with the famed sin-eater of lore, hoping for atonement in her sacrifice, hoping she can provide the salve to soothe his restless spirit. “Tell me where, sin-eater, for I know my desire cannot end in you“.
And she said nothing, but her glance fell upon the sea…
The musical background to the song so far has worked through alternating lulls and bouts of frenetic activity, but as this particular dialogue commences, a Tom Araya-like shriek ratchets up the intensity in incremental waves of energy; a baritone builds under the surface like the howling ululations of souls lost until finally as the oracle’s glance falls upon the sea it breaks out into the open air with the relief of a man who has only just evaded a watery grave. The impact is immediate and immense, and a veritable summons to a voyage of self-discovery; the sea itself is the vast reservoir of man’s fears and hopes, holding promise of new beginnings but only after paying passage through the maw of great peril. For our hero, it signifies a definitive turning of the page, the unknown expanse of the ocean before him charting a metaphorical course from depredation to disillusionment, and perhaps, hopefully, the redemptive self-realization that lies beyond.
The caveat of such dense feedback between word and music is the vast song lengths needed to realize it. This in turn leads to natural, even obligatory, variation in tempos, and a tendency to allow certain sections to repeat until the desired level of musical granulation is achieved. Both render Paragon virtually inaccessible to gratuitous consumption; to do it justice as a listener demands heavy investment of time, an uncluttered frame of mind, and a willingness to treat metal unironically and as a serious form of art. While intended and united admirably as a concept album, to avoid fatigue, Paragon can just as easily be heard episodically; music and word here are analogous to mold and color, each helping the other to create full effect; in my experience, a gradually progressive, composite treatment of both aspects over a reasonable span of time has only served to highlight its virtues.
Truly, Paragon carries the majesty of ancient works of elder civilizations, people who thought in terms of inexpressible swathes of time, who looked into the cosmos and bestowed their labors for the spiritual edification of distant progeny; while there is great and humbling nobility in that thought alone, Paragon, given the time it deserves, also feels more human in the here and now, a score to the myriad conflicts that occur inside every thinking individual’s heart. It is no stretch to call this Into Oblivion‘s most definitive album yet.