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Music as Revolt Against the Modern World:
Envy’s Atheist’s Cornea

Envy’s Tetsuya Fukagawa

3,910 words

Opening remarks

οὐδαμοῦ γὰρ κινοῦνται μουσικῆς τρόποι ἄνευ πολιτικῶν νόμων τῶν μεγίστων (Plato, Republic 424c)

“The forms of music are not changed without the most significant socio-political mores and laws being changed with them.” So writes Plato in his chef-d’œuvre. This insight is borne out by history, and perhaps never more so than in our own time, the post-war twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The collapse of civilization, which has accelerated over this period, has had as its necessary accompaniment the seductively cacophonous sounds of what is in general called “rock music” and its progeny. The hegemony and ubiquity of these modern sounds in modern music make it almost necessary for aspiring musicians to use its idiom and instrumentation, if only because even the gifted are exposed to hardly anything else, and because loud, chaotic, and inarticulate times lend themselves to a distorted and amplified mediation.

This combination of facts – (a) that morality may be derived from sound and vice versa, finding expression therein and evolving (out-turning) itself therethrough, and (b) that the sounds to which the recent generations have exposure are those of a decadent, nay, seemingly dead culture, has made it necessary for us, if we are to find anything worthy in the aural creations of our day, to listen to modern musical output with a simultaneously careful and lenient ear, in the hope and expectation that archaic and eternal truths have nevertheless and again found a voice through what is temporary and corrupt, and through the recurrent power of men and women young in spirit whose primordial and, most often, unconscious connection to reality must in some way find an expression true to its roots. This happens despite lack of cultivation on the one hand and concomitant inculcation with liberalism on the other, and even when the product must, for the reasons just outlined, inevitably appear in the garb of the enemy. Those in the know realize with a contemptuous smile that this enemy is and must always be ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft, through an ineffable and indelible law; it inspires us through its mere presence to be all the more vehement and defiant in our repudiation of it, and, if necessary, to co-opt its means to suit our ends.

On such terms are we presented with the most recent recording of the Japanese group, Envy.[1] Keeping the perils just outlined in mind, we will attempt to disclose the deep significance, and perhaps signs of new beginnings, to be discovered here and elsewhere in the world of modern music.

First impressions

The melody of the record’s twenty-second overture serves quite well as its lodestar. Compressed within its shortness and simplicity is the recognition of the tragedy of life with a will to overcome; the just combination of pessimism and optimism, as it were amalgamating the virtues of the Cynics and the Epicureans into a Senecan distillation of stoic and sober enthusiasm. Echoes of Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga“; a distinctly Japanese tinge of the mono no aware (物の哀れ), which indeed permeates and characterizes the whole album; the word-less pendant of a Mishiman description of Spring, with its shy pinks and whites, in the knowledge that death is sometimes most apparent through the sweet budding of new life. How this a-wa-re endears the Japanese nation to the sensitive European’s heart! It is the middle term joining the elite of Europe and Asia, and hence of all mankind.[2]

After this mere hint of the classical we are accosted by stentorian guitars and palace-resonant drums, which announce to us that this record is going to make its timeless statements in ultra-modern terms. What strikes one is in how listenable a manner such a sonic wall of apparent chaos presents itself. An audience unaccustomed to the abrasiveness of certain sound-forms may be initially shocked and traumatized; yet this disappointment is quickly modified, first into skeptical circumspection, then into a hopeful and surprised anticipation of what is to come. This transition is made possible by a number of factors: the smoothness of the recording production, which gives the seeming brutality of the aesthetics a Cleopatran patina; the virtuosity of drummer Dairoku Seki, his every placement of the stick, though forming an intricate web of complexity, having sense and meaning in the context of the piece; and, in contrast to this, the simplicity and significance of the guitar and bass melodies.

The most important thing to say about the melodies on this album is that they are unafraid. With Wagnerian boldness, Envy resolves passages in a way not unworthy of the expectations and demands of the uncorrupted listener’s aesthetic intuition. Such composition is not boring or hackneyed, as the Judaic avant-garde of atonality and antinomianism would have us believe, but richly satisfying, and even refreshing, in that the swindle of jazz and rock n’ roll actually gained ascendancy due to the aforementioned cabal, thus making it a rare occurrence to hear what simply makes sense.[3] In their occasional tremolo-strummed delivery, certain of these melodies remind us of the baroque medievalism of black metal, which, despite its unendurable tonal qualities, makes use of European sensibilities encountered in the classical composers. Classical, too, is the traditional allegroandanteallegro pattern which governs the pace and flow of the album, much like it did many Romantic-era symphonies. The coherence, thematic unity, and purpose uniting its eight parts, which follow a rough 2-4-2 parabolic pattern, justify this comparison.

Overlying this general outline is the more rapid alternation between the two leitmotifs of the record: a reminiscent acknowledgement of the tragic (in history and in life in general), and a glorious and triumphant will to embrace and overcome it; not that this success has already taken place in all its ramifications, but with the knowledge that it must happen externally because it already has internally. It is noble both to suffer and to oppose the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, not with death, but with defiant life – to give consideration to a third way that our prince did not utter, but harbored all along. Hence one might designate the overall tone and import of these compositions as transcendent. Whether through lush clean tones or in distorted guise, the melodies – and the rhythms that guide them, and the vocalizations that enunciate them – convey effectively the struggle between these two poles: the mood is melancholic without being schizophrenic; sensitive without being hypochondriacal; realistic without being defeatist. For in the end, and even in the midst of this struggle, it becomes quite clear that the balance decidedly favors the camp of the optimistic, insofar as this means heroic courage and battle-readiness in the face of overwhelming odds.

A few tracks briefly examined

A few short examples might suffice to make this clear. Take the third track, perhaps the album’s most complete, though not yet its most beautiful. It introduces the second movement with a soft melody evocative of a languidly smiling, though sweat- and blood-bound warrior or lover after a pious act of manhood. He might best be envisioned as that which is the proper combination of the two: a poet. In keeping therewith, we have the first of Fukagawa’s spoken words of the mellifluous Japanese language, which signal his awakening from the hazy aftermath of affirmation in order to solemnize it with speech. A minute and three-quarters in a winged riff beckons us upwards, while Fukagawa has graduated to a full-on shouting of his glory from a mountain. An indiscreet and meandering melodic line enters the fray. What might have been the occasion for a lapse into the murky inconceivability of “jazz” instead ends up reinforcing the poignancy of this foreglimpse in sound of ultimate victory.

It is in fact the freedom of childhood that reveals itself in this rangy tinkering, i.e. a regeneration out of degeneration, which is in fact what has occurred in our man; and because of this spirit, it accommodates itself neatly to what seems to be its antithesis. The warrior catches his breath, giving rein to the renegade (the child in him, the homunculus) in a warm and dreamy interlude before the eventual reconciliation of these two parts of him, now working as one. Vigilance again overtakes somnolence (or consciousness unconsciousness) as the rhythm and melody collimate; the poet-warrior-lover returns to the revelation of his experience – spoken, sung, and shouted. Even as the now gleeful naïveté of the puerile jazz ascends, the sang-froid of our hero is maintained; he has formed his own world, one that will ultimately shape his surroundings; he is thus autonomous, a lawgiver; still, the continuation of his soft singing in the face of mounting opposition is abetted by the introduction of orchestral hints.

Then we have a last rest and final resolution. As if to offset the contrast between chaos and cosmos in as stark a manner as possible, to show that the forms of the imprecise and unknowing may yet be harnessed to dance upon coals in service of the gods, the mature orchestral accompaniment, as jubilant as it is grave, sets the capstone on this most spiteful of exultant edifices while the child plays, and plays, and plays. And we, the audience, sanction it. We thus see how the decadent is metamorphosed and taken up into a renaissance of happiness, with youth renewing itself in the service of man, as the totality of the person finds fulfillment in the triune blood of love, war, and art.

In speaking of theme, I have not had regard to lyrical content (it may or may not be there); and it is important to note that the inability to understand the earnest cries and subtly sublime singing of Fukagawa should perhaps be viewed as a potential boon to the album’s general effect and impact. It says more while being linguistically unintelligible, by leaving the foreign listener a generous bourne within which to interpret the sheer emotive quality of the music, without the additional limiting factor of words. Song titles (in English) are to be taken as irrelevant, although, from what one can gain from their vague significations, an even explicit agreement with the present analysis is not out of the question. Suffice it to say that the sacred Japanese tongue conveys its meaning clearly enough even to the uninitiated in such mantras as that beginning and ending the fourth track, which we will examine next.

Let the following vignette, then, serve as a further example of the significance and connotations of this record. The awareness of total responsibility and commitment rings forth in the poignant-sweet hymn of the opening. With the maturity of our protagonist has come an understanding that one’s life only attains value in service to the divine in the form of one’s true community, which is service to oneself and morality. The towering warble of eternity succeeding this confession, from 0:28 to 1:23, enraptures the soul in preparation for sacrifice. Imagine this piece as the soundtrack to an act of kamikaze in the life and death struggle of the Japanese race and state; the last thing the pilot hears, nay, the embodiment in sound of his metaphysical feeling just prior to and during the act. At the 1:23 mark, the guitars interject a tone of fury, anger, and hostility in a repetition of two alternating notes; in this moment, the pilot is filled with rage against the enemy that dares compromise the Empire, and the plane ascends as Sun sets in Götterdämmerung.

At 1:36, Sun and plane are one, reflected by the descending triad of notes, even as the ascendancy of spirit in suicidal sacrifice is reflected heavenwards, the sigil of the rising Sun having been affixed to the young warrior’s forehead as a harbinger of his spirit’s future and the red eruption of the explosion that will end his life and take him into Yama’s realm. The passage is repeated. Our pilot’s cries are his condemnations of the enemy and his oaths of honor to the gods, Emperor, and nation. At 3:40, his spirit begins to sing; at 3:54, it has left his body. At 4:08 he has made impact; and the explosion rises and decays into the last utterance of the freed warrior’s soul, a repetition of the holy mantra he had already recognized and sung prior to his mission’s fulfillment. At 4:49, the funeral march of drums and violin usher him into the nether world and to a seat of soldierly honor.

And here we make bold to claim that all music which moves one to such contemplation and imagery is, when viewed from the sociopolitical perspective, authoritarian, fascistic, and, as the one word that sums up all the associations of these concepts, natural, because divine and lawful; simultaneously aristocratic, in that every man is duty-bound by virtue and in justification of his existence to strive for elite status and perfection within his sphere of activity, and völkish, in the sense that the melodies and motifs are direct and unembellished enough to touch the lowest – but still worthy – member of the blood-and-spirit community.

The interplay between death and rebirth, the struggle between suffering and overcoming which characterizes Atheist’s Cornea, finds one of its starkest expressions in the juxtaposition of tracks four and five. The snare which had just directed the funeral march in four eases into a roll, and we are greeted by the uplifting riff which opens the most beautiful and simple track on the album. It sings of victory, of jubilation. We nod our heads to the enchanting rhythm section of drum and bass that succeeds it, as a blooming smile affirms the rising movement of the solar plexus; nay, we can see Fukagawa smiling as he delivers his lines. Here we find the climax of the record, in the groove of this section and its fruition in the sweet-soft Japanese melody of the singing and strings, with the wonderful hi-hat work of Seki, reminiscent of Akira Jimbo.

It is perhaps the first time we sense with certainty that the victory will be ours, that we will accomplish the personal and political tasks that these sounds harbor. The track is therefore perfectly placed at the beginning of the record’s second half. At the 3:30 mark, a bold, arpeggiac guitar line mimics and buttresses Fukagawa’s singing as we hear the chorus for the second time. The effect is like wrapping the soft heart of a katana with an outer layer of blood-drawing steel. The composed delicacy of the honeyed vocals contrasts with the release of the band’s exuberant energy in such a way as to greatly enhance the power of a melody otherwise sanguine, if contemplative. This “caustic cheerfulness” translates into an almost sadistic, and for that no less healthy, contempt in the listener; a pleasure in the prospect of annihilating the forces that would resist our regeneration, in much the same way as inner defiance disguised in meekness heaps burning coals upon the head of the enemy.

The triumphant riff from the beginning brings number five to an end as our hero speaks over and beyond the music. His solitary recitation supports the notion, already suggested by the soft-hard contrast of vocal and music, that he hovers above all else; not dissociated from the environment, but lost in himself or beside himself in ecstatic rapture, as when in great pleasure or in dreams, words simply come out because they express an innermost sentiment unimpeded by conscious restriction. The guitars and drums follow him whose heart is overabundant to the point of reverie; they might rush to join him, just as the guitar did in the second chorus, or they might stop altogether, but the moment which the protagonist represents is so rich that it is able to express itself independently and eternally.

As a last example, we look to the final track. The fall of Japan, the collapse of an authority sanctioned by the gods and the society such an authority creates, has by now been lamented with an exquisite contemplation and reverence in sound. The tragic has been acknowledged, but moments of brightness have also burst through the clouds. It has been realized that we cannot capitulate simply because of what has been done or left undone before us; that we must be active agents in discovering the possibilities of human nature, in order to renew it. Track eight builds a bridge toward that end. By its beginning, the time has thus come to cast a last and decisive sardonic glance at the enemy responsible for the dissolution as he lies prostrate on the floor in his eternal representation, which is to say, in his nothingness and death; for evil is eternally destined to fail. We look back only for a moment and theoretically at the fey fiend before we cast our glance forwards, into the eternal victory of our values.

Malicious critics of the Good might label the thirty-second passage just before the two-minute mark reactionary, which to us is praise, harking as it does to the etiquette of courts, to the wholesomeness which is at least encouraged publicly in any healthy society, to the rustic purity of the feelings which inspired the melodies of lasting symphonies. We can see a young Werther taking the hand of lovely Lotte for a passionate and yet innocent dance.[4] But the centerpiece of the track is the main driving melody around which it revolves. Only a word in this respect: It has the same quality as the boldest statement of defiance and freedom ever written or recorded, namely Beethoven’s proud dénouement in the final movement of his Fifth. It seals Envy’s document with the mark of resilience and glory. It is therefore suitable that instead of ending, the music merely quietens; we imagine this glory continuing in perpetuo, as indeed it does.

The sounds of history

The first two post-war generations will be the first not to go down in history. They failed themselves and us, not to mention the gods, and though they could not help it, they will as a collective cease to exist, and never did exist, as little as every abortion (musically and otherwise) they attempted to foist on what has been and will again be such a beautiful world of struggle. And it will be so even when forms and tools of these latter days are taken up to be sublimated – aufgehoben, to use the Hegelian term – and must be utilized, if only because so many of us have nothing else ready to hand. There is no freedom, but there is responsibility. Therefore adieu, my friends, and burn. Understand this as the Augustino-Calvinists, as Kant, or as a true scientist; the weak cannot stomach this fact of nature. But their destruction is our grand opportunity. The world is eager for a rebirth of reality; we can smell the fragrance of a new Spring even now, a freshness and vibrance of youth with nothing behind it, and therefore everything in front of it.

Remember Plato’s statement at the beginning of this essay, and consider. There is occurring presently in music, and hence in the inner life of man, a rediscovery of power, if we know where to look for it and how to interpret it. As bizarre as it may sound, even the surge of the use of electronic dance melodies in popular music shows that the people are seeking an actuation of the sublime. It is raw, it is crude, even tasteless; but it shows that the apathy and rebellion which led to misguided degenerate-revolutionary tendencies, as liberal-Judeophile interests gloated in their presumptive final victory, are no longer acceptable, no longer viable. All that remains is for the natural feelings of the true aristocracy, and, through its benevolent guidance, of the masses, to find conscious recognition. To make inner stirrings outer fact we must identify both the harbingers of our own destiny and the enemies that would stifle it, and act accordingly.

So: let us who remain living return to noble simplicity in forging a conservative-revolutionary future with classical grandeur, with as much naïveté as is possible in this darkest of all ages, an age aware of as much in a mechanistic-historical sense, as it is ignorant of everything intuitively and sacredly lived by our ancestors. We have been cut off from the gods for too long. Yet the genii have not forsaken us. They can best be glimpsed not in our “doctors” and “savants,” but in the uneducated and raw sparks of the human divine to be found in the few, but growing, souls that demand from themselves and for the world a new theology. At first instinctually, with a childlike presumption and innocence, and then with the newly-awakened wrath of disillusionment and contempt, we demand to be governed by a native and self-evident theology of reverent and dynamic intuition, of feeling yoked with reason, the syzygy of masculine and feminine. It will make the present and the future necessarily whole and alive, and will guide us and those we educate as the only means of bringing heaven to earth; which is to say, as the only means of making people human. And that is all we demand! We demand to be human. We demand our war. We demand our meaning – which is our tragedy, our glory, and our victory. We are prepared to fight for it, to die for it, to make ourselves worthy of our progeny, who will live for it.

Afterword

A recording by a handful of young-old Japanese souls, with who knows what sort of conscious ideological leanings, has served as the occasion to make these statements. They remain valid regardless of whether the “band” acknowledges or disavows them, and whether or not this record had ever been made; for I have clarified the meaning of its sound, and though its makers are permitted to be proud, its sound is only one possible representation of eternal man. They have made it, I have articulated it, the only articulation it can have if it wants to be legitimate for our time and timeless at the same time. But I suspect, nay, I know, that those who forged this sword of fascism, of reality, of authority, honor, and love, will know in their deep-souls (which is to say, at least un-consciously) that what I have said may serve as a valid qualification of their striving and delivery. We will imagine that the corneas of atheists have remained unjaundiced in their contemplation of our vale of tears, and that through the glistening “drops full salt” of tragedy they are able to make out the red-gold rays of tomorrow’s sun, full of religion and full of truth.

 

Notes

[1] The history of the band is unimportant for the purposes of this review. I have intentionally exposed myself to this recording with no regard to any particular genre or even to the previous output of these same musicians.

[2] We can see an attempt at expressing this union explicitly, and with a great deal of success, in the Alcest recording Kodama.

[3] Of course, “pop” music in the crude sense has simplistic melodies, but only within a very limited framework that most often has calculated, drug-like effects, and does not stir the expansive and nuanced palette of human emotion.

[4] It has been said that the traditional European dances are distinguished from those of barbarians by their upward tendency, whereas the savages seem to seek the coarser earth, bending knees and keeping feet in full contact with the ground.

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