(In this week’s edition of Waxing Lyrical, Andy Synn posed the usual questions to Paul Sadler of the U.K. band Spires.)
Hopefully I’ve managed to make it more than clear at this point just how bloody fantastic I think the latest (and greatest) album from Mancunian Prog-Metal quartet Spires really is, and so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m already thinking long and hard as to whether to give it a spot in my annual “Critical Top Ten” list, a list whose purported purpose is to provide a wide and robust overview of the year’s best Metal albums… or, at least, as wide and robust a snapshot of the year’s releases as can be made using only ten albums.
One of the reasons the album is so damn good, in my opinion anyway, is the intense focus and attention to detail which the band have clearly lavished on each and every part of each and every song, up to and including the concept-driven lyrics which ultimately play a major role in helping to tie the whole record together.
So, as way of acknowledging the vital importance of these lyrics to the album’s overall success, I managed to convince the band’s vocalist/guitarist (and main songwriter) Paul Sadler to put together a few words for today’s edition of Waxing Lyrical.
I never actually wrote any lyrics until I started Spires, which was back in 2008. I wrote them myself more through necessity than anything else, as the first few Spires songs were written before actually having any other members.
Our original guitarist (Paul Cuthbert), wrote most of the lyrics for the song “Infinite Descent” (from Spiral of Ascension), but other than that the burden, if you can call it that, has always fallen on me.
I seem to collect ideas from absolutely everywhere, so trying to narrow it down is predictably difficult.
I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors, so I tend to use this time to just clear my mind and see what comes to me. I have a scrap book in which I collect key phrases and concepts, whether that’s something I read, watch, or more usually a notion that just pops into my head.
At that stage it tends to be completely disordered, and if I were to show said book to a criminal psychologist or handwriting expert I would almost certainly not still be a free member of society…
After that it’s a case of ordering my thoughts into usable prose, a process I find quite agonising, and can spend a horrifically long time over.
In terms of literature, I generally (but not always) read more fiction than non-fiction, as I definitely appreciate the escapism aspect. However, I also really appreciate writing that tries to make a philosophical point. I suppose the fictional works of George Orwell are a great example, alongside Anthony Burgess (not just the obvious), and many others.
I’m also a huge history nerd, in particular ancient Greece/Rome, though to the Middle Ages, so I tend to read and watch a lot in this topic, which can yield an impressive amount of things to reference in my lyrics, even if only subtly. I like to borrow from ancient myths and beliefs, which I find quite fascinating and easy to intertwine into my own ideas.
Finally I find the concept of religion fascinating, and I only ever seem to be five minutes away from directing a song towards this topic, as it seems to yield an unending supply of material.
I included a relevant quote to introduce for each song in the lyrics booklet on our new album. All are quotes that resonate strongly with me, but in particular I love the following, by French absurdist Albert Camus:
“At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world”
I’m sure I don’t need to explain that one too closely, but I feel it beautifully expresses the disconnect that most of us must surely feel between that which we would like to believe, and the stark lack of answers or sense of purpose that the universe seems to feed back to us.
It’s not one of my favourite lines, but in an attempt to express a similar sentiment I wrote the following, from “The Seer”:
And suddenly I am heavy with nightmares of vacuity
But filling a hole with that which is hollow only stretches the void…
And so if you perish here
I pray you will find immortality in the finality of this body
But the zephyr of life flows not from the breath of a god
But the sigh of a man who accedes to the darkness
Again, hopefully I don’t need to go too deeply into that one, but I’m particularly proud of the second line there. The overarching meaning of that song is to not fill yourself up on fanciful folly, just because the answers you seek aren’t apparent.
In the past I was more concerned about the aural aesthetics of lyrics, i.e., how they sounded to the listener, than being particularly clever or poetic. Whilst this is obviously still very important (there’s nothing worse than clunky sounding lyrics, except maybe genocide…), these days I pay much more attention to the overall meaning of a song, and try to create a natural flow and story to the lyrics.
In some ways this obviously makes them harder to write (no more throwing in fancy words just because they sound superficially pleasing!), but much more rewarding when you crack a lyric you’ve been agonising over.
The latest album has been a new venture for me, as I wrote it as a kind of concept album, telling a continuous story of sorts. This was fairly tricky as I had to have all the music written before even thinking about starting lyrics and then had to write them in album order. But the advantage of this is that you end up with a more cohesive flow to the album, not just lyrically, but also musically, as you’re kind of thinking about it as one continuous piece from the very first note you write.
I suppose a song I’m quite proud of would be “Ethereal Organisms”, the opening track from The Whisperer (2014). I was going through a very atheistic phase back then (don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much an atheist, but it’s perhaps not such an obsession as it was, and I feel more able to understand people’s religious motivations these days).
Anyway, in this song I am trying to explore man’s fundamental predisposition to religiosity, hence the title. I suppose I’m particularly proud of the first few verses:
As the world revolves on its axis
So doth the spirit sing
As the moon revels in its night dance
So tides of gods wash in
With a shroud of clouds as his canvas
Man weaves a tapestry
While the stars still sing of winged horses
Man rides eternally
Master of the ethereal arise
Singer of sweet sonnets of lies
I think that here I struck quite a nice balance between more poetic / fantastical language, whilst also keeping the lyrics grounded enough to be fairly easily understood.
Put simply, it’s referring to the way natural phenomena, and the beauty and complexity of the universe is almost impossible to not interpret in a religious manner. It’s not a new idea by any means, but I feel I put it quite nicely, and there’s a nice aesthetic flow to this section.
The last lines of the song are back to my usual atheistic, and pessimistic self:
The temple made of sand may crumble into dust
But time cannot ravage the words ever told
Lost in space, we gravitate towards the divine
Ever further from our destination
I would probably choose the final track from our new album A Parting Gift, entitled “Etchings in the Emptiness”.
This song concludes the journey of the protagonist into the wild places of the earth, seeking purpose to his existence. It features a fair amount of back and forth between the voice of the universe and the protagonist, as he lays dying on the mountain.
For example in the introduction the universe whispers;
Why have you journeyed here?
Did you dream to measure yourself against the universe?
For every hopeful footstep you have laid upon me
I have stamped a thousand upon you
And when the protagonist expresses his belief that the universe is somehow plotting against him and hiding the answers he seeks, the universe responds:
Why do you assign this intent unto me
With such anthropomorphic abandon
If an intimate voice can be heard on the wind
Is it just the stirring of internal echoes… For we are one
This is a very strong suggestion that the voice being heard is actually the internal voice of the protagonist. This refers to a common thread through the album – the cyclic nature of the universe – and could be seen as his own voice from a previous self, (I’m obviously quite influenced by Nietzche’s notion of eternal recurrence here).
However, this is not actually necessarily a downbeat song, or at least is certainly not meant to be.
Whilst the protagonist concludes that there is no overriding meaning to his existence (something I strongly believe), we come to the conclusion that there is a difference between meaning and worth. Just because life may lack purpose does not mean it is devoid of value, and I feel I express this quite well in the following lines;
The sun cannot feel warmth towards the water
Yet still gold ripples mirror my lost sentiments
The glacier has no passion for the valley
But lo, these wondrous carvings shape my soul
For a raindrop without meaning may drown a thousand wrathful gods
It is finally concluded that even the beauty of something as small and seemingly insignificant as a raindrop may still hold more value than an entire pantheon of gods.
So in the absence of a path
Embrace the liberty to forge your own arterial lines
And if the worldly peaks are shrouded in your Delphic dreams
Then scale the mountain in your blood
Here we are concluding that there is absolutely no necessity for the universe to assign any purpose to our own existence. In the absence of any overriding celestial objective, it is much more noble to craft our own purpose, whatever that may be. If the figurative mountainous peaks of the world are to be ever held out of reach, then scale your own mountain, however great or small it may be.
There is much more to this song that I could write about, as we’re only about halfway through, but I’m sure any readers still here at this point will have heard enough for now
I think the main change these lyrics reflect in myself is the fact that I’m a much more positive person in general than I used to be. I feel much more able to accept my, and others’ place in the world.
This is not to say I’m complacent, but I think if you want to change anything, you have to be coming from a position of complete acceptance of reality as you see it (which I’m aware is somewhat subjective).
We’ve got some Irish dates coming up late November, so keep your eyes out for those, and we’ll then be back in the new year with some more UK dates. We also have a very interesting idea of a collaboration EP with another band that we love, which may see the light of day in 2019, although I really can’t say too much about that at this stage.
Other than that, thanks for considering me for this piece. As you’ve said yourself, lyrics are an aspect of Metal, and music in general, which is too often overlooked.
And finally to any readers who have made it all the way to the end here, I congratulate you on your patience!