23/06/2018

Bleed - The Quintessential Heavy Metal Song?

Thoughts On: Messhaggah's Bleed (2008)

A look at an infamous Swedish heavy metal song.


If I were to describe my favourite kind of music, I'd end up trying to describe Meshuggah's Bleed. Bleed is not my favourite song, but it captures, like no other piece of music, my idea of what great heavy metal feels like. Abstractly, Bleed plays like a feather descending through the eye of a storm. Watching this feather float, you see utter chaos in the background, yet still feel control, bounce and harmony whilst being able to scream. The reason for this is tied to the iconic polyrhythmic drums' relationship with the chugging djenty guitar. As the double bass blisters ceaselessly at the very core of the song, encased and emphasised by the guitar riffs, there floats the back beat crashing smoothly on the cymbals. The joy of listening to the song is then being able to nod along to the simple 1-2-3-4 on the back beat whilst drowning in the indescribable bass drum chaos. It is this brilliant effect that is often parodied, as you can see here:


Here you see the religious group being made to seem like they're moving to the crash of the cymbal whilst the slightly non-sync group coordination, especially in the beginning, suites the underlying bass drum.

Moving away from parody, what Bleed means to capture in its lyrics, as the band have said themselves, is the sensation of having an aneurysm - this was even the original title of the song. Looking at the lyrics knowing that this is about a painful transition into death makes them all the more clearer...

Beams of fire sweep through my head
Thrusts of pain increasingly engaged
Sensory receptors succumb
I am no one now, agony
My crimson liquid so frantically spilled
The ruby fluid of life unleashed
Ripples ascend to the surface of my eyes
Their red pens drawing at random, at will
A myriad pains begotten in their wake
The bastard spawn of a mutinous self
The regurgitation of my micro nemesis
Salivating red at the prospect of my ruin, my doom
Malfunction the means for its ascent
Bloodletting the stringent voice to beckon my soul
So futile any resisting tension
As death-induced mechanics propel its growth
The implement, the device of my extinction
The terminating clockwork of my gleeful bane
The definitive scourge of its mockery
The end-art instruments lethality attained
Heed, it commands, heed my will
Bleed, it says, bleed you will
Falling into the clarity of undoing
Scornful gods haggle for my soul
Minds eye flickers and delegates as I let go
Taunting whispers accompany my deletion
A sneering grin, the voice of my reaper
Chanting softly the song of depletion

The lyrics become further sensical when put into the context of the music video, which, itself, is about a journey into the depths of hell:


Emphasised in the music video is the character of the speaking protagonist in the lyrics. This doesn't seem to be a particularly good person as there is no sense of injustice or tragedy imbued into his descent into hell, his meeting of the demons or his eventual transformation into a servant. The image of clockwork adds an overtone of inevitability to his transformation, at a point or two providing subtle pathos - for instance, when the man reaches for a clock, which implies he wants time to stop or to reverse. However, because there is no real character or reason given in this particular song, what is made central is a sense of unforgiving, meaningless pain that does not cease until you succumb to it.

What the lyrics and video ultimately seem to be dealing with is the embrace of pain and chaos in the world. This is represented by the rhythm and drums with its key juxtaposition of control and bounce and blistering chaos. In listening to the song, we are made to embrace chaos, to accept pain, to nod along to the cymbals, to feel the lamenting lyrics, whilst the double bass tears at our ears. We, in turn, become the character of the song, and the final logic of this piece of music translates an acceptance of one's shadow.

The final demon of the music video is the darkness that bulges within us, the meeting and final death like the bursting of a vain in our head that ends an aneurysm. This demon is the monster you know you can be and sometimes are; the Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.


The horror that is embedded into essentially becoming Mr. Hyde, or worse, falling slave to him, is self-evident: we slip into all we know is bad inside ourselves. However, whilst the music video represents this becoming of Mr. Hyde as a horrific failure, enjoying a piece of music like Bleed is not. In fact, anyone who likes this song would likely suggest that, though it is chaotic, it does good for them; it maybe calms them down or helps them process things as other heavy metal does. How do we then understand the becoming of the demon, of Mr. Hyde, as good?

To confront this question, it is important to realise what goes wrong with the character in the music video. He screams out to the demons he confronts, but is eventually silenced and turned into a dog of sorts; he falls prey and slave to the fingers over the lips of what seems to be an asura (Hindu/Buddhist spirit, sometimes depicted as evil). The main character's failure seems to be that he fails to use his speech well and correctly; though he screams and shouts, he cannot say anything to prevent his demise. With that understood, we can infer that the positive becoming Mr. Hyde would involve the enhancement of speech that prevents us becoming a slave to him.

Carl Jung's archetype theory, even presented very basically, provides a more complex answer to the question of a positive Mr. Hyde. Jung describes that negative side of our being as the shadow of ourselves; it is everything we think and do that we deem immoral and wrong, but is nonetheless possibly necessary and part of who we are. The shadow of ourselves may then be our angry or destructive persona. Heavy metal generally, Bleed specifically, plays with our angry and destructive persona. As we see with Bleed in the music video, rhythm and lyrics, this destruction, as represented by a demon in our head that has ruptured, is integrated into a person - and this is the function of heavy metal, one could argue.

Jung sees this becoming of a demon as positive, and the complete person as having integrated their shadow into their self. And so this means that the shadow plays a key role in individuation--in becoming a true individual. And the true individual can speak for themselves; can confront the world and deal with pain. Accepting Hyde as a part of Jekyll positively would then mean Jekyll having a control and understanding of Hyde, the shadow. You will notice that this is the struggle between Bruce Banner and Hulk; the big, green guy isn't bad as long as he is controlled and as long as he serves the real human, Bruce.


We all have a Hulk within us - it may not be as big, strong and impenetrable as the Marvel character, but it is there, and it only emerges when things go bad. Because you cannot get rid of him, because he will only ever spit the bullet out that you shoot into your own mouth, Jung suggests that you have to grow to become him and more; to integrate into yourself and then transcend the shadow you. We see this in Fight Club; Tyler is the Narrator's shadow; the Narrator cannot get rid of Tyler without indulging him via the fight clubs and then realising that it is not the world that they want to destroy when the fight club becomes Project X, but themselves; they just want to be alone in a void of inconsequence. This is the dream of the depressed nihilist. The way to overcome this is not necessarily to shoot yourself in the mouth - the more the Narrator tries to harm himself, the stronger his shadow becomes, and the more pain he endures. This is why, when the Narrator actually tries to shoot himself in the mouth, he fails. Tyler, the shadow, is gone after the Narrator blows his cheek to bits, however, because the he has become Tyler and more, has transcended him, by reaching out to someone just like himself and vowing to be truer to who he really is. Committing to putting a gun and then bullet in his mouth is the Narrator committing to being himself - not two dysfunctional people - no matter how much it will hurt.


What we see emerge from all of our examples is harmony through chaos; romance before the crumbling world and a hero in a broken man. What emerges from this harmony is people being able to be free, to be able to speak out and express truth - unlike the silenced dog that the character in Bleed's music video becomes. For so many people, metal turns this sensation and journey into music. There, on one hand, is utter chaos, yet, on the other is harmony, but, both let us feel and turn our speech, our bellows of anguish, into practical articulations. Bleed is a rhythmical exercise in just this to its very core, which is why I would argue that it is a quintessential metal song that musically captures the positive philosophy of the genre: to breed harmony through chaos and put value in a scream. With that said, however, I'll leave things with you. What do you think of heavy metal and Meshuggah's Bleed?






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