Featuring a human brain inside a glass laboratory sphere, the album cover is an exercise in understated elegance and represents the pure, unadulterated human identity sought by the narrator.
The concept of fear seems simple: “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” It is an inextricable part of the human condition, and one that despite its persistent ability to cripple and constrain human self-actualization, serves the essential biological function of keeping us away from danger. Fear is thus among the most difficult obstacles to overcome. For first we must identify what is feared, and ascertain what danger it poses, and finally confront our fear in such a manner as makes it possible to survive the experience intact. The conceptual underpinnings of British progressive metal band Headspace are intricately rooted in the dyadic relationship between individual and group. Their debut album I Am Anonymous concerned itself with the individual at a micro level and its attempt to fit into society. Its conceptual sequel All That You Fear Is Gone is in some ways a philosophical extension, and in others an antithesis: an examen upon the exploitation of human survival instincts to group to subjugate the many by the few, and the paradoxical struggle to overcome the fear of resisting behavior patterns stemming from the innate biology that makes us human in the quest to become fully human.
Although Headspace’s singer is none other than Damian Wilson, one of the most consistently flawless vocalists alive and a jewel in the crown of Threshold, his primary creative outlet has always been his unexpectedly prolific solo work, given frequent exercise by the enormous demand for his voice in such projects as Ayreon, Star One, Maiden United, and most recently the singer-songwriter album that brings his career full circle, Weir Keeper’s Tale with his Headspace bandmate Adam Wakeman. All That You Fear Is Gone is a product of Wilson’s humble roots combined with the prog experience he has accumulated, and the ample prog backgrounds and cachet inherent to anyone surnamed Wakeman and to Lee Pomeroy from It Bites on bass. The similarity to Yes is prominent, including the fragmented, recondite lyrical style, but Wilson brings a folky simplicity and space to the songwriting compared to the still relatively clean, but much denser debut. Yet the imposing presence of Pete Rinaldi’s eight-string guitar hangs over the record like a hungry guillotine. His metal riffing possesses the cold mechanical ferocity of Meshuggah, cloaked with a djent-esque reverb that commands the atmosphere of any song that features it. Among the wider sonic vocabularies in the traditional prog metal subgenre, it is utilized masterfully to contrast the vast mechanical workings of the mind control machine with the primal human instinct and the intellectual human brain.
Rinaldi’s eight strings whitewash his clean guitar tone with a thick, country-blues industrial thrum overlaid with Marillion style palm muted picking with throbbing delay. The introduction of I Am Anonymous painted a bleak, ominous picture, but with only the low-tuned guitar riff present, as the album set the stage for the journey of the individual, the innocent girl on its cover taking shelter from the devastation outside within a deserted army barracks as enemy forces approached ready to pounce. As All That You Fear Is Gone instead focuses on the group exerting control over the individual, this army barracks is teeming with people and apparently peaceful, yet still subtly overcast with bleakness. Wilson’s voice appears almost immediately instead of two minutes later, almost completely unrecognizable as the same man who perfectly blended Jon Anderson and Bruce Dickinson. Instead, it is a gravelly, sinister Morgan Freeman narration, conspiratorially muttering the classified agenda of the elite deep in his lowest register ever recorded, almost completely imperceptible, as if whispering from directly within the big machine to the listener outside without being caught. When Wilson’s normal, regal register enters, he is the voice of everything humanity seeks. Some higher power or ideal to look up to, to assuage our deepest fears and insecurities, to justify us in all we do, to give us a life of our own. The anthemic “Kept in the moment,” sung with doubled vocal tracks in striking similarity to Anderson, is a clear reference to the opening track of I Am Anonymous, the representation of our awareness of our imperfection and complacency as a group. Stuck in the mold we have carved out for ourselves, and in need of change.
Yet our quest could change the very foundation of the world we know in a moment, as the band crash in and surge forward with a grinding repetitive groove in the vein of TesseracT and frantically deft cymbal chatter. Lee Pomeroy’s bass thunders and clatters in the Chris Squire signature style and tone, heavily emphasized and brought to the forefront on this record compared to I Am Anonymous. The revolution spreads around the world, as each city from Sydney to New York to Havana awakens to its complacency of being “kept in the moment” and the role they have played in human political affairs, for worse and now, they hope, for better.
Wilson’s climactic spoken word polemic with a slight rap lilt, its stress and variation never coming from pitch or volume, but rhythm and length of syllables at the same repetitive pitch, recalls Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation. His brisk speed adds the frantic urgency of a street preacher to the message of societal decay disguised as progress, a deluge happening so quickly we could blink and have society as we know it come to an end. Precisely because we think we’re going in the right direction as our world grows more complex, the centralization of power into the elite becomes even more dangerous, as what we see as a utopia is actually the mass brainwashing of society into a plastic mold of what a human being should be. It is with the following track, Your Life Will Change, that this concept is set in motion.
The entire band barges in without warning or context, as Wilson describes how he was “taken and detained” to be “educated” like prisoners in Communist Vietnamese camps. Wakeman’s piano cycles at an alarmingly high frequency as Rinaldi’s riffing rises into buffeting waves and Wilson’s dense lyrics inundate the listener in the flood of information fed into our brains by pop culture. A debate as trivial as Billie Jean’s ability to charm and seduce women is not merely a distraction from the manipulation behind the curtain, but a part of the means by which society is controlled: a manual of what they should think and be worried about. Who thinks they can achieve the goal of thriving in a larger community, rather than languishing all alone, if they are “out of touch” with its culture? It can become a means by which the masses are fed the set of ideals that best suit the elite, as we welcome this escape into this world from the reality we fear.
Headspace’s acute synchronicity of thematic perspectives with their chosen musical style becomes first apparent as the chugging guitar groove with double cymbal attack in the angular 15/4 meter resolves back to 4/4 and is conquered by a vulnerable piano figure. Its notes oscillating as if detecting danger, it inspires emotional charge in Wilson’s voice and spearheads the poignant moment of himself abandoning the rat race to begin a new way of life, and his ever so slight pleading with someone close to him to jump ship with him and save himself from drowning. This moment of musical oasis is all the more uplifting when the entire band joins to release the tension, a technique perfected by Dream Theater in their heyday and channeled by drummer Adam Falkner’s resplendent hi-hat march and theatrical thudding toms. Wilson’s exuberant vocals blossom into a beautiful Steve Hackett type guitar solo as he exhorts his comrade to give it one last try. To dig into the recesses of his mind that has foolishly decided to follow with the sheep, and find not only the wisdom to know the right path, but the courage to take it.
Because outside the confines of this idealized utopia lies everything we fear. Falkner’s drumbeat hits the ground running in a sprint through inhospitable industrial alleyways blackened by grungy guitar riffing. Wilson sprints through line after line of lyrics as bars are unpredictably truncated from the 4/4 meter, attempting to derail his escape but failing to actually upset the time signature. He wanders through a warzone personified, one of the signature Headspace staccato machine gun riff unison sections as heard on the debut, and a driving snare rhythm that syncopates against the time signature and the cymbal. Falkner is a quickly apparent marked improvement over original drummer Richard Brook, as he finds some room to play not strictly to the beat while maintaining Brook’s stripped-down, skull-crushing cadence. A TesseracT/Periphery style syncopated meter intertwined with straight drumbeats resolves into a spacious climax, while the “moment,” the status quo spoken of earlier, begins to change. Yet the domineering ten-Damian choir that amplifies the words “Gonna sell it to ya” is behind the curtain orchestrating that change to satisfy the benefit of the masses, yet all the while sucking away their lifeblood for the benefit of the chosen few.
Polluted Alcohol is an almost completely acoustic six minutes of forlorn Americana country lament by way of Led Zeppelin, its rustic backwoods atmosphere as intoxicating yet subtly unsettling as the title. Rinaldi’s acoustic guitar twangs and rattles like the strings are a century old and threatening to break apart, randomly swelling in volume with chord shapes so cavernous as if he is using five disembodied hands to play five separate guitars at once. The lyrics acknowledge the omnipresent looming threat of “a strange kind of muffled sound” in the distance of these haunted country woods. The audial footsteps of “a constant malevolent force” behind the machine, poisonous to the soul, slowly inebriating us over time until we are as well in control of our destiny as a drunk driver. Deluded by the illusion of freedom, nobody will ever suspect they are addicted to the power of the machine, disoriented and stumbling through life with no aim or purpose except the one that can now be programmed into them. When Falkner and Pomeroy finally appear on the arid amber horizon, the persistent absence of electric guitar leaves the decrepit cabin even more hollow and bleak than before, as Wakeman’s piano line casts an enigmatic ray of sunset through the decaying trees. Precious few will ever discover the truth, and of those, even more precious few will have the courage to confront it. And of those, how many will survive the process?
Kill You With Kindness is an apt description of the elite’s scheme. To give magnanimously until all our needs and desires are provided for, until the time when we only want more – of what the markets are selling, of what agenda the government is promoting. But this is nothing more than mass conformity that, for all intents and purposes, kills. The beautiful sound of the piano is warped into a dissonant scale riff atop churning guitar rhythms as the time signature collides with and collapses upon itself in a scraping pinch harmonic. As Wilson intones the healing words of the machine, the hypnotic rhythm begins to take effect like a drug, dulling its patients to the ruinous side effects. The soaring chorus is layered with a brilliantly colorful Moog lead by Wakeman, seductive in its victorious splendor as the news spreads of the latest miracle cure. Yet cavernous guitar chords darken the atmosphere as the opening juggernaut resumes, then ebbs away into the acoustic interlude that pinpoints the primal human instinct and its motivations.
“Everyone’s tired of pain,” and the remedy is awaiting. The yearning in the country-inflected harmony vocals and sustained bends of Rinaldi’s electric guitar is carefully de-escalated until Wakeman and Falkner dispel them entirely with a smooth-jazz cymbal shuffle and Gentle Giant muted bells atop broken folk chords. The atmosphere turns perfectly innocent as the curative acoustic strumming is enriched by soothing hand percussion, hopeful with rejuvenated energy. All that we fear appears to be gone in this place. Every need is taken care of. Every question is answered. Everyone thinks in one mind. Everyone here is a benevolent caretaker we can look up to. Our faith in the goodness of human nature is restored.
But as Wilson is ushered into a hospital, the chord structure is ever so slightly altered into a darker, lower tone, fomenting seeds of doubt and depression in his mind. As Pomeroy and Falkner enter the room, the bass clanks mechanically just as Wilson experiences the taste of metal, becoming privy to the first sign that nothing is as it seems. In that moment of fear and doubt, none of the people he came to rely upon are there with him. He stumbles blindly into the chorus, and despite the apprehension that now paralyzes his body, has nowhere to go but into its enchanting embrace.
Guitar chords ring out climactically as the time signature veers off course into 6/4 and Falkner upsets the rhythm’s firm balance by colliding the crash cymbal against the beat. The Rubicon is crossed. The Titanic is sinking. All facades are shattered and all pretense is discarded to focus the assault into a maelstrom of unbridled fury. Wilson describes a “caustic sarcophagus that’s corroding and eating my soul” as he is swallowed by a surge of molten steel riffing and the deathly march of Falkner’s crash cymbal. As Wakeman’s keyboards shriek and scream like howling tornadoes, Wilson can only promise to whoever is and can be listening through the deafening wind to surrender his entire livelihood if only to be redeemed from his torture. Yet it is this desperation to be rescued that throws the door open wide for us to wholeheartedly believe in anything, everything we are told, no matter how outlandish, how radical, if only the devil lives up to his end of the proverbial deal.
The two-minute vignette The Element is hollow and desolate, the calm after the storm that consumed the man and rendered him anonymous. Wilson echoes spectrally like a ghost in a deserted train station, having left nothing meaningful behind in this world and blending into the air with no more sense of self or identity than the freezing mist. The Pink Floyd by way of Anubis Gate guitar arpeggio constituting the entire piece is evocative by way of what is absent, a quintessential Roger Waters autopsy of a soul, the gaze into the bottomless pit of death from the absence of everything that makes us human. The aural representation of a Dementor’s Kiss.
The Science Within Us is the first 10+ minute epic, the end of the first of two six-song halves of the album, each with a conceptual crux. A rocky bassline with mysterious keyboard drones and guitars nervously stuttering in esoteric mathematical patterns introduces the track without tonal center or consonance, allowing the band the superhuman ability to swiftly escalate into a sonic avalanche that most bands would take the song’s entire 13-minute running time to reach, within less than a minute. Falkner’s drumbeats decay into lumbering metric chaos as guitars are processed into an ear-piercing wail that convincingly replicates an air raid siren, subtly distorting even Wilson’s crystal-clean voice to impart a desperation that soon takes on a frenzied life of its own. Headspace further turn songwriting conventions on their head by letting the bus hurtling towards the edge of the cliff peter out without crashing into anything more than a single stratospheric high note, and then splashing into the Genesis influenced wash of acoustic-draped fragile singing.
The source of the narrator’s uncharacteristic panic and outrage is the elite stripping human beings of their uniqueness and the spiritual dimension explored in the album’s second act. To hijack the immutable truths of science in submission to the scheme of deprecating humans to pieces of meat with no need for empathy or morals, after which point it is considered justifiable to eugenize the human species in pursuit of the perfect race. However, the science within us reveals a deep sophistication, a biological complexity so vast and inscrutable that millennia of science have not caught up to it, and may never. The song’s long stretches of cerebral instrumental wizardry in the style of Headspace’s friends and contemporaries Haken are musical polymers, their extreme technicality a testament to our intellectual capability. And yet, despite this, there is still an inexplicable simplicity and intangible purity to the human soul that the realm of science continually chases after. No matter how hard the machine strives to suppress it, no one can take away the human ability to learn and grow from their mistakes and experiences, to find their own path and stand up for what they come to believe in, for each individual to resist control from outside influence and exercise self-advocacy to become their own unique person. And the act of finding one’s own way inspires others whose paths of discovery may be vastly different. Yet for all, discovery is constant, as learning is without end.
As the innocence is stained by a sinister Hammond drone over metallic chords and menacing polyrhythmic guitar and drum, the Yes style keyboard helix sewn into what would normally be a chorus weaves its scientific incantation into the core of Wilson’s being, like a chemical inoculation that marks him as a product of the new order. The guitar chugs mechanically and boils over into a pandemoniac solo shared by the bass and lead guitars, each pitch traveling in the opposite direction, yet still rising up the scale, until their dual momentum climaxes on Rinaldi’s final note to leave a sonic chasm engulfed by the eighth string riffing. From behind the imperious shadow of Wakeman’s synth, the nefarious leader of the regime is unveiled. The cold intellectual scholar who would reduce us to a creation of degenerate chemicals. Who fails to comprehend the depth of the human experience, who disowns the greater truth that we are all one, united by a common purpose. Who exploits that need to be united to serve his lust for power. Yet the same science he perverts also allows him to be resisted. The mayhem shuts down like a lightbulb burning out, and Wilson intimately addresses not only the calculating scholar, but everyone listening to the album: “Did you not notice the science within us?” This science runs within even the chemical maker’s soul. If even he knows all along he cannot suppress its true power, why should we be afraid to embrace the potential so intricately programmed into us? To act like we are the result of 4 billion years of evolutionary success, or made in the image of God…or both?
The title is repeated in folk song form atop a smooth jazz guitar solo with Jon Anderson’s specialty of scat singing, then progressive rock form under a thicker guitar-keyboard unison, and then past a grinding buildup of deft time changes and battering ram snares as the spearhead of a metallic barrage, of outright rebellion. But not of weapon, instead of thought. For the greatest dictators seek not to control the populace with weapons, but with propaganda and mass brainwashing based in fear. If only one stops buying what is being sold, the “subconscious flow” that drives our intellectual weaponry can fuel the fires of progression, that stoke in the heart of every human being. The flames are already lit as Wilson broadcasts from his megaphone through the haze, and as Dream Theater style acrobatic instrumental fireworks swell and erupt into unforeseen mathematical regions for the remainder of the piece, the final question lingers. Although science has never fully explained our spiritual qualities, it can offer clues to the existence thereof and their nature. Despite the finite lifespan of human beings, the human spirit seems inexhaustible, defying the scientific explanations of the scholar. There is something intangible and eternal about who we are, some greater force that drives us, that far from something to be feared, can be tapped into to allay all our fears.
The second phase of the album is a more pensive affair, the shorter, mellower pieces placing more focus on the spiritual drive of humans to resist the machine. On Semaphore, the narrator experiences trauma that forces him to find the will to survive from within his inner drive. The title refers to a flag signaling system on railways meant to warn of approaching danger. The song is appropriately the sonic equivalent of a runaway train with the accelerator flat to the floor, exploring the transience and impermanence of life not through fragile emotional resonance a la Dust in the Wind, but through turning the clock forward eighty years at supersonic speed. It builds atop an inexorably rushing piano riff with adrenaline-soaked riffing and jackhammer double kick, accelerated by the time signature shift from urgent 7/8 meter to the staccato 4/4 riffing that adds a grim fatalism to Wilson’s lyrics. Despite the consonant meter, the song feels bound to collapse at any moment, and is shortly unhinged by a manic keyboard and organ solo duel over alternating bars of 6/8 and 9/8, then derailed entirely as the train crashes through the wall and plummets through the air. The riffs reach thrash speed and intensity as the train hits terminal velocity and Rinaldi’s guitar shreds at such an impossible pace that it grinds itself into coal dust, to disappear in a wash of lonely antique piano, through which Wakeman convincingly channels Tony Banks.
The direction Wilson had for his life has been drastically altered in what feels like the blink of an eye, and his dreams torn away from his grasp as he climbs out from the wreckage into a grimy swamp. Battered and miraculously alive, wandering a hundred miles from home through the alien sunset cast by Wakeman’s eerie synth, he can only wonder how the simple act of boarding a train left him in such disarray, where fear is his only companion. Someone changed the path of the train and diverted him here. Who could see the dreams we spend our whole life realizing as worthless? How many more people will he meet in this muddy wasteland, trying to help them find the way but realizing he is as lost as they are? And how many more will be caught unawares back home?
The next mark is made as the freight train riffing fires up and shoots off towards the railway guard, his voice desperately shouting through a distorted microphone for him to disembark from the train. The one voice that dares to shout through the noise may at best be never heard, and at worst, be heard by the wrong people and be silenced. The guard is left incapacitated by the deafening rush and devastation as the train blazes by. Those who try to stop the train are as resigned to their failure as those of us who try to get off it, yet are still sucked into the daily grind of selling our livelihoods eight hours every day, feeding the machine because we too deeply fear anything else. We have defined our personal semaphore as the one who will hand us the answers on a silver platter. Yet, Wilson asserts, he is a figment of our imagination and we must earn our way to our transcendence of this plastic existence.
The Death Bell explores a haunted take on the For Absent Friends song format by Genesis, its despondent atmosphere reminiscent of the Threshold debut Wounded Land as flute and strings breathe a ghastly chill atop the barren English plain on which he must now eke out a living, each day stalked by impending death and starvation as the scythe sweeps across the land. Holding out hope for salvation on The Day You Return.
A muted and processed Pink Floyd meets U2 bluesy desert twang depicts the town left ravaged by an influx of dust and debris. Yet the life apparently choked out of the dwellings and their inhabitants had only grown dormant, as twinkling bells and chimes herald the first breaths of new life. Fear is conquered by confidence as the band bolster the atmosphere with swelling metal chords and Wilson harmonizes with the rest of the band, resolved to rise from the dust from whence we came, and not to go gently into the dust to which we shall return. The price of being human is to always carry the weight of the past, but the joy of being human is to carry the hope of the future.
The revival is contagious, as it grows exponentially until Rinaldi unleashes the single heaviest riff on the album, booming and bellowing with the concentrated potency of a thousand guitars. Yet instead of wrath and destruction that killed you with kindness, it brims with the iron-willed determination that won the most pivotal battles in human history. The immense power that comes not through gun or sword, but integrity, courage, and love. The virtues that, if we only could have enough of them, would make us the happiest and most powerful people to ever live. In every age, they have given the best of humankind the power to overcome the darkest winters. In every year on this earth, all who outlast the winter will see the bloom of spring. Wakeman’s vibrant synth lead in his father’s spirit is the rainbow above the earth singing this repeated anthem, “as the world turns year after year.”
Wilson’s intimate singer-songwriter style is the ideal medium for the album’s emotional zenith at the title track. Its flamenco acoustic chords are technically mesmerizing while remaining beguilingly simple and earthy, the self-actualization of the primal human spirit. The song is an inspiring hymn to resilience and rebirth through awareness of what makes us uniquely human, enabling us to become “a still in a force ten gale” and finally shake free from the oppressive shackles of the regime of conformity, and conquer the paralyzing fear that we realize was merely an insubstantial façade.
A lush Mellotron amplifies the hymnal worship feel of the acoustic guitar backdrop to this declaration of faith in the human will to survive against impossible odds. He does not fear the ocean which rises above him, but opens himself up to the process of shedding everything that would weigh him down until he drowns. And through this surrender, what he longed for from the start of his journey is finally fulfilled. He does not drown, but himself as he knew it is baptized into a new way of thought, a path of integrity and harmony with one’s inner self, joined in common faith with the entire human consciousness. Everyone along the path who has not yet found themselves, has not resolved their disharmony with their destiny, will as they let go of the past ways of thinking, in time find their way.
Wakeman’s piano line rises and falls with all the exhilaration of a mountain climber who has at long last reached the summit, heightening the emotional tension of the gaze off the edge in survey of the vast splendor below. When we step off the edge of the cliff, the weak fall to the ground, and the strong learn to fly. Wilson’s voice soars, sparkling with the ecstatic triumph of the eagle who takes flight for the first time, its pitch driven by the emotional contours of the melody to deliver a stirring, inspirational, all-around phenomenal vocal performance that is yet another moment many will cite as career-defining. Everything we have done under the sun in service to the good in humanity, all the times we lived true to our hearts, all the risks we took to better ourselves, all the times we set our selfish ambitions aside and lifted up our fellow men, all of them were rivers that flowed towards a sea full of our collective spirit. Even if we felt our actions made no difference in the fight to save the world, they contributed to that spirit of humanity that now flows back into us, to restore us to everything we strived to become all along. Finally, all that we fear is gone. Just ahead is the utopia promised and sold to us by the regime, but never materialized. But now we have found the true path. Just keep going straight.
Perhaps this is a dream, a vision, that the countryside town experiences, the inspiration for them to seek a better life, and the forthcoming chapter is an awakening to reality in light of the dream. The quaint vibraphone verses and homely acoustic chorus in Borders and Days are devoid of all traces of rock or metal, yet still enchanted by a mystifying sense of melancholy resignation that what would normally be a beautiful secluded locale is really a ghost town by comparison, the destination of everyone who sought that dream but boarded the wrong train in their journeys. As Wilson and the companions who chose to follow him buy one-way tickets to the better life that awaits, the twinkling bell melody in the chorus tinges their departure with the deepest sorrow and sympathy. For they are forever leaving behind the place they only just came to accept as their new home, for a long and arduous journey ahead. Yet they also know that they will arrive at the end someday, and that the fear of the journey is the only obstacle to reaching their destination. While some have chosen to be free and come with him, there lingers a note of deep sadness and regret that others have seen their paradise and yet clung to the limbo that is familiar to them, even if there is no future here. The acoustic veil whitens to an ever more Steve Hackett like shade as it steadily thins into the higher register, as the town grows ever more distant and the lost souls ever more lost. Wilson’s lyrics trail off into frail, formless syllables and his voice trickles into a poignant silence.
Secular Souls is the counterpoint idea to The Science Within Us, the second conceptual crux. Where the very end of Borders and Days alluded to “the light that made us,” this song overtly examines religion, the second of two prevailing ideological topics that at times intersect, and at times work in stark opposition. Two fundamental ways of understanding the origin of life and the universe, the nature of the human experience, and the dignity of the human person. Both of which hold considerable sway over human thought today: the rational sciences that answer what and how, and the spiritual religions that answer why. But both of which can be twisted and abused by a scientist who believes humans are nothing more than base animals with finite existence, and the weaker are meant to be eliminated, or a religious fanatic who believes the exact same about the infidel, all for the purpose of controlling inferiors into submission through dogma.
The Gospel account of Christ’s Last Supper and the commissioning of the disciples is blanketed in the reverent air of a gossamer-thin church choir that could have passed for a flashback scene from The Passion of the Christ. As the mist condenses into Wakeman’s descending piano line, the heavenly atmosphere coalesces into morphous form as the twelve disciples journey out to the ends of the earth. Yet the note choice slowly changes the atmosphere from reverent to ever so slightly dark and foreboding. Like the soundtrack to the boarding of the fleet that fought the Crusades.
As the full band crashes onto foreign shores and Pomeroy’s bass rappels down the mountains built by the jagged riff figures, Wilson’s constant question “How could you not know?” seems addressed directly to Jesus Christ. Admiring his courage to not only willingly submit to his crucifixion, but to undergo the most horrible death known to man for his act of preaching a message that he understood that millions would not understand, even misinterpret and pervert to suit the very conformity to society that was in polar opposition to his life’s work. No one would have remembered him as much more than another revolutionary or philosopher, had he not been killed for his ideals and become the leader of the world’s biggest religion. Christ is indisputably the single human being who most dramatically changed the course of world history, and how could he, who knew all things that could be known, not know that one fact? To adherents of Christianity, it is a freedom from conformity, from the vanity and immorality in the world: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). To non-adherents of Christianity, it or religions in general can be just another tool to enforce strict conformity of thought and action through fear, of a worse punishment than any to be found in earthly existence. As long as many lie caught in the middle, despising the hungriest wolves in the most convincing sheep’s clothing, but unable to reproach the shepherd, the road to ultimate truth will be inhospitable to many, impassable to some.
The human spiritual instinct can be both nurtured and choked by religiosity. Yet the song’s largely acoustic midsection is a suggestion towards maintaining one’s deepest humanity within a context of submission to a higher authority, a paradoxical subversion of the initial theme of trying to maintain humanity in a society that strips it away. Is it possible? Is this the only authority we can submit to and remain ourselves?
The tranquil Gentle Giant jazzy interlude slips into a piano figure that slides up and down the scale indecisively. In a world that claims many different versions of the road to truth, Wilson can only ponder carefully whether he can believe in just one. For after 2,000 years, what has been done with the message of love, self-sacrifice, and honor of all things sacred? That has never changed. Yet we have tried to change it. All the while preaching his name across entire nations, installing crosses in our houses, and erecting the Ten Commandments on government buildings. We have done all that was asked of us. Or have we? Have we hid behind the veneer of religion to justify actions empty at best, heinous at worst? And if so, does the original message have any lasting value? As a Christian I must believe that it does. However, what is often considered Christianity today does not.
A pensive mid-register riff, calculating but melodic as it also cycles indecisively through the scale, is led by Falkner’s Alan White thudding basic beat as Wakeman’s synth ever so slowly morphs and grows towards a decision. Rinaldi and Wakeman play descending dissonant scales all the way to their instruments’ lowest notes, as all form of reason breaks down in the chaotic instrumental section with Haken style wackiness and a driving Hammond flare atop choppy guitar riffing. Falkner’s steady kick drum jumpstarts into full steam, a nautical block engine powered by the nuclear keyboard solo. As Wilson is reintroduced in a metric cadence with the slick riffing and the constant 3/4 thumping rhythm, his lyrical phrases continually contradict themselves, struggling to reach a resolution. Eventually the effort momentarily ends in futility, and yet with the remainder of his life on earth, he perseverates searching for the path to the freedom he sees in his vision.
Wilson is entrapped in the endless web of contradiction, a world so infused with a message that promised perfection, but in reality a “crazed world” that has become anything but perfect. He questions the meaning and essence of life, what life means to him now in the wake of this revelation, in chorus with the sorrowful backing vocals. Rinaldi climactically bends a yearning series of ascending notes as Wakeman’s synth solo blooms to touch the sky above, as Wilson’s gaze is steadfastly fixed skywards, frozen in one final moment of contemplation. He alternates call and response lines in the closing stanza of the album, caught in between the promises of a perfect world, that he hears, and the world that we actually have as a result of them, that he fears. That someday, our efforts to attain perfection will destroy the vision of heaven that he has seen. The one tantalizing him as it lies just outside his fingertips, and yet the one within ours as well. If we look past what we fear, do not live in the shadow of fear, but live our lives in accordance with the uncorrupted message that points the way to perfection.