Conceptual metaphors in “Dark are the veils of death” by Candlemass

Hej there! The end of October is looming over the horizon, which means it is high time for Digging Metalaphor to deliver a new post. This time we are headed back to Scandinavia to explore a Klondike of death metaphors. Well, the title has already spilled the beans. Sweden is in focus in October, the country which gave us Bathory, At the Gates and IKEA (among others). And although I really adore several outputs by Quorthon (1984, 1988-1991), I am going to analyze a song by another pillar of Swedish metal. Candlemass is the star of the show today with its “Dark are the veils of death” epic (taken from the “Nightfall” LP, 1987).

No more intros. I do not like and never liked doom metal, but the first four efforts by Candlemass (1986-1988) take me into the state of delightful bliss. Let’s go straight to the lyrics:

  1. Death is present the candle has burned out
  2. the scythe is raised he’s eager to reap
  3. the extreme unction prepares for the last flight
  4. but God knows where you will rest
  5. Dark are the veils of death
  1. To sail the seas of eternal damnation
  2. to cross the desert of woe and despair
  3. or drink the chalice of divine ambrosia
  4. Your life will be put to the test
  5. Dark are the veils of death
  1. Enter the great adventure
  2. just wait and see
  3. Heaven or hell will call you
  4. now when your spirit is free
  1. Where can your salvation be
  2. now when your spirit is free
  3. where can your salvation be
  4. now when your spirit is free
  5. Fading light
  6. disappearing light
  7. tells you darkness is to come
  8. Ancient rites
  9. the death-mass itself
  10. has never revealed where you will go
  11. You will enter realms where angels fear to tread
  12. open hidden doors within your mind
  13. Sail with Charon sail into destiny
  14. accept your death and make it to your own choice.

So, it will be a rather easy all-about-death read. Enjoy.

“Seasons don’t fear the reaper”

The first five lines of the song are the richest in death metaphors and we are going to spend some time dealing with them, because – spoiler alert – everything following after is the same stuff in a different wrapping. So…

  1. Death is present the candle has burned out
  2. the scythe is raised he’s eager to reap
  3. the extreme unction prepares for the last flight
  4. but God knows where you will rest
  5. Dark are the veils of death

Two metaphors are hidden in the opening line.

The first hides behind the words “Death is present…”. It is a personification of death through the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS metaphor. Its mechanics is easy: an agentless event (dying is an event, for instance, unless you commit suicide) may be seen as an action, thus presuming the presence of an actor, the one who causes the event to happen and embodies the property(ies) of the event (event=action=actor). Give this thought a minute and you will come up with tons of innocent everyday expressions featuring the metaphor. For instance, bad weather destroyed my weekend trip (event – bad weather, property – changing the state of affairs); time will take your sorrow away (event – time passing, property – movement); this work is killing me (event – certain physical or mental challenge, property – causation of physical or mental stress) etc. Notice that these three examples of agentless events are reasoned in terms of actions as if on behalf of a human being – an actor whose main attribute is the event property. Moreover, the personification process, apart from providing an actor with the event property(ies), also adds human properties to actor’s (=event’s) nature. This, together with the property of the event of death, namely, that it suddenly happens to a living person that he/she loses their life, allows using the frame of an unexpected visit, for instance, when reasoning about dying. Primitively put, the frame goes as follows: a visitor is absent a second ago, but then he/she suddenly pops up at your side and is here now. Hence, we may say things like ‘Death came and took him’ or ‘Death paid him a visit’, ‘Death claimed his life’ and all kinds of other crazy things which we rarely pay attention to.

In our case “present” is synonymous to “here”, hence the line says ‘Death is here, right now’, evoking the frame of a visit, because it (death) was away a second ago, but now it is here, present, standing by your side. I hope the whole concept is more or less clear.

The last thing to note in this regard is a bit off-topic. There are cultural differences when it comes to seeing the personified Death as male or female. The cultural tradition I come from (Russian/Ukrainian) conceptualizes death as an old scary female.

The words “… the candle has burned out” in the opening line offer us another metaphor. This one may seem to be innocent at the first glance; however, there are three possible ways to explain it as three related metaphors fit the utterance. These are LIFE IS LIGHT (DEATH IS DARKNESS), LIFE IS A FLAME, and LIFE IS FIRE. I go for LIFE IS A FLAME as it seems to fit the case in the best way: a candle burns, emitting both heat and light. How is it possible that we can conceptualize life and death in terms of a flame?

The experiential grounding for this very metaphor is extremely simple. A living human being is warm and a dead one is cold. Moreover, in order to function properly, a human body needs warm temperatures; we die, however, when exposed to cold. Then, when it comes to the ‘light’ part of the metaphor, the majority of people are active during the daytime, when it is light and warmer outside, and, on the contrary, sleep during the nighttime, when it is dark and colder. Plants need light to survive; they die when left in the darkness. The combination of these factors contributes to our association of life with warmth and light, which together constitute a concept of fire/flame. Hence a strong, experientially based correlation between life and fire/flame. Can you support the case with your own examples? Any reference to darkness when talking about death/underworld/evil, for instance, has this metaphor (the LIGHT part of it) as its core. Here is another one. Yesterday, when I started typing this post, I listened to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus by Candlemass. Remember the “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” from “Solitude”? That’s it.

Line 2 “the scythe is raised he’s eager to reap” portrays death as a Reaper, which is arguably one of the most famous of all personifications of death. This metaphoric image is also deeply rooted in our everyday experience and its logic is clear. It derives from blending two metaphors: PEOPLE ARE PLANTS and personification of death via EVENTS ARE ACTIONS. The latter structures the event of death as an action, brought about by an agent (actor), thus personifying death. The former reasons about people’s lives in terms of the life cycles of the plants: a birth of a person is a germination of a plant, a lifetime is a burgeoning and an event of death is withering or harvesting of a plant. Examples are abundant (He is a young sprout; she is withering away; my wife is in full bloom etc.). Harvesting has an inherent actor to it: a reaper. Reaper’s scythe cuts the plants, thus finishing their life cycles. Now think about humans as plants and death naturally fills the place of the reaper in the cross-domain mappings (from plants’ to people’s stages of life).

“The extreme unction prepares for the last flight” (Line 3) already contains a clear hint on the metaphor, which shapes the line. It is DEATH IS GOING TO A FINAL DESTINATION. This metaphor is also a complex one. It obtains its logic and form from two more specific metaphors: DEATH IS DEPARTURE and STATES ARE LOCATIONS. The former is a part of a triple metaphor complex in which BIRTH IS ARRIVAL and LIFE IS BEING PRESENT HERE are the first two constituents. These allow us to refer to the dead as to those “passed away” or “gone”. The latter – STATES ARE LOCATIONS – provides us with the reasoning patterns from the domain of locations when we describe the states: for instance, staying out of trouble, getting into the trouble, being in trouble, getting out of a trouble and being out of trouble. Being dead is a final state for a human, thus – via metaphor – a final location. When death is conceptualized as a departure from this life and going into the state of being dead, which is a metaphoric final location and, hence, final destination for a human, we get a metaphor DEATH IS GOING TO A FINAL DESTINATION. The way you departure may be, generally speaking, anything the author’s imagination can take him to when writing a piece about death. In our song it is a “flight”. Greek mythology imagined going to the final destination as crossing Acheron in Hades on Charon’s ferry. Nordic paganism saw death as a departure as well, however there were four different destinations (Valhalla, Folkvangr, Hel and Helgafjell).

“The extreme unction” stands here for a dying human. It is actually a rite of anointing with oil in the Christian tradition.

Line 4 “but God knows where you will rest” presents us yet with another new metaphor, namely, DEATH IS REST. This one is coherent with other similar death metaphors: DEATH IS NIGHT/COLD/SLEEP/DARKNESS. What commonsense correlation links the source and target domains in this metaphor? Simple: it is the immobility of a body when at rest and when dead. Moreover, it is also a horizontal position of a human body, because the most common way to rest is to take a nap. I have been pointing out a lot that one of the beauties of metaphor is the transfer of the source domain properties, its reasoning logic and qualities to the target domain via cross-domain mappings, constituting conceptual metaphor. As we shall see below, the source domain of rest in this metaphor enriches the target domain of death with certain details, allowing for creation of interesting elaborations.

Finally, we reach line 5 of the text, which follows the title of the song: “dark are the veils of death”. Armed with the knowledge of metaphors from the first four lines, you are able now to understand why death may have veils and why they are black and not, say, yellow or pink. Two metaphors are at work here: personification of death as a woman, wearing a veil, and DEATH IS DARKNESS (dark veils). In addition, I would like to add that – probably – the word “dark” also carries here a meaning of “non-transparent”, thus resonating with the preceding line “but God knows where you will rest”. Right, you cannot know that and you cannot read it off the face of death, because her veils are dark.

“When half way through the journey of our life…”

The metaphors start to repeat from here on. To make an article readable at one go, I will restrain myself from re-analyzing the same metaphors. They are to be indicated without further explanation.

  1. To sail the seas of eternal damnation
  2. to cross the desert of woe and despair
  3. or drink the chalice of divine ambrosia
  4. Your life will be put to the test
  5. Dark are the veils of death
  6. Enter the great adventure
  7. just wait and see
  8. Heaven or hell will call you
  9. now when your spirit is free

I used here the opening line of “Divine Comedy” as a subchapter title. Dante’s Inferno is full of detailed, picturesque elaborations of death. To be more precise, of the state of being dead. Elaboration is a common poetic mode of thought which twists a conceptual metaphor by unconventional filling of its slots. For example, lines 6-8 above are all based on the DEATH IS DEPARTURE metaphor. The departure is, however, elaborated differently, offering us pictures of various deaths:

  • it may be sailing the seas of damnation;
  • or it may be crossing of the desert woe and despair;
  • or it may be going to heaven after drinking divine ambrosia (from Greek mythology: food/drink of the gods, which grants immortality).

The same metaphor is echoed in line 11 (“Enter the great adventure”) and together they all stand in an anaphoric relation to line 13 “Heaven or hell will call you”, as some of these departures will be to hell and one, in case of ambrosia, to heaven.

In line 9 “Your life will be put to the test” life is objectified through the ABSTRACT NOTIONS ARE PHYSICAL OBJECTS metaphor. The logic of this one is very straightforward: an abstract concept acquires the properties of a physical object and, thus, may be reasoned about in terms of a physical object. It is this very conceptualization that allows us to say all of the following and much more: What do you want to do with your life? Take your time; give it a thought or two etc.

Line 14 (“now when your spirit is free”) contains yet another popular poetic metaphor, namely LIFE IS BONDAGE (DEATH IS DELIVERANCE). Human body can be conceived of as a container for a soul/spirit, which leads its life inside of this container (a body is, actually, a biological container; this embodied experience allows the container image schema to be imposed on it via metaphor when reasoning abstractly). There is no option for a soul/spirit to leave it, except for the body to die. Hence, a soul/spirit is a metaphoric prisoner, serving a life term. Life imprisons in a body-jail, death delivers from it. Hence the metaphor.

Where can your salvation be?

So far, we have covered almost all of the metaphors in the lyrics. Below are the last lines of the song.

  1. Where can your salvation be
  2. now when your spirit is free
  3. where can your salvation be
  4. now when your spirit is free
  5. Fading light
  6. disappearing light
  7. tells you darkness is to come
  8. Ancient rites
  9. the death-mass itself
  10. has never revealed where you will go
  11. You will enter realms where angels fear to tread
  12. open hidden doors within your mind
  13. Sail with Charon sail into destiny
  14. accept your death and make it to your own choice.

From here on it goes as follows:

  • lines 16-18: DEATH IS DELIVERANCE
  • lines 19-21: LIFE IS LIGHT/DAYTIME, DEATH IS DARKNESS, personified death
  • line 24: DEATH IS DEPARTURE
  • lines 25-27: elaborated DEATH IS DEPARTURE

The last thing I would like to mention is a mind metaphor in line 26. I have never encountered it. However, after giving it a thought I came up with the MIND IS A CONTAINER. This is a higher-level metaphor, meaning that here it is further specified to the level of a building: MIND IS A BUILDING. Think of it. We say “These thoughts left my mind; it just came to my mind; this idea dwells/resides in my mind”. In our case with doors, the source domain of the metaphor (building) supplies the target domain (mind) with its certain properties. Thus, it is possible, feasible and appropriate to say “Open the doors within the mind” or “This research is a window to the human mind”, but probably not “The walls of his mind are thin” or “The roof of his mind is leaking”. Why certain features are mapped and others are not is a topic for a separate discussion.

Candlemass is a doom metal band with a cult status. The best out there in the realm of doom if you ask me and, arguably, the first as well (not counting Black Sabbath). No bragging about Candlemass, unfortunately: never saw them live (opted for Immortal gig at W.O.A. 2010 instead), do not own CDs (yet), do not like them either with Robert Lowe or Mats Leven or Björn Flodkvist. Their best effort up to this day was their monumental debut album. IMHO.

Usually, I do not finish my posts with a downer, so, please, relax and cheer up listening to this beautiful, mesmerizing music. Best wishes, AK.

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About Andriy Karamazov


2 responses to “Conceptual metaphors in “Dark are the veils of death” by Candlemass

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