The analysis of conceptual metaphors in “Hades” by Bathory

In Memoriam: Thomas Forsberg (1966-2004).

Hello dear reader! Missed me? 😀 As promised in 2016, I keep Digging Met(al)aphor up and running, making random appearances here and now. Ironically, my blog these days – when I almost never publish – is doing better than ever. Well, today we will discuss something rather special, something which became a milestone in the history of black metal, defining the genre for the generations to come.

The destination today is Stockholm, Sweden (it is the land of Ikea, Volvo and death metal to keep it short). It is October 1984 and young Thomas Forsberg (aka Quorthon Seth) releases one thousand copies of Bathory’s debut album of the same name on Black Mark Production – a music label of his father. Black Metal as we know it has just been born. And in this post, I will look into the lyrics of the opening track of this CD – short, tight and riffy “Hades”.

Storm of Damnation

I myself own a copy of “Bathory” from Black Mark dated 1999. Remastered version. I could never explain this feeling, but for some mystical reason this CD always mesmerized me to a certain extent. The musicianship is very poor technically, the album has the shitty sound with the ugly lyrics, but tastes differ, what else can I say.

So, you ready? Pipe down for a second – before we set off, I need to give you some cultural background.

Hades was the name of the god of the underworld in Greek mythology, a brother of Zeus, sky god, and Poseidon, sea god. Eventually the name of the kingdom he reigned over adopted the name of its master (! metonymy in action). Worth mentioning is the fact that Hades (the place) was not what later became Hell in the Christian tradition. According to beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Hades was the place where all souls of the dead go to after leaving the world of the living. It was not pictured as evil or full of suffering and pain – these attributes developed probably later and under the influence of the Christian tradition. It was the world of the living shadows, reigned upon by the strict god.

Now, keep this info in mind when going through the lyrics below and trying to revive the picture, painted by Quorthon in this song:

Verse 1

  1. Beyond the mountains
  2. where the wind cries out its pain
  3. Deserted valleys
  4. where the darkness always reigned;
  1. Where the sunlight never ever
  2. touched the poisoned ground,
  3. Where the laugh of undead children
  4. never ever sound.

Chorus

  1. Forever wrapped in darkness
  2. the forgotten valleys of Hades.

Verse 2

  1. Forgotten damned domains
  2. where curse and hate collide,
  3. Where the cold and darkness meet
  4. and the truth have turned to lie;
  1. Where the flame of love grows cold
  2. and its powers never rise,
  3. and hand of death has grasped
  4. every form of life.

Alright, let’s get our hands dirty.

Side Darkness

You know sometimes I think that Quorthon got an idea of splitting his early albums into “Side Darkness” and “Side Evil” upon writing “Hades”. Seriously, take a closer look at the song structure and the content of the verses. The first one is about the darkness of Hades; the second one focuses on the evil which dwells there. Rather obvious to me. But let’s stay focused on the metaphors:

  1. Beyond the mountains
  2. where the wind cries out its pain
  3. Deserted valleys
  4. where the darkness always reigned;
  1. Where the sunlight never ever
  2. touched the poisoned ground,
  3. Where the laugh of undead children
  4. never ever sound.

The concept which the entire “Hades” track revolves around is the personification of the natural forces ruling the imaginary underworld of Quorthon. Personification can be treated as one of the ontological metaphors (a more typical example is objectification – for a lot of that stuff check out “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest). This idea dominates the lyrics so vividly that at the first glance you may not even realize it. In the mentioned eight lines alone, the following metaphors of this kind can be distinguished:

  • the wind cries out its pain (Line 2)
  • the darkness always reigned (Line 4)
  • the sunlight … touched (Lines 5-6)
  • the poisoned ground (Line 6)

All these four cases are the instantiations of the personification: natural forces are granted human qualities. This move is extremely widespread in literature, especially in romantic poetry, in which some lonely guys used to express their love to nature picturing it in verses as a female, for instance. That said, I have already answered the question as to the source and target domains of the conceptual metaphor in focus. If you have been following this blog for some time you know that the source domain of conceptual metaphor is the provider of the characteristic qualities to the target domain(s). In our case, the target domain is NATURAL FORCES, while the source domain – the body of knowledge which Quorthon uses to picture these forces – is HUMAN BODY.

Apart of personification, I have also spotted an instance of objectification, another ontological metaphor, namely in the expression “… cries out its pain” in Line 2. This one is a good stuff for mind jogging. Think about it. Line 2 depicts a ‘humanized’ wind which pushes out its pain using a cry as a physical force. Pain would then be objectified here by the metaphor FEELINGS ARE PHYSICAL OBJECTS (e.g. play with the feelings, break the feelings etc.), while cry would be a conceptualized as a physical force which pushes the pain-OBJECT out of the imaginary body of the ‘humanized’ wind. It is worthwhile noting that this metaphor has a very strong physical basis: when a living creature feels pain, they shout/cry not only to signal the painful experience, but also to ease the pain partially, to ‘push it out’ of the body (read cry it out).

Chorus comes!

  1. Forever wrapped in darkness
  2. the forgotten valleys of Hades.

This very beautiful poetical expression of the eternal darkness of the underworld is also quite interesting linguistically, as it gives us two conceptual metaphors. Again, both are objectifications, but not simple ones. Forgotten valleys in Line 10 is not a metaphor when treated as a stand-alone expression. In our example above, however, the forgotten valleys are wrapped in darkness, as specified in Line 9. Being wrapped in darkness, which is the objectification of darkness by the STATES ARE CONTAINERS metaphor, turns forgotten valleys into the metaphor PHYSICAL SURFACES ARE CONTAINERS. Thus, the forgotten valleys make out a metaphorical container limited in space, which is placed inside another – bigger – metaphorical container, namely, darkness. The latter may be seen as a wrapping for the former by the process of analogy to the packaging material.

This is the end of Side Darkness. Let’s proceed to Side Evil and dig out all its secrets.

Side Evil

Alright, eight lines more to go – check them out below:

  1. Forgotten damned domains
  2. where curse and hate collide,
  3. Where the cold and darkness meet
  4. and the truth have turned to lie;
  1. Where the flame of love grows cold
  2. and its powers never rise,
  3. and hand of death has grasped
  4. every form of life.

I love this poetry, man. So simple and penetrating to the bone. But what about metaphors? Personification rules this part of the song as well, however the natural forces of the underworld give way here to the evil substances, defining typical hell. I guess everybody realized already that Quorthon is depicting a regular impression of hell, just using for it a Greek name of the underworld. The following passages are all instances of personification:

  • curse and hate collide (Line 12)
  • cold and darkness meet (Line 13)
  • hand of death has grasped (Line 17)

This makes together five personified entities. The metaphors are so obvious that I do not think I even have to stop here. I suggest we concentrate on the more serious metaphors. For example, check out Line 14 “the truth has turned to lie”. This expression hides the metaphor CHANGES ARE MOVEMENTS (alternatively, CHANGING IS TURNING), like in he went crazy, for instance, or clothes went from wet to dry in an hour, or the milk turned sour (taken from Kövecses 2002 and Lakoff & Johnson 1999 respectively). This metaphor is based on a more general metaphoric structure Causation is a Forced Motion with the following logic behind it: remaining in a certain state (e.g. truth) is conceptualized as moving in the same direction. Changing (e.g. to lie) is seen as turning to a new direction (see Lakoff & Johnson 1999 : 170-234).

Line 15 houses a great poetic metaphor, namely, depicting love as a flame: where the flame of love grows cold. The LOVE IS FIRE metaphor is ubiquitous – give this a thought for a second or two. Remember the “Sleeping in the Fire” by W.A.S.P. from their debut album, for instance? The track about big, irresistible love that hurts. Never thought about it that way? Well, now you know the truth 😀 By the way, LOVE IS FIRE is a very common theme in the lyrics of W.A.S.P. Another example – think about “Out in the Cold” by Judas Priest from the album “Turbo”. “Out in the Cold” here is an obvious metaphor for not being loved, i.e. there is nobody to warm me up – I am alone! And as far as grows is concerned, don’t get distracted by it in this case. It means the same what turned to lie meant in Line 14, namely this is an instantiation of the CHANGES ARE MOVEMENTS metaphor.

As far as the experiential basis of this conceptual metaphor is concerned, I think it has something to do with the physical proximity of two bodies who are attracted to each other. Being physically close to someone will make you feel the heat of another person’s body. The correlation of sexual desire with body heat gives birth to the metaphor LOVE IS FIRE/FLAME.

Line 16 of Side Evil has one more metaphor which we are going to discuss before rounding up the post: and its powers never rise. The line is structured on the orientational metaphor MORE IS UP (because a rise is an increase, or?). This one falls into a category of the so-called primary metaphors: a set of figurative thought tools which any normal child acquires at a very early age. Again, the examples of the metaphor are literally everywhere: rise in prices, rise in crime rate etc. How do we learn the metaphor? What is its experiential basis? I like to give a classical correlation example of Lakoff: imagine a child looks at a half-full glass of water. When a parent pours more water in the glass, the level of the liquid rises and its volume is increased at the same time. Multiple exposure to this observation develops the MORE IS UP metaphor, which is later applied to reasoning in multiple other domains of life.

To sum up, I would like to remind you of that short paragraph at the beginning of the post, where I explained the original meaning of the word “Hades” and what it depicted in Greek mythology. As you can see for yourselves, this song is actually a blunt, very straightforward description of the Christian vision of hell. A romanticized vision, I would even say, which would remind you of the works of Dante (“Inferno” of “Divine Comedy”) or Milton (“Paradise Lost”), if you read them, of course. “Hades” as a title was probably used here for stylistic / decorative purposes to convey that slight touch of dark romanticism in the lyrics.

Outro

Quorthon hated his first three albums and openly called them “shit” (objectively speaking, I give him a point here) – and he would never lose an opportunity to mention that in an interview. As soon as he got a chance to record his albums in the favorable studio conditions, he abandoned the cheap, rusty sound of the early years (his trademark already back then) to move into exploring Viking and Nordic folklore themes. Nonetheless, his early records played a key role in defining a typical black metal sound of the Norwegian black metal scene of the nineties (second and third waves), spawning a massive amount of followers in the Scandinavian countries alone.

Quorthon has always been held in high regard among the world’s metal community and is considered to be the godfather of black and Viking metal genres. Rare talent, who left the world too early and too suddenly. Rest in peace.

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About Andriy Karamazov


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