The Lyrics Corner: High On Fire’s “The Sunless Years”
Chemtrails, new world order, and Luminiferous.
High On Fire is a staple of the extreme metal community. For years, Matt Pike and crew have been pummeling posers with mighty riffs, never missing a beat. I cannot think of any HoF album, or song really, that does not absolutely crush me from beginning to end. This extends to their exceptional 2015 album, Luminiferous. Pike has come under fire recently for some of the content that has found its way into the lyrics on Luminiferous. Conspiracy theories from Illuminati reptilian cabals to new world order to chemtrails show up in a number of songs on the album. Pike’s lyrical interest in conspiracies rattled some members of our community, seemingly calling into question Pike’s world view.
“But Old Man Doom,” you say, “if the conspiracy theories are just themes in the lyrics, then what’s the big deal? They’re just song ideas, right?” Nope. In a number of press interviews for Luminiferous touring cycle, Pike states very explicitly each time that he is a true believer in the conspiracies that are presented in the lyrics — that he is a conspiracy “factist [sic],” not a theorist. In most of these interviews, Pike goes on to explain in detail his belief that there are Reptilian hybrids bent on controlling humanity, saying definitively that his lyrics and his music are an effort to “tell the New World Order to fuck off.”
The metal blogosphere’s reaction.
I can see why certain listeners might be put off by this: writing creatively about some pretty off-the-wall type shit is one thing, but believing in it, basing one’s world view on it, is very different. Very dangerous, some might even say. I was discussing this topic with a fellow toileteer about a year ago when Pike’s conspiracy “facts” started to filter through the metal blogosphere. This particular commenter expressed his concern about Pike’s beliefs getting out of control and turning from an interest in the esoteric to a politically-charged and hateful variety of speech (e.g. Mustaine or Nugent). I find this fear a little too exaggerated, potentially blown way out of proportion. It is not as if he is one album press release short of threatening the president’s life or arming himself against government “death squads.” Accusing Pike of engaging in dangerous fringe politics based on conspiracy lyrics from the dark corners of the internet is tantamount to calling any number of death metal or goregrind bands serial killers because they like torture porn horror films a little too much.
The conspiracy “facts” that Pike has integrated into his art are a little questionable, but it is still art. And telling the new world order to fuck off is a message that I think most listeners can get behind, whether they stand with Pike in their own beliefs or if they just want to slam their heads against the concrete and feel good about it. So, whether you choose to don your tin foil hat or your battle vest (or both), the fact remains: Pike’s lyrical world view on Luminiferous is not dangerous. With this in mind, I want to explore one of the more lyrically noteworthy selections from Luminiferous, the savage and conspiratorial “The Sunless Years.”
He’s been taking the acid1
And hooked into the light
Pondering radio fillings2
And arcane satellites
Vampires take what they want of him
Visions to the nine
Keen, clean and wasting what may have been
Some people say something
Some people feel something
Black holes and time travel stratospheres
Visitors watching our binds3
Wake up, there’s gonna be hell to pay
Someone please tell them
This is our fucking lives3
Chemtrails inhaled by infants
Killers made this political
Pleiadieans hint at our minds4
He shows insecure confidence5
He’s out of his mind
Sitting in black meditation
Someone please answer him
Someone please answer
He’s been taking the acid
He’s been taking the acid
He’s been taking the acid
And arcane satellites
1 It is tough to tell from the opening line who the subject and speaker are. One might assume that the he is Pike, but then the choice of third person is odd: why not just use first person for speaking directly from the personal? If this is Pike’s conspiracy “factist” manifesto, then would it not be appropriate for Pike to speak from his own experience? What I see here is that he could just be narrativizing the lyrics instead — telling a story with a character separate from himself, much like concept that guided the lyrical content of De Vermis Mysteriis. This would support the notion that Pike is really just attempting to tell a story here rather than use the lyrics as a platform.
Pike is no stranger to the weird tale.
2 This line comes from a personal experience Pike claims to have had when he was younger (explained in the video interview above). He claims to have tuned into radio frequencies and voices discussing top secret information as a child through a couple of metal fillings in his mouth. Whether this is accurate or not is certainly up for debate, as Pike even notes in the interview, but there have been other documented cases of people claiming to have the same experience around the world. And while these cases certainly have visibility on the internet, none of them have ever been proven or debunked. This relates in part to the unreliability of our subject/speaker that is discussed later on.
3 Relating back to previous annotation (1), the story-telling interpretation can be complicated a bit by these particular lines: the lyrics oscillate between third and second person (our). This disrupts the former notion that “The Sunless Years” is just a narrative of a character on an acid trip. These lines reference “our binds” and “our fucking lives” immediately bringing the listener into the world of the lyrics via second person, which can be interpreted as a call-to-action on Pike’s behalf. The lyrics in this case are neither purely invented narrative nor Pike’s own personal account of enlightenment, but rather these two elements come together in a manner that seems to obfuscate Pike’s true message here. Is this Pike’s anthemic call-to-action or is it a cautionary tale about a man taking acid? This remains unclear, but still gives a sense that Pike is playing with listener perceptions via the changing points of view.
4 Pleiadieans is both a reference to the small cluster of stars that form the eye of the Taurus constellation and the supposed multi-dimensional beings that inhabit the region who can telepathically communicate with humans over vast distances of space. According to pleiadians.net, run by a group of dedicated believers, the Pleiadiean realm is “the next step in human evolution.” Details are sketchy (as is usually the case with these kind of conspiracy “facts”), but it seems as though many theorists tend to believe that the Pleiadiean race begot humanity and that it our destiny to rejoin them 500 light years away in the Pleiadians cluster.
Pike is definitely referencing the telepathic aspect of this conspiracy in the lyrics, but the context is unexpected. “The Sunless Years” is a negative song; none of the conspiracy lyrics therein are celebrated. The mention of Pleiadiean aliens seems to be negative as well (unwanted mind control), despite the consensus among the fringe communities surrounding these entities being relatively positive. An interpretation of this paranoiac context may well be Pike expressing a universal skepticism about anything and everything existing outside the bounds of his perception of nature. This is understandable given that the vast majority of references made prior to this line are terrifying (dark visitors, space vampires, forced chemical inhalation). Mind control is just one more thing that has set him over the edge, no matter if it is in an effort to enslave or enlighten.
5 From the first line to the last line, the reliability of the speaker/subject is in question. Showing “insecure confidence” is quite the oxymoron, but it definitely reveals some level of truth as to the speaker/subject’s emotional and mental state. He is simultaneously pissed off at the new world order manipulation of society, yet he is unsure of how he fits into the scheme. Is he the whistleblower? Is he the freedom fighter? Is he the crazy one? Is he just having a bad trip? The next line, “He’s out of his mind,” would seem to clarify that the speaker/subject is indeed tripping, but taking another look at the context, it actually raises more questions than it answers: Is he out of his mind on a trip? Is he being manipulated out of his mind? Can this line be taken as literal or figurative?
All of this coincides with the song’s thematic, repeated phrase: “He’s been taking the acid.” Immediately, and at the end, our speaker-subject admits to altering his perception of reality with drugs even before the conspiracies come to life. However, I would go as far to claim that Pike’s unreliable ambiguity here is deliberate. It could be said that the character taking acid is both changing his perceptions, making him a hallucinating paranoiac, and opening his mind to the true reality (i.e. reptilian new world orders a la the sunglasses in They Live). The figurative role of the drug is to leave certain doors open to interpretation whilst showing listeners the capital “T” Truth beyond the veil of their mundane existences. In this way, Pike is both calling attention to an issue that he feels is important, yet giving listeners a narrative that they can interpret for themselves at the same time. It is at once great lyricism and somewhat mystifying.
Apologies for the long-winded nature of this lyrical analysis (literary analysis is my job). I hope that some of it makes sense. But what I really hope for readers to take away from this is the notion that art does not have to be interpreted monolithically. Art is wielded by excellent artists to convey truths and make you question the world around you. Some listeners certainly do not agree with Pike’s truths and have even been offended by them, but this is okay. Just because you may not agree that the world is in imminent danger of a hostile reptilian takeover, like Pike, does not mean that this belief should threaten you or your own world view. In the end, this fact remains: Pike is a great, if somewhat esoteric, lyricist, and the lyrics on “The Sunless Years,” as well as other savage cuts from Luminiferous, are not dangerous so much as they are perplexing.