The Lyrics Corner: OMAAF’s “Jupiter’s Domain”
Metal, as an art, has a bit of an identity crisis. At its worst, it’s far too self-absorbed, unable to say much about anything as its own dedication to self renders it a pastiche. At its best, however, metal inspires thought, provokes action, and offers catharsis. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying metal (and any art, really) as pure entertainment, I tend to resonate more with art that sparks my curiosity, whether it be through abstruse sonic content or esoteric (but not in the overtly obnoxious way) lyrical content. Today’s entry into the sadly lapsed (I’m sorry) Lyrics Corner series manages the intriguing feat of grabbing my attention through both means; on the final track of OMAAF‘s Born in a World Where They Still Fear Gods, the deathgrind band indulges an only cursorily-hinted progressive sensibility to climax the album with a song that is both mythic in proportion and curious in its lyricism. Today we investigate the Punic Wars by way of “Jupiter’s Domain.”
Although I could easily spill several hundred words praising the unusual denouement of Born in a World Where They Still Fear Gods, I’ll spare you a retread of old waters and merely mention that my esteem for the violent majesty of “Jupiter’s Domain” has only grown over the years since I first mentioned Of Men and Angel’s Flesh on this blog. The track is an eight-minute thriller that, although dabbling in grind through its first half, transcends the nastiness of its home genre with surprising melody and epic riffs to strike an emotional chord through its outro. It is a winding tale of the complete and utter ruin of the ancient city-state Carthage, told through the eyes of the Roman conquerors with drastic riff changes and harmonized leads to lend the narrative a dramatic weight.
It is that historical lesson regarding Carthage that I’d like to highlight in this edition of Lyrics Corner. As I mentioned, some of my favorite pieces of art are works that intrigue me intellectually; in the case of “Jupiter’s Domain,” I was inspired to do some brief reading regarding the Punic Wars between the ancient superpowers of Rome and Carthage. Although most of us learn in grade school something of Hannibal’s heroic march over the Alps with his battalion of elephants, my knowledge of the political melodrama that provided a background to the famous general and his struggles against Rome was far too minimal. Through the construction of such a riveting song, OMAAF inspired me to learn more about history.
The masters sail to those white walls1
dragging Neptune’s2 eye
they will conquer and kill
for that crown of gold
through and extortion3
they write the sanguine tales of old4
“Delende est cathargo”5
breaking through the walls
the infidels all trapped7
if not disease or starvation8
it’s by blade and fire9
undertakers working overtime
revenge for Hannibal’s scars10
they bring forth
slander and extortion
send forth the cleansing squads
gather the corpses
defile them ignite
the mass funeral pyre
this is the art of empire11
this is the art of extermination
flame torn, smoke death
filleted and immolated
the sea feeds12
the sea annihilates
the king down to his fucking knees
offers himself as a slave13
this will be Jupiter’s14 domain
wretch, traitor most effeminate of men
this fire will entomb me and my children15
The masters sail to those white walls
dragging Neptune’s eye
they will conquer and kill
for that crown of gold
they write the sanguine tales of old
Bury their history16
silence the slaves
let not one bit of wisdom escape17
This is empire
Lives drowned by an insipid tongue
Burn the bodies
Bury the cities18
Insure there are no stones left to turn
This is empire
1. Carthage was a Phoenician city-state on the Northern Coast of Africa that became an important trade hub and commercial power in the ancient world. At its height, between its independence in 650 BC and its destruction in the second century BC, Carthage was the dominant naval force in the Mediterranean, with colonies and suzerain states extending into Italy and the Iberian peninsula. Carthage was famous for its limestone stelae to mark religious and civil places of import; perhaps it is this limestone architecture referenced as the white walls here.
2. Neptune was the Roman counterpart of the Greek god Poseidon, god of the sea, wells, fresh water, and horses. It became custom in Rome to thank Neptune for naval victories. When the first Punic War broke out between Carthage and Rome in 264 BC, Rome, despite its vast land army, lacked a proper navy. In contrast, Carthage was, at the time, the largest naval power in the Mediterranean, and the Carthaginians were able to gain a number of victories over Rome early during the war thanks to their naval strength. However, after suffering an embarrassing loss at the Battle of the Lipari Islands, Rome was able to levy their vast imperial resources to swiftly build a fleet of over 100 warships in only two months time. After the end of the first Punic War, Rome gained substantial claim over the Mediterranean, and during the Third Punic War, the Roman Empire finally invaded and decimated Carthage.
3. At the end of the First Punic war, Rome and Carthage signed a treaty that included a substantial war indemnity placed upon Carthage. Unfortunately for Carthage, the Roman general assembly rejected this initial treaty and raised the indemnity; this caused Carthage to seek loans from Egypt to pay their mercenary forces hired to do land combat during the war. This delay then triggered a revolt among the Libyan natives in Carthage’s domain. Although Carthage was able to quell the uprisings during the Mercenary War, and although Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, was able to capture silver mines on the Iberian peninsula, Carthage’s liquidity problems persisted due to Rome’s newfound capability to disrupt and control trade on the open sea.
4. Sanguine, meaning blood-red, is likely used here from the perspective of a Carthaginian during the third Punic War to reflect on the near century-long conflict between the two empires and the vast toll it took on the once mighty Punic state.
5. “Delenda est Carthargo” is a poetic inversion of the modern derivation of Roman senator Cato the Elder’s famous phrase, “Carthago delenda est,” meaning “Carthage must be destroyed.” Historical accounts attest that Cato would end every speech he gave to the senate, no matter the topic, with “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam,” meaning, “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed.” Cato sought to stir up a populist sense of national vengeance against Carthage over the substantial losses to Hannibal during the second Punic War. The phrase became a rallying cry for Rome and a symbol of Rome’s commitment to total victory over its enemies. In contemporary usage, the phrase has become a mantra for dedication to total war and conviction in absolute right and authority.
6. “Mare Nostrum” is the Latin expression for “Our Sea.” In its original use, it represented the Tyrrhenian Sea following Rome’s conquest of Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia during the Punic Wars. It was an expression of nationalistic pride, and as the Roman Empire expanded across the Iberian Peninsula in the West to Egypt in the East, the phrase came to represent all of the Mediterranean Sea. The phrase is invoked here, in addition to “Delenda est Carthago,” to convey a sense of divine right and manifest destiny as a barbarous mandate for total war. The phrase was revived in the 19th century AD by Italian nationalist groups and is still used in unsavory nationalist contexts.
7. The use of “infidels” here is interesting and likely done to further convey the idea of Rome’s divine right to vengeance and destruction. During the last Punic War, Rome laid siege to the city of Carthage itself, trapping its citizens within its walls.
8. In the siege warfare common in the ancient world, an attacking army would surround a city-state and starve out the defending army, routinely firing siege weapons at the city and waiting until the enemy army was weakened to breach the walls and destroy the city. During the Third Punic War, Scipio Aemilianus laid siege to the city after Carthage denied Rome’s demand to rebuild the city further inland. The siege lasted three years; a beleaguered Carthaginian army, using makeshift weaponry, including siege weapons strung with women’s hair, finally lost the walls to the overwhelming Roman invaders.
9. The attacking Romans, after finally breaching the walls of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War, set fire to the entire city, systematically burning the once mighty city-state to the ground. The city burned for 17 days.
10. Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar, was charged with sacking Rome during the Second Punic War. Hannibal was a brilliant tactician who defeated the Roman legions in war throughout Italy and pressed the Roman forces for 15 years. Although Hannibal is best known for leading a cadre of elephants over the Alps, it was his continued ability to stymie the Roman army and capture smaller cities to support his forces for over a decade that earned him the ire of the Roman senate. Despite his many victories, Hannibal lacked the requisite siege machinery to take Rome itself, and he never received reinforcements from Carthage. These weaknesses, in addition to the stubborn support for Rome among smaller Italian cities, eventually forced Hannibal to return to Carthage, only to be defeated in the Battle of Zama. However, the Romans, particularly Cato the Elder, never forgot the defeats suffered against Hannibal, and the re-militarization of Carthage in response to Numidian aggression directly led to Rome pressing binding legislation upon Carthage prior to the Third Punic War.
11. The Punic Wars were truly a crash between ancient superpowers to determine the dominant empire in the Mediterranean. Upon Carthage’s defeat, Rome annexed all remaining Carthaginian territories and established the Roman province of Africa, expanding their empire to either side of the sea.
12. The Romans sold all of the surviving Carthaginians into slavery, driving them to the coast to be loaded into ships for transport across the Mediterranean. Many Carthaginians did not survive the march and the voyage.
13. One of Rome’s initial terms that precipitated the Third Punic War was a request for three hundred children of nobility to be surrendered to the Romans as hostages and slaves. Although this term was obviously refused, the Romans eventually forced all 50,000 Carthaginian survivors, nobility included, into slavery.
14. Jupiter was the chief Roman god and the equivalent of the Greek god Zeus. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was the state deity, and his blessing was considered critical for good state governance. As the Roman empire spread, Jupiter’s symbols, the eagle and the thunderbolt (which hark to Jupiter’s role as a sky god), became symbols of imperialism and dominance. The invocation of Jupiter both in the song’s title and in relation to the Punic Wars only furthers the developing theme of all aspects of the state, including religion, wealth, and military power, being bent to further a destructive nationalistic end.
15. Some historians have contested that Carthage practiced a religious ritual of child sacrifice inherited from their Canaanite ancestors. These sacrifices, if real, were conducted at a site called the Tophet. Stelae have been uncovered at the Carthiginian Tophet, seemingly marking the locations of where the cremated remains of children are interred, although some historians contest that these cremations were in fact for natural reasons. This particular line has an intriguing double-entendre, then; although it may simply reflect nothing more than the misery of the women and children trapped in the siege of Carthage, it may also reflect Carthage’s own duplicity and barbarism, as if the cycle of Empire continues no matter the power.
16. The destruction of Carthage was complete. The city burned for 17 days, and all of the walls and buildings were completely dismantled. The loss of the city, in this context, is emblematic of the destruction of culture conducted by imperialistic forces.
17. Some sources hold that the Roman destruction of Carthage was so complete that the Carthaginian religion and history were completed destroyed and consumed by the conquering empire. Indeed, investigations of Carthaginian symbols, such as this coin depicting the Punic god Melqart or the Roman demigod Hercules, reveal that some elements of Punic myth were conflated with that of the Roman conquerors. Although remnants of Carthage’s history have been uncovered, the common legend that Rome salted the earth of Carthage’s ruin to prevent life from ever taking root there again remains a popular tale used to illustrate the destructive powers of nationalistic vengeance. Here, OMAAF seem to be warning about the loss of culture from imperialism.
18. As mentioned, not only was Carthage itself destroyed, but other cities within its territories were consumed and repurposed into the Roman empire. The dominance of Rome’s national pride could not be questioned. Ultimately, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, a victim of the cycle of imperial destruction. OMAAF seem to be using the tale of Carthage’s destruction as a warning of the way that nationalism and imperialism perpetuate an unsustainable cycle of violence that results in the loss of things of true value: art, history, and culture.
So, did you learn anything? Did I miss anything? Have any suggestions for songs we should examine? Let me know in the comments below.