“Wreath of Barbs” is the title track of a new CD by Wumpscut, an electro-industrial project from Germany, founded in 1991 by Bavarian disc jockey Rudy Ratzinger. Electro-industrial is a musical outgrowth of the EBM and Post-industrial scene that developed in the late 1980s to the 1990s. Whereas EBM is straightforward in structure and clean production, electro-industrial is generally a deep, layered and complex sound and uses harsher beats and raspy, distorted, or digitized vocals. Electro-industrial music has increasingly attained popularity in the international club scene and in contrast to industrial rock, electro-industrial groups use comparatively little guitar music (if any). Lyrical content is often strongly influenced by dystopian subject matter; of which Wumpscut is consummate (see lyrics below, but listen to the podcast first):
I was first moved by the powerful electronic-percussive opening, which bled into an achingly beautiful “guitar” rhythm, from which emerged recursive machine-like vocals. I then vaulted on the swelling notes of a longing “violin” that eventually rode the rippling current of a poignant electronic piano. This enthralling arrangement reminded me of Vangelis’s haunting score for “The Bounty”. It stirred my heart to soar and ache in succession with thoughts of humankind’s epic journey of life.
The lyrics undulate in an equally haunting but certainly darker way:
Holy burning hand of wrath
Piercing forever through the heart
And this flaming orbit of shame
Ravages and splits the path
Grinding binding taking away
Needles above the prey
Wreath of barbs
The injection of religion
Has a comalike effect
And bodies lay in decay
Dreaming of a greener day
Grinding binding taking away
Needles above the prey
Wreath of barbs
Open eyes reading nothing
A sky harsh blue grins black
And I bleed and bleed in this wreath of barbs
And I run and run but I don’t get far
The title strongly suggests the Crown of Thorns and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for humankind. Only here, Jesus is portrayed as “prey” rather than “savior”. The lyrics, sung appropriately by a robotic infrahuman voice, make strong social commentary on the ravages of industrial iconoclasm and the pharisaic nature of religion without grace. There is no deliverance from this “holy burning hand of wrath”, where “open eyes read nothing” (certainly not the Word) and “a sky harsh blue grins black”, reminiscent of the tumultuous spewing of industry without a conscience. The song ends with a mournful self-reflection of ineffectuality, of the futility of “salvation” and the urge to escape the inescapable: one’s guilt and remorse. It is, in the end, a grieving cry of powerlessness. A stirring expression of grief and hopelessness.
The UTube video, featuring the almost robotic movements of workers manning the burning oil fields of Kuwait, among other places, by Bone2050, is a moving exhortation of the heart-numbing—nay, heart piercing—consequences of industrial-technological greed, power-struggle for resources, and war. The video captures the somber and overwhelming momentum of Wumpscut’s arrangement, both the sweeping music and its dark message.
There is perhaps nothing worse than feeling hopeless. Without hope to drive us we may falter, stumble and fail. Lack of hope leads inevitably to despair, anger and ultimately to evil doings. Hope involves a certain amount of belief (in oneself and in what is possible), the belief that a better or positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary. This belief arises surely from an optimistic temperament, a faith in one’s own humanity and the “stable chaos” of our universe, of something greater than ourselves, of beauty and light prevailing over the grotesque and the darkness. To hope or not to hope is a choice that we make each and every day of our lives, whether we live in a wealthy state, under the oppression of a dictatorship or despot, the stress of an amoral industrialist regime or barely surviving the cruelty of a concentration camp. Hope can be passive in the sense of a wish, or active as a plan or idea, often against popular belief, with persistent, personal action to execute the plan or prove the idea. Consider a prisoner of war who never gives up hope for escape and, against the odds, plans and accomplishes this. By contrast, consider another prisoner who simply wishes or prays for freedom, or another who gives up all hope of freedom.
I believe that the capacity to hope and believe is a function of faith, to trust in something one cannot prove, and is ultimately a gift given to us. A gift we must be open to receive. The gift of mercy, forgiveness and ultimately of grace. Divine grace is God’s indispensable gift to us to develop, improve and expand our hearts and souls. It is God's empowering presence in our lives, enabling us to do and be what we were created to do and be. But at the root of it, we must be humble like a vessel, ready to be filled.
Victor Frankl survived Auschwitz and references Nietzsche: "he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." It was as he contemplated his beloved that a transcending thought came to Frankl: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory… Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death."
When I stray into the darkness of sadness or despair, as we are all wont to do from time to time (especially during the baseball season), I seek the Kabbalistic wisdom of meditation that says this:
I tap into the positive forces in the universe, open myself up for transformation.
I will reclaim my sparks of light.
Breaking judgement, embracing love and spreading Light to others, I feel the sacred sparks returning to my soul,
Filling my vessel.
So, fill your vessels! And cheers!
I leave you with a more uplifting version of “The Bounty”, the end credits by Vangelis, as provided on Utube by Mik300z.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.