Saturday, April 21, 2018

Xerxes - Myth and Poetry

My love,

It has been years since we've last corresponded.

I still see you in my dreams.

The first dream was of a spectral, pale vision of your former self. Three months ago. You moved closer to me in the darkness and I felt the cold aura of a white ghost. You told me 'perhaps I have died'.

I awoke screaming, in the middle of the night. My room, a room I had taken great pains to sanctify and protect from the reach of sinister forces, it now felt empty of air, my walls freezing to the touch. Evil was in my room, I could feel it. The promise of your death had robbed me of my vitality and precious wisdom. I lay shivering in my bed like a child, lost to the world and lost to your light.

I pulled out every cantrip and minor miracle I had learned in my 33 years, I prayed to the Goddess and chanted evocations, I called to Athena to destroy your enemies, I prodded the eldest serpent in the bottom of your ocean fault to shift, to move, to disperse these aspersions of your sanctity. You are the Goddess. You are the priestess. Can the priestess die?

I triangulated the source of my numerous infections, in this weak moment startlingly clear to me and their bodies towered over me in my small London room, suffocating me with their mad cry of nihil. If you are dead then so am I. Perhaps I have never existed.

A bad moon, an ugly moon I thought I would never again have to think of again towered in the sky. It's been a hundred years, it's been a thousand years, my love. The mistress made her perennial demand: holocaust. I can not shoulder this burden as I once thought I could and this is why I first reached out to you, after this first dream, for answers or even just a word.

I wrote to you with a plea of re-connection and a secret desire of re-cognition. If I have spoken ill of you, I apologize. If I evangelized your death, I apologize a thousand times. If I made love to a corpse of a memory while I pretended to simply dissect it, for this hypocrisy and hubris I will apologize forever. Forever.

Please believe me.

Months later, you came to me in a second dream.

Your presence was foretold and I didn't believe it. The priestess will arrive, you just have to be patient, I was told by other wandering shadows. I knew the place and I knew the time and still I didn't believe. I am so sorry, I feel so small. A small thing that nonetheless, exists. You have your mercy.

A small thing looks up to you and at once, now, sees you, as you did come. Your eyes were silver with prescience, your face, a face I hadn't been able to re-collect for 7 years was more beautiful than my heart can bear and... I was ashamed.

I looked aside, like a bumbling teenager, I had no words, I pretended to be one of the other wandering shadows, to bask indirectly in your light like a tired serpent on a stone. I was nothing in that moment, but it only lasted a lifetime. My ossified corpse still remembered training, and wisdom and truth: truth is always liquid, liquid re-sanguinated this corpse. I simply couldn't stand still, I had to turn to you, again, my love. This training you imparted, and this wisdom I conquered in this and other lives.

I turned my head, again, to you, all my little courage to look into the wound.

You ran to me and embraced me.

You kissed me on my lips.

You whispered to me two things:

"I am alive, you big dummy" and then,

"Hold me tighter".

I am so sorry. I repent for everything. My love for you is eternal, and so you will never die. Your myth is mine, and so, my poetry is yours. I know you don't belong to me, anymore, if you ever did. I know that every living being feels the same love for you that I do. I know the Creator of this world, even he in his madness and cruelty, he writes his poetry to you. God's own erotic poetry, it is everywhere around me. We all bend our knee to you with gratitude and longing. The dreams that we dreamed of, awake, alone and silent in the dark.

I woke up from this second dream to my little, warm room in London, with renewed, crystal remembrance of what love is and what obligation is. My freedom is found in your servitude. I turned on a computer and checked an e-mail account and you had written back to me. I was a fool but I am a fool no longer.

Xerxes were a 90's progressive metal band. They put out two records and disappeared. They sound like nobody else and near-nobody cares about them now or even remembers them. Nobody? NOBODY?

Archives have weight and all that, I have been crushed under the weight of my own archive - we've been over this. But poetry is not an archive, it is an act of love. Poetry on the page is weightless, it is levitating, it is like the butterflies that flutter in the hollow inside of a human body, as it is probed by the silver string of pathos.

This is the solution to our particular conundrum. The name of the blog solves itself. I'm not afraid to write to you about an old Swiss band that means this much to me.

Xerxes have a little bit of Watchtower in them, a little bit of Psychotic Waltz, perhaps, yada yada yada. They don't have a domineering vocalist and that's probably why they vanished into obscurity, or perhaps people confused their innocence for lightness. Heavy metal has to be heavy, right? Regardless of whatever lack it was that damned Xerxes into obscurity, what they do have is heart and a message and absolutely no fucking distance between them. Can you say the same for your creative pursuits, dear reader? Have you dissolved all the distance between the bleeding stone inside you, from which flow a thousand secret streams of romance, and the bullshit that comes out of your mouth? I didn't think so.

It's alright, hey, neither have I! But Xerxes achieved this, and so they must never be forgotten. Let me help you help me help Xerxes never be forgotten, not through an addendum to a self-important archive, but through poetry and myth.

Let's do this in this way. Chances are you haven't heard this shit before, so here you go, the internet provides, or at least NOW it does, not 20 years ago when self-important little metalheads had to write to Hellion mailorder to get cds and vinyl in the mail and then carry big boxes home as if they were treasures the extracted from a horde of a dragon - aren't all these old-metalhead nostalgic ballads disgusting? This is a better world. Just click on a youtube link to listen to the first of the two offerings by Xerxes:

Read while you listen, then perhaps listen without reading, you know what to do. I trust you, regardless of your first impressions with this music, to never forget Xerxes.

Here's why many people do not even recognize this as metal music, though it definitely is, and instead call it prog-rock of some sort. There's not even a little bit of what Xerxes do (especially in their debut that you're listening to now) that is not borne out of a pure desire to capture and portray beauty. There's no evil and no violence to these songs, there's only absolute, otherworldly, ethereal motion and playful, expressionist movement. It's hard to listen to 'Beyond Your Imagination' and not imagine a wandering through field and forest of pastoral, resonant calm. There's stories to these songs, fairy-tales, moral paradigms, but it is the setting that is the star of the show.

Where is any other metal music that proudly exclaims to be beyond usual imaginations of metal boundaries and themes? Where is any other metal music not trapped within a suffocating box of its own nihilist masculinity? Where is any other metal music that transports the mind in an a-temporal realm of pure wanting?

It's impossible to feel nostalgia of a tangible, bygone moment in one's life, when listening to Xerxes. The point of this music, the pure quintessential distillation of it is that it evokes a desire to return to a fantastic place that we've never visited, but yet exists.

This is the poetry I want to write about Xerxes, this is my obligation to you, this is the thing that has changed in the long trek through this subcultural examination and all my scattered musings lead to it, in-advertently, in-exorably: that place exists. It exists Beyond Our Imagination as we stand now, but it exists and our imagination can lead us there, if we try. It is a disservice to our love and our freedom-in-servitude to be the solipsist, the rationalist, the relativist and chalk up this feeling that you feel as you listen to Xerxes, perhaps for the first time (oh, how I envy you, how I love you for it) to an invocation of a nostalgia of a place that doesn't exist and then return to a reality that does exist. If you have gone Beyond Your (once capped) Imagination, why would you choose to forget where you went and return to a basest stricture?

Our lives are not floating in a meaningless void, we are anchored by a commonality of hope and desire. I know your hopes and desires, you know mine. You always knew. Xerxes provide a sketch, to the best of their ability, with disarming earnestness, of that place we all know but because of life being so hard, we often choose to forget. A levitating castle in the sky, a forest in the mists, a river that runs down the mountain, through the fields and up the same mountain, again. Eternal. Contemplate eternity!

In the heart of this realm is the same old stone, we all know it, its bleeding horror and thousand inspirations. They are not all beautifull, but they're real, as real as your dumb computer screen shooting electrons in your eyeballs.

As such, in that place, this real place, we will never die.

The music of Xerxes is filled with playful twists and turns, democratically partitioned between two guitar players and a host of keyboard orchestrations that have symphonic ambitions. The historical lineage of NWOBHM to techno-thrash riffery to proto-progressive to the realized conclusion of metal-band-as-orchestra can be traced by those with a kink for metal history. We've talked about this stuff before, right? You know all of this. You can understand Xerxes just fine.

And you can be kind to a vocalist of limited means and big ambitions. Did you get into heavy metal because you wanted to listen to actual orchestras, conducted by actual geniuses, so far away from you they might as well be alien beings visiting this world? Or did you get into heavy metal because you wanted to hear what simple people like you and I, of limited means and talent, can do when they devote their soul to this big ambition of describing in poetry and song, That Place?

Good answer.

The first album by Xerxes ends in this declaration, in all its English-as-a-Second-Language-Heavy-Metal-as-the-First beauty:

"All you poets of this world, you have been honored by the Grace.
Writing in the manner you wish, gliding out of this Earthly realm.
Raise your voice again and again. They should announce us as messengers.
Catch the world of phantasm and bring it over here, with which we want to align.

Our desire is to defeat the bluntness, to save the highest aim.
We do not want to comply any longer with this interminable, senseless game.
Raise your voices again and again and create new poems, fairy-tales and songs.
All you poets of this world."

It's okay to cry.

The first album did nothing, it made no splash, nobody bought it or listened to it besides a few prog metal nerds, and here we are. But it's fair to understand why Xerxes themselves might have been wounded that their pure-heart offering did not receive an enthusiastic welcome by the '90s metal scene.

What would you do, friend? You would disband, of course. Or you'd start playing Pantera power groove with keyboard solos on top like Dream Theater. You'd have become bitter and cynical. You'd have chased musical competencies that are recognized by the wider professional world. Whatever.

What did Xerxes do? They self-funded and self-released an even better, more ambitious, more multifaceted, more carefully constructed, more beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful offering to the same feeling, That Same Place, they didn't give up and they didn't believe your lies that you didn't recognize what they're singing about. They looked at you straight in the eyes, from the darkness their obscurity had damned them to, and they smiled kindly.

And perhaps a bit wickedly, as their second offering is darker.

After crossing the threshold with "Beyond Your Imagination", Xerxes were wounded in the battle with infamy, and they emerge on "Falling Leaves" (consider the autumnal theme) as warrior-poets, not just bards. This record is devoutly metal, the minstrel folk of the debut has been minimized. Here the melancholy of a bygone reality reigns paramount. This is the dark middle chapter of a trilogy that wasn't to be and it's a tragedy that it wasn't, as far as I'm concerned. There's no red "split up" in metal-archives that saddens me as much as the one in Xerxes's entry. It's sad because it was we that were pushing Xerxes into the darkness.

"Wait! Wait. I have so much more to tell you." calls the warrior poet in the cerulean mists.

I stress this, friend. Where Xerxes are taking us is a reality. Not fantasy. Reality. The Place is real and you must also do your best to eradicate your distance. We've talked about what tools to use and we've talked about what art is on this blog for a long time. Help me help you help Xerxes. Don't be a jerk.

The twists and turns of the material are no longer playful and innocent. They are dramatic in full consideration, and the sharpness of the violence of nihility rears its head, as it is to be battled. The devil must visit all of us in the desert.

"Nowhere in this world
I can find a refuge
Silent and dark is my love
Doesn't make any sense
Or is it too late?"

But Xerxes will remind you of the terror as they reminded you of the hope of sentience. The blood flows from the stone in the heart of the kingdom. Pretend you don't understand, pretend until you drown in your own cynical abjection and wordly rationality. Pretend that you can make it through this life without love and freedom. Xerxes will have none of it, they cannot bear to tell a lie.

Xerxes will never tell you any lies.

Fall under their spell and never forget them. This is art borne from kindness and its minor cruelties are because kindness has to be a cruelty sometimes, if it is to spark remembrance. They did this for the betterment of all humanity. They made zero money for it, they have no peer accolades to show for it. A hundred people across the globe listened and loved them and remembered. I am one of them. It was by chance but it wasn't an accident.

Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing for you if you loved and remembered them too?

If you found them naive on their debut that naivete is of the Fool on the start of his Tarot journey. Xerxes reflected on this, and "Falling Leaves" finds the Hanged Man in mid-stride, levitating, upside-down. He will take on all colours if he is to reach The World. All the hyperbolic death-obsessed death and black metal that you use as a poison salve for a misunderstood wound, Xerxes are aware, awake and in full knowledge that the wound is beautiful and they will guide you through it, for 37 minutes, once 37 minutes, twice, to lead to, well... you know where.

Pay attention to the track "Sam Hain". In whispers and premonitions it is the key. The debut failed (insofar that a masterpiece can be called a failure) because it did not acknowledge their own shadow, perhaps. All of the beautiful heritage of Fates Warning, Watchtower, Psychotic Waltz, all of the technology this strange of music developed in its multifaceted ambitions, it is all employed for a singular concern here: Meet your Shadow Self. Step right through your Shadow Form. Come out the other side. You are reminded of something right now, and your memory does not steer you wrong. Many people have tried to tell you the same thing in different ways. They weren't lying. Xerxes will tell you no lies.

Sam Hain in the middle has no lyrics. It has instrumental force that goes through a lot of contrasting motion. Keep your focus. You can use your mind to see the images. Step through the shadow. Nobody said it would be easy. In the middle you may feel that the World seems to be dead. That all color sadly dissipates. That for all your faith, you are left in the night sea, drifting.

But in the distance you will see a bridge,



  1. "Nobody" seems like a pivotal expression within Beyond Imagination. I think it is so fascinating and powerful especially in it's heart weight. I need more listening before commenting further. I intend quality comments this time.

    Hoping the best for you, Helm. I know these POS work takes a lot out of you.

  2. It does, but also, it's fine. Poetry levitates. All the best.