CORMORANT Frontman Discusses Metazoa’s “Accidental Concept” and Analyzes Lyrics

Arthur von Nagel, bassist/vocalist and lyricist for San Francisco progressive extreme metallers CORMORANT, recently took time out of the band’s busy schedule to shed some light on Metazoa’s beautifully rendered, deeply complex lyrics and intriguing concepts.

He comments, “The themes of Metazoa came together by accident. It was never a concept album, as the lyrics were written over the course of several years, while I was going through a lot of different mind states. I wrote the words to “Hole in the Sea” while under sleep-deprivation, on a plane heading home to San Francisco from Europe. I was watching the sun rise over the Atlantic. That morning view, coupled with my day and a half of sleeplessness, contributed to the song’s psychedelic mood and abstract, mythic imagery. “The Emigrant’s Wake” came to me after a trip to Stinson, a beach I loved as a kid. When I was there with grade-school friends we’d concoct pirate treasure hunts and medieval jousts in the dunes, create massive sand sculptures… and we always felt this playful fear of the ocean, dipping our feet in the water just so, then running away as the waves chased us to shore. When I visited Stinson again as an adult, the adventures I imagined then seemed so insignificant, the mystery gone, and I experienced this horrible “Calvin-realizing-Hobbes-isn’t-real” moment. I feel the struggle to preserve that youthful magic and innocence against the adult realities of suffering, hatred and poverty is the tension that glues all the lyrics in Metazoa together. This friction is most real for me in “Hanging Gardens,” which is set up as a children’s fairy tale on a floating island paradise in the sky, but the lyrics really originate from an aborted suicide note my father had written, and I had the displeasure of reading. As the story progresses, more and more of the original inspiration seeps into the words and music, until the song dissolves in a bleak sludge of chromatic dissonance, punctuated by what our producer described as the “rat’s asshole” guitar tone. So I’m often mining this oscillation between the childlike and the nightmarish… a Kafka meets The Little Prince vibe.”

CORMORANT’s debut full-length, Metazoa, was recorded and produced by Billy Anderson (NEUROSIS, MELVINS, SLEEP, PRIMORDIAL) at Sharkbite Studios and mastered by Justin Weis (HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, LUDICRA, SLOUGH FEG) at Trakworx Studios, and is available for pre-order here:

Check out the rest of Arthur’s analysis below:

“There’s another side to the lyrics, when I’m exploring historical or social issues. We are not a political band. However, I am a political person. I’m not here to preach, so I leave my thoughts veiled, but the lyrics are rife with social and philosophical commentary if the listener is so inclined. The story always comes before the message though. I feel it’s essential each song follows a strong, cohesive narrative first and foremost, and then my own beliefs on the subject can be inferred later. Some examples of these more story-driven songs include “Blood on the Cornfields” about the Nat Turner slave rebellion, and “Uneasy Lies the Head” about the Reign of Terror brought down on France by Robespierre following the Revolution, during which nearly 40000 executions were carried out. In the Iron Maiden tradition, I’m a massive history nerd, so I’ll often conduct several weeks of research before adapting any real life events to lyric form. And then of course the lyrics themselves go through dozens of tweaks and rewrites. A strong marriage between the words and music is essential to me, so there are always modifications made when combining the two, and we don’t have any hard and fast rule regarding which is written first. For “Hanging Gardens,” the lyrics had been set in stone for several years. When we arranged the music, we built it very precisely around the words, so that each riff and movement translated the events and moods expressed in the poem. That style of writing accounts for the song’s linear structure, since neither the words nor music contain refrains of any sort. The words to “Salt of the Earth,” in contrast, were written after the music, so I took inspiration from the “color” of the riffing. I function very visually, so I like to close my eyes while listening, and let my mind paint a picture. For “Salt” I imagined a lot of greens, browns and reds, fields blown back by the wind, the travels of poppies and dandelion seeds… and then I built a story around those images. The lyrics to “Sky Burial” were also written after the music, but this was a unique case because the song’s structure called for several minutes of ambiance right in the middle of the piece. So for a change I wasn’t matching the words to any particular riffing, but adding my voice to a landscape of free-form acoustic instrumentation. This near-silence struck me as meditative, which eventually led me to a study of Buddhist myth and ritual. From this research I discovered the Tibetan funerary practice of jhator, which we call “sky burial” in the West. In this rite, specialized monks are assigned the task of rendering the body of the deceased into a pulp, which is then exposed to the vultures on a mountaintop. It is considered an act of generosity to nature, an offering to the living. I felt that was very inspiring, and a fitting rebuttal to the Werner Herzog-esque depiction of nature as an all-consuming, thoughtless chaos I’d imagined in the first track, “Scavengers Feast.”

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