Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Sikth – The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild: Exactly what we were waiting for



“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Like many, this was the feeling I experienced following the dissolution of technical metal pioneers Sikth in 2008. I guess the world was just not ready for their unique blend of… well almost everything. Unfairly, the band was criminally overlooked during their prime years. Only now, with numerous pretenders attempting to usurp their crown do we realise their profound influence and importance. I have always regarded Sikth as being almost pivotal to my transcendence into adulthood and not just because I lost my virginity after one of their concerts (a story for a different blog) but because they were the first band I listened to that was genuinely regarded as experimental. Ultimately one of the first bands that would help define my now eclectic musical preferences.
        
I remember first hearing the single How May I Help You? in 2002. My naïve and dismissive musical taste at the time was more acclimatised to anything that would justify my ghastly fashion sense. The music was too complex; the songs had no structure, the vocals too weird. Back then I preferred music I could understand, so to speak. Not having any kind of knowledge regarding instrumentation or musical terminology I could not fully appreciate the complexity and therefore difficulty of what I was listening to. The Trees Are Dead... was my subsequent musical enlightenment, after this I could appreciate what I may have previously remarked as ‘noise.’
           
In 2003 no one was making music like Sikth. Sikth could well have even been the name of the genre; they were unrivalled in their field. Fast forward ten years and suddenly they have helped inspire a whole new sub-genre despite being inactive during the time. Personally, I only see the influence in guitar tone and inventive use of time signatures, Sikth operate on a much higher level of understanding. Their lyrics can be thought-provoking, conscientious, dark, and even humorous at times and their albums showcase a wider range of influences and genre-bending technical prowess
           
Twelve years ago today, their now landmark album The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild was released. What follows is a retrospective into one of the most important albums in the history of British metal.

Admit it; we were all waiting for something wild, in the early 2000’s British metal was growing increasingly stale. We had already demonstrated that we could not quite grasp the ludicrously popular Nu Metal trend, forced down our throats by those domineering Americans. We had Hell is for Heroes and Hundred Reasons reclaiming back some credibility for more conventional rock, but our selection of home grown metal was disappointingly sparse. Sikth emerged from London in the early 2000’s. Their first release, Let the Transmitting Begin was merely a taste of what was due. It was a chaotic and brief expression of the bands talent. Mikee Goodman’s schizophrenic vocals somehow fitted perfectly with Justin Hill’s melodic interjections. Guitarists, Dan Weller and Graham Pinney certainly knew their way around a fret board and the accompanying rhythm section of Dan Foord and James Leach took the technical complexity to much higher level than anything we’d heard previous.
           
The band followed up their debut release with another EP titled How May I Help You? Besides the more, conventionally structured Suffice, the EP demonstrated an increasingly experimental approach including a unique take on Nick Cave’s Tupelo. It was around this time the band first came to my attention with the accompanying video for How May I Help You? The quirky computer generated video somehow complemented the bizarrely structured song inspired by a short story written by Goodman. I had not heard anything resembling music like this before, yet I was curiously drawn to the band, completely intrigued by their approach to song writing and keen for more. In the days following the release of The Trees Are Dead… having had my expectations comprehensively destroyed, I realised I had now discovered one of my all time favourite albums. Not only was it the catalyst in my search for similar sounding music, but it made everything I had previously been listening to seem juvenile. Win, win. 


The Trees Are Dead… commences as a misleadingly conventional metal affair. Opener Scent Of The Obscene showcases James Leech's almost funk influenced bass style before leading into the trademark poetry inspired verses of Goodman and the melodic choruses of Hill. The song draws on themes of hypocrisy and behavioural ambiguity, calling out those prepared to subjugate others for their own gain.  
         
Through intelligent lyrics the theme of addressing a higher cause is continued with Pussyfoot which highlights the monotony and subservience of modern day society. Twelve years on, this song is even more relevant as English culture has transgressed even further into a bland, self obsessed amalgamation of fashion victims and celebrity idolisers. Pussyfoot reminds me of the lyrical themes emphasized by Tools song Ænima, which was itself inspired by the political commentary of Bill Hicks. Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan wrote Ænima in response to his disillusionment regarding the superficiality of Los Angeles. Keenan insists that society has become so complacent that a catastrophic event is the only thing that could elevate humanity to higher understanding, essentially wiping the slate clean and starting over.

Here in this hopeless fucking hole we call L.A.
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away.
Any fucking time. Any fucking day.
Learn to swim, I'll see you down in Arizona Bay.

Pussyfoot is similar both thematically and lyrically,

You see,
You're all the same,
Dirty, fuckers gone insane,
Hope there's an earthquake and it swallows all evil.

However, Goodman focuses more on the role of the mass media in influencing its population, referring to the controlling medium as ‘Fashion Fuckers’ and unlike Ænima there is a small hint of optimism in the lyrics calling for society to become more self aware and to disregard tradition. Ultimately, Pussyfoot is offering you a choice… enlightenment or enslavement.

Hold My Finger tackles the subject of sexuality in a metaphysical sense and argues there can be more to a relationship than just the physical elements. It questions the stereotype that predominantly regards the male as the one who overemphasizes the importance of sex. Here Goodman and Hill embody the stereotypically female preoccupations with feelings and emotion. The characters within the song have their traditional roles reversed. The male desires company and sentimental conversation, whilst the female merely wants sex.

Can we not chill, go to sleep with my arms around you?
But then you scream and your right.
I should be there for you.
So now I try, check my pulse to make sure I'm alive.
Sorry chick I cant get in
That Mood now!

Goodman’s lyrics have thus far challenged the listener to embrace transparency and negate conformity. With Skies Of Millennium Night, the theme is as indisputable as the message.
           
Skies of Millennium Night is a politically charged technical metal anthem which perfectly defines the duelling vocalist approach the band adopts. Lyrically, the song serves as follow up to Pussyfoot. As previously mentioned Pussyfoot highlights the greed and consumerism from an individual perspective and how combined mass media and laziness can create a culture of materialistic clones. Skies… exemplifies this from a global perspective and ultimately, defames humanities impact on the world from both an ecological and ethical viewpoint.
           
The song once again references Bill Hicks who was infamous for his politically charged social commentary and outright rejection of consumer culture but also his disgust at humanities ignorance towards its own kind.

Thousands suffer, we sleep, they starve, we eat.
Instead of fighting, why not feed & cloth the poor?

This makes reference to humanities preoccupation with power and the constant, costly wars that occur as a result. In most modern wars nations have engaged in conflict primarily for territory and resources. Ultimately all it condenses to is simply greed. Just as the individual wants more and more, so do ‘The Minds of Power.’
           
Goodman calls for us to ‘Look at the sky.’ In doing so we can both appreciate the natural world and consequently realise just how insignificant we are. The night sky and its seamless infinity poses more questions than we could ever comprehend, yet instead the majority is more preoccupied with self importance and gain. Dan Weller’s poignant tribute to his friend Emerson (Pt.1) gives you a brief moment to reflect on what you have just heard.

Perhaps the most drastic departure to the albums style is Peep Show. The song is as close to conventional song structure as Sikth get and is notable for being the sole song that Justin Hill serves as lead vocalist. This maybe a controversial opinion amongst long time Sikth fans, but Peep Show has always been my favourite song from the album. For all the previously addressed societal issues, unfortunately there is little we can do as individuals, especially with different opinions and different concerns. Peep Show addresses the biggest change we can make is to ourselves. 


 Let’s get all personal for a moment. In the linear notes Justin Hill explains that Peep Show was written in regards to people who involve themselves in the lives of others. My own interpretation lead me to realise that I was too involved in my own life to even consider the lives of others. As an arrogant and opinionated teenager, I often alienated myself through inconsiderate actions and an elevated sense of superiority. All it took was for a former acquaintance to point out the similarities between the lyrics and my own behaviours to create an overpowering sense of realisation.  It was too late for the relationship but I began the following liaison with a much more considerate approach. And in the end, what’s been achieved? Self discovery. 

Mikee Goodman’s poetic origins begin the increasingly experimental second half of the album. Wait For Something Wild serves as an ode to a failing relationship, the characters within the song seemingly waiting for ‘something wild’ to reignite their connection, when regrettably, it is unlikely to happen. The finality emphasized by Goodman’s Mike Patton-esque vocal breakdown that leads out the song, simultaneously channeling despair, anger and repentance.

Whilst Wait For Something Wild characterises the ending of a relationship, If You Weren’t So Perfect examines the beginnings. Goodman has stated the song is about confusing love with lust and the emotional turmoil it can invariably cause.

Sucked me in.
With Just three words,
These three words.

The three words in question are ‘I love you’ yet, with only alluding to them within the lyrics, the theme of confusion is exaggerated. Love can lead to obsession, hence the titles reference to perfection, but also to paranoia, especially if it is unrequited.

In comparison, love makes no discernible reference within Such The Fool. The song is once again an attack towards the transgressions of societal morality. Featuring lyrics deemed too vulgar to be reprinted within the inlays, Such The Fool details a promiscuous character devoid of any understanding of consequence. Here Goodman displays his ability to proficiently confront serious issues in a humorous manner.

May as well strap an advert to your back saying,
Fuck Me, Free Disease, Stupefied Bitch,
Open Legs, Insert Quick,
Philosophy of a slut.

With Such The Fool we feel no pity for character as they refuse to acknowledge they are doing any wrong. Instead we laugh and wait for the resounding and inevitable told-you-so’s, or at least I do. Maybe due to the alarming number of ‘fools’ I’ve had the displeasure of knowing over the years.

The album ends with the spoken word poetry of Goodman on When Will The Forest Speak…? The poem makes reference to the over-industrialisation of the world and contains numerous metaphorical allusions to nature having a voice, unfortunately, a voice that cannot be heard over humanities.

I had the immense pleasure of being there for Sikth’s reformation concert at Download Festival in 2014. Not only did manage to catch Dan Loord’s drumstick with my face, but like many I realised just how important the band was to me. You could tell by the looks on the bands faces, staring out across the expansive crowd that maybe they didn’t realise how important they were either? Or how much they were missed? The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild is quite simply one of the greatest British metal albums of all time. Way ahead of its time and highly influential.  The band is back and rejuvenated, now we wait for something wilder… 

NG