Yeah, I know you're thinking, "nothing can destroy me! I'm invincible," and that's where you're wrong. The BATS will destroy you faster than a gamma ray burst. And before you drip into a puddle of formerly self-obsessed bullshit, you'll (if only for an instant) realize how wrong you've been. Science pwns God and you're no fucking God. And instead of wading through endless posits and counter-posits in the so-called Science Wars to arrive at your conclusion, you only needed to listen to Red in Tooth and Claw by the Irish band BATS to learn your lesson: extinction doesn't give two shits about you or your theology.
So then why care at all? Why not go for a nihilistic roll in the feces, before torching the village? Because the universe is cool and life is at least more interesting to you than dying or you'd be dead already. That seems to be an argument for hedonism on its surface—but even such acts of hedonism are concessions to the value of fucking (pleasure from others), looting (nice stuff), murdering (someone's gotta do it) and getting wasted (yee-ha!). For those who get a strictly animal enjoyment from carnage, well, nothing's going to save you— not some squiggles on a page and especially not an experimental rock band from Dublin. For the rest of us, by valuing the 'other' we're really expressing curiosity. It's this curiosity that has us value 'otherness' as ends in themselves, rather than means in service of ourselves. And it is this interest in other things, people, music, plants, animals, abstractions, cosmic phenomena and so forth that gives our life meaning. In a way, it's standard existentialism. But I find that cheap and so last century. The universe is more exciting than attaching meaning to abstract notions like agape; and science gives us interesting grist for new mythologies and cosmologies. So yes, the BATS will destroy you, but only in this dimension. They do not offer you simple existentialism, which is just a different sort of vain, godlike mirror; they are out to remind you that you are nothing compared to the glory of the universe. You think a little increase in the mass of your brain makes you much more intelligent than the Entelodont (hell pig)? Well after a comet hits and blots out the sun, go and tell me again how smart you are. Compared to cosmic phenomena, we are not so different from Plesiosaurs. That's as punk as it gets. Denouncing politicians is safe. So is denouncing God. Even if God is real, we've already established that science pwns it; it's not like the God-postulate is ever going to talk back. And don't get me started on how tacky all Devil-related anything is... and if we just denounce humanity, well, we all become poo-scented ex-villagers fairly quickly, don't we? Nobody wants that, God or no God. The most effective denunciations are accompanied by a recommendation; and BATS recommends you mainline some science, smash some idols, and expand your mind.
In some ways, the album serves as an emotional instruction-manual for how to channel subversive, musical rage into something constructive—without violating the subversive's ethos. Instead of touting science's merits over religion, science is addressed as the knowledge of the forces of nature that it is—one that must inevitably destroy & subsume mere belief. Science is the animating force behind BATS and it upgrades the rebellion inherent in the genre from a frill to a centerpiece. So if impotent whining was a key trait of hardcore punk, then having a vision which aligns with the music is maybe a trait of posthardcore punk—hence nerdcore, mathcore, corecore and so forth. The first song from Red in Tooth and Claw hails the quest to find the Higgs Boson Particle and doesn't even directly address its nickname, 'the God particle.' Instead, the song serves as a rationalist's statement of belief—don't look for God, look for the God particle! Yes, there is a little trace of hippie optimism in the whole garbed-in-screams guise of BATS; but only in that way a bard reminds the rebels that their insurrection is just. And no bard is effective if he or she sucks. Fact. There are plenty of musical reviews of RIT&C and they do an okay job of analyzing the music—even if I think they basically miss the unity of theme and lyrics. That's to be expected; the album is a musical salvo in the Science Wars. RIT&C isn't a lame taxonomy of scientific concepts or some periodic table of songs: it's meme warfare. If 'nerdcore' seeks the ghetto of marginalia, then the 'sciencecore' of BATS distinguishes itself by seeking to make itself relevant to mainstream thought. RIT&C is a concise expression of a scientific worldview, done emotionally and often poetically. And really, isn't this the most forceful form of persuasion? When we're supposed to judge something outside our area of interest, facts are important—but they probably aren't as important as emotions—and music is tied to our emotions. Plato told us to look out for musician-poets for a good reason. They are compelling. They'll brainwash you. That's what BATS is up to: brainwashery, or at least meme-replication which is almost the same thing. The boring side loses a deadlocked debate. And since the debate is deadlocked, science needs all the allies it can get—even from posthardcore punks in Dublin. And music has a stake in the outcome of the Science Wars too—artistic freedom is constantly under threat by religions and it's in no way properly compensated by the 'patronage' religious institutions might offer to artists. Science might not endorse sex, drugs and rock n' roll; but where does your pastor, imam, rabbi, or other assorted clergyperson stand on the matter? Yeah, that's what I thought. So music is an effective wedge issue in the Science Wars and RIT&C reminds the listener of this with every song.
How appropriate then, that a band that extols the virtues of science and evolution has taken an internet-intensive approach to their promotions. Memes replicate in strange ways. I accidentally met Rupert—the band's main singer— while trawling twitter for funny tweets so I could write my #twitterfoundpoem. "I can't buy booze today because a magic Jew died a long long time ago," he said a few months back around Easter. Being into magic Jews, I had to follow the guy, even though he'd only occasionally bust out with some boggling and often funny comments. I suspected he was a musician, but I admit I was afraid. I didn't ask and didn't want to know. I figured he'd suck. Most bands do; famous or no. I don't like much new music. I'm the kind of guy who wishes Charlie Mingus would come back from the grave and cut Lady Gaga with a straight razor. There was a time when I thought the future of music was a jackbooted Ian MacKaye stomping on the head of Bret Michaels for eternity—maybe with They Might Be Giants and Mark Sandman playing the soundtrack on flamethrowing saxophones and Rob Wright reciting a sermon... but alas, that monkey's gone to heaven. I didn't want some internet shill to steal my time with his shitty music... but he seemed like a nice guy so whatever. I allocated thirty seconds of listening time. That's all it took. I was hooked; not just with the music or the song structures (which excite jaded ears like mine), but the way these traits interplayed with the lyrics.
The lyrics on RIT&C are not frills; they inform the song construction. For example, the song "Andrew Wiles," has four major parts. The song begins with a dissonant, mysterious guitar motif—imitating the mystique of Fermat's Last Theorem—and slowly adds layers of instruments to it. In the second part of the song, our narrator Andrew Wiles discusses his life of mathematics. The melody and rhythm change to match the frustration and hope he feels with his efforts to solve the theorem. The third is his epiphany and glee once he has the proof. This is the part of the song that releases all the pent up tension established earlier in the song. The climax of the song is the consequence of the discovery, screamed with punk enthusiasm. I don't know about you, but I prefer "This famous conjecture is hidden in my lecture," over "We release our poisons like styrofoam!" Punk tries to be so serious, but its lyrics need to be ridiculously melodramatic to match the intensity of the music. That's why I got sick of the genre to start with—it was always promising more than it ever delivered. RIT&C differentiates itself by selecting subjects worthy of rage and awe. There are greater things than orgasms and worse things than losing a lover. By switching between praising curiosity and denouncing superstition BATS effectively constructs a viable alternative to superstition. Art appeals to the irrational and pre-rational aspects of our psyches, so what better way to attack magical thinking, than with music and poetry? This is the ultimate in fighting fire with fire: art has always been connected to human religious tendencies and BATS is unashamed about pressing a scientific worldview to displace some religious thinking in their listeners.
While the verse in RIT&C isn't on par with Elizabeth Bishop, or even Gregory Corso it's still raw, agile, and attentive to meter, without sticking to strict metrical schemes. The scenes are vivid, filled with plot and attention to narrative completion. One of my favorite examples of this is the "The Cruel Sea." The narrator somehow shipwrecks millions of years ago, surrounded by Plesiosaurs and Tylosaurs. Instead of carbon ghosts burnt to fuel "ship lanes and trade routes," the prehistoric beasts are real threats and the narrator realizes he's just another chunk of animal meat in the stream of history. The end ties it all up effectively
"I have seen the changing gene, endless forms of many beasts.
Nature's red, like they said, in tooth and claw. Dead instead."
The first line opens with an anapest, finishes to seven beats with iambs; but then it reverses the scheme in the middle of the line to trochaic meter. On the next line, the scheme continues with a trochee, switching to a spondee, before getting to ten with iambs, then reversing the scheme again to end the line with trochee & leaving a half a foot off for emphasis on both lines. It's not the best poetry I've read, but it's very good and the music gives it an aesthetic unity. I don't really do justice those two lines, because there's a whole thwarted guitar theme that sounds incredibly dissonant when it's initially introduced in the song, but resolves itself with harmony as they sing those last two lines. As for the lyrics, there's a symmetry between sea lanes and trade routes, and the carbon cycle; likewise between modern beast and ancient beast—and the extinction that awaits them all. As the song says, God's not there taking measurements, even though we hope it's clicking 'save' before a Tylosaur deletes us. We've heard this so many times, our ears have grown callouses to it; but there is still meat in the idea and it takes a quality song to refresh the notion. Just as religious leaders are always offering up new parables to keep congregants zealous, adherents of the scientific worldview must have their faith refreshed. Science can't do that job and it's up to Art to back up its buddy.
Red in Tooth and Claw sent me into a BATS stupor. It's not that they introduced ideas I hadn't heard before, it's that they did so with such aesthetic and artistic focus, it had a totalitarian impact on me for a few days. I didn't want to do or say anything pseudo-scientific for fear of leaving my RIT&C induced satori. Music that sounds good, but lacks poetry, is limited insofar as to what it can communicate; our formerly favorite albums with lame lyrics get tossed into 'formerly favorite album' hell: the craftsmanship of the music juxtaposed with the amateurishness of the lyrics becomes too much for us and we reject. The reason more bands don't take concept albums to the next level, as 'high' art is because they lack the talent. It's as simple as that. Oh, you might get someone singing about lost lovers and how cowboys are her weakness or some shit like that, but this just goes to show how much we grade song lyrics on a curve. "Oh they're effective." What, Suzanne is effective, because suddenly, you're Leonard Cohen on a pussy-hunt in New York in the sixties? That's grading on a curve. You laugh at guys who read better poetry than that when you're in the bar or cafe. You only call that dreck poetry, because you want to defend your music. Well, it's not my fault your music is defenseless! Good poetry stands up to repeated examination, because while its composition is linear, it brings the audience out of linear linguistic thought. Bad poetry needs the song. Good poetry transcends its medium. Poetry has been bound to music since before there was a written record and yet expectations are lower than ever when it comes to finding quality poetry in lyrics. I welcome the ambition of BATS and applaud their album's musical success.
BATS is basically a flanking maneuver in the Science Wars. Rather than engage the rhetoric of anti-Science forces, BATS sidesteps the arguments. It's why this notion of curiosity as the foundation of a moral and ethical worldview is so interesting to me. Fossils, codons and particle accelerators are all the rebuttal necessary when battling pseudo-scientific worldviews. The album espouses a scientific trans-human worldview and therein lies its true genius: a rebuttal against theists who claim 'humanism' is inherently narcissistic. And maybe humanism is narcissistic and BATS is merely the next step in the evolution of the human worldview: one with quantum mechanics in lieu of omnipresence that's informed with art and science in lieu of omniscience and omnipotence. A worldview that values more than humanity, not just a religious reflection of our own instincts.