Writing on a Wall
Act III: Life and Death begins with Writing on a Wall, an a cappella that mirrors the Act I opening track, Battesimo del Fuoco. Hunter, in an attempt to remove himself from the City that reminded him so much of his recent heartbreak, has gone overseas to join a war.
Although the Acts aren’t necessarily historically accurate, the war he joins is supposedly The Great War. Hunter is a young adult now, likely in his early to mid twenties, and if The Great War is anything to go by, then it’s likely that this takes place anywhere between 1914-1918. According to google. I’m not a history buff.
The title of the song comes from the idiomatic expression “writing on the wall”, suggesting a portent of doom or misfortune, based on the story of Belshazzar's feast in the book of Daniel. Writing on a Wall is another song sang by the Oracles, giving warning to Hunter as he completely ignores them yet again.
Into The Lyrics
Come away young man where the ground is red
And you need a mask to breathe
Oh it’s been so hard, but your luck could change
If you’d just roll up your sleeves
We had tried our best to warn before
But it didn’t get you far
Now we’re here again with a wish to mend
Your agonizing scar
Open eyes young man vigilante hands
And a heart prepared for pain
You will lose much more in this vicious war
Past and present stay the same
But the time to come can be altered some
If you listen to our song
But we sing in vain, and the fact remains,
There is nothing can be done
The Oracles begin by welcoming Hunter to the war, where the ground is red with the blood of the fallen and mustard gas, dust, and debris cloud the air. They almost mock him in the next line, “Yeah we know you’ve been through so much anguish, but you could end it if you just dealt with your problems instead of running from them”. On the train, Hunter didn’t listen to them and essentially felt that he didn’t need their advice. He knew what he was doing, except he led himself right into a situation that broke his heart.
I’d like to imagine that now, the Oracles are on the boat with him as he crosses the ocean. An idea I had recently is that the Oracles are just simply ordinary people. They see a young misguided Hunter and try to give him advice, seeing his foolish ambition towards the unknown. Hunter, being his imaginative self, looks at them as The Oracles™ because they’re figures that seem to have this ungrounded wisdom, and he feels like they are overbearing, a child refusing to listen to the adults around him. This could mean that basically any time he’s rushing into a bad situation, any group of people around him that all say the same thing warning him of his decision, become the Oracles. This is just one of my theories, and as I said in their eponymous track, they might as well just be entirely his imagination, as what they are doesn’t have any consequence on the story as a whole.
They tell Hunter to open his eyes, and look at what he’s doing, rushing into war. Vigilante hands might be leaning towards a few things. Hunter likes to take things into his own hands, and not really do what he’s ‘supposed to’, similar to a vigilante. It may also be a reference to Red Hands, or a future song in which his hands are truly stained with blood. ‘Past and present stay the same, but the time to come can be altered some’; you can’t change what you’ve done, or your current situation, but you can change your future. The Oracles tell him that unless he acts now, his future will be grim. Ultimately they realize that Hunter will do what he did last time, and ignore them to fulfill his own desires, despite his best interest.
Into The Music
Key of D minor, 4/4 time signature
The song begins with a quartet of vocals descending a Dm chord, switching to the dominant A major chord. This repeats, with a different melody playing in the higher voices, and then passes to a VI chord, followed by a III, and then coming back to the dominant. This chord progression repeats for the majority of the song.
As the vocals begin the first verse, a piano comes in to accompany the chord progression while backing vocals do a close mimic of the opening melodies. As the second verse begins, a snare drum joins in. The snare does a drum roll pattern to emulate that of a military drum piece. Other percussive instruments also come in, with some melodic instruments in the bass range, although I’m unsure which instruments exactly.
After the verses end, the vocals begin to sing the chords in unison, and the progression changes to a slight variation of i - III - vii - v - VI - III - vii - V. This leads right into the next track, In Cauda Venenum.
I’m sure where else to put this, so I’ll shove it in this section. In one of the versions of the Act III CD, there are clues hidden all around the booklet and case. I don’t have a copy myself, but there’s threads all about it on forum sites and I have a scan of the booklet. In the area behind the CD, there’s the latin phrase ‘Sequor diversus tabellae ad tela’, which someone has translated to mean ‘Follow different letters to a web’. Then, on the last page of the booklet, certain letters are highlighted. These letters spell out the phrase ‘We look just like Fire’, which are lyrics to the last song on Act III, which shares the same name as the album: Life and Death’. The final page of the booklet has a coded message, with a bunch of numbers followed by the words ‘Who am I?’. The words at the end were an early teaser at the song from Act V, The Most Cursed of Hands / Who am I, and the numbers, when decoded (track number.line.letter) and combined with the final phrase, spelled out this: ‘I was his boundary. I am his purgatory. I will be his heaven. Who am I?’
This riddle seems to more than likely be the Tree, as it was his boundary as a boy, he never ventured past it. As for his purgatory I’m not sure how that works out exactly, but as his heaven, I can see that working. His mother was buried beneath the Tree, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also ends up buried there after his time is up.
I took a long break before coming back to start Act III, and now I plan on digging right back in. Casey has just announced a new tour, supposedly related to his new project now that he’s ‘finished’ the Acts, and my friends in the facebook fan group have started the Dear Apparition Podcast, which features band mates as guests, and they also take the time to talk about the Acts similar to how I am here. I even featured on their episode about Act II, although it’s not released at the time of this post. In about a week or so I should have the vinyl boxset coming in the mail. With all this going on around me I was itching to get back into these and explore the next album in the set.
As always, thank you for reading. Feel free to reach out on social media, subscribe for updates, donate to the website to help keep it running, or do none of that because you’re not really feeling it. That’s cool too. No pressure.