“I wanted to show you apocalypse so you could see just how this ends - as it begins.”
When I first found Silent Planet, I knew I found something special. Hailing from Azusa, California, Silent Planet consists of: Garrett Russell on vocals, Mitchell Stark on guitar, Thomas Freckleton on bass and clean vocals, and Alex Camarena on drums. An overview of their sound would be progressive metalcore. And while that is true, this rabbit hole goes much deeper. Garrett's vocal style is a mix of screams and poetic, spoken-word segments. It is like Shakespeare married a breakdown. Your best first experience would be “Panic Room” off ‘Everything Was Sound’. Opening with a spoken word session mimicking mental ticks and panic. The inspiration for the song comes from a friend of Garrett's. Detailing his experiences in Afghanistan.
His friend, Jeriel, told him about issues he faces today due to PSTD. While guarding a camp, a man approached. They told him to stop, but the man refused and continued. They could see a trigger stitched into his clothes, suspecting this was a suicide bomber. Jeriel fired a round at the man’s leg. It was not his intention to kill him. But the man unfortunately bled out, while screaming for help. No one was able to approach him though, as they still believed him to be a suicide bomber. This story serves as the main lyrical inspiration for this track.
When I read lyrics to some songs, my impression was they were inspired by Lovecraftian cosmic horror. These constant themes of some otherworldly terror. Things not imaginable, outside of perception. And I was happy with that conclusion. Until I started doing research to write this issue of Musica//Obscura. To my own dismay, this is not the case. No, Garrett draws his lyrical inspiration from real life. Exploring themes of history, philosophy, and psychology. So much so, that he leaves annotations in his lyrics. Outlining what inspired a passage or phrase. It was like watching a fun horror movie, only to realize the actors died for real. Taking it a step deeper, another overarching theme in the music is the concept of apocalypse. Both macro and micro. A example of a macro apocalypse would be 'XX (City Grave)' – exploring the horrors of sex trafficking. Whereas micro apocalypses tend to be localized on the individual experiencing something traumatic.
Down the rabbit hole we fall.
Let’s take a look back on Silent Planet’s three LPs, and see how they connect. Their first LP, titled “The Night God Slept” has a focal point on women. The various apocalypses they experience, both past and modern. The characters are later known as the “seven sisters”. Talking points come from biblical references, war crime atrocities, and modern sex trafficking. We travel through these women’s individual perspectives, exploring the world around them. The album closes with “Depths II”. Written shortly after Garret was diagnosed Bi-Polar, and attempted to take his life. Story wise, the seven sisters surround Garrett and are walking circles around him. The question posed throughout “The Night God Slept” was "did God fall asleep?". In an attempt to explain the current state of the world, wars, bloodshed, and sorrow. Did God simply fall asleep; did he forget about us? Why isn’t he here to help or make things right? The conclusion that Garrett comes to at the end of this journey is no. God did not fall asleep. Rather, humanity itself has fallen asleep on its own problems. He comes to realize that God is still there. It is humanity that has turned its back on coming to solutions. And thus we close.
“Everything Was Sound” opens with Garrett awaking in the forest. The seven sisters have left and it begins to rain. He starts traveling through the forest and the weather worsens. Eventually, he happens upon a massive, circular building. A panopticon, (which is the scariest word I’ve learned this year) a giant structure built to the be the ideal prison. The premise is to have a large tower in the center, with prison cells lining the outer circle. It is constructed in such a way that the guards can see the prisoners, but the prisoners cannot see the guards. The effect this has on the prisoners is a feeling of constantly being watched, even while they are not. Forcing the prisoners to stay compliant. For fear of being seen and receiving retribution.
Inside this panopticon, there are 9 patients. They all suffer from varying forms of mental disorders. PTSD, eating disorders, depression, grief, schizophrenia, so on and so forth. Each song focuses on each one of these patients. We explore the issues through their eyes, as Garrett watches. Circles, returning, and wholeness are a huge theme of this album. The first and last songs are a two-part series, the two interludes are also connected. The song in the center of the album is “Redivider”. Which focuses on Garrett’s own bi-polar diagnosis, written as a palindrome. It is fascinating reading along while listening. The first half being a manic phase, twisting back in on itself. Then focusing on the depressive side. All the while, singing the lyrics in reverse order.
The album ends with ‘Inhabit The Wound’. In which all 9 characters from the album are released from their cells. Approaching Garrett and the tower, they reach into their chests and pull out a colored seed. shoving it into Garrett. A giant Tree of Life explodes into existence, enveloping Garrett. Swallowing the whole building. Everything we did to control the world is consumed by the tree and no longer exists. And so, these people are whole again. No longer classified by their mental illnesses. What sets us up for the following album is that Garrett is an observer as well. As we all are. The fact that Garrett is as much a part of society, and its norms, is what causes his destruction from this world. The thing that we are trying to get away from, is ostracizing or judging from a distance. To not push others away because of XYZ. The idea that we need to find love. To share and bare our sorrows to heal.
“As matter collapsed, I fell inside. Crossing a distant, deathless, dimensional divide. Where the sum of gravity granted passage and bowed. The Night God Slept, Everything Was Sound...” – Thus Spoke
So now, here we are, “When The End Began”, Silent Planet’s latest album release. This time we take a different approach. The common theme of looking at the world’s issues through the lens of those who suffer is still here. But Garrett is a bit more introspective on this album I feel, closing with ‘Depths III’. We start off with ‘Thus Spoke’, taking place immediately after ‘Inhabit The Wound’. Garrett wakes up from a lightless sleep, i.e., depression/bi-polar. After destroying the panopticon, we look back on everything accomplished, and experienced. Passing through black holes connecting time and space. Watching the universe end and begin anew, ad infinitum. Through this, we see it is impossible to remain who we once were after apocalypse. ‘Apocalypse’, in this sense, being both micro and macro. Personal or global.
Two songs we’ll dissect here now are both instrumental interludes, but allude to the thesis of the album as a whole. These are: “Look Outside: Dream” and “Look Inside: Awake”. These are in reference to a quote from Carl Jung which is:
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
And so everything comes around full circle in terms in introspection and looking in. The idea is that until you look within, your true self will always remain hidden. You will blend in with the group, following blindly with your peers. This false identity, shaped by groupthink, must be challenged. It must be sought out and understood. But in doing so, creates a minor apocalypse of self. Of ego death. And as we know now, you cannot remain the same person, after apocalypse. And so, instead, you grow.
Here we arrive on ‘Depths III’. What is our lesson? The culmination of everything we have experienced thus far, where is this going? For Garrett, it was the realization that in order to find the love, value and hope, you need to let go. Instead of trying to push against the current, he needed to let it take him where it chose. To change with the seasons, and to be malleable. Embracing the now, instead of being victimized.
Instead of saying ‘this isn’t the life I wanted’, we need to say ‘this is the life I have’.
It is in this lesson that I find myself. Battling with depression and suicidal ideation, this is the conclusion I came to as well. To stop saying this wasn’t what I wanted. But instead, taking responsibility and understanding this was the life I had. And I had to make the most of it. I hope you think about these lessons as I have.