Sunday, March 18, 2012

Analysis: The Scarecrow

I'll admit, I'm not really a "music person." Music just isn't a very big part of my life. I can't just sit around and listen to it-- that gets boring fast. I need to actually be visually doing something to keep myself from getting bored, so music tends to end up as background music for me. Though that's probably because I don't listen to dance music. Or pop music. Pop music is a scourge that must be purged from this world. But I digress. My point is that I'm not a music person, but that doesn't mean that there isn't music I like. In fact, there is music I love. I am a metal fan. To be more specific, I enjoy power and symphonic metal (for those of you unfamiliar with metal, there are many subgenres, and the fans of each subgenre can be downright vicious toward each other). One album in particular strikes a chord with me. It's a rock opera. Or a metal opera I guess. In fact, it's the first part of a trilogy. I just love the whole thing. I love how it sounds, and I love the story it tells. It's a very personal and very relatable story. It's a story that I can really sympathize with, and no matter how many times I listen to the album, it always manages to get me emotionally. That album is The Scarecrow by Avantasia.

Avantasia isn't really a band so much as a project. Tobias Sammet, the guy behind Avantasia, is actually part of a completely different band called Edguy. Avantasia is essentially a side-project he put together, calling forth many different metal artists to aid him in constructing awesome metal operas. The Scarecrow was Avantasia's third album, and the start of the so-called "Wicked Trilogy." It would be succeeded by The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon.

The story of the Wicked Trilogy is deceptively simple and intentionally vague. The meat of the story is told in The Scarecrow, with the subsequent two albums being more about the emotions and inner thoughts of the protagonist. The Scarecrow tells the story of an artist pining over a woman, but after she rejects him, his life takes a turn for the worse, and he slowly falls into deeper and deeper madness. All the exact details are left as vague as possible, and Sammet basically invites listeners to interpret the album however they wish.

Challenge Accepted.

The following is my own interpretation of The Scarecrow. I will examine each song (providing relevant youtube links, of course) and explain what I think each track conveys, as well as why this album effects me so deeply.

So, without further ado, The Scarecrow:

1. Twisted Mind -  The opening song of the album only barely features Tobias Sammet, and instead is mostly carried by Roy Khan, the (former) lead vocalist of Kamelot. Since Khan has probably one of the best goddamn voices I have ever heard, this is a big point in the song's favor. I see this song as being set in a mental institution. Sammet's character, the Artist, is a patient there, and Khan plays a doctor ("you've come to see the healer", "they call me tranquilizer," etc.). The Artist, however, despises being in a madhouse and is convinced that the doctor means him harm ("You walk me to the slaughter / with a smile on your face") and laments that he can't escape ("There's no way out"). The entire rest of the album is a flashback, showing how the artist got to this point.

2. The Scarecrow - The title track of the album, which is both the longest song on the album (clocking in at 11 minutes and 15 seconds) and my personal favorite, what with the whole heavy metal mixed with awesome sorta Celtic folk music. The song formally introduces us to the Artist, or the "scarecrow." We see that he is a lonely man, pining after women who are simply out of his reach ("I'm just a loser in the game of love / I'm just a stray boy in the shade"). However, the Artist is also ambitious and seeks to claim fame and fortune with his work. In fact, this ambition is the main theme of the chorus ("Rise to fame - time will come / Make your claim - time has come / For the crow to fly away"). Then we get Jorn Lande, the lead singer of Masterplan, chiming in with his character's introduction. Lande's character, who I shall refer to as the Tempter from hereon out, challenges the Artist and his ego ("So you're an angel meant to walk down here / And you believe it's all divine / And you don't play by all those temporal rules / Watch the world begin to die"). This challenge continues for the rest of the song, as Sammet and Lande alternate their parts. The Artist attempts to hold his ground and cling to his own ambitions, beliefs, and romanticism, while the Tempter attempts to break down those beliefs ("When you say it's all divine and meant to be, / What about your flesh and blood and defilers like me?"). The Tempter even plays on the Artist's ego to try to push him away from the woman he pines after ("One day she'll wonder why she had to let you disappear"). The song ends with an explosive rendition of the chorus, with both the Artist and the Tempter singing, and trying to prove themselves to the other.

3. Shelter from the Rain - This is an odd song, which, I believe, is actually more filler than anything else. It doesn't really advance the plot like most of the other songs on the album. Instead, it basically just reiterates the Artist's self-doubt concerning love ("When you find your love on wasted ground...") and his determination to fulfill his dreams of glory ("Like a wheel, I keep on turning / straight ahead, it's got me burning").

4. Carry Me Over - This song is significantly softer than most of the other songs in the album, and is basically a slow and tender love song about a man trying to gather his courage and admit his feelings for a woman. It also is one of the only two songs on this album with a music video, which would probably be one of my favorite music videos if not for the fact that sleeveless tuxedos are hilariously stupid. I'll be honest, this is the song that hits me the hardest in this album. I mean, who can really say that they haven't felt like the Artist at some point? Desperately pining for someone who barely even notices you ("In your world I'm out of place"), and no matter how hard you try, you just can't get this person out of your head ("Your like a ghost that I can't let go / You follow every step that I take"). This song just so perfectly captures that feeling-- that hopeless, unrequited love, which you know deep down can only end in heartbreak, but still, it doesn't hurt dream.

5. What Kind of Love - Well, the Artist confessed his feelings... and she gave him her answer: no. This is the slowest, softest ballad in the album, and the only song which really can't be classified as either rock or metal. But that doesn't mean it's not good. Hell, it's great. It's a beautiful and genuinely heartbreaking song. Maybe it's just because I'm apparently repulsive to women, and the only people I've ever tried to ask out have rejected me, but this song really packs an emotional punch for me. She tells the Artist that she's just not into him, and it's better that he just forget about her, because trying to pursue her will not end well. To really drive the point home, this is made the subject of the chorus ("What if love will leave your heart an open sore / And I can't reveal what even I don't know? / The love you feel you waste away on me / What kind of love will let us bleed away? / No kind of love will make us bleed away"). The Artist tries to protest, to tell that his feelings for her are too strong ("If only you could be / the one to take a look inside / I feel so incomplete"), but she either refuses to listen, doesn't buy it, or doesn't care.

6. Another Angel Down - The Tempter returns. The real genius about this song is that, taken by itself, it appears uplifting and optimistic, but taken as part of the whole album, it comes across as far more sinister. Right away, the Tempter begins comparing himself to the Artist. He begins the song with the line "I am the master of the game that made a fool of you," a clear reference to the opening line of "The Scarecrow" ("I'm just a loser in the game of love"). He proceeds to tell the Artist that he can show him the way to happiness and success ("You better taste: they call it life-- my special area / I'm breeding winners over there / Ain't it a sin to turn your back on what you're given? / It's time to take your share"). The Artist, feeling there is nowhere else to turn, latches onto the Tempter's Carpe Diem attitude ("There's no tomorrow-- I don't remember yesterday / I'm just living for tonight"). And of course, the Tempter offers the Artist great fame and fortune ("You've got the draw and desire to claw / For fortune and fame.").

7. The Toy Master - This is probably the most sinister-sounding song on the whole album, thanks in no small part to the song's vocalist, Alice Cooper. Yeah, you read that right. Alice Cooper is in this album. That's probably the name that my fellow Americans are most likely to recognize. He plays the Toy Master, a character whom I am convinced is a drug dealer. This album is, after all, about a downward spiral of a creative man, and think of all those creative celebrities you know about who had downward spirals-- drug abuse isn't exactly uncommon. The Toy Master is clearly a dangerous man, but he sells himself as a man of kindness, giving people hope and happiness, a chance to retreat from their lives... for a small fee, of course ("Out in the cold, I see water frozen in their eyes / What a sorry sight. / I am willing to believe they would pay for a smile."). The chorus is probably my favorite part of the song, it's just so brilliantly twisted, and you can tell that Cooper was having a blast playing a villain ("I'm the Master of Toys / And all you girls and boys / Are welcome to my wonderland"). The song also makes a reference to the drug dealer's business practices, putting his customers in a situation where they feel they have to keep buying from him ("I'm dealing in pain / And a little Novocaine"). Overall, it's a great and twisted villain song, and I kind of wish the character returned in other parts of the story.

8. Devil in the Belfry - The Artist is making a name for himself, but he's having second thoughts, and the Tempter can't have that, now can he? The Artist opens the song by lamenting that despite his success, he still feels unsatisfied and unfulfilled ("I dropped off in the shadows / The lead of a tragedy / I open my eyes — blind by the spotlight / and what do I see?"), and the Tempter retorts that the Artist has everything he needs. He doesn't need the love of some chick ("She denied your affection, / Now listen, the whole world is screaming your name.") and the Artist... accepts this. After all, why shouldn't he? And yet, he's still not over her ("I will forget her but I won't forgive"). The song continues with the Tempter keeping the Artist in check, and the Artist trying to convince himself that this is best ("Riding high! Devil on the crest / For all the world to see forevermore. / I am I! Devil in the belfry / I'll be glorified forevermore!"). The Tempter continues to squash the feelings of romanticism from the Artist ("Is it a sin to learn to be able to live without love?"), and the Artist once again embraces the Tempter's philosophy, but the girl is never far from his mind, and he wonders, no, he hopes, that his success has made her pine after him just as he pined after her ("Devil in my fingers — pleasure at my feet / Mind out of sight / The shadow I'll cast shall darken her world / And ghost her at night"). You can just feel how chaotic this guy's emotions are right now. He wants to be over her, but he just can't, so instead he tries to channel those feelings into anger and vengeance, just so that it doesn't hurt as much.

9. Cry Just A Little - One of my favorite songs on this album, despite it being one of the slowest. I mean, come on, who hasn't felt this way before? Remember how the last song implied that the Artist was hoping that she was pining for him now? Well, that's the basis of this song. But the maliciousness is gone now, replaced only by sorrow and pain, and we see that the Artist may not have embraced his new lifestyle as fully as he'd like to think ("Going forth pretending destination is at hand / When she's crying just a little just for me"). He goes from merely hoping and wondering to outright begging that she cry for him, just so that he can feel the tiniest bit justified ("Why don't you cry? Cry a little over me"), and at the same time, we see evidence of self loathing, that he may simultaneously believe himself unworthy of her ("Why don't you lie? Can't you tell me that I am / Hard to deny..."). It's just such a beautiful song. The Artist tries to sort out his emotions, but the thing about emotions is that they are rarely simple.

10. I Don't Believe in Your Love - And now the Artist gets angry. As... whoever it is Oliver Hartmann voices states: "No one around to hear your cries / No one there to even realize you grit your teeth." The Artist finds no sympathy for his plight. He finds no evidence that she's thinking of him. He's hurting and no one cares ("Loving her is dying / Loving her is pain"). Rage consumes the Artist, and he angrily casts her from his mind, renouncing his feelings for her ("I don't believe in your love / Tread on this bed of roses / I don't believe in your love / Don't give a fuck for roses"). Finally, the Artist reaches his breaking point. He snaps, and he blames it all on her ("Loving you was bleeding so I had to break away / Darkness' stretching out its hand to save me from your sway / 'Cause loving you was wasting, loving you was pain / No angel left temptation, open up the gate"). This is perhaps the pivotal moment of not only this album, but the entire story. This is the moment when the Artist goes mad.

11. Lost in Space - The Artist has driven everyone away. He has rejected both the lifestyles presented to him, and he is alone. Everyone he knew has abandoned him to his fate ("Another door / To barrens standing open / And who is there / To tell me not to give and not to go?"). Confused and broken, the Artist laments his fate, and bemoans that he was unable to prevent it ("How could I know, how could I see / That I'd get lost in space to roam forever?"). Thus the album ends on a particularly somber and tragic note. This is the second song on the album to have a music video, but unlike "Carry Me Over," it's not a particularly good one.

And that's it: The Scarecrow by Avantasia: one of my favorite albums of all time. So why do I love it? Well, you may recall that I alluded to my own luck with women during my analysis. The Artist is a character who I can really, truly identify with. I've felt the same way he's felt in a lot of these songs. That's what I love about this story: it just resonates with me so deeply.

...Or maybe I'm just projecting. Who knows? Sammet has gone on record that the story is supposed to be open to interpretation, and this is just how I view it. Others may see it differently, but I think that that too is a strength.


3 comments:

  1. You should really do a song-by-song review of the other two albums of the trilogy, I deeply enjoyed reading your interpretation of the story. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You should really do a song-by-song review of the other two albums of the trilogy, I deeply enjoyed reading your interpretation of the story. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah, you really should do a review of the other two albums, I think your review was amazing and I'd love to read your vision for the others. Think 'bout that.

    ReplyDelete