1. The Path
As the lucid piano tones gently fade into “The Path”, we know that we are in for a journey. The beauty of the music is only outshone by the sumptuous lyrics. “This life is a dream/ A gift we receive/ To live and to love/ We forge The Path”.
This first track lays the foundation upon which the rest of the album stands. The human experience is opened wide as a book for us to examine, as the heart-felt words descend on our ears. We all have struggles, our own dreams and nightmares, and even a search for love. Indeed, we all strive to discover whom we really are in this life. What does life mean? Why are we here? We’ve been given certain gifts, situations, and Achilles’ heels that define who we are. Yet, we ourselves struggle to understand it. Life is still a mystery.
“Adapt to this world/ It’s a chance we must take/ We’ll sing our song/ We’ll play our hand”. Do we have the gumption to press on in life? Do we have the motivation to find the truth about life, about ourselves, and about this universe? Our struggles make us who we are, and we must fight on to find out who we will become. Live life.
2. Atlas Stone
“Shadows of doubt creep into the light/ A glimmer of hope never out of sight”. This first single from “The Mountain” is still one of my favorites on the album. I can feel the pain, the struggle, the desperation, and the hope strewn throughout the words. I think the title of the song gives great insight into the track’s meaning. An atlas stone is a stone used in strongman competitions. They are insanely heavy, and require muscles and willpower to move them. However, I think the derivative of these stones is also important. These stones are named for Atlas, the Greek god that was the bearer of the celestial sphere (my son is named after him). This was a punishment for things that I won’t get into now.
So imagine, if you will, the strain of holding the sky on your shoulders eternally. This gives us insight into the awesome strain that we can feel within this track. “Finding strength in solitude/ I fight to fly with much to prove/ Is this the way it’s meant to be?/ I risk it all I will not fall”. With the belittlement of the world around us, we can lose confidence and motivation to fight for what we want or what we need. Searching, never finding. Trying, never succeeding. We get lost in a world of darkness and pain and sheer weight.
Sometimes, we just need to be alone. Sometimes, we just need to gather our thoughts. We can almost grasp salvation and fulfillment, but we must tread carefully. And think. We have to learn to take what may come, and learn to deal with it. Life happens, but this doesn’t mean we have to lose hope. The human mind cannot ultimately survive without a glimmer of light peaking over the cliff. We can’t be human without some sense of right or progress. So, stumbling up the mountain, we need hope in our hearts in order to bear our burdens with success.
3. Cockroach King
Who is the Cockroach King? That is a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I first heard “The Mountain”. I think this is a very important question for an overall understanding of this album. First, let’s look at the lyrics. “Hypnotized by the cockroach and it’s promise/ I was compromised by a treasure/ That was fit for fools/ Lured by a fool’s gold.” This mysterious king is someone or something that had lured us into a trap, all the while promising the world. But, it was all a lie. It was all a dream, an illusion, a parody of us. “Vacantly I was gazing at the mirage/ I yearned to be an apostle/ Of the self-made man/ Hopelessly I bathed in my ignorance/ Desperately choking on the roach of irony”.
Indeed, the Cockroach King lays a snare for us, and we walk into his trap with a sparkle in our eyes and without a doubt in our minds. We focus on him. We are enamored with him. But, do we really adore him? This “grand illusion” has caged us into a world where we believe lies and end up running in place. Yes, this king keeps us from making any true progress. We think we’ve found ourselves, but we really have been snared by something else. We haven’t really found anything at all. Indeed, the cake is a lie.
So, who is this Cockroach King that prevents us from progressing in our human experience? Who is this tyrant that wins us over, and then multiplies while we have our backs turned? I think this answer is highly subjective. I think everyone has their own Cockroach King. In some ways, the concept is similar to Porcupine Tree’s “deadwing”; something that keeps us from flying. The main difference, though, is that the Cockroach King deceives us; even though, perhaps, the deception is all self-administered.
What do you love that also keeps you caged? What do you adore that also ensnares you? Can we truly be free? In today’s world, especially, it can be difficult to be your own person and search for the truth yourself. Sometimes, we fall into a void of propaganda and lies that we buy wholeheartedly. We buy it because we want to believe it. As we mature, however, the façade melts, and we see the desperately foolish state of our belief in this king. Hopefully, at least. Besides this overall idea, I think there may be hints about a more specific identity later on in the album.
4. In Memoriam
The fourth track on Haken’s “The Mountain” is the intensely catchy tune, “In Memoriam”. I’ve been pondering these lyrics for a while now, and I think that I’ve decided what they mean to me. That’s all I can do, right? All I can do is decide what they mean to me specifically.
I think this track is about death to self in the face of the futility of life and the hopelessness that we can sometimes feel. When a loved one dies, what can we do? Some people become depressed, while others choose to ignore their feelings. Others become angry, while still others becoming totally inoperable. However, there is another way. We can accept it as part of the story of life.
When we realize how fragile life really is, do we simply drown in sorrow? Do we frivolously live as if there is no tomorrow? Or do we look for something outside of ourselves that can give meaning to our lives? Is there something bigger than us? Don’t give up. The journey up the mountain is difficult, filled with sorrow, and immersed in different perspectives. How can we know the way? We need help: It’s as simple as that.
A prayer: “Master of creation/ Lead us from temptation/ Father of invention/ Please guild my ascension”. There is One that cares. There is One that will be there to guide the way, to carry us in our times of need, and to listen to our innermost pleas and feelings. One last prayer of repentance. One last appeal to our Creator. There is nothing out there much like the resulting feeling of acceptance, of love, and of safety. Yes, at last, we can die peacefully and confidently when we live in Him and with each other.
5. Because It’s There
“Because it’s there”. When was the last time you heard someone say that? When was the last time you heard someone take on a challenge for the sake of the challenge? I believe that’s the idea in this fifth track on “The Mountain”.
“Judgement from birth/ Criticize our worth/ We struggled to uphold/ Struck down, will we fold?” The world is out to get us from the time we are born. Maybe not physically, but the world is out to drag us down, to tell us we aren’t good enough, and to break us. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m saying. There are people out there like this. There are situations and stresses and sorrows that threaten to rip us apart every day. Will we fold our hands? Or will we call their bluff?
Ambition. Passion. Honor. Some things are more important than playing it safe. Sometimes, we have to give all that we have just to prove that we can. This is life. This is real living. Should we sit back and be complacent while life and its wonders pass us by? Or should we take life firmly in our grasp, and claim what is ours? Who are we really? If we think we are nothing more than some kind of accident or mathematical anomaly, what kind of motivation is there? Knowing who we are and who created us, though, we can stand tall in faith. We can have faith in the story. We can scale the summit with grace, strength, and confidence in our hearts.
6. Falling Back to Earth
“Too close to the flame/ Ambition has burned me/ With my wings ablaze/ I’m falling back to earth”. With all this talk of facing life, climbing the mountain, and having confidence; I thought it was about time for this song to come along on the album. Haken wants to be very sure that we don’t think of scaling the summit as arrogance, pride, or misplaced ambition.
This song is about the Greek myth of Icarus. Icarus, if you recall, was the son of a craftsman named Daedalus. Daedalus created wings made of feathers held together by wax , and they miraculously allowed a man to fly. As Icarus and his father gave them a try, Icarus foolishly flew higher and higher (against his father’s wise warnings) until the wax on his wings began to melt. Icarus’ pride was his downfall as his wings fell apart and he plummeted to a horrible death.
Icarus is a great model on which to base this song. Confidence does not equal haughtiness. A personal journey up the mountain does not mean you must be a lone wolf. We need help up the mountain. We cannot do it on our own. Sadly, we often stray. We don’t seek the wisdom of others, and instead think we know everything. We trample on the advice of our elders, snub our friends, and make up our minds before we’ve even taken time to think.
We each have our own burden. But we can be helped. We can help others, too. Selfish ambition is nothing more than ignorance. There is quite a difference between earning the next cliff and snubbing others to get there. This song, then, is ultimately about one thing: respect. Respect for God. Respect for humanity, especially those that love us and want to help us. Respect for our world. And learning to respect ourselves to the point that we realize that we are part of a whole, not alone. No man is an island.
7. As Death Embraces
The seventh track on “The Mountain” is tender. Vulnerable. Spiritual. It deals with something so simple, so complex, and so dreaded; yet known intimately by us all: Death.
Every trip up the mountain will include death. Every. Single. One. It will be the death of those that you love the most. The ones that you hold, the ones that you pray for, even the ones that you hate. Death claims us all.
This writer is watching as the one he loves is flying away. They don’t need wings anymore. They don’t have a formidable trek up the summit anymore. They are free, really. But that doesn’t change the sorrow or the regret that is left behind with their loved ones. A shadow is cast. Bright skies turn gray.
“All my kingdom’s gone/ It’s burned to the ground/ Reason leaves me”. When approaching a track named “Pareidolia”, it is important, first of all, to know what the word means. Other bands have used the word, such as Sun Caged, and so I’m quite familiar with it by now. Paredolia is a psychological phenomenon where we see patterns that aren’t really there; where a certain stimulus is perceived by our brains as important and real. A couple easy examples of this are when we see images in the clouds or a face on the moon. In other words, our own experiences, thoughts, and genetics make us see things that aren’t really there. See how this is important yet?
Yes, this track is about something similar. It addresses the idea of basing your whole life on an idea or a belief system, but then later realizing that you were only imagining the importance or truth of said beliefs. Your foundation was only pareidolized. When that moment of realization comes, it can be devastating. Hopelessness, desperation, and apathy can overcome your soul. “As future sits upon a solitary throne/ A treasure is sinking/ Seems now long gone”.
I think this song relates to “Cockroach King” almost directly, as the object of pareidolia is indeed the Cockroach King himself. He swoons you. He fools you. He is nothing but a lie, and many people are deceived into following him, even for most of their lives. Someday, though, they will see through his guise. Then, their pareidolia will disappear, and they will see reality. Interestingly, the future is shown as being on a throne—just like the Cockroach King. It makes me wonder if an underlying message in this album is focusing on today, and not always having our heads in the future; about what could or might happen. Instead, live here and now.
You know what, though? The opposite can happen, too. When you realize that you have based your life on a lie, it may actually free you! A breath of fresh air. A glorious sunrise. A light in the darkness. This has happened to me, and I could feel my burdens roll off my back. “The ocean took away/ My fears and dreams but they/ Never returned”.
What’s important, however, is that we never stop searching for the truth. It can hurt us, but the truth will always eventually set us free. As much as it might hurt you physically, financially, etc., truth is always worth the fight and the sacrifice. Truth is an investment that will pay off in your character, in your children’s character, and even in your relationships. Belief is important, but a life-long search for meaning and truth is even more vital.
“I wish I could have been somebody”. Those words echo along the path and glance off the cliffs of life. This is the basic wish of every human being: To mean something. To be something. To accomplish something. After mourning death in “As Death Embraces” and also having his very life’s foundation destroyed in “Pareidolia”, our writer is ready to prove that he has learned something. He is prepared to show that he will keep fighting.
That is what is important, right? If we don’t keep fighting, then we never will be somebody. In fact, perhaps our will to fight is what actually makes us somebody. It’s a delicate line. We win. We lose. We wander and get lost. But as long as we have that basic human desire to push forward, then we are being true to ourselves and to our Creator. That is all He really asks of us: Try. Yes, it is not our accomplishments or our gifts that make us meaningful, but it is instead being true to our purpose that makes us truly human. It is embracing the story at the heart of this gritty reality that makes us somebody after all.
Haken’s “The Mountain” has captured my imagination. While the music is indeed incredible, the lyrical content has really grabbed me. The idea of portraying life as a journey up the mountain is genius in its own right, but also very practical. Do we have what it takes to fight? In a world with a huge variety of peoples and beliefs that seek to deceive or lead us, it takes a clear mind and an independent spirit to survive. Yet, life is also full of natural problems and or even issues of our own making, so it takes faith and hope to combat the depressing realities of evil, death, and our own faults.
The mountain absolutely is surmountable. It is possible to reach the peak. Yet, reaching the top isn’t what makes us who we are. The arduous journey is what makes us into the person we become. Once we let go of our egos, put faith where it is due, and just give our hearts to the climb, we will at last be somebody. There is a point to all of this. There is meaning, and it is found in living life. After all is done, maybe the path itself is the promised land we searched for all along the way.