It can be fairly easy to simply brush off a band like Silent Planet without a greater knowledge about them. They’re one of those mid-level metalcore acts who’ve been floating around the scene for a while now, and even with a decent reputation that they’ve built up, particularly for their increasingly dense lyrical style, word-of-mouth only goes so far. Therefore, it makes sense that When The End Began is the subject of their first UK promotional campaign; the mid-level can only accommodate a band so much before they fade into the aether, and there’s definitely ambition bubbling onto the surface to give them that edge over the competition. After all, this is an album centred around the Nietzschean concept of the eternal return, the theory that the universe will continue to recur an infinite number of times, and how that links to the crises that the planet currently faces today. It’s a fairly lofty concept, but if Silent Planet can pull it off with scope and power to reach the impact level they’ve always been capable of, this could be their watershed moment to cement their place among metalcore’s most creative, high-minded bands.
And really, that doesn’t seem to be case with When The End Began. It’s not because it’s bad, because it’s most definitely not (to a certain degree), but the complexities and density that Silent Planet cram into this album make it virtually impossible to simply dip in at this point. It’s not as if they’ve ever been primed for the mainstream pole position like some of their less integrity-driven metalcore contemporaries, but When The End Began feels so deeply entrenched in the philosophy and history that Silent Planet have built for themselves that it could easily be construed as just for the diehards and no one else. Of course, there’s the other side of the coin where the lyrics are of little importance when heaviness is a factor, and while the sort of people who subscribe to that mindset are less likely to be bothered by a rather uninspired tech-metalcore framework, it feels like a half-measure compared to the immense effort put in elsewhere. That all results in When The End Began being profoundly uneven, standing is an immaculately written and conceived album that teeters between being pretty inaccessible and lacking in some congruent depth.
Even with that though, it’s hard to deny that the writing and concept on this album – the meat of where the discussion points lie – is positively dripping with a deep, rich knowledge of literature, history and theology, exactly what you’d expect from a band whose liner notes have to contain footnotes to elaborate on ideas and inspiration. This time, the primary focus of Silent Planet’s exploration is the idea of the apocalypse and world’s end, weaving eschatological representations through various works of art and literature with frontman Garrett Russell’s own ruminations spurred on by dreams, religion and his knowledge of human psychology. What comes from that is an incredibly abstract take on the end, grounded in historical and religious symbolism but augmented with individualist and personal themes of loss that paint greater images of humanitarian loss. There’s definitely a lot of weight to contemplations on the Vietnam War on The New Eternity, or the respective destructions of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War and Babylon in the Battle Of Opis on Northern Fire (Guernica) and The Anatomy Of Time (Babel), but it’s the destruction of the self that sees the cathartic shockwaves really form. There’s the tackling of the soullessness of consumerist cultures on Vanity Of Sleep, or the opioid crisis that’s seen communities wrenched apart worldwide due to unsafe drug use on Share The Body, but the aforementioned catharsis ultimately feels anchored in Firstborn (Ya’aburnee). The subtitled concept ties together this album’s sense of humanity, an Arabic concept that translates to “you bury me”, referencing the wish to die before a loved one to avoid having to live without them, and when that can be applied to so many other elements of this album, the selflessness of human actions out of love before an inevitable end, that has a lot of potency that few albums would go into, let alone metalcore albums. And that’s where Silent Planet’s greatest strengths lie, in their ability to dissect the very personal nature of being human and apply it to something as abstract and universal as an ending.
And yet, it’s in the final track where that inaccessibility comes through the most; the lyrical analysis already piles on layer upon layer of detail and philosophical concept that results in a hefty weight, but it’s the closer Depths III, where Silent Planet throw back to all of their previous work in bulk, that blurs the meaning of the album for all but the most dedicated of listeners. That’s because it carries on their Depths trilogy from their past two albums, tracks based on Russell’s dreams that typically portray an ending that culminate in this final piece, leading on from the message at the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno on I, the knocking of the raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven in II, and the references to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before his crucifixion, tying together a thematic arc that’s crossed three albums that’s addressed Garrett’s own relationships with his own mind and religion that’s drawn to a close here. But it also comes part and parcel with the eternal return, openly throwing back to the trilogy’s past two installments as a means of going back to the start, and returning to Nietzsche’s idea of the start of the universe coming after its end (even the dying planet on the album’s artwork references that as the very first piece of material on the album). And yet, it feels as though these are deeper details that need to be known, and while it’s just as tangled to decode, the larger throughline of Silent Planet releases hinges on this as the culminating moment, and without that prior knowledge, that impact feels somewhat dulled. It’s not as if this is coincidental either – combining the titles of each of their albums makes the apocalyptic prophecy “The night God slept, everything was sound when the end began” – and Russell’s own assertions of this being an album he doesn’t necessarily like but felt had to be made feel a lot more prescient. It’s borderline miraculous that anything can be ascertained from this album at all, and while the ambition can’t be faulted whatsoever, it perhaps hasn’t culminated as smoothly as it could have, and that’s a bit of a shame.
You could say the same thing about the execution too, though it’s easy to give Silent Planet at least some credit here; after all, it’s not easy to make tech-metal or metalcore into something as interesting as this album clearly deserves, and they do get close with the more open, thundering grind of Afterdusk or the superb buildup of Depths III. But where a band like Architects can make the base formula interesting through blowing it up to its most extreme size and cranking up the clinical heaviness, Silent Planet really only get part of the way there, and even that’s pretty occasional at best. Alex Camarena’s drumming has some nice progressive flourishes at points, and the vocal interplay between Russell and Thomas Freckleton can be particularly potent at the right moment, but any considerable melodies or moments of explosive size and grandeur can be few and far between, not helped by this being a fairly decent length as it is.
It’s definitely a more interesting album to read along with than listen to, and, regardless of how detailled the thematic construction is, that can be a bit disappointing. The need to form a consistent nexus between content and execution is arguably among the most important factors here, and when Silent Planet struggle to do it as often as they do, it caps how much enjoyment can really be gleaned as an entire package. Having said that though, the fact that When The End Began goes so deeply into concepts that are far too lofty and ornate for the vast majority of bands – and examine them as exceptionally as they are here, no less – is worth a lot of praise on its own. It’s arguably enough to make up for the fine-tuning that needs to be carried out instrumentally; sure, work needs to be done, but on a purely lyrical and conceptual level, Silent Planet are absolute leagues ahead of the competition.
For fans of: Architects, Fit For A King, Oceans Ate Alaska
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘When The End Began’ by Silent Planet is released on 2nd November on UNFD.