In Svbterranean’s Album Dissections, artists break down the construction and/or lyrical themes of their records track by track.
Earlier this month Nashville powerviolence duo Thetan unleashed their face-ripping, sophomore full-length, Abysmal, via Anti-Corporate Music. The 18-track, 18-minute-long record assaults listeners with hyper-speed, hyper-violent bass-and-drum hardcore that doesn’t let up. Fans of Charles Bronson, Spazz, and all things Slap-a-Ham are encouraged to pay attention.
Thetan bassist/vocalist Dan Emery was kind enough to drop by and participate in our Album Dissections series to breakdown the construction of the album as well as its deeply personal lyrical themes. Check out what Emery had to say below.
Thetan – Abysmal. Track By Track Rundown With Your Host, Dan Emery (Bass/Vocals)
Before jumping to deep into this, I would like to preface by saying that many of the lyrical aspects of this album are quite personal, and speak of some of the darker times in my life. Specifically childhood. That said, it is quite an awkward feeling to put it all out in the open, but life isn’t all about comfort, now is it? My ultimate goal is that hopefully through all of this, some people who can relate to the lyrical content can draw something positive from it, and those who cannot relate can gain perspective and possibly find a way to support some of the more vulnerable people in their lives. To anyone out there who can identify with this a bit TOO much, there are people who care about you. More than you may know. Now, let’s dig in.
Alive In Hell
When we first wrote this song, I knew I wanted it to be the opener for the album. The way the riff opens up the song, just that energy. The initial concept was for it to carry the same kind of intensity as old school black metal, but with more of a hardcore style. Especially in the vocal delivery. I had to be very conscious about the way I did vocals on the recording of this song. This would be a very easy song to over deliver.
I bide my time as I keep the noose at bay
Coerce my mind to embrace the coming day
I search the ground to find a semblance of peace
In these confines that I dwell, let my presence here be brief
Bide my time
Lyrically, this song is about impulse control. As a teenager, I lived in foster care. During those years self abuse was a very real stress relief for me. I had to learn to control my urges, and think things through before I acted and eventually took things too far.
This is one of our favorite songs to play live. When we recorded the album we had a rough idea as to what the track order would be. Alive In Hell going directly into this song was not an edit. We just ran the two songs back to back and kept it moving.
No, it’s not into focus
My mind is skipping
Stuck in a cycle
Repeating all my failures
My mind is skipping
But I know how to fix that shit
Lyrically, this song is the opposite of Alive In Hell. In that it is also about self destructive urges, except it is about NOT handling them well, and having poor impulse control. This is not however, advocating detrimental behavior. We all learn and we all grow. Though the patterns in our behavior have a tendency to linger long after we have adopted new habits.
This song was written at the same time as Frustration. I don’t think we have ever even played the two songs separated. It most likely wouldn’t sound right. When we recorded, we ran this one immediately after Frustration. So in all actuality Alive In Hell, Frustration and Focused Hatred were all recorded in a single take.
Some wounds should never heal
Left to weep and packed with salt
A divine delusion and the power you did feel
Unwound and laid out bare with all your faults
As your weakened shell lay frail
I was driven to my worst
So delighted to see you fail
I could burst
The lyrics for this song are discretely some of the darkest on this album. Of the various living situations I was in throughout my youth, there was one particular person I held in the lowest regards. This person was the most mentally and many times physically abusive person I had ever encountered. As fate would have it, this person was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer. I watched them lose their battle. At the time it was happening, I found great satisfaction in it, as I felt it was some kind of ironic retribution. I am not proud of how I felt, though I can only acknowledge the person I was then in comparison to the person I have become. The lyrics to this song were written 20 years to the date after that person’s passing.
Musically this was originally one of my least favorite songs on this album. To the point where, when it would (rarely) find itself on set lists it would be listed under it’s working title, “Dan’s Least Fav”. There is a whole layer of feedback buried in the mix on this song. I have since grown to appreciate this song more. Probably because of the feedback.
My dreams will hold no value
My future holds no hope
Destined for death or prison
Or strung out hooked on dope
But still I defy you
Am I impressing you yet?
Poverty has warped my vision
Unfazed, I stand provoked
Accept the world’s derision
Like it’s some fucking joke
But still I defy you
Am I impressing you yet?
When I wrote the lyrics to this song I was feeling generally discouraged. These words are a rebuttal to every person who had ever used my upbringing and social status against me.
The main riff for this song was written by Chad (the drummer). There are a few songs on this album that he conceptualized the bass parts. I intentionally left much of the song instrumental. With songs as short as ours, it is very easy to write too many vocal parts. It is kind of a challenge to say more with less words, so on this song I was definitely trying to express that restraint.
Do you feel you’re worthy?
Do you not feel loved?
Do you pray to our god
That we cherish above?
Would you pledge as loyal?
And do all that we say?
We’ll bring you in our circle
And reject you anyway
Lyrically, this song is about integrating into a new social living setting, and finding yourself pushed out and feeling totally manipulated. As if the people you find yourself relying on are attempting to make you assimilate to their way of life, with the intention of shunning and humiliating you regardless.
This song, the prior song and the following song are all a sort of a trilogy. As it may seem obvious by now, this album conceptually is a sort of exorcism of negative emotions and past traumas. With that noted, these 3 songs are the centerpiece of self deprecation relating to a long period of life being spent wrapped up in state institutions and the custody of the court. The lyrics were all written after the order of songs was chosen, and the titles for these 3 as well as which order those 3 titles would run on the album were all decided before the music to the songs were even finished.
This fucking hole
I dug alone
There lie the bones
These weights of shame
I’ve worn since birth
I’ll take the blame
And trade my worth
This song is meant to illustrate acceptance of your place in society. It’s very easy to give up when the odds seem to be stacked against you.
As I pointed out in the last song, Weakling, Scapegoat and Punching Bag were all meant to play out as a running theme of different aspects of childhood development and experience in the foster care system
The windows are drawn
And the doors are locked closed
The lies we were taught
Hide the horrors none know
This place is not a home
The lyrics of this song are meant to convey the physical abuse that goes undetected in many homes worldwide. Not just to represent what goes on in foster care, but it was definitely written from that perspective. Primarily to point out the hopelessness of children not being believed when they finally do open up about what they are enduring. It was driven in that nobody would believe us, as we were just lost children whose parents didn’t care, that the social workers would always believe the people who nobly opened their homes up, rather than the children of drug addicts and criminals.
I made up the intro to this song while fucking off at practice. It was never meant to be a part of a song. Chad liked it and we wrote the rest of the music around that riff right there. I have a terrible habit of making up riffs, then immediately forgetting them. We have to keep recording devices in our practice space, otherwise we would only have 6 songs. (4 minutes). Even after making a demo of the song and multiple rehearsal recordings, I still continuously forgot how to play the intro.
There’s an empty seat in the back of the classroom
The lights grow dim as the years wander past you
Names fade to echoes as they drift into the distance
Erased from this world, but yet everybody missed it
One thing that was a constant for me during the years prior to entering state custody was moving around a lot. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be enrolled into a new school, only to attend for a few days or weeks, then abruptly relocate. I used to wonder about the people I had met during those fleeting encounters. I would wonder what their lives were like, and also wonder if any of them were wondering the same thing about me.
This song was written as a stand alone song for a compilation that never came to be. We recorded it once before recording it for this album. We haven’t even heard that version since we recorded it. Maybe one day I’ll get it and mix it down. This was actually the first song written for this album. Though it was never really intended for an album.
As a whole
Run out the clock
Usher in the next era to be
Pushed to our limit
Pushed to the brink
Push the fucking button
Rejoice as it wipes you from all history
Pushed to the distance
Pushed to the side
Push the fucking button
An ever changing design
And it has all begun
The lyrics for this song were written twice. The subject matter stayed the same for both incarnations, however. This song, lyrically, is a deviation from the subject matter in many of these songs. It is about mankind’s reliance on technology, and the state of life we are immersed in, where we would feel completely naked if we were left to the elements. We are the only animals on the face of the earth that openly reject nature. It disgusts many of us. I believe that all beings serve a purpose on earth, all the way down to sea slugs cleaning the ocean floor. Everything has a clear purpose. If our activities are any indication, human’s purpose would be to destroy the earth’s habitability. Perhaps we only exist to clear the way for the next wave of life. Perhaps that wave of life isn’t even biological.
Welcome To Your Stupid Life
Welcome To Your Stupid Life is another example of a song that almost wasn’t. The entirety of the song started out as an improv at our practice space, and by the magic of our technological recorder, that I would be lost without, we were able to turn it into something useful. I would have most definitely forgotten this song. The title of the song was actually what Chad wanted to name the album. I felt it would have sounded too much like a mid 90s pop punk band’s album with that title. Like a Vandals album or something. This is instrumental #1 on the album.
By My Own Hand
This song was written as a 2nd half to Welcome To Your Stupid Life. I like this song a lot. It reminds me a lot of the writing style from some of our earlier splits. Namely the one with Bible Thumper. This song and WTYSL seemed very much like they would be an obvious 1st and 2nd song on the album. In fact they were the 1st and 2nd songs tracked for the album. It was because of that, that we decided to bury them so far into the album. They are actually the 1st and 2nd song on Side B of the vinyl, so they do sort of get to be openers in their own way.
Watch as I fall straight on my face
I press onward until my screams all turn to laughter
My hallmark is an elegant disgrace
A mockery of myself forever after
Watch as I get put in my place
So far to the bottom until I’m hanging from the rafters
Watch as I get put in my place
The lyrics of this song are a snarky take on depression. Sometimes you just have to step outside of yourself and laugh at it all. Life is absurd.
Put Out To Pasture
This was a strong candidate for the opening track of the album. It is one that we play live frequently, and will possibly be on our setlists well after some of these songs have themselves been put out to pasture. This song had a working title of Hotdogs. I don’t quite understand why, but this song just makes me think of hotdogs. If there were a food manifestation of our music, this song would definitely be a greasy grimy gas station hot dog. I don’t know. Brains are absurd.
My patience wanes for these fucks around me
My dearest friends whom I held close to heart
A selfish shame, how it just confounds me
As time brings in change, we all just drift apart
I cling to memories of what used to be
I guess I could say that it’s all my fault
Nostalgia’s such a weak excuse to me
But nerves will be raw until feelings screech to a halt
I wrote the lyrics for this song after a very close friend of mine went on a long self indulgent rant that made me question how we had drifted so far apart. There are so many dividing factors in our world today. It’s not uncommon to see people fall out of sync with the people who are closest to them. What amazes me is when these people are living incredibly similar experiences, but somehow end up as polar opposites regarding the same topics.
Apparently we had a trend going on with the songwriting for this album. When we wrote this song, we were actually trying to write an opener for the album. It was very evident early on though, that this wasn’t it. Not that I dislike the song or anything. I just don’t feel that it has a ‘first song’ vibe. So we sunk it to nearly the end of the album. I suppose that isn’t a terrible approach to writing an album. Just treat every song like it’s supposed to be the first song on the record.
The crescendo builds as it’s set to fail
On the saddest platform and weak defense
As the movement plods, it goes off the rails
When it shits the bed? Well, that just depends
Such bravery yields much rewards
Each punch in the face pushes you back in your hole
The lyrics to this song were absolutely, 100% inspired by that video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face, and nothing else.
Sell You A Dream
We wrote a song. It was stupid, but the intro was kinda cool. So we jammed on the intro in the studio. This recording was an improv.
If Pathetic is ‘Dan’s Least Fav’, In Captivity would be ‘Chad’s Least Fav’. Personally, I love this song. It’s fun to play, and I love the way it turned out. This is an example of a song just coming out of nowhere. When we wrote this one, we had no plans to write anything at all, we just started bouncing ideas really quick, and a little while later, we had a song. I don’t know why Chad doesn’t love this song more.
Pray it’s over
It starts again
A slave to the grind is a slave to the grind
But you’re only gonna fall more behind every day
This song is about being stuck in a shitty rut. Whether it’s a job, a shitty living situation, or just having to tend to aspects of life that aren’t working out.
This song is a lot of fun on pretty much all levels. It’s weird and challenging to play. It sounds weird and totally unorthodox. And it’s a crazy left turn from where people expect us to go. We have a tendency to throw some pretty serious curve balls on our albums. This would be one of those curve balls.
My 5lb bag runneth over
There’ll be no closure when I walk away
My 5lb bag runneth over
Full disclosure, I’m not okay
Lyrically, this song is about stress. There really isn’t any better way to put it. It’s about being completely overwhelmed and on the verge of giving up.
This is the bastard child of the album. When we wrote this song, we didn’t know if we wanted to use it on the album or not. By the time we finished recording it, we both knew that it NEEDED to be on the album. The intro/first verse riff kinda reminds me of some old Lizzy Borden style riff. I’m sure nobody else will ever agree with me there, but that doesn’t matter. This song will always make me want to listen to Lizzy Borden, then Lizzy borden will make me want to listen to practically anything else. Regardless of all that, the second half of this song is super fun to play, so I will always have a soft spot for this, the baby that was almost aborted.
Another close to another chapter
Just shut the door behind me
I’ll fan the smoke at my ever-after
Enough presence to remind me
I grasped at straws to stay out from the cold
And got snared into a nightmare
My existence, a sight to behold
I’d rather have just died right there
One fucking day, one fucking month, a fucking lifetime
I need a friend, a helping hand, a fucking lifeline
One fucking day, one fucking month, a fucking lifetime
Childhood spent wishing away all of my time
The lyrical content of this song pretty much sums up the entirety of all of the personal shit that was written into this album. Essentially it is expressing the disdain for being stuck in a shitty environment that you cannot get out of, and your only choice is to wait it out. Things get better in time.
Null And Void
This song, just like Singularity, was written as a stand alone song for a different compilation that never came to fruition. The original version, which was recorded in the same session as the OG version of Singularity and a Brother Inferior cover, has a long intro and slightly different lyrics. As was with Singularity, the lyrical change did nothing to detract from the original subject matter. When I recorded vocals for this song, I was just getting over an upper respiratory infection, and my voice sounds blown out. If there were one more line that I would have had to sing at the end of this song, I would have ended up flat on my face. I was fucking DONE. I believe this was the last song I recorded vocals for, so that dead ass delivery on the last couple lines of the song, may well have actually been the last thing put down on the album.
My worth as a whole is shared on a newsfeed
These shallow interactions just fucking reduce me
The glow of the screen on my skin makes me complete
I’m a host to this virus, please fucking delete me
Bullshit goes in and bullshit comes out
The lyrics on this song are about our need for constant validation through social media. Which thematically is WAAAAAAAAAAAY different than any of the other songs on the album. Still somewhat introspective, just not as abrasively, awkwardly personal. More of an observation of the state of socializing and self gratification in our era.
Thank you for reading all of this. I hope you can find something enjoyable in this album. Through it all, this particular record was incredibly therapeutic for me to make. I may very well not make songs quite so personal again. But who knows, art is a reflection of life, and life can be dogshit sometimes. I want to clarify in this summation, that lyrically, we are in no way trying to advocate self harm or suicide. If those aspects of the lyrics resonate a little too well with you, please understand that I personally use artistic creation, such as this music as a way to keep my demons in check and vent in a healthy, non-destructive way. Turn that negative energy into something creative. You’ll be glad you did.
Hail Oderus! Thank you all!