Serious commentary on horror and how it relates to new bands that matter
Deconstructing the Blur
“Devil Horns and Halos”
By Michael Aronovitz
When Tito Quinones, of the hard rock band Saint Diablo, sings of “Devil Horns and Halos,” he is not making a statement about good and evil. That would be too easy, and this talented group of musicians defy simplistic, all-encompassing one word definitions, especially in the banal spirit of “easy,” or “basic,” or “mediocre” or “definitive.” On the contrary, their music is incredibly rich, well crafted, and ornate, and their message is one of complexity, making us look at the way we compartmentalize our own natural tendencies, therefore blurring realities that play out right before us. In this, I am in no way claiming that Saint Diablo attempts to personify “Superman,” spreading truth and justice, but I would argue they are more the iconic dark messenger who would suggest that there is no such thing as “the truth” in the first place. There are only “truths,” depending on one’s point of view. And as for justice, it seems Saint Diablo intends to prove this is an issue of self-mastery, finally freeing us from the old habit of buying into the propaganda forced upon us by those in the super-structure who are, in reality, just feeding us pecking orders to fit ourselves into.
To be clear, the song “Devil Horns and Halos” is in no way direct attack on goodness or God or religion at all, but more an assault on the idea of looking at things in simplistic models of binary opposition. By definition, something that is named a binary-opposite must be the direct antithesis of something else, each dependent on the other for existence. The problem with the western idea of binary opposites in the first place, is that “opposite” is a mathematical term, most often easy to infer, yet difficult to prove. There’s man and woman, granted, yet light and dark come in levels and shades, and good versus evil is relative to thousands of factors, all of them based upon any number of personal experiences, familial circumstances, socio-economic limitations, and learned biases.
Plainly, Devil Horns are not a symbol of evil in Saint Diablo’s clever paradigm. They are presented in the first place to be put up against the symbol of the halo, that which is not a pure religious emblem of good in itself, in fact, it has no mention in the bible at all, either testament. Halos are more a creation of secular art, put on coins, for example, to adorn the images of rulers in the Kushan Empire, as well as battle heroes and saints as far back as the classic Romans and Greeks. Of course, I am not insinuating that Jesus was not depicted with a halo through the artwork emerging in various time periods. I am insisting that the halo has put a glow behind the heads of many different figures, angels included, those who don’t just sing ethereal hymns and flutter around granting wishes. According to scripture they also threw people in furnaces, like Satan, and while it might make an interesting adjunctive parallel, it is not an opposite by any means.
Consequently, were Saint Diablo, in fact, giving us some sort of demonic endorsement, this review would be quite different. There are a number of films that celebrate our fascination with the one relatively universal figure representing the ultimate evil, starting with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and continuing with The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), Prince of Darkness (1987), and more currently, Constantine (2005) among many others in a list too long to make mention of here.
But “Devil Horns and Halos” is not about pure good and evil to begin with. If it was, the title would be “Devil Horns and God’s Robes” or something to that effect. The purpose of this song is to illuminate the fact that as a global village, aside from one’s given faith, we search out things like binary opposites so we can try to identify and therefore make manageable measures of societal chaos.
We like being lied to, and we entitle those who continue to perform the function. I do not believe Saint Diablo is making a political statement here, not entirely, though that would be an interesting subject for another review in itself. I believe this fascinating band is speaking more to our everyday euphemisms and rationalizations, those that create a blur around us that is more manageable than painful realization. In the song, Tito claims, “The heart betrays the intellect. The facts get lost in retrospect.” Since the video does in fact feature a lovely female model, we might primarily interpret this line as a signifier for those relationships we go back to even though we know they are bad for us, since it is human nature to block out the negative over time and reform the memory more idealistically. Still, the aforementioned female model is bathed in too much other symbolism, both religious (she wears a monk’s hood that is ripped back) and horrific (she smears blood across the shoulders of her lover) to conclude this is purely a “relationship” video.
I would argue that the above-mentioned line is more about the way we are able to desensitize human atrocities like war and slavery as soon as all those alive during the respective time period have passed on. And while we might not necessarily lose all the “facts” in retrospect through our history books, a “fact” in itself divorced from its impact on those experiencing it in real time or living memory is no longer a fact. It is a dusty statistic. Ink on paper, not blood on the stones if you will. This also brings up the question of who is writing the history books and for what agenda, but as promised, this review would do better not to focus solely on political issues. Instead, we should further investigate Saint Diablo’s idea that we “hang [our] hopes on a lasso” (a striking line in itself poetically) and the notion that we keep falling off the fences dividing the worlds (note plural) that we live in.
Were this one “world” there might very well be these binary oppositions to cling to, yet there are many “worlds” depending on any number of factors and viewpoints. The reason the metaphor of the fence is so powerful is that on its surface it represents stability between two areas most probably volatile, but in Saint Diablo’s model it is the dividing line itself that keeps shifting, a mechanism of the blur, seductively advertised.
This song is not about God and the Devil. It is not about good and evil. It is about the way we keep trying to put things in neat little boxes, therefore imprisoning ourselves in the confines of these antiquated ideals. And we keep buying into the same sort of charade. Saint Diablo is singing about being hypnotized into believing the societal hype, simply because it keeps getting presented relentlessly. We watch the news faithfully, while it follows a destructive “If it bleeds it reads” philosophy, representing vast and diverse communities by the tragedy and violence acted out by only the few. Reporters say things like, “A community is in shock…” or “the public perception is…” when they never actually polled the neighborhood, and they suggest automatic credibility with claims based on “studies,” most conducted by graduate students and doctoral candidates who had recently scrambled desperately to gather “data” that would make something appear valid and reliable by the thesis chapter’s due date, rather than actually proving in the end that it was valid and reliable. We accept the “fact” that an electric toothbrush is good, because some advertising person invents a term making its performance sound “scientific” and carefully engineered (Brocksonic technology), the same way we blandly let ads for film after film claim “It is the best movie of the year.”
When these issues are exposed individually, they seem trivial, but Saint Diablo is not referring to one specific lie twisting an ugly shape into one small patch of the blur. They are talking about a more cumulative sin, the way new diet programs are viewed with such reverence, when eating less would simply make one lose weight. They are talking about school districts taking government money (required spending they have to show to get more funding) and allocating it to staff developments featuring the latest, trendy “behavioral models,” clearly invented by marketing executives depending on our addiction to psycho-babble and bogus hierarchies (When a student begins the process of behavioral deterioration, he or she enters the “Locus of Dysfunction” at the “Pre-stress” level, indicated by fidgeting and complaining. Here, intervention is suggested…). Are you fucking kidding me? Let the kid go to the bathroom. Excuse him from the class work. Send him to the counselor.
We root for a sports team based on a model of geo-politics, when most of the players don’t come from our area. When we make mistakes, we invent enemies. When we do wrong, we find loopholes, and then we convince ourselves that we didn’t actually do it in the first place because we never got caught.
“Devil Horns and Halos” is a scary, brilliant song, and it has little to do with the religious overtones and horrific images the band draws us in with, (though they are admittedly fascinating): the black-eye effect making the singer and members of the band look demonic, the scratches down the singer’s face as if he’s been gored by a wolf, the dark chandelier, the metallic skull mask, the papers from the new testament torn into pieces and floating like ash…and all the blood…smeared across a lover’s back, running down a sword and spotting on a bible, dripping from the eyes, hardening on the fur surrounding the maw of a goat. All this is visually stunning (and darkly pleasing), but note that the lyrics have nothing to do with gore and satanic ritualism. They focus on the manner by which we have dampened the human spirit, (to paraphrase) complicated it, victimized it, suffocated it, and minimized it through a lens of apathy instead of fortifying and treasuring it through awareness and invigoration.
This is specifically why the video is so striking from a musical / performance perspective. While the lyrics describe this complicated labyrinth of lies we are dulled by, the song is anything but apathetic.
Tito Quinones is the epitome of talent and energy, creating an awesome vocal performance as well as a spectacle that is visually impressive. The lyrics are primarily delivered with a death growl, but through an interesting dynamic in the song’s center he goes to a sweet, melodic vocal, not only illustrating the more song-specific message that would deconstruct the concept of binary opposites (a death growl is not an opposite of melodic singing, they are both simply forms of singing), but showing his fans his artistic diversity.
Justin Adams (guitar) and Tyler Huffman (bass) should be mentioned together, because they create a combined sound that is absolutely mesmerizing. Not only do they play fast, as would be compulsory in this kind of heavy music, but they create a portrait that evolves over the course of the song, almost like a character in fiction developing depth and texture throughout the rise and climax of an engaging story.
And the drumming is spectacular. Though the song is played in a 4/4 time signature, Brian Bush makes the overall presentation deliciously complex not only through rapid-fire double bass riffs and intricate cymbal-work, but also in terms of his interplay with Adams and Huffman. The song begins with 16ths on the bass drums and the guitar and bass playing halves for a triplet feel, leading to double time in the second verse that is not only incredibly satisfying, but uplifting in the sense that the viewer can’t help but want to stand up and start head-banging, to join as one with the addictive, driving pulse. At a latter point in the song, Adams and Huffman daringly weave power chords in and out of tempo for a progressive feel within Bush’s thundering 4/4 foundation. Still, they never alter the breakneck pace the song requires for potency, nor the dramatic line already established melodically, therefore proving this is not only a song of message and power, but one of aesthetics, unselfishly complicated, and rich without arrogance.
“Devils Horns and Halos” is one of those songs that as a result of its raw tension, both audibly and visually, comes off at first like shock theater. The thing that gives us more substance is the multi-layered symbolic message they give us concerning our own codes of ethics and the smooth ways we continue to keep redrawing the boundaries. The best way I can describe Saint Diablo, is that they are a startling awakening, one of power and vision in that they offer us a glimpse of the real through strong, emblematic poetry. Then they make us want to stand up and shout, raising our fists and jumping to the beat, celebrating a new kind of liberation and joy.