How do you follow something as grand a masterwork as Vessels? If Hidden Window is any indication, Be’lakor has plenty left to give us.
Five years ago, I did an in-depth analysis of Vessels. Be’lakor themselves tweeted that they thoroughly enjoyed reading it. After listening to and reading the lyrics for Hidden Window, I felt a similar urge to dig deeply into the song and see what treasures I could unearth.
This post is going to assume you’ve listened to the song and are familiar with the lyrics or have them handy. No preamble, let’s enter the mountain.
From Fall to Rise
I want to take an extensive look at the rhyming structure used in the song. Most of the verses follow an ABBA rhyming structure, where the first and last lines rhyme, and the middle two lines rhyme. This does two things. For one, it creates a sense of outside and inside the verse. As you read the lyrics, you get a rhythm of go in, come out, go in, come out. This mimics the daily rhythm of the song’s characters, who spend day after day entering the mountain, mining, and exiting again.
Secondly, you’re constantly kept off balance by the changing rhyme. You start with the first line of a verse, move to the second which doesn’t rhyme, you get a little bit of closure from the third line, the fourth line maybe makes you think of the first, but then the next verse begins and you’re thrown off again. There’s a stumbling to the lyrics, a deliverance of unease, accentuated in the vocals by the sometimes sped-up delivery of a verse’s third line. The outer lines give a nice framing to the verses when written down, but that framing doesn’t come through when those lines are vocalised, and that’s intentional. This is masterful, deliberate use of rhyme (and lack) to strengthen the themes of the song. There are only four verses that don’t use ABBA for their rhyme. Let’s look at them in detail.
The first is a verse that follows an ABAB rhyming structure:
What if he knows that I saw?
And what if he decides to strike?
But what if it was nothing more
Than light’s deceit and failing sight?
This verse marks the break between the two halves of the song (in terms of lyrics, not runtime). The first half sets the scene of the characters and the setting without getting into specifics. The second half, starting with the verse above, has us diving into the mind of the central character who grapples with his friend’s theft.
You could argue that if Be’lakor wanted to mark the break between halves with rhyme structure, they should have had the previous verse do that, which describes the actual “observation” of the theft. However, by maintaining ABBA for that verse, we are caught by surprise – the rhyme doesn’t tip us off that something is changing. Instead, there is a long musical interlude which punctuates the break more than any lyrics could do. The piano is introduced here, and it’s mellow but hurried – there’s tension even as our point of view descends into the mind of our main character.
Which brings me back to the ABAB verse. The vocal delivery is more subdued than in the other verses. Coming out of that melancholy musical interlude and all those prior off-kilter verses, the smoothness of the rhyme structure here provides relief, reflecting the tantalising, tempting thoughts of paranoia that haunt our character. Although doubt lingers, the character has at least partially bought into the thoughts that lead to the song’s eventual tragedy.
The guitars then resume, and we go back to ABBA, with our POV moving back out into the third-person. Music and rhyme complement each other excellently.
The second exception to the ABBA rhyme structure is the climax of the song:
In pebble’s bounce, the avalanche
In falling drop, the bursting dam
He gripped the pick, and looming, then
Swung an arc that killed his friend
Whereas the previous verse we focused on was centered on thought, this one marks the song’s definitive action. The music rises to its height here, and for good reason. This verse is the only one with the rhyme structure AABB. With its focus on action, the rhyme provides a sense of progression, of moving forward from one thing to the next. The verse invokes an avalanche in the lyrics, and it reinforces that with the lines moving irrevocably from one rhyme to the next. The riff at swung an arc stops and hangs, and it feels like a point of no return, you can imagine the movement of arms and torso to power the swing, which follows through on momentum, until it makes contact, marked with the chord on killed emphasising the end of the arc.
Notice we are not given time to grieve. Where there feels like there should be an ode to the moment, there’s instead a ferocious, frantic moving on. We immediately move on to the next verse:
He barely saw their third had fled
As febrile haze evaporated
And with it, certainty faded
Abandoned now for churning dread
I went back and forth a lot over the rhyme in this verse. “Fled” and “dread” definitely rhyme, and if you were just reading the verse in a normal speaking voice, it would be ABBA because the emphasis in “evaporated” and “faded” isn’t on the last syllable. However, the vocals in the song hugely elongate the last syllable of the middle two lines, which turns this into an AAAA(!) verse – all the lines rhyme to remove cruft and bring us deeply into the character’s panic, bringing us into the moment now, even as we’re processing the death that’s just occurred. The guitars insist we listen with wonderful leads that aren’t as piercing as they were in the climax. The word dread then leads straight on again into the last verse, which has structure ABAB:
Endless whispers from the void
Each offering narration
He searched the body frantically
And begged for vindication
The structure is the same as the previous ABAB verse because this verse, as with that one, narrows onto character thought. This seems counterintuitive, but even though the action here is critical, only one line out of four describes it. The other three describe the character’s mental state, pleading, please let me be right, please tell me I didn’t murder him for nothing. The riff here is a brilliant descent into dread, each measure seeming to draw us down into a pool from which there is no escape.
I want to call out one other thing here: at least from the lyrics, we don’t get an answer. The last visual we have is the character rifling a corpse in panic as (at least in my mind’s eye) the camera slowly zooms out of a cave in which the final candlelight is sputtering out.
However, the lack of answer is answer itself: he can keep searching forever, but he’ll never find that treasure. The last chord of the song, and the finality of the ABAB final verse, definitively states that the story’s over. If the lyrics had outright stated that he found nothing, it wouldn’t have been half as effective. We know, even if it’s not said, just as, probably, the character knows too. It’s a fantastic example of a writing principle: describe what’s there, not what’s not there.
Overall, Hidden Window is lyrical excellence. I adore the sheer intention that permeates every line, and the use of rhyme to complement the themes of the song is unmatched.
This concludes my main analysis. The two next sections will be a couple of smaller thoughts I have about the song, and I’ll wrap up with my hopes for the upcoming album.
Would Finally Snuff
The lyrics do have at least one weakness. In the first verse, we have closest friends now that their greed / had burdened them with things to hide. The song mocks the “friendship” between the characters, implying that it’s a grudging friendship, born out of opportunity only. But the climax of the song has swung an arc that killed his friend. The friendship here is being played up for emotional effect, which contradicts its depiction in the first verse. We could imagine that over the timeline of the song the necessary friendship blossomed into something genuine, and was then tragically destroyed by the onset of paranoia, but there’s nothing in the song to indicate that.
A Note on Tragedy
One last note about the story. Plenty of Be’lakor’s songs have fantasy or supernatural elements to them, such Venator or The Dream and the Waking. Let’s look at the two verses in Hidden Window that describe the journey from onset of paranoia to climax:
From just a flicker in the mind
The thought would twist, consume, then grow
And with each wave, doubt would erode
Til all he knew confirmed his bind
Those ancient paths bore only fear
That, left unchecked, had overflowed
To shatter balance he had known
As shrinking walls began to near
The first of these two verses is decidedly human; it is located entirely within the mind of the character. But in the second verse, it’s the ancient paths that bore only fear. This is possibly an implication that there’s something in or about the mine itself that is influencing the character. The last line of the verse, however, seems to overturn this, as shrinking walls is definitely a perceptual thing.
Then we also have the first line of the final verse: Endless whispers from the void. Literally, this seems to be an external void feeding whispers into the character, but in context I read it more as a multitude of thoughts assailing the character’s mind in that darkest of moments.
So while, overall, the song pretty strongly implies that this whole sequence of events is just the product of stress and emotion, the ancient paths line is a little sliver that hints at the mountain itself playing some part. I love this little bit of ambiguity, but at the same time, the story is all the more tragic because there are most likely no other influences here. We can very plausibly imagine a situation like this happening. It’s just people being people, but the song is a masterpiece in elevating the tragic, terrible detail and feeling of this story.
Even five years later, I still get the occasional comment on my analysis of Vessels. People have gained insight and enjoyment from it, and I hope this post does something of the same.
It’s clear that Be’lakor is still crushingly effective at using their signature style to deliver dread riffs, and their lyrical chops have actually gotten even better, which is incredible. Vessels is delectable, but five years has definitely been long enough to savour it. Bring on Coherence. I’m more than ready.