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'TEAR THIS TEMPLE DOWN'

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

BREAKING DOWN 'SAKI ~ THEODOSIUS': by Jason Michas


'Tear This Temple Down'



(linked to Spotify, but feel free to use your streaming platform of choice)




How lofty can a rock song be? Well, sometimes loftier than might you think.  


There’s a 3rd century statue of Alexander the Great I’d seen once but couldn’t place where (not to be mistaken for ‘Alexander the Relievingly Just Above Average’ or ‘Alexander the We Had Hopes For Him But It Just Didn’t Pan Out’—not those Alexanders). He has a bored swagger and impatience in his countenance but one that promises an electrifying potential for transgression. He looks like a rock star. In his hand he holds a stone. No doubt he is about to launch it at yet another pantheon of pomposity (in a long succession of them), erected to signify a nation’s station amongst stations. It’s a pantheon and nation whose precipitous downfall is a foregone conclusion once faced toward the onslaught of Alexander’s astonishing campaign — a campaign that would span from Macedonia (basically Greece) to the Indian subcontinent.


Turns out the statue sits in Istanbul’s Museum of Archeology. For some reason, it was compelling to me. I remember wanting to paint it in some fashion. I imagined him standing before some rampart or venerated symbol of an effete civilization, the throngs of his troops tripping over each other to clear a path for him, heat shimmering off the dusty plateia, silence in the noon sun, rock in hand, a long, slow exhalation from his nostrils. We know what happens next. I pictured that painting feverishly padded onto canvas, a swirl of oils in the patois of the high renaissance Italian masters. Ha ha. I can paint a mailbox. I logged that image away in my head and forgot about it.



Shut up and tell us about the song...


‘Tear this Temple Down’ is based on a few moments of a jam Amos Resnick, Robin Steen and Saki Kaskas did back in the year 2000. When you hear it, you might not think much about it. It was just a minute or two long, during a few hours of jamming they happened to be recording. But in the late summer of 2016, Saki decided it was worth exploring and eventually laid down some initial bed tracks for it—programmed drums, picked bass and rhythm guitar. Because of the mode the song was in (the scale in which the song is built on—in this case the third mode of the modern modes), he gave it the nominal name ‘Phrygian’.


The composition had a beginning, middle and end, but no arrangement, no lyrics, and no top-line melody for lyrics to be put to (if you want lyrics to a song). But what gave it some glue and a hook in some ways was the driving rhythm guitar he’d laid down. It propelled the song and gave it a sort of dense wash of sound, not unlike what you might hear in the opening blockbuster theme music to a James Bond movie. That wall of rhythm guitar became key to building a chorus section for the song.


The song is ‘loose’. That’s by virtue of both the song’s construction and the ability of the players. Admittedly, Omnibol members were a bit out of practice. None of us had been in a recording studio for some time, and while the song isn’t complex, it was somehow quite demanding. Sak had recorded to a click track (a metronome). It’s a bit like trying to sync overdubs to a foreign-language movie after it's already been filmed. Ideally, to help a song breathe and find its pocket you want everyone present and time to massage it—and then work with the click. Saki unfortunately wasn’t with us, and time was short.


Jeff Van Dyck had just arrived in town from Australia for a month to record whatever tracking was needed for 14 of Saki’s compositions. Bass player Marc Charalambous, who was close with Sak and had played alongside him in various ensembles, donated the studio he’d built in the ‘The Bassment’ of his business. The former members of Omnibol were slotted for a few hours in the first couple days to develop and record three songs off the bat. We were still figuring out the tune as we recorded it. Robin was trying to reacquaint himself with his bass. Amos, like all of us, was trying to find the pocket. I was still trying to polish up, let alone remember the lyrics and melody I’d come up with only the day before, making it a challenge to let go into just singing the song. And I imagine Jeff was still trying to get a handle on the scope of the project, all whilst trying to overcome jet lag. The main verses were in a rather low part of my register and the phrasings of the bed tracks had a lot of space between them, requiring me to sort of speak rather than sing the opening lines of the tune. Not a complex song, but unforgiving.


So, what about the lyrics and top-line, and why all that talk about Alexander the Great?


Saki's Marshall head and amplifier.

When you’re trying to come up with a lyric or melody you have at least two reliable departure points: the mood the music suggests to you and whatever is happening in your life that’s significant to you. After that, you mine whatever you can, however tangential it may seem. You kind of flail about until something clicks. As mentioned before, all told, we really had hours to bring the composition from an outline to a ‘song’. It’s a cliché but picture “guy” sitting before a keyboard, headphones on, with one finger pointing expectantly downward at a piano as if to tap out a grade-school essay. A blank page…


I saw Saki. I saw his amp. I saw him lean sideways, forearm up, ready for the downward blow to the strings—the potential, rock in hand. I saw irreverence. I saw loud. I saw the brash and youthful Macedonian upstart before what, for him, was an inane and baiting annoyance, but for others, a hand-wringing, solemn conundrum fraught with weighty outcome: The Gordian Knot, with capital letters—gateway to the Anatolian Kingdom of Phrygia and the rest of Asia. I saw the proverbial needle and the spoon. The cut. The offending slash of the chords. The abrupt but somehow pleasing shock. The release. Then the wash of guitar, F Major, bright. The clash of notes, the 9th and sharp 4 suspended and screaming over top. I saw the temple come crashing down.



The looseness works…


In the end, I believe that our looseness may have ended up working in the song’s favour. Interestingly, as Jeff observed, the down beat on the one is almost intimated. Everyone’s pushing it a bit. Because of that, as Amos noted, it has a rhythmic quality that is almost Latin. Jeff was able to meld some of the space off the top that before was sitting rather inertly, by taking a strum of Saki’s guitar and reversing it. And adding immensely to the guitar parts was Johannes Grames. You’ll be aware of his presence when you start nodding your head instinctively to his sludgy guitar chords at the third verse, then continuing on into the wash of guitars through the chorus, until he finishes off with some ass-ripping guitar soloing for the conclusion.



Alexander the Great Cutting the Gordian Knot by André Castaigne

His campaign


In the end, ‘Tear this Temple Down’ has Saki at its core. It is about destruction, impulse, and provocation. Saki was actually quite a sober, quiet and thoughtful person in his planning and execution of a task, but when it came to music (and merriment) he liked to rock and, like Alexander, worry later what the consequences might be. But out of destruction, as the wisdom goes, came creation. The result of Alexander’s campaign was the spread of Greek culture across two continents and the dawn of the Hellenistic Age, no less. But that was just an outcome. From one perspective, you could ask whether he ever cared about securing himself a throne from which to survey his kingdom and enjoy its fruits. He just loved to campaign, goldarn it. And he paid a price for that. To be sure, even though his own health would soon fail him, and having already reached the Ganges river (that's right, the Ganges river!!!), he only stopped after his exhausted troops begged him to return home. They missed their wives and kids too much. Even then he could not give up, reflexively planning more forays into Arabia before dying three years later at the age of 32. Saki too, could not give up on the merriment or the rock, consequences be damned. He might lose it all and so might you. But there was gain too. So long as in the end, he let the music reign.


Omnibol: Saki, Jason, Amos, Robin

'Tear This Temple Down'


crude

that’s how I like it

shocked

it’s a fitting look

at the moment of your crowning

I’ll unwrite your holy book


cut

It’s a dirty ritual

and it’s place

there’s something new

‘cause I’m prepared to lose it all

if that means you lose it too


loud

meant to offend you

scarred

and I don’t care how

you thought you might forget me

but you’re thinking of me now


abrupter

I was born disrupter

I throw myself upon the block

and while the many clear a circle

I’ll be the one to loose the rock

burn away these halls

and tear this temple down

even if I find the sacred temple’s me

I wanna let the music reign!

I wanna hear it scream!


burn away the sails

and let the ship go down

and I’ll chain myself fast to the ecstasy

I’m wanna let the music reign!

I’m wanna let it scream!


in a single blow

I got the job done

I have cut

the Gordian knot

the chords come ripping through these hands of mine

I played it out in just one shot


and it’s loud

meant to offend you scarred and i don’t care how you wanted to forget me but you won’t forget me now


burn away these halls

and tear this temple down

even if I find the holy temple’s me

I wanna let the music reign!

I wanna hear it scream!


burn away the sails

and let the ship go down

cause I’ve chained myself fast to it’s melody

I’m wanna let the music reign!

I’m wanna let it scream!


Lyrics by Jason Michas


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