Analysis of Immolation’s “Christ’s Cage”

Immolation are legends in Death metal and rightfully so, though their heydays were after the initial burst that characterized the NYDM scene and have cemented their place with the likes of Cryptopsy and Immortal for prolonging the lifespan of that classic period of metal. Longevity seems to be the forte of the band’s centerpieces Dolan and Vigna and while they released a few decent albums, none of them quite hold up to Here in After. Black Sabbath and Slayer stretched the palette for what was possible in metal and introduced endless possibilities whereas Immolation took one closed approach and pushed it to its limit on this album. Though Close To A World Below took experimentation further, the whole was not as cohesive or powerful. Let us look as the closing track which truly concludes the album.

Introduction:

A distant droning while a lonesome guitar screams out in despair, playing a slow bend across many microtones before releasing slowly to complete the melody. While the notes all belong to the natural minor scale what makes the riff so unique is how Vigna bends the initial note. Rather than bending and holding the bent note, he bends and releases slowly while arriving at a note that is only a semitone higher but since the semitone is the smallest interval in western music, we hear frequencies that we very rarely hear in music and this creates tension and by returning to the starting point we return to normality and this relieves us.  A second guitar comes in playing the same riff yet much lower but changing the notes to bend at each time. A lonely sound in a world abandoned by Christ screaming for his help.

Another guitar greets us this time with a thick NYDM riff consisting of chords containing a root note, a fourth and a minor second an octave higher played in the choppy style that defines Immolation. The riff and the lead guitar work in perfect harmony in showing the decay in a world left to rot. The drums enter accentuating the riff and even adding more by the use of intelligent fills especially on the toms as the sound really complements the percussive nature of the palm muted chords. The introduction motif remains the same while the other members continue pushing the same idea by expanding in introducing some power chords and more movement in the drums while maintaining the same base until we are introduced to the main melody.

Main melody(1:57)

The main melody begins relying on the same type of chords that define this song and shifts tonal centers down to a C# minor yet full of dissonant chords that escape the scale completely. Rhythmically this is Trey Azagthoth’s soloing style applied to rhythm guitar and Bob Vigna’s alien sense of timing as evidenced by his stage movement which opposes the other members. This riff is very complex but can be broken down into three sections. The first section is a D minor second chord that transitions back to the root note played in tremolo. Rather than returning to a place of consonance and issuing balance the second section is characterized by three minor second triplets with the root note being an augmented seventh, this creates a mixture of suspense and tension that is rather large considering at what speed those triplets are being played at and where the third section might introduce normalcy it instead brings resolution by returning to a fourth bent a semitone upwards which is the secondary motif of the introduction. The riff and the lightning fast drums supplemented by a thick rumbling bass following the rhythm guitar truly create a nightmare where Jesus has failed humanity. Ross Dolan’s growl appears on top and is deep and thick as the New York tradition dictates but the David Vincent style of portraying emotion and good diction remains. His growl is much less forced and monstrous than that of Craig Pillard or Frank Mullen but retains the same urgency while being slightly more nuanced in the variation of pitch that shows a more controlled and eloquent form of anger. He blasts away in this part in a flow that alternates between rapid bursts and more prolonged growls recalling how Christians are imprisoned in this earth by their own stories while their God lives in a completely different world inaccessible to them.

Captives of faith
His image never fading from their eyes
Imprisoned by their own creation
It grows stronger, distorts and confines
Behind the gates, the worshiped oppressor
To which weak minds fall
To a God in a godless world

The third section of the previous melody constitutes the entire melody while triplets panned in all directions continue the chord progression from the previous riff and disassemble it to a battle between the root note and the minor second interval as Dolan slowly growls out that these fools submit to a god who has ignored and rejected them.

Obeying him… serving him
The golden gates, only surrounding him

The main riff returns again prolonging this godless nightmare as the vocal keep narrating this tale. Where the cage is imagined as being a real object that the believers have locked themselves in for the coming of their lord yet are simultaneously happy to wait and are crushed by their savior as if brainwashed and lacking logic due to the fact that nothing will actually be waiting for them.

Crushed by the weight of devotion through the hails of a dying trinity
Within these bars they’ll wait an eternity
For the coming of a dead messiah
In passion they adore, embodied with lies
Tempted by the world, carry out their lives
As they press against the bars, steel upon their flesh
Possessed by the one they call Lord

The second part of the main melody returns in the same way as the first continuing the story through a slow growl. It is now revealed that these people are physically locked in the cage and even if they wanted to escape they couldn’t due to the pressure of common belief and how individual thoughts are rejected in any religious community.

They’ll live and die within his cage
His followers locked in steel

Initial climax(2:52):

A new riff arrives but this time it’s simpler and makes more sense as we return to the natural minor scale in C by use of the low open string attack and apart from one minor second we are back in the universe of traditional harmony. A slower more syncopated approach that allows for more expressive bends and pinch harmonics to shine that still provide the dissonant edge to stop this riff from being complacent. Previous ideas have culminated into this rage that forms the basis for one of the greatest climaxes in metal. Ross Dolan growls out the chorus in both high and low registers while Vigna begins with an atonal tapping sequence that evolves to a soulful tonal solo expressing the release and the joy in rejecting the values of those trapped in Christ’s cage and it encapsulates the need that intelligent humans to denounce what is wrong and to fight against it. The vocals are really empowered by the consistency in tone though the growls are of different pitch. A lesson for modern death metal vocalists that tend to switch between pitches almost randomly and adding to the carnival effect of a lot of those bands.

Christ’s Cage Christ

Interlude(3:20):

The solo continues but maintains the previous motifs of minor seconds and slow semitone bends while sticking closely to the mood of what the rest of the band is doing as Craig Smilowski continues to make a strong case for being the best drummer in Death metal through the technical yet restrained manner of using the fills to really accentuate the awkward melodies. Working within a tight framework but within that framework countless ideas take form and are implemented in the most breathtaking forms as they greatly supplement the music. The melody is a simple minor scale ascent through slides that allows us to escape from the intensity briefly. The narrator tells us of the delusions of the grandeur in relation to their god.

Where they leave their sin
Where they worship him
They see more than what he is
In his cage they are his slaves

A counter melody formed of the previous notes but with the slides going in the opposite direction as the drums slow down before exploding in the chord progression of the introduction yet played with single notes and dissonant pinch harmonics that bring the tension as our protagonist dismisses and banishes his foe to live in solitude within the cage and references the first song of the album “Nailed to Gold” as the tables have now turned. Christ has been punished for his neglect of humanity by being neglected and forgotten as the lyrics of the album draw to a close. No longer shall man suffer Christianity which shows the “good guys” winning here.

Empty and silent… barren his kingdom
He will perish… alone in heaven
Gates of gold, now his cage

Final climax and outro(4:03) :

We are treated to that great climax once again that repeats itself without variation but where the first situation demonstrated the release of anger and frustration at the weakness of such men and their beliefs, here it symbolizes the final cut and the end of man’s obsession and glorification of a being that does not deserve such adulation.

Christ’s Cage Christ

A sudden bend signifies a change to a tremolo picked riff consisting of minor seconds played by one guitar and single notes by the other while staying in harmonic minor scale showing the sadness of Christ and his feeling of solitude following the final defeat and greatly ending the album as the riff is closed upon itself and is resolved without any additional aid yet one last percussive riff which is an iteration of the climax riff returns but is also resolved by returning to the root note as the lead guitars lets out a few fading beeps as mankind rallies to collectively destroy the defeated God.

A perfect example of how to close an album as this song encapsulates previous themes that are seen across the album and condenses to bring an end to this tale of man vs Christianity. Through the obsessive use of the minor second and a lot more consonant intervals than what this composition reveals on first listens and various tricks by each individual member a whole much greater than the sum of the parts is made. Simplified arrangements that are lengthened really add a strong feeling of closure whilst keeping everything that made the album up to this point a masterpiece. The secondary members really did add something here as subsequent albums feel like Dolan and Vigna plus hired guns. Many bands took Morbid Angel’s style and copied it with varying success but Immolation really understood and studied their compositions and by following their own voice , Here In After remains one of the most unique and intelligent albums of all metal.

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17 thoughts on “Analysis of Immolation’s “Christ’s Cage””

  1. Charles Stuart says:

    You can always tell a clueless guitarist by his bends – they’ll bend for the hell of it with no clue as to what notes they are bending through and bending towards. Vigna is a master and and artist and his bends on this, and other songs, are perfection.

    1. Nicholas Vahdias says:

      I always suspected that Vigna fell in love with Azagthoth’s style and then copied his lead playing into his rhythm playing. Many great benders in metal but apart from Vigna they all use them on their solos and not the actual composition

  2. HELL V.666 says:

    for this I will see you today in my city, a living legend !!

  3. LordKrumb says:

    Very enlightening analysis again. Thanks!

    Also worth mentioning are those higher note flourishes that appear at 1:19 and 1:30. Those piercing high notes really help to give a sense of frenetic energy and colour to the intro section as it crescendos.

    Regarding this song being “a perfect example of how to close an album”, I pretty much agree except I wish the band had come up with a more creative climax than a fade-out. Maybe doing something with a long sustained note, perhaps the same note which you describe as a ‘beep’, or building something from that note in another way.

    Fade-outs are a pet hate of mine. They’re used on many great metal tracks, and they usually work adequately enough, but surely there must always be a better way to conclude a song?

    1. Nicholas Vahdias says:

      I do agree with that pet hate because we listen to death metal to escape basic rock techniques like ending the song on the root note power chord.

      In this case I think they had nothing left to say musically and the album was done for them and the fade out just happened to be there. There are better ways to end the album but an insignificant detail in the grand scheme of things and the album doesn’t lose any points because of it. That last riff does show the emptiness of the world after Christ perfectly, Empty,vast and wild.

      1. Charles Stuart says:

        The fade out makes sense to me. Slowly rotting and fading away locked in a cage. Life doesn’t end abruptly in prison, it just ebbs away.

        1. Nicholas Vahdias says:

          Or in the case of OZ you get raped and shanked till you fade away hahah

          1. Charles Stuart says:

            The elasticity of your anus rather rapidly fades I suppose.

    2. bozaloshtsh says:

      It’s the last song on the album, the only place where it’s acceptable. Fading out and starting another song is NOT.

  4. sarcastro says:

    I’ve actually found myself skipping tracks on this album just to get to Christ’s Cage, now I know why. I enjoyed this, cheers

  5. Nordmannen says:

    Bravo!

    Once again, these analyses and in-depth articles along with the vicious vitriol of SMR are the very essence of DMU/DLA — keep ’em coming!

    1. Quidmore says:

      Amen! More, please!

  6. Quidmore says:

    Nicholas, would you consider analysing “Nailed to Gold” from the same album this way at some point?

    1. Nicholas Vahdias says:

      I might but not for now, my objective is try to tackle a large range of bands in their prime and there is quite a lot to do before I start repeating bands.

  7. Rainer Weikusat says:

    The first part is very close to the main “Once Upon a Time in the West” motif (theme?). The main difference is that it ends on something more resembling the sound of an air raid siren. This extends to the second guitar, giving this section a very “Ennio Morricone”-style feel.

    The lead guitar picks this up again briefly at the first chorus but then let’s it fizzle out in shredding.

    There’s another reappearance at the second chorus and the riff after that, before the final section, is related to it, too. I’d call this an inverted and somewhat bent reflection but just how it feels, ie, doesn’t necessarily make any ‘technical’ musical sense.

  8. As dookie rains from the sky... says:

    Great song, great article.

    Christ’s cage Christ CHRIIIIIIIIST

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