(The Horror of Everything Everything)
by Pip Williams
Dalloway’s theory was that man hadn’t discovered oil, but that oil had found man.Fritz Leiber, The Black Gondolier
Last night I had a dream. In it, I stepped out of my front door and onto the streets of South West London, only to be confronted by a vast, black cloud that blotted out the sun and cast the dappled suburban streets into sudden midnight.
Except it wasn’t a cloud. Upon closer inspection, this cloud, this great billowing, amorphous stain had…eyes. Tiny piggy eyes full of scalding hate. And wherever those hateful eyes glanced, there the cloud would flow, covering another portion of the city in darkness.
And then, from the oozing void, a voice, a voice as drenched in contempt as those wicked little eyes.
“YOU PEOPLE,” boomed the abyss. “DOWN HERE ON THIS GODFORSAKEN ROCK.”
Buildings shook. The pavement juddered. Looking around and seeing the streets deserted, I pointed to myself.
“YES YOU!” A car window shattered. “THE BLOODY HUMAN RACE! CAN’T YOU DO ANYTHING? YOU WHO DECLARED WAR ON YOUR OWN PLANET UNTIL IT DECLARED WAR ON YOU! YOU WHO BECAME SO PSYCHOTICALLY OBSESSED WITH DOCUMENTING YOUR OWN LIVES THAT YOU FORGOT THE LIVES OF YOUR FELLOW CREATURES! YOU WHO GAVE POWER TO LIARS AND CRIMINALS AND IDIOTS!”
“Actually I voted for Daniel Zeichner, and he’s really very nice-“ I quailed.
“SILENCE!” The café opposite turned to dust. “AND NOW, NOW LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED! THE PLAGUE IS UPON YOU AND NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY FUCKING CLUE WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT!”
“Fair enough,” I had to quietly agree.
“SO- I WANT YOU TO TELL ME WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO DO ABOUT IT!”
“YES YOU! YOU AND ALL YOUR SICKENING ILK!”
I had a think about this. The blob made a convincing point.
“You make a convincing point,” I said.
“THANK YOU.” A nearby dog evaporated.
“It is indeed a world of increasing polarization and fear. There’s terrible uncertainty and despair, a genuine sense that every day we wake up and more and more of the world is gone, or changed forever, and there’s simply nothing we can do about it. That the good are dying fast and the evil are multiplying faster.”
“THE KINGDOM OF THE WICKED!” Howled the beast. “A CONSPIRACY OF EVILDOERS!”
“Couldn’t agree more,” I said. “Added to that, there’s the daily anxiety of this bloody pandemic- the hideous symptoms you panic endlessly about, images of untasting mouths and fever and tight chests. And on top of that all this probably quite damaging stuff about also having to lose weight, the fact we can’t touch each other, the fact we can’t see each other. It’s like hell. It’s like a horror film.” I pause. “Do you know of a band called Everything Everything?”
“A… BAND? WHAT IS BAND?” Roared the despicable gulf.
“They’re four guys who play music together. Everything Everything are probably one of my favourite bands at the moment and they’ve just released their fifth album, which is called Re-Animator. It’s really good. But they’ve always been a group who’ve seen the world through a certain lens- they have a genuinely unsettling way of talking about bodies and brains, and their lyrics seem to be primarily about a natural world that is in constant threat of invasion- by monsters, by substances (like water, or fat, or gas), or by, well, us. They’ve always interpreted the world through horror. And Re-Animator seems to stretch that idea even further. I mean, look at the title…”
“A REFERENCE TO THE BRIAN YUZNA FILMS OF THE 80s, YES YES.”
“Sorry. But it’s more than just scary stuff, some sort of gothy bestiary. Eugene Thacker, in his In The Dust Of This Planet, posits that horror is ‘about the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable,’ or ‘the limit of thought’. He suggests that what horror does is confronts the idea of a universe that is at best indifferent to us and at worst actively hostile, or that might not actually be made for humans, ‘and makes of those blind spots its central concern, expressing them… in a whole bestiary of impossible life forms- mists, ooze, blobs, slime, cloud, and muck.’”
“COOL,” murmured the monster.
“Which also seems to be what Everything Everything do so well on this album. They take a horrific world and look at it like a horror film. Their last album, 2018’s A Fever Dream, felt sadder, a distorted moan about an uncertain future, a weird waking nightmare about a wildly polarized Britain. But Re-Animator is an altogether stranger and more horrific experience; as Thacker suggests, the only way to make sense of the times is through the lens of the weird, of monsters, bogeymen, slimes and oozes. No offence.”
“NONE TAKEN,” as the church in the distance toppled.
“I mean, let’s look at fat for example. Lyricist Jonathan Higgs has used images of fat and grease a lot before in his work. But it’s never really about bodies as such, or about weight. For Higgs, swelling lipids become a symbol of societal bloat and congestion rather than physical attribute. This is illustrated fairly comprehensively in Arch Enemy, a funk-choral song about a man praying to a sentient ball of fat.”
“I HATE THE SOUND OF THAT,” opined the dark vortex.
“It’s much better than it sounds.”
“Hey now. The narrator of the song addresses this ‘Sphinx of Grease/Faceless Bloat…Sewage Moon’ as a kind of god, yet also his ‘arch enemy’. Higgs has spoken in an interview with Line Of Best Fit of the image of ‘this massive fat tsunami washing through the city’ as a metaphor for society at large- ‘We’re just this blobby, inactive, privileged, big, pale blob’ (This is of course represented brilliantly in the bopping fatberg of the music video, surrounded by formless, gloopy acolytes). The use of bloat, of formless ooze is nothing new in the horror genre; one thinks of Brian Yuzna’s 1989 film Society, in which the ultra-privileged upper echelons of Beverly Hills are revealed to be cannibalistic, melty monsters who converge, quite literally, every few weeks into a sort of giant orgiastic goop and eat teenagers- a blackly funny analogy for greed and consumption more than worthy of Re-Animator. You could even recall the explosively greedy Mr Creosote from Monty Python, or the swelling, chewing Violet Beauregarde from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. What Higgs articulates in his lyrics is a sense of greed and corruption as a physical thing; fat as a physical manifestation of the complacency of society-“
“A SORT OF POLITICAL BLOCKAGE?”
“Yes exactly! A thing we loathe about ourselves, yet an urge we indulge mindlessly nonetheless. Everything Everything have always taken aim at apathy, at laziness, at society’s (or indeed the individual’s- Higgs’ cruellest lyrics are often about himself) inability to get things done. The fatberg clogging the sewers is a viscerally effective way of representing this.”
There’s a pause. “YOU’RE NOT OVERSELLING THE SPECIES TO ME, I MUST SAY. GREASY COMPLACENCY DOESN’T SOUND LIKE AN ATTRIBUTE WORTH PRESERVING.” Screamed the cloud.
“No I see that. May I pursue this line of thought a little?” I asked, taking a seat on the ruined ground.
“I THINK YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO ANYWAY.”
“True. The world of Re-Animator is peopled with grotesque monsters and non-humans- the litany of modern-day bogeymen in It Was A Monstering (‘Slenderman…Lava Man/Sickle Man’), the imagery of drinking virgin blood in Planets, the lightning-quick slideshow of horrifying snapshots in Big Climb (‘The pink piggies with their hands on their ears…tenth son of a beast-heart father’).But really they are all disguises, analogues- the real monsters, the real beasts-beyond-imaging, are us. The central issue of the album, if you like-“
“Thank you- is the divided brain, the concept of becoming strangers to ourselves. Again, it’s hardly anything new in the horror genre- think of werewolves for instance, poor victims terrified of what they become at night and who they might hurt. Or our fascination with films about exorcism and demonic possession- the fear of the enemy dwelling within us, speaking with our mouths and living through our bodies, the fear that something inside us, some wicked voice, might instruct us to do something unthinkable, that we’ll have to take the rap for something we couldn’t help.
Higgs has spoken in several interviews about Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, a largely discredited but rather romantic idea that early man would’ve interpreted one side of the brain’s instructions to the other as the voice of God. It’s a theme that runs through the album, this idea that our brains make us other, that they evolve us into strange new beasts.
It’s an idea expressed in some of Higg’s most extraordinary lyrics in In Birdsong, which narrates an early human hearing these divine instructions, this ‘Godmouth’, as if for the first time- ‘The leaping of white fire/And spider-like/The dance/Shimmering and crawling over me…I hear me sing/A song/That I cannot begin to understand’-“
“THAT IS A VERY LONG QUOTE.”
“I really like that one- but it expresses with epic, headrush clarity the dualism of a human mind, at once horrifying and mind-expanding; the brain of the individual as other to consciousness; the consciousness as other to the soul- ‘I hear me sing’.”
“Right? It’s explored further as the idea of the doppelganger in The Actor– ‘Fit my clothes and had a face like mine’- yet the narrator of the song seems to find a strange sort of comfort in this depersonalisation, this monstering, saying ‘If he acts the same then I don’t mind at all’. Likewise in the grisly, lurching Black Hyena-“
“Yeah lurching, it means the synth’s sort of wobbly, sort of queasy, you know?”
“NO I DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT. SOUNDS LIKE MORE INDIE BULLSHIT TO ME.”
“Fair enough, sorry, but anyway, on Black Hyena again there’s this monstering of the human body, the ‘moron carcass’ for the re-animator to work on as ‘The master cracks into life’. It’s this idea that maybe, secretly, not only are we the monsters, perhaps we want to be them. They represent the ultimate alter ego, the expression of our basest desires, our basest proclivities for greed, consumption and tribal fear. And that’s the real horror of the album- to quote the chorus of Big Climb, we’re ‘Not afraid that it will kill us/we are afraid that it won’t.’ We’re the fatty, complacent horrors. We’re the ones who need stopping.”
There’s another pause, as I catch my breath and consult my notes, but no sooner have I unearthed another banger of an opinion when-
“WELL THEN! YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME MUCH, LITTLE FELLOW!” Belched the spreading darkness, billowing once more into the city skies.
“Thanks, if you like them you should really-“
“SILENCE, PSEUD! YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME THAT HUMANITY IS WORTHLESS! THAT YOU ARE ALL LAZY, GROTESQUE FIENDS, THAT YOU HAVE NO DESIRE TO SAVE YOURSELVES, LET ALONE EACH OTHER, LET ALONE THE PLANET! YOU SHALL FACE THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR APATHY! YOU SHALL SEE WHAT A MONSTER REALLY LOOKS LIKE! YOU SHALL PERISH IN A BLOOD-TIDE OF YOUR OWN MAKING! YOU-“
“But wait!” I call, standing and dusting myself off.
“OH CHRIST WHAT NOW?”
“Just one more thing! Yes, Re-Animator is full of monsters, is full of corrupted flesh and split brains and creeping horror. Because Everything Everything know, as we know, that it is easier (and more fun) to pin monstrosity on something that doesn’t have a human face- something vague and formless, like a cloud perhaps-“
“-Or a monster. Or perhaps even a year, or a plague. Really we know that it is us who are the problem, us who are the monsters. But the last track of the album, Violent Sun, is, rather remarkably, a really straightforward love song. A proper, end-of-the-night, kiss-them-before-the-world-ends love song. It seems to suggest that actually what will sort us out will be each other- ‘you don’t ever have to be a/Lunatic/Or an error/Or a prisoner/Of your terror.’ That the wonder and joy of being with a person you love might, might avert catastrophe, and even if it doesn’t it’s worth a bloody shot- “And she takes you in her violent arms/And you stare into the violent sun/And you know this will be gone in the morning.” It’s a pumping, elated song about being with someone, and about bearing witness- the narrator sings that he just wants “to be there/When… we’re swept away”. If we can describe the catastrophe, we can live through it. If we can be there with each other, for each other, reconciling all the others and the monsters within ourselves, then…well, we probably won’t stop the apocalypse. But at least we’ll have someone to talk to about it. And at least our final moments can be defined by the sunburst elation of being there at all. And of the people next to us being there at all.”
Another pause. The hideous cloud seemed to be thinking, and for a moment it seemed like it might dissipate entirely, that through the strength of my analysis I might have-
“NAH.” The cloud grew darker, and larger, and denser, until it blotted out everything that wasn’t itself. “ENTIRELY UNCONVINCING. SAY YOUR PRAYERS, HUMAN RACE! I’M MUCH MORE A KAISER CHIEFS KIND OF CLOUD ANYWAY!”
And the cloud grew and grew, and there was a deep roar of thunder in the sky as the pavement below me cracked in two and revealed the molten core of the planet itself. I lost my footing and began to fall, fall straight towards the-
And then I woke up. The sky was a bit greyer outside. It’s getting colder all of a sudden. There are new restrictions in place, and I know I’ll worry about them for the rest of the day. Everything’s doomed for probably a bit longer.
But at least I’m seeing the morning.