Music Matters: Death, The End of All Things and Hope Laid Up in the Heavens in Muse’s “Exogenesis Symphony”

Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith.

“Our wonder will become realigned to God’s grace and our hope is not in escaping this earth but making our stand here as the God of the universe one day will bring heaven down to us.”

From the day we are born, all of us are spiraling towards one thing—death. Yet in most Western cultures we rarely think about death on a personal level. Not many of us wake up in the morning struggling “with a fleeting sense of dread” in regards to our forthcoming demise. Especially since many of us in the 21st century are unable to “[penetrate] the electronic buzz” surrounding us with a narrative of hope, namely, as fellow Christ and Pop Culture writer Alan Noble notes, “recognition of our great need [for redemption] and the greater wonder of the Grace of God.”

Unlike many of his peers, Matthew Bellamy (guitarist and vocalist of Muse) does grapple with his temporality as seen most clearly in his song of hopelessness, “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist“.  A crunchy punk guitar, static infused vocals, nasal whining “yeahs” and a cacophonous guitar solo provide a brashly-laden conception of the finality of death. Bellamy fearfully screams in this pre-death epitaph, “And I know the moment’s near/ And there’s nothing you can do/ Look through a faithless eye/ Are you afraid to die?/ It scares the hell out of me/ And the end is all I can see.”

While Bellamy is frightened of the cessation of his own life, he latches on to a grander narrative of humanity surviving the destruction of the earth to populate the stars, which he explores in his 13 minute progressive rock epic “Exogenesis Symphony”. Drawing musically from Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, Chopin, Schubert and Pink Floyd, he expounds in the iTunes LP notes for The Resistance, “['Exogenesis Symphony'] looks at the concept of ‘panspermia’. It is a story of humanity coming to an end and everyone pinning their hopes on a group of astronauts who go out to explore space and spread humanity to another planet.” The process of panspermia is a topic found in many a science fiction work from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to the colonization of the Milky Way in Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series.

Even countless astronomers and astrophysicists see the ultimate of hope of humanity as in the heavens, yet some are pensive about that possibility. Famed astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his 1994 book A Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”  (pg. xv–xvi)

Part I: “Overture”

And this is where “Exogenesis Symphony” begins, the final stand of humanity on an earth in the final pangs of death. Their only hope is to send a group of people into the stars, find a new planet to call home and start all over again. The consummation of history is upon the human race in “Overture” and they must act by abandoning the only home they have ever known. Heavy, yearning and other-worldly strings, reflecting on the musical soundscape of 1950’s and 60’s space shows and films, open the symphony. In addition, vibrating strings and thundering brass heighten the immediacy of humanity’s predicament as Bellamy laments, “Aping my soul/ You stole my overture/ Trapped in God’s program/ Oh I can’t escape.” Channeling 1970’s space rock, wailing and screaming guitar explicates the questioning anguish of a series of questions smoothly declaimed by Bellamy: “Who are we?/ Where are we?/ When are we?/ Why are we?” The orchestration continues to fill out in a “wall of sound” manner as he repeats these questions over and over again. Then suddenly it all ends with a profound, yet simple question about humanity’s existence, “Why are we in here?” as the piano trails off into infinity, in a slight reference to The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

Part II: “Cross-Pollination”

http://youtu.be/f_sHYn_cSn0

Humanity waits in a holding pattern before the exogenesis promise unfolds in “Cross-Pollination” which Bellamy explains “…is a desperate hope that sending the astronauts to find and populate other planets will be successful alongside the recognition that this is the last hope.” What they believe and wish for is that space, the heavens, hold an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept for humanity to populate. Grand pomp, celebration and stateliness in Rachmaninoff-style piano inaugurate the anticipation and excitement of the people of earth as the astronauts “Rise above the crowds/ And wade through toxic clouds/ Breach the outer sphere/ The edge of all our fears.” Fears which still reside in the human heart, a harmonically clashing and wandering piano reveal, as humanity tentatively proclaims, “Rest with you/ We are counting on you/ It’s up to you.” Celebration then erupts with the full power of guitar, bass and drums as humanity desperately yells, “Spread our codes to the stars/ You must rescue us all.” The word “spread” echoes out into oblivion as mankind sees off the only hope for the human race. The Rachmaninoff-style piano returns, however, now tinged with the discordant sadness of the earth’s end and after a long delay comes to rest in quiet sublimity.

Part III: “Redemption”

http://youtu.be/e4EqjvnWfRM

Refreshingly, “Redemption” moves gently as if rowing slowly across the calm emptiness of space, where according to Bellamy “…the astronauts realize that it is just one big cycle, and recognize that unless humanity can change it will happen all over again.” In the repose of whispering strings and harp-like piano, Bellamy intertextually recalls the peaceful beauty of Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. As the band stealthily creeps in, the piano becomes characterized with a New Age feel in the style of Yanni and Bellamy’s vocals glimmer in hopeful triumphalism singing:

Let’s start over again
Why can’t we start it over again
Just let us start it over again
And we’ll be good
This time we’ll get it, get it right
It’s our last chance to forgive ourselves

After the final line it returns to the “Ave Maria” style piano/strings in a state of quietness, with the final musical statement sounding like an audible ellipse, as if to say, “This is only the beginning.” Not the ex nihilo beginning of Genesis but created beings creating their own genesis event on a planet far, far away.

There is Hope Laid Up in Heaven

Bellamy’s magnum opus grafts himself into the larger story of  humanity’s survival in the heavens. It is us reaching out to the stars, to the planetary bodies of space, to save ourselves from destruction. Yet in the upside down world of God’s kingdom, God is the one who reaches out and rescues us. Though death will come for us all, the dead in Christ who were “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” will have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Then at the end of all things there will be a renewal and a restoration of the earth because of the “hope laid up for you in heaven” which is “the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world.” (1 Col. 1:5-6) The good news for the whole world found in Jesus overcoming the grave, abolishing sin’s power, conquering hell’s dominion and grafting us into his story of eternal life. As we grapple with this reality, our wonder will become realigned to God’s grace and our hope is not in escaping this earth but making our stand here as the God of the universe one day will bring heaven down to us.

About Matthew Linder

Matthew Linder is a music professor at National University, married and father of a 2-year-old daughter. He loves Jesus, the Church, biblical theology, and of course, music but despises ketchup. While he appreciates a wide variety of musical styles, he prefers hip-hop, metal, and classical but could live without 90s Christian music. Follow Matthew on Twitter @TheRetuned.

  • http://@st_u2 StuartB

    Fantastic article. I’m sure you could easily add another 3-4 paragraphs talking about the visuals and performance of the first part of the symphony when they perform it live. I saw them play in Minneapolis in 2010, and from what I’ve gathered, it was one of the rare nights when they opened with Overture before moving straight into Uprising. Quite a strange opening for my friend that I brought along who had never heard of Muse but liked hard rock music, which I assured him they definitely played (most of the time).

    Muse has quickly become my second favorite band at the moment, right behind U2. And it makes sense that Muse would open for U2 so often.

    More Christians should listen to music like Muse. It can only strengthen their faith…while providing a good example of what quality music should sound like.

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    StuartB – Did they happen play this video during the third part of they symphony when they performed it live? http://youtu.be/XPBfaMsA97o


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