Sons of Raphael Lead Us to Hell and Back in Their Track by Track Breakdown of Their Debut LP
The brothers’ Full-Throated Messianic Homage is out today.
Back in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, it was either a type of music that would set you free or damn your soul to hell. The perception that rock music was capable of moral corruption was based in an antiquated, racist society. But what happens when so many decades after its initial revolution, rock music and theology come together for an album that expands on a genre’s diversification in combination with analysis of ancient texts? The result is Sons of Raphael’s Full-Throated Messianic Homage—a lush, complicated opus that feels exhilarating even when you’re not aware of what specific psalms the set of brothers is referencing.
Homage is the debut album from Loral and Ronnel Raphael. Its ten tracks have been in the making for seven years and were mixed by the late audio aficionado Phillipe Zdar. The brothers contemplate big-picture topics of truth and faith while referencing elements of ’60s girl groups, late ’70s post-punk, ’80s glam rock, and modern day art rock. Supercuts of praying on one’s knees until death and angels in straight jackets flash over thick-walled arrangements.
After a few spins, it might not surprise you that the Raphael brothers were raised in a house fascinated by theology. Their parents studied religion and cults, and were drawn to name one of their sons after L. Ron Hubbard. Ronnel carried on that fascination with ecclesiastical devotion by studying theology for three years at Oxford. All this personal history lent itself to Sons of Raphael’s “post-modern record,” which calls into question an omnipotent god and the people who strive to follow its word.
There’s reason behind every reference and sonic embellishment on Full-Throated Messianic Homage, and Ronnel Raphael sent us an appendix for the album, which is separated into four chapters. Listen to the album below, and read the thought process behind the detailed work.
A Revolt Against Time, Space, and History
A revolt against time, space, and history in an effort to redeem faith from being hijacked by literalistic religious beliefs that could in turn lead to a dangerous development of a eugenic religion. The God that exists only in our faith is becoming increasingly isolated in a world dominated by objective theism at one end and militant atheism at the other: “My God has no friends but me.” The wild horse of revolution is called for as we try to liberate ourselves from a future morally oppressive society “where killers and messiahs are identical twins.”
Sonically, the synthesizer symphony at the outro combines the full force of two Moog modulars and an Arp 2500, dwelling together in unity. By the time we were ready to go mixing this song, we ended up with so many tracks that we almost gave Zdar (of blessed memory) a heart attack.
2. “He Who Makes the Morning Darkness”
Inspired by the depiction of God in the Book of Amos, “He Who Makes the Morning Darkness” presents us with a fascinating paradox—a God who turns darkness into morning but can also “make the morning darkness” (Amos 5:18); in other words, a God who will use his power, not only for the goodness of his people but also against them if necessary. The God that initially nurtured his creation: “who laid the cosmos with a parquet floor and pinned young angels to the ceiling” becomes a destroyer of what he himself had created: “Now the parquet’s crooked and the sick land mourns and no more angels in the ceiling.”
Enraged by the sins of his adulterous wife (the virgin Israel) that has committed “extra-national affairs” with foreign nations, God brings about the The Day of the Lord— “a day of darkness, not of light” (Amos 5:18). This raises an eternal moral dilemma— how can an omnipotent God allow such great suffering in the world? Can we detach faith from history? This song is the crème de la crème of our wall of sound vision, a tough swaggering production featuring over 50 people playing together. The amount of instruments that we have multiplied recording this song is greater than the number of Abraham’s descendants multiplied by God.
3. “Siren Music”
“Siren Music” questions our spiritually obsolete language: “Throats parched with empty words like wadis athirst for God.” It laments the loss of God in our language that is undergoing a process of secularization, with an outcry to reconnect our generation back to God through language. A city becomes a mirror of the human condition as a resurrection toward God is envisioned: “magic carpets carry our souls,” representing the urgency for a “theo-semantic” expansion of poetry.
However, it becomes apparent that the truth is too frightening to deal with “in a world that wants to be deceived,” and inevitably the fate of the human condition remains the same: “Nameless we lay dead on the floor.” It was the first song that Zdar (of blessed memory) mixed, unleashing his vision of what he called a “post-modern record,” featuring our futuristic wall-of-sound fuzz guitars and synthesizer arpeggiators blended with an orchestra and a choir.
A Modest Contribution To Romance
4. “On Dreams That Are Sent by God”
A love song in homage to Philo’s treatise: “On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent.” The teeth of the original recipient of this song have since been straightened (seven years have passed), raising an important poetic dilemma: Can one reorientate the recipient of a love song?
5. “Devil Devil”
An attempt to place dynamite under the very foundations of the bourgeoisie and liberate the eternal spirit from the imprisonment of the flesh: “Devil, devil, bourgeoisie, won’t you please set me free.”
6. “Yeah Yeah Yeah”
Those who have wept shall rejoice and be happy. A perfect illustration of keeping things simple, happy, and repetitive—a rare occasion on this album, but you must taste bitter first to understand the sweet. The song is flowing in an abundance of fuzz, fulfilling our father’s prophecy—”be good to rock n’ roll and rock n’ roll will be good to you.”
Life As a Mere Platform for Death
We did not want to scatter songs of death like ashes around the album. Grouping them together under this chapter was our way of making peace with them—redeeming this album from death.
7. “Oh Momma”
A cry for help in the style of lament Psalms (e.g. Psalms 69). The carnivorous plants are the enemies of man, those who hate him without a cause and devour his “sweet words of love and romance.” This plea for deliverance, in contrast to lament Psalms, ends with a submission to despair—a pessimistic acknowledgement that the plight of man will never cease to exist: “Oh momma, got no saviors in my dreams / And my land is flowing with gasoline / Since the land of milk and honey is a dream of the past / Painstakingly devoured by carnivorous plants.” The arrangements at the instrumental section feature a memorable figure of descending celeste arpeggiators doubled by an ARP 2500, accompanied by a professional whistler.
8. “I Sing Songs for the Dead”
The song explores the practice of the veneration of the dead and the politics of post-mortem existence, heralding a war on the psychiatric industry—an industry of death: “I consult the dead for their advice / To cut costs on the psychoanalyst / Lipsticked in blood from my wrists.”
The savior from “Oh Momma” that does not appear in our dreams is now anointed with gasoline, symbolizing that this world is too narrow to contain a rebellious soul: “I sing songs for the dead for I’m dead to those alive.” The instrumental is packed with irrepressibly exhilarating phaser guitars and a gust of percussion instruments.
9. “Let’s All Get Dead Together”
The song puts into question a cynical world that winks at death, where “suicide is an Olympic sport” and an all-inclusive holiday is an eternal one; suicide has become so intrinsic to the universe that it is now “a mandate from heaven.” The lyrics are not to be adhered to literally—their direct nature sets a tone of skepticism that is meant to be challenged and is by no means a call for mass suicide. Recording this song, we instructed the choir to sing along to the cheerful outro music with a Christmas spirit in order to create a surreal atmosphere where commercialization and death meet:
“Let’s all get dead together Put our dreams aside
Not care for one another, swim in cyanide
Let’s all get dead together, and go far away
On a cheap all-inclusive (eternal) holiday”
A literal reading of the lyrics will place readers in danger of surrendering to precisely what the song challenges—a world encompassed by literary horizons, where life is no more than a mere platform for death.
Following our songs of death by a resurrection is our way of saying “Kaddish Over Death.” It ensures that the album does not end on a tragedy following Zdar’s death, but becomes a celebration of life.
10. “The Sand Dunes Lift Up”
The sand dunes take off towards a restoration of the world to its original integrity. There, the earth can forget and our prayers melt away, no longer needed as we renew our covenant with God. It is in this utopian state, however, that we are reminded of the cutting fact that “there’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), human nature has been and will always remain the same.