Wolf & Raven

Wolf & Raven – Sonata Arctica

DISCLAIMER: I know that there is a video clip for this song; however I chose not to view it because I didn’t want it to influence my interpretation of the song.

One of the prevalent beliefs I have found is that this song has significant reference to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While I can see the parts of the song where this interpretation fits well, I believe that there are too many key allusions missing for the song to warrant that kind of parallel. The tragedy of Macbeth is fuelled not just by Lady Macbeth’s ambition, but by Macbeth’s own and while the two of them conspire to do the most evil of things it ultimately drives Lady Macbeth to guilt, remorse and her eventual suicide. To me the song is about a man who has been tempted into becoming something or someone dark, by someone wanting him to do their bidding, dangling his freedom as motivation. They curse him, giving him power but at a cost, and keep him subservient by encouraging his belief that “maybe one day” they will award him with a return to his former life and self.

The lyrics of this song have less of an undercurrent and are more literal than other songs. “Ashamed of what I’ve become” doesn’t need too much more analysing to be able to read into it what it means, similar to much of this song which is more in the form of a soliloquy directed to someone rather than a dream or a story.

Right from the start the music takes on a fast tempo, which to me brought to mind three themes. Running, someone trying to escape something, and a fast train of thought. The one that seems most in conjunction with the lyrics is the latter, the pace and consistency of the music alluding to a fluid  stream of consciousness where the same thought is consuming him, unable to escape it, running constantly through his head.

He starts to articulate this thought to his master, reminding them of his loyalty and loyal service.

Grant me a wish, my master
Take heed of me
I have been loyal servant
Heartfelt, humble

He starts to go into what he sacrificed for his master. He says he gave up his wants and needs and his sense of self, essentially surrendering his identity. But through self-examination he has realised what his servitude has turned him into.

Gave up – what belongs to me
Gave up my greed
My self-examination
Made me see, to be me

He likens himself to Judas because of what he’s done, alluding to a significant betrayal either or both of himself or somebody important to him in the past. Being ashamed of what he’s done and become shows his remorse emerging. He wants his old life back, however he is also wary and fearful of the effect that returning to that time perhaps not as his old self but as this changed being would have on himself. Even if he went back with the curse lifted psychologically he would still be scarred from the evils he performed while cursed. He hopes to curry favour by performing this immense unspeakable task, hoping it will be the last and significant enough of an undertaking that he will earn his freedom. The task being to “kill the king,” to destroy somebody high up, with great power.

I am now like Judas, done
Ashamed of what I’ve become
Fear for life I wear as a ring
To bask in your favor, I will kill the king

In the next verse he makes reference to his new state of being. He is “unbreakable” and cannot die, meaning he has become immortal most likely since his imprisonment/curse commenced. He says that he knows he’s immortal and invincible but that it still damages him. His immortality mocks him, puts him at odds with being able to feel the consequences of his actions physically and with his desire to end his (and others’) suffering by ending his curse, service or himself.

You say I am unbreakable
I cannot die,
I know, but anyway
The words, they maim me

He pleads with his master, wants his master to show him some compassion and mercy. For the second time in as many verses he provides an indication of the curse’s severity in asking to be a human (i.e. saying that he is not one at present). His master replies “maybe one day” further reinforcing his (false?) hope that one day he with be rid of the curse and free to live his old life. He then reiterates his feelings of betrayal, ashamedness and fear but also his hope that by doing his master this one last substantial duty he may elicit enough favour to get his freedom.

Grant me a wish, my master
Compassion, please
I’d like be a human
…maybe one day

I am now like Judas, done
Ashamed of what I’ve become
Fear of life I wear as a ring
To bask in your favor, I will kill the king

The next verse I think takes place when he is in a more reflective kind of state, the closest to his old self that he gets in the song. He is pleading with his master to let him go, hating them for being the impetus for his damaged state of mind. He asks how he can sleep at night when his whole being cries. This to me is the biggest indicator that he is tormented by his misdeeds. He is haunted by what he has done and his sense of self is tainted by it, affecting him more at night. In particular his subconscious mind i.e. when he sleeps.

Entreaty: let me go
Master, I hate you so
How can I sleep my nights
When my whole being cries

The next two stanzas are also in a sense self-reflective, he is recounting the journey he took to become the being he is now, cursed and trapped. He tells that he tried to conform, be like everyone else but in doing so he had to expose the very essence of his being and essentially change it. He sacrificed too much to get what he wanted, making others hate him as he does himself.

I tried to be like everyone
Open my soul
But what I had to give
Resulted loathing

He found himself overwhelmed by the attraction of his master, seduced by their power. The imagery in this verse suggests to me that his master is a woman. Words like “enchanted” and “grace” to me have particularly female connotations, especially in conjunction with “one beautiful black flower.” He describes her as such in a way that alludes that her beauty while enticing is dark (black being a colour most associated with evil, an absence of colour and light), and how quickly beauty and promises can turn sour. Him almost hyperbolically stating the end of the human race refers to perhaps the end of humanity as he knew it to be when he was cursed by the woman,
becoming something unthinkable, unhuman, a monster.

Enchanted by the power
Licked by the grace
One beautiful black flower
The end of the human race

The next verse is a more active one, him deciding to commit regicide. He takes the task unto himself with pride in having lasted until this (presumed) final chapter. He also has pride in his faith, believing in himself and in his master’s promises. I think that his master’s motivation in killing the king is to usurp the power and become queen herself. In assuming this the next line of the king and queen lying in state thusly refers to his belief that in killing the king he with become king himself alongside his master. It could also refer more literally to having killed the king and queen, the two of them lying in a state of death. Pleading with her once again, he hopes that having killed the king will allow him to be released.

I will
with pride now face my faith
King and Queen now lie in state
Fear of life I wear as a ring
I bask in your favor, I have killed the king

Entreaty: let me go
Master, I hate you so
How can I sleep my nights
When my whole being cries

He dwells in the subject of night further, having a nightmare that is him ultimately being haunted by his crimes. The image of the wolf eating the raven is very symbolic, with him being the wolf. Very few mammals have symbiotic relationships with other creatures. One of the few exceptions is the wolf:

“The wolf seems to have few relationships with other animals that could be termed purely social, though he apparently takes pleasure in the company of ravens. The raven, with a range almost as extensive as the wolf’s, one that even includes the tundra, commonly follows hunting wolves to feed on the remains of a kill.” (Barry Lopez, Of Wolves And Men, p. 67)

Ravens often play with wolf pups and essentially become part of the pack. Often times the ravens will lead a wolf pack to susceptible prey and they take part in the feast after the kill. The raven is sometimes known as “wolf-bird,” and some zoologists speculate that its relationship with wolves may be assisted by their psychological make-up:

“It appears that the wolf and the raven have reached an adjustment in their relationships such that each creature is rewarded in some way by the presence of the other and that each is fully aware of the other’s capabilities. Both species are extremely social, so they must possess the psychological mechanisms necessary for forming social attachments. Perhaps in some way individuals of each species have included members of the other in their social group and have formed bonds with them.” (David Mech, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species)

Having a dream of a wolf eating a raven thus refers to the betrayal that has been eating at him. The dream alludes to the betrayal being of someone he was close to, that he relied on or who relied on him. The “entrails of life” are the remains of the raven, of his old life, looking up on him. He makes the choice to eat them (turning his back on his old life) and becoming more animalistic, embracing his new self. Another view is that he is the wolf and his master the raven, and he dreams of freeing himself from his curse by killing her and taking charge of his own life. An interesting aspect of this idea however is that it is a nightmare not a good dream, so if it was his master that he killed in his dream he is fearful of that happening, suggesting that he is becoming more used to himself as this monster and more aware of the significant relationship he has with the woman.

I had a nightmare
The Wolf eating The Raven

Entrails of life on my plate
And I ate ’em..

Making reference to the Rorschach test, challenging whoever to try it on him, suggests that he knows his views and interpretations of life differs abnormally from the norm especially after his betrayal, killing the king and embracing his new self. He tries to justify his new state of mind perhaps not just to others but also to himself by articulating what initially tempted him about the woman who cursed him. However at nights he is still pleading to be freed from his master, his curse, himself. He on the surface accepts his fate but subconsciously he is still screaming at himself to change it. The obvious wolf imagery  in the latter part of the song give the indication that he has become some kind of a wolf, and him being in two conflicting states of minds supports the idea that he is two different beings mentally (i.e such as a werewolf) due to his curse.

Interested in what I see
Try that Rorschach test on me
Have you seen the beauty of the
Enticing beast

Entreaty: let me go
Master, I hate you so
I cannot sleep my nights
When my whole being cries

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