“Now and for always, a perpetual rise.
A fall of illusion, your zenith fades into eternity.”
In astronomy, the word “zenith” refers to the highest point that is reached by a celestial object. A zenith is imaginary, and is visualized as being directly above an observer. If you observe the Sun or the Moon, for example, it would be at its zenith when it is directly above you. It is at its highest point, or so it seems from our perspective.
In other contexts, then, zenith can be understood as the peak of something, when it is the most successful, or powerful.
But when it comes to human progress, where does its zenith lie? Or where should it lie?
Imagine a world engulfed in shadows, a world that is Godless, where the lines defining right and wrong are blurred and dismissed as holy fairytales.
“God is dead” in this world, as Nietzsche expressed centuries ago. What survives is the human desire for more. More power, more money, more everything.
With unbounded science and capitalism at the very centerfold of human progress, this pursuit of more comes at the cost of man’s spirituality and morality.
The more man seeks, the more he is willing to do anything to get what he seeks, and the emptier he feels.
Information is at man’s fingertips, yet he starves for wisdom. Skyscrapers and billion dollar condos are scattered all over the globe, yet, losing touch with nature, man does not feel at home. In this dystopian utopia that man finds himself in, he finds his next high by looking for more and more, and more.
Ad infinitum. Man’s zenith fades into eternity.
This is the picture of the world that the Swedish rock band Ghost paints in their song Zenith, which is quite possibly, their greatest song. Crazy enough, it was a song that I almost never discovered.
Despite being lavishly praised by fans who have listened to it, Zenith remains a hidden masterpiece in Ghost’s catalog. It was recorded during the sessions for their third album Meliora, but it was left out. Instead, it was released only as an extremely rare and expensive vinyl single, and included in a special edition of Meliora — also very rare. And of course, in most countries, you can’t find it on Spotify or other streaming services. And, they have never played the song live, let alone made any overt mention of it.
Why did they choose to keep their best work hidden? Well, the marketer in me is thinking that it’s their way of turning casual listeners into fans, giving them the impression that the real diamonds are in the deepest cuts.
After all, I knew about the song only through word-of-mouth, after being introduced to it by a friend of mine, who is a more seasoned Ghost fan. After giving the song a listen, you might think, “Wow, if a ‘throwaway’ song like this is already so good, I wonder what other great songs they have that I just don’t know about.”
Ultimately, I can’t say for sure about their reasons for secrecy. But considering how smart their marketing efforts have been over the years in making their fans more invested — like building fleshed-out characters and lore behind their music — I wouldn’t be surprised if they have deliberately kept Zenith well under the radar for this reason.
Thanks to a few independent channels, though, the song is available on YouTube. And fortunately, it hasn’t been taken down.
Zenith begins with a somber piano riff, which acts as a leitmotif, or a recurring theme, throughout the song, carrying the song’s message about man’s endless pursuit of more.
Singer and songwriter Tobias Forge has once alluded to the song’s theme in an interview. Though he was actually referring to the meaning of the album title Meliora, it gives us an adequate understanding of Zenith, as thematically, it could have been the album’s hallmark song.
He said, “I think that the super-correct translation (for Meliora, from Latin) is ‘for the pursuit of something better,’ or ‘all things better,’ or something like that. It is actually more thematical with the lyrical content and the backdrop that we wanted to paint in front of which we’re playing these songs, basically, which was supposed to be, or is supposed to be, a super-urban, metropolitan, pre-apocalyptic, dystopic futuristic thing. The title is more implying, ironically, this zenith that we think that we have reached. We’re always building higher, and we’re always getting a little bit faster, and everybody keeps earning a little bit more money, and everybody gets a little bit taller and a little bit tighter and a little bit…It’s a constant improvement that we’re hysterically trying to achieve.”
With this in mind, one of the things I find most interesting about Zenith is the lyrics. Historically, we have understood the Dark Ages to be a time when fanatical religious faith ruled over any form of scientific and technological progress, which was largely seen as heretic or blasphemous. Looking back at this time of darkness, we see scientific knowledge as the torch that could light the way to progress and better living.
Yet, in this song, Zenith turns the table and invites us to picture the other end of the spectrum: to limitlessly pursue scientific and technological progress comes at the cost of disregarding religion and spiritual faith. This is to live in a future Dark Age, only in this case, spirituality is the torch, and knowledge is the darkness.
The verses predict man’s accomplishments at the time of the new Dark Age, having “conquered a magic”, “counted the stars”, “deciphered the clockwork” and having “captured” agenesis. The lyrics rue over man’s hubris, claiming that man is “deluded by wisdom, the bringer of night.”
In the bridge, a choir sings saecula saeculorum, roughly translating into “unto the ages of ages”, or forever and ever. This reverberates the idea that man will never stop in its pursuit of more. In generation after generation, the zenith only becomes higher and higher.
And in the final seconds of the song, the piano leitmotif plays again. This time, it sounds as though it is playing from a music box, its notes echoing into silence. It gives me the impression that this is symbolic, as if Ghost knows their song and their message will be passed down from generation to generation, but will not be taken seriously. Humanity will repeat the same mistakes and traverse ever deeper into their pursuit of more, forgetting the tunes of caution from generations before.
There’s a lot of depth to the song, a lot to admire, in not only the lyrics, but also the composition, Tobias’s sweet vocals, and just about everything in between.