In 2003, scientists from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England, were studying a supermassive black hole located 250 million light years from earth. They discovered that it was producing sound waves. These sound waves translate into B-flat, 57 octaves below middle C on the common household piano. This pitch, inaudible to the human ear, is the sound of the slaughter of light.
Addiction is much like a black hole that crushes the light of those enslaved by it. A local counselor and musician named Cory Divine works to alter the trajectory of youth who have found themselves in the vacuum of addiction by producing his own yawp of sound. His band is called Birth of Tragedy and consists of only two members: Divine on guitar and vocals + Ryan Peterson, percussionist. To call Peterson a percussionist is to call the Sears Tower a building. Upon experiencing the colossal sound of Birth of Tragedy, one is certain that continental drift progresses significantly with every set. Birth of Tragedy lets their music speak for itself. They subsume the stage when given the all-clear. With veteran mastery, they prepare their equipment.
Divine says, “I suppose our music is, in a sense, entertainment. But I’d rather not think of it that way. Art removes us from our daily perspective. There’s a level of entertainment infused in that, but this alteration in perspective can elevate us in ways that lead to powerful change. This interaction isn’t fully defined by the term ‘entertainment.’ I would hope it’s bigger than that.”
When asked to categorize Birth of Tragedy’s music, Divine states: “I describe it as Cathartic Metal. Although it’s heavy and has a lot of aggression, it’s a form of therapy for us. It draws out pain and allows us to express a whole spectrum of emotion.”
The crowds size them up as they prepare. Between sound checks you overhear: “There’s only two of them?” Curiosity and skepticism smatter the faces of those at the venue. The contest of critique begins. Metal mongers might be tempted to make an early dismissal of them as a two man novelty. That is, until the sound checks conclude and Peterson begins the all-out assault on his drum kit.
Divine makes final adjustments then leans into the microphone like a wolf leaning into a scent. Any semblance of skepticism is given a prompt and curt response. Within the first three minutes of their set, skeptics are skewered into believers. A visceral tsunami of sound transcends the civil hood of the intellect and grips the neck of human instinct. Heart rates increase. Eyes flit between the two as adrenal glands dump a touch of fight or flight into the bloodstream. This is no amateur novelty. This isn’t two frustrated young men making thoughtless noise in order to beg attention or affection. This is the face of internal human war, the intellectual and spiritual war that all humans must face if they desire to live an intentional, actualized reality. For the keen listener, one senses they have arrived upon the shore of the ocean that lies beneath. They are no longer simply at a show or at a bar. Meditative, they are enveloped in the set. Divine states: “For me, the driving force behind the creation of music is the desire to manifest the sub or unconscious, a means of expressing without literal explanation.”
A quiet fan describes the experience after watching a show. He states simply: “It’s all there.” The energy behind the sound is enormous. One’s mind is filled with images: dolphins racing cruise liners, schools of salmon arching, whales clapping the sun-warmed surface of the sea; oil spills, frantic prey evading predator, combat; adoration, penance, anathema. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, just back from Iraq, is almost visibly shaken. Divine’s lyrics: “Blue desert sun! My mouth sand kicks back! Beauty at her best! The light explodes! Infinite power! Without it we would fall!”
Birth of Tragedy’s aggression doesn’t target a person or group. It targets the forces that debase human beings. Methodically, the psychologist in Divine begins to fearlessly inhabit those forces, chanting: “Protect the addiction! Protect the addiction!” He subverts destruction by gaining understanding and then presenting it. These liberating seeds of knowledge seek soil in the psyche of those within earshot. Verbal bursts of articulate insight surface between the guttural growling and epic, chest-burning yells.
Divine and Peterson organize sound into shapes that produce some of the most pure and accessible expressions of emotion that listeners have ever heard. It lobs spit in the face of pedantic, fear-based intellectualism and reminds all cold practitioners that pain is attached to people with a capability of redemption. Divine and Peterson seethe at the presence of thoughtlessness in their arena. In their action an edict is issued, stating that each life is unique and has value. The music promises with awe that the struggle is not for nothing. Divine levels a Spartan spatha and buries it directly into the chest of apathy. By the end of the set, one is exhausted and grateful, invigorated by breath itself. There is a kindness in this whirlwind, compassion in this hurricane.
One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’ description of angels in Perelandra: “Pure, spiritual, intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity.”
Recently I attended a reception where I met an individual observing Divine. He said, “Upon meeting [Divine], you would never guess that he would produce such a sound.” We glanced at the thin, thoughtful young man. He was speaking politely with an elderly woman whose husband recently passed away. She was telling Divine to appreciate life and that her husband would have been very pleased with the funeral service. He listened intently.
Divine states the most rewarding part of making music is “The manifestation of something from the unconscious. The primal, emotive, tabula rasa. It is the ultimate feeling to compose music that becomes a better statement of you and your perceptions than anything you could ever say with language.” When asked his opinion on the most rewarding part of counseling, Divine states: “Experiencing the process of change. Helping someone transform their life from destructive behavior to health is a beautiful thing.” He adds: “The pursuit of understanding and the discipline of music share an origin. Underneath the internal dialogue, the chatter of ego, of distraction, there exists a stillness. I believe there is an undercurrent of consciousness that is available to everyone which includes empathy, compassion, creativity, love. Jung referred to this as the ‘collective unconscious.’ Collectively, I think we can tap into this stillness, this way of being by shedding our ego, distractions, negative thoughts, and crippled emotions.”
Divine gleans insight from a variety of sources: “Close friends struggling with their own addictions, being a part of the music industry and witnessing firsthand the toll of its excesses, continuing education, and through the clients that I counsel at Connections Counseling.” Divine has worked at Connections Counseling for two years. Connections Counseling LLC is an outpatient Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) and Mental Health Clinic located in Madison, Wisconsin. It was founded by Shelly Dutch who is the current owner and Director. The organization describes itself as “a unique and strength-based clinic focused on creating a safe and supportive environment for young people, families, and adults to find a recovery community conducive to hope and healing....
The foundation of the program is based on a model of mentoring and giving back to others. Clients find they are not alone and find acceptance and support to address their personal struggles. Clients begin the process of healing by moving forward, beginning to trust, and working toward finding their passions.” Further information can be accessed via the internet at ConnectionsCounseling.com
Divine reflects on the causes of addiction in the United States: “Current research discusses a number of factors that contribute to addiction in the United States: family history, co-occurring mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, presence or lack of peer support systems. Philosophically speaking, we’re a society that thrives on experiencing pleasure now. We intensely seek instant gratification. This is connected to what I perceive as the most frightening element of today’s youth--the violently shrinking attention span. People with souls are not flashing MTV images.”
Whether in group therapy or one-on-one counseling sessions, creativity is a major ingredient in any effort to repel chemical temptation and develop a sound sobriety. “Just the idea of creativity as a healthy alternative to substance use is fundamental to the Connections philosophy,” Divine says. “When clients enter into treatment, whatever their motivation is, whether legal or of their own volition, boredom and lack of inspiration are two of the most common reasons cited for continued use of alcohol and substances. When getting to know a client, one of the things that I inquire about is their interests, what moves them. 9 out of 10 times music is one of their responses. Right there--a catalyst for change. Just listening to music is being engaged by an element of culture and is a step toward inclusion and identity versus isolation and alienation. This is a powerful challenge to a chemical addiction. Those who have had social integration problems have often been battered by messages of worthlessness and failure. They begin to emerge from this fire when they see they can focus on something unique and of constructive value.”
Divine enjoys their fiery quest for meaning. When asked what inspires the most hope for today’s youth: “Their ability to challenge.” When Divine says this, you can see a hundred stories behind his eyes that are sopped with both hilarity and tragedy. “Ambivalence provides the most powerful opposition to sobriety. Ambivalence pays addiction’s mortgage. Locking into a person’s passion disarms ambivalence. When a person begins to value oneself, one sheds a debased, rationalized identity which says dangerous and demeaning behavior is okay.”
A young fan of Birth of Tragedy relayed the effect of Divine and Birth of Tragedy’s music upon him. While in jail for an alcohol-related offense, Divine’s lyrics echoed in his head as he pieced together the reasons why he found himself incarcerated: “These senseless thrills! I’m still waiting! These senseless thrills! These senses kill! And I’m still breaking! These senses kill!” This young man continues to seek to understand why he is permitting his own destruction and putting others at risk by his addiction-related actions. He lists Divine’s music as a key element in understanding his own behavior and hopes to attain a power to resist his addiction.
Divine solemnly quotes Nietzsche: “We have art so that we shall not die of the truth.” Divine is a man who has experience in the value as well as the detriment of denial. Watching the headlines is sobering, and for the maladjusted, often an excuse to remain irresponsible. For some, who have decided to challenge a powerful current toward easy destruction, this life has become an unending opportunity to learn, to grow, to re-build what was once abandoned to ruin. These young men and women have seen with their own eyes the face of death. They have witnessed it make fierce claim upon their spirit. These young men and women, making powerful one-by-one decisions, squirm free of its grasp. In time, they come to know the value of simple pleasure and cherish peace more than those who have never experienced the fire of addiction’s restless chaos. They have come to value limits on that which is not intended to be limitless, while not limiting that which is intended to be limitless.
To remove futility from the mindset of our youth, to incorporate them into a society that values them and values life, is a healing balm to the wounds of our violent society. With leaders like Divine, perhaps our fractured and fatherless may be able to do the impossible. They may be able to take responsibility for themselves and for those whom they have needed, who have more and more frequently, abandoned them. They may gain wisdom where once there was only frustration, reactionary thinking, and irrational violence. They may gain emotional wealth instead of chaotic desperation.
May they shape the coming generations with their wisdom, producing disciplined children who effectively love, who heal our environment, share kinship, and reject debasing behavior. Our universe may yet herald the birth of a million suns whose collective light may crush the intimidating, ominous rumble of any supermassive black hole.
Birth of Tragedy is currently writing new music and will be playing live by summer/fall of 2008. For more information, access the following link: www.myspace.com/birthoftragedyband For further information about Connections Counseling, call 608-221-1500 or view online at www.connectionscounseling.com
This article was amended and shortened to fit into the print version the following month (October 2008) that it appeared online due to the band’s sudden come back show for Maximum Ink’s Spooktakular Halloween Party.
Birth of Tragedy’s two man onslaught is preparing an assault on the Annex in Madison, Wisconsin. Scheduled to be unleashed Saturday, November First at Maximum Ink’s 6th Annual Spooktakular, fans will find themselves public witness to the sentencing and execution of metal mediocrity.
With five bands scheduled to play, Maximum Ink and the Annex are elevating the standard, putting the meat in metal. Birth of Tragedy consists of only two members: Cory Divine and Ryan Peterson. Divine produces throat-slashing vocals and guitar; Peterson produces thunderstorms of percussion. Their music, self-described as cathartic metal, is the physicist’s dark matter, the mapmaker’s terra incognita.
Divine says: “The most rewarding part of making music is the manifestation of something from the unconscious. The primal, emotive, tabula rasa. It is the ultimate feeling to compose music that becomes a better statement of you and your perceptions than anything you could ever say with language.”
Divine describes the blueprint of the upcoming show. “We’re going to start with the music we’ve written over the last year which is much less textured, more stripped down and organic. There are a lot more instrumental sections, less vocals. We find that this intensifies the vocals when they do occur.” Peterson adds: “In metal, the vocals are an instrument. They either distract from the music or enhance it. We feel that this evolution in our sound helps us play within the music instead of above and beyond it. Even the percussion has come down a notch or two in speed and volume which only causes a greater union of sound.” They state that the second half of their set will come full circle, revisiting some of their heaviest music created in 1999. With their last release in 2006, this is one the goblins and ghouls won’t want to miss.
When asked if BOT will be wearing costumes, Divine states: “I always wanted to be the Desenex man for Halloween, but the robe might be an impediment to performing. I might have to wear my birthday suit.” Peterson dismisses the idea. “My birthday suit doesn’t even fit.” Doors open at Seven. Show starts at Eight. And remember, malcontents, it’s a felony to punch a horse if there’s a cop sitting on top of it.