An oubliette is a medieval space for imprisonment with only a trapdoor in it’s ceiling. The word comes from the French word oublier, which means to forget.
THE RETICENT’s new release, The Oubliette, is pitched as a man’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease and is not in songs but stages.
The first stage sees the listener introduced to the character of Henry, a man who is experiencing memory loss. He cannot recall information as simple as his own name. He has not come to terms with the fact that he’s in the nursing facility for good.
“Let me go,” he begs.
With tearful eyes,
he smiles to hide
He wants to scream
Yet still he Just smiles
Hoping for Mary”
A MR BUNGLE like organ break punctuates his turmoil, almost too playful and providing a sharp contrast to the emotions being represented in the lyrics.
Stage 2: The Captive describes Henry’s realisation that he’s unable to leave and that his wife, Mary, is not present. He undergoes distress at the thought he has been locked away like a criminal and ponders how to convince them to let him go.
Stage 3: The Palliative Breath takes on heavy elements of KATATONIA in terms of the space around the lyrics and the semi staccato delivery. It’s here that Henry accepts that his best days are behind him and tries to rationalise the gaps in his memory as some kind of personal hell. It is here that the destruction to his relationships is shown.
“A young man passed by here today,
He said, “good to see you.”
He seemed so kind the more we spoke
He told me of his father old.
Poor boy was confused,
Called me “Dad” left in falling tears
I don’t understand why he’s so sad
It makes me want to runaway in fact
I just want to fly away
I still want to fly away”
Stage 4: The Dream is heart-breaking. It contains the one wholly positive experience on the album. A vision of his wife while he is sleeping and the comfort that comes with that, but all is quickly undone by the nightmare that follows. He remembers that Mary has died, and that she cannot hold his hand and come and take him away. This coupled with the feeling of being like an insect pinned down and unable to move wrenches you away from the sweet relief of calm and nicety and back into the howling void of turbulence and loss.
By the time Stage 6: The Oubliette occurs Henry has become completely lost to the outside world and mostly to himself. The only thing that remains is the knowledge that he is trapped and is unable to fend for himself. He’s isolated, and under the illusion that doctors and nurses are ignoring him in favour of talking to machines.
Ghostly, longing vocals convey the emotion here very well, almost whispering the final two lines.
Henry, now stripped of all but the vaguest memory of who he was, is only left with the want to die, and Stage 7:___ will see that happen.
The beep of a heart monitor fading into silence before floaty strings gently phase in and out, and a singer rises just above the crest of the instrumentation. It swells and Henry can sleep at last.
I don’t know what that’s like but if this album has represented it correctly, even a fraction of it, it must be devastating.
If you want to dive in and give it a try I would recommend it for fans of OPETH, KATATONIA, PORCUPINE TREE and THE PINEAPPLE THIEF.
Listener discretion is advised if you are prone to anxiety, depression or have experienced a person close to you who has suffered with Alzheimer’s.
Words: Jacob McCrone
The Oubliette is out now.
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