There’s a lot to unpack in Ranges’ extravagant new release ~ literally, for those fortunate enough to own the deluxe edition. Our top rock/post-rock pick for fall 2020 pulls out all the stops in concept and execution, while turning the studio knobs up to 11. Babel / Confusion of Tongues is a massive project, reflecting a huge amount of work, and it pays off.
The reveal began a year ago with the release of Babel, the first phase. A select few were able to procure box sets as they awaited the rest of the material. Over the course of a year, three additional tracks were dropped into their accounts, which are now available to all, inserted in the tracklist to form a new entity ~ or a reshuffled chapter book.
The album begins with muffled voice, foreshadowing what is to come. In Genesis 11, the people of earth challenge heaven by building a tower. The LORD and His Host (using the Heavenly We) scatter them across the earth and confuse their languages. This mythic explanation of enmity has taken on new meaning in an era of misunderstanding. Further renditions of the story offered new details, some of which were conflated with those found in the book of Revelation: the need to bear a mark in order to barter, special coins without which no trade could be made. Babel was confused with Babylon, which itself symbolized more than just a city, but any corrupt society. Ranges even offers some of these coins in their own marketplace, which encourages trade among fans. So ignore that $666; just be sure you have something to offer in return. First-born sons are accepted if they are without blemish.
The music’s power communicates the forces at stake. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Modern echoes are apparent in presidents and castes. Whenever the quartet turns tender (as in the center of “Babylon the Great, Pt. 3”), they relay the poignant hopes of the masses for a benign response. But then the guitars come crashing ~ crushing ~ in like federal troops or an invading army, a flexing of muscle. How dare you want justice or peace?
Now we arrive at the first new track, “Vainglory,” which seems empathetic, riding on the tails of “Pt. 3.” The opening minutes deepen the overall project, injecting softness to balance the harshness. The track ends in a similarly tender fashion before tipping back into Babel‘s “Idolator,” heavy on the drums like irrepressible desire. One can start to intuit connections, as portrayed via the Zodiac, color wheel and extensive theme chart (shown above). The individual images suggest even more allusions: Hollywood, police, mystics, a third eye. One could write a master’s thesis on interpretation alone.
But it’s still all about the music. Ranges offers peaks, valleys and melodies galore. One can hear grand themes, even if these aren’t the album’s conceptual suggestions. For example, should one choose, one may hear the conflict between political parties, or protesters and police, or the struggle to stay alive when one’s stimulus check has been spent. One may hear the contrast between the rasp of a person on a ventilator and the impervious self-congratulations of a politician on a TV in that same room. One may hear the reveling of the 1%, resting on island boats and lounging in gated communities, and the cries of the 99%, all seemingly for naught. One may hear “tower” and think “border wall” or “babel” and hear “insider trading.” The possibilities are endless.
The massive melodies of “Avarice” ~ the longest piece, save for the finale ~ wrap up the album’s first half. The track has time to pause for thought, for a period of reflection that may lead to a change of course, followed by a resolute ending. And now the second new piece: “Monarch,” the album’s only “green” track, implying money rather than the environment. Shall heaven and earth bow down to his might? Ask Ozymandius. The piece sounds more regal than ambitious, reflecting a slow-growing corruption. Many monarchs begin with benign promises. The guitar tones of the second half imply trumpets, a coronation. “Monarch” transforms first to “Demagogue” and ultimately to “Sovereign,” a name for God.
The final act brings “Pharmakeia” (magic), “The Tower” (Tarot for disaster) and “Revelation,” Babel‘s original ending. The guilty will be punished and the faithful rewarded. All will be gathered in again. No one shall harm on God’s sacred hill. But not in this life. Sadly, not in this life. (Richard Allen)