Review of Tarja’s Video “Victim of Ritual”

Review by Brian Kelman
© Ethereal Metal Webzine

—Victims Of Ritual In The Modern World—

I’m normally too literal-minded to understand the symbolism
of a music video. I have little in the way of an aesthetic sense. It would
seem, however, that Victim of Ritual has made an impression that transcends my usual
limitations. I interpreted Victim of Ritual as symbolic of modern rites of
intensification, whereas for Tarja it symbolizes rites of passage.

Before I begin that analysis it is important to know the
meaning of the word ritual. As a noun, a ritual is the performance of a
detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly observed in a prescribed
form; or a state or condition characterized by the presence of established
agenda or routine. As an adjective it is being part of an established routine.

What is the purpose of rituals? Anthropologists tend to
focus on positive sacred rituals that reinforce social bonds within the group
and make crises less socially disruptive. They have classified several
different types of rituals, and among them are rites of passage and rites of
intensification. Rites of passage mark important stages in the lives of
individuals, such as birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, social advancement,
occupational specialization and death. Rites of intensification serve to bind individuals
together and mark important stages and crises of the social group as a whole.
For anthropologists, they can include funerary ceremonies as well as
celebrating the summer and winter Solstice and the Equinox of autumn and
spring. An example of a spring ritual is the Hindu Festival of Holi.

Although we may not immediately recognize them as such,
rituals are an important part of the mundane modern world, too. For rites of
intensification, an event steeped in ritual, both modern and ancient, that has
meaning for whole world, is the relay of the Olympic Flame from Greece to the
host country (reintroduced in 1936) to the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic
Torch in the host stadium (reintroduced in 1928; its origins lie in ancient
Greece where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient
Olympics to commemorate the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by
Prometheus). Staying on the same theme, let us not forget the pregame ‘rituals’
that rabid sports fans conduct to make sure that their favourite team will
prevail in that day’s match. For rites of passage, the standardized means of
getting a drivers licence at the age of sixteen takes on the form of ritual.
The process by which Tarja warms up before her passage to the stage for a performance
can be one of ritual, too. I, too, have a ritual or routine that I follow on
work days. Doing the same things in the same order ensures that I don’t forget
anything and that I get there on time. Rituals, then, are not confined to
religion or to ancient and primitive cultures; they are all around us in the
modern world.

Can we become a Victim of Ritual in the modern world? In a
word, “Yes.” The setting for Victim of Ritual epitomizes like no other the
ritual victimization of humanity through the repetitive, monotonous,
controlling industrial process that permeates all of society. It is symbolic of
the attempts by certain vested interests in society to subjugate individuals to
the mind numbing, soul crushing, life robbing, manipulating rituals that try to
control our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Modern rituals differ in that they
attempt to reinforce/break/create social bonds and make crises less/more
socially disruptive depending on the agenda espoused by the competing interests
involved. These forces can be the various elements of society, be it a society
based on communism, socialism or a liberal democracy, for example, and include
as some of its agents the entertainment, advertising and news media; the
government and its bureaucracy; the boss at work; and lastly, ourselves,
because we can get used to our familiar, safe, secure rut. Tarja’s song/video
Victim of Ritual is well chosen both visually and lyrically to illustrate the
breaking free of modern ritual and the establishment of new ones created on our
terms in an emotionally powerful way.

Aurally the drum taps a call to war. Battle will be joined
this day. Over the taps of the war drum come the melancholic oboe playing
Boléro. It is played periodically throughout and mirrors the action of the
video. It is the perfect choice given setting and theme of Victim of Ritual.
Ravel admitted that the rhythms of Boléro (in its entirety) were inspired by
the machines of his father’s factory and the berceuse (lullaby) sung to Ravel
by his mother at bedtime.

Visually, Victim of Ritual begins with an absence of colour,
or the colours severely washed out. The exceptions are the controlling safety
tape on the floor and pipes of the factory and Tarja, as an agent of change, is
framed by light. The painter, the musician, the assembly line worker are all
monotonously and unthinkingly working with black on white. Black takes all
colours and reflects none; white gives by reflecting all colours.

Eyes are symbols of perception and perspective; threshold to
the heart; window on the soul….

Black eyes and hardly breathing
When there’s no light
You sacrifice
Alone, a monster living
You lost the fight before the fall

How did you end up in hell?

“Black eyes…” as dark as a Finnish Winter describe of the
plight of the victims of ritual. The light that illuminates the heart and soul
has been taken away and extinguished; life slowly strangled and suffocated as
they sacrifice their self for another’s benefit. It is truly a descent into a
living hell of lethargy, monotony, routine, and resignation to a life not of
their making.

Cold eyes, for every seeing
They try to hide, in thin disguise
Denied your soul from singing
The darkest night, the night you died

 How did you end up in hell?

“Cold eyes…” as
frigid as a Finnish Winter belong to the masked characters representing the
forces identified above and in whose interest ‘denied your soul from singing’.
These parasites revel in absorbing the light of our souls and hearts for their
own enrichment and your impoverishment. As long as they can keep useful pawns
in the ‘cold dark’, their reign is unchallenged and your place in a living hell
is secured. They have taken away your freedom and determine your life on their
terms.

Hysterical, tragical
Victim of ritual
Cynical, critical
Victim of ritual

In the chorus, the victims of ritual are the visual focus
for ‘hysterical’ and ‘tragical’. The musician, painter and assembly worker are
hysterical. Not in the Freudian sense, but rather in the modern sense: a
psychological disorder that involves a dissociation or interruption in aspects
of consciousness, including identity. The reduction of individuals to an
unthinking ‘sameness’ is a tragical waste of the creative spirit that has
infused humanity throughout the ages. The masked characters are the visual
focus for ‘cynical’ and ‘critical’. A philosophy of contemptuous manipulation
and treatment of the victims of ritual is cynical to the core. To prevent
people from overcoming these psychological spells placed upon them and
following their hearts, be super critical of them. Most will wilt under the
constant flow of negativity and be manipulated into accepting their place as
being the only one for them.

She’s a killer, killer
She’s a killer, killer

Tarja is a catalyst and introduces something
different—something colourful—to ‘kill’ the cynical spell that has been placed
on them. Light and some glare are associated visually with the victims as the
controlling spell of the ‘industrial’ ritual is being broken. But breaking out
of their mind numbing hysteria and defeating those that need to control them is
a hard fought battle requiring the active assistance of a strong support group
at a critical time so as to avoid a tragic return to the past. It can often
involve inner turmoil, doubt and pandemonium. Have you the strength to resist
society’s pressure to conform for their benefit, not your own? If you encounter
resistance or a setback, do you have within your heart the strength to see it
through?

Pandemonium, where’s your heart from?
Pandemonium, where’s your heart from?

The choice of enacting this scene with Holi Powder is again
well chosen. The Holi Festival celebrates the beginning of the new spring
season. Spring refers also to rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, and growth. Like
the transition to spring from the dark Finnish Winter into the full light of
Summer, Tarja’s resurrection of the self symbolizes the individual’s and
group’s new found renaissance. The group’s final victory is reflected in the
change of their clothing to white and the introduction of more light and glare
in the background. The man dancing reflects his dream of being a dancer and his
new found freedom from his former daily ritual. The painter paints and the
musician plays according to their terms.

The story of Victim of Ritual is an inspirational one of
breaking free and minimizing the expectations and the control of those
identified above. By following our hearts, surrounding ourselves with
supportive people and having the heart and conviction to see it through no
matter the hardship the reward is the freedom to create new positive rituals in
order to live and work on our own terms within and in spite of the restrictive
ritual expectations that society places upon us. Not all modern rituals are
sinister. There are people worth following because of their inspirational
nature. Tarja Turunen is one of those people.

I’m hesitant to presume to know what the meaning that Victim
of Ritual has for Tarja. If asked, no doubt she’d smile secretively with a
knowing twinkle in her eye and suggest that the meaning the individual
listener/viewer derives from the song/video is what counts. Now that’s an
artist’s answer! Since ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, I am now left to
hypothesize, theorize, or take my best guess.

It is easy to equate Tarja’s struggles with her former band,
in her solo career, with critics and an indifferent record label to scenes in
Victim of Ritual. Many will consider the video, and especially the fight scene
against four adversaries, to symbolize her struggles with Nightwish and her
eventual firing. The subsequent resurrection scene symbolizes the beginning of
her solo career with the support of her loyal fans and the aid of some very talented
musicians. Tarja approached her solo career, though, with hesitant steps and
relied on the advice of others that compromised in some ways her musical
‘vision’. Some critics have been especially ‘cold’ in their evaluations of her
music. I recall one in particular that reviewed What Lies Beneath unfavourably
because it wasn’t Nightwish. To judge something solely in terms of what it is
not is to me intellectually bankrupt. It is amazing how many people can’t
comprehend nor separate the fact that she was pushed to the forefront to be
voice and face of the band to vocally interpret a musical formula not her own.
The final days with Universal must have seemed frustratingly bleak indeed when
What Lies Beneath was not given the same support that My Winter Storm received.

Victim of Ritual ultimately reflects Tarja having the
‘heart’ and conviction to overcome the obstacles before her to achieve a
renaissance in her musical career several times over. First, she had the
brilliance to surround herself with talented musicians who have confidence in
her and her musical direction. Tarja has recently commented that the critics
are finally coming to an understanding of her musical vision. They may finally
be realizing their folly of expecting Tarja to be something she isn’t. We shall
see, but it is a promising revelation. Her new label, EarMusic, is totally
supportive of Tarja’s classical and rock/metal projects and in this new
atmosphere she is ‘coming out of her box’ from a creative stand point. Finally,
Victim of Ritual shows that Tarja will continue to deeply touch the lives of
her listeners in an inspirational way.

Tarja Turunen has been on the cutting edge of musical
innovation from the day she said “Yes” to join a certain ‘mood music
project’ at the end of 1996. Victim of Ritual in sound, arrangement, and
message proclaims to the world that this will continue. With Victim of Ritual
leading off the album and presumably setting the stage for the remaining
tracks, I expect that Colours In The Dark will push back the limits of her
musical vision of the fusion of classical and rock/metal music. It will
symbolize Tarja’s freedom from the restrictive formula or ritual of the past
and reflect her growing confidence in herself and her music. For Colours In The
Dark, Tarja the familiar will be well represented too. The many years of
musical study in some of the finest musical academies in Europe and learning
the practical side of the music business through recording and performing with
Nightwish and as a solo artist have left an indelible imprint upon Tarja into
the present. If Victim of Ritual is used as a guide, Colours In The Dark will
be a welcome addition in the evolution of an artist who continues to mature in
a positive direction—both personally and professionally.

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