Gungor - A Cinematic Experience

Gungor - A Cinematic Experience

I found myself eagerly anticipating the release of Gungor's new album, "I Am Mountain". Pacing back and forth the night before hoping I will be able to download at 11:59PM, like I was attending the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After being transformed by their previous albums, "Beautiful Things" and "Ghosts Upon the Earth", I was excited to delve back into the minds of these talented artists.
Since its release in September I have been able to spend some time absorbing it. This album is very different from their previous albums, in the sense that it is very cinematic and exploratory. It speaks about spirituality on a completely artistic level, never mentioning the name of Jesus. It is an album that speaks of the human relationship with good and evil through poetic verse. There is “Eternity within a man” as said in their opening song. This album is a beautiful reflection on spiritual warfare. I find that their first album “Beautiful Things” is a reflection on beauty, “Ghosts Upon the Earth” is a reflection on creation, and “I Am Mountain” is a reflection on destruction, that is, spiritual war that resides within every person.

Spiritual warfare is difficult to accept because it calls for attentiveness, readiness, and change. One must first become aware that they are in a war, learn how to train for it, then go out and actually fight it. “I Am Mountain” gives the listener the opportunity to meditate on their own spiritual doubt, fear, and temptation. It is put together as one seamless cinematic piece that reveals those intimate moments of fear, abandonment, rejection, denial, and loss of spiritual battles. At the same time, it is also telling of spiritual victories.

While spiritual warfare is very common to Christians, it can still be applied to non-Christians and non-believers. Essentially, a spiritual battle is one of the conscious, hearing your inner voice direct you on the proper course and choosing the opposite. It also reflects why many humans have such an intense passion for justice, mirroring the hidden image of their creator, Justice Himself. Spiritual warfare can create a misdirected Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., doing more damage to the faith then good. Ultimately, it comes down to ones willingness to fight. Our bodies are constantly at war. We have thousands of antibodies that fight foreign bacteria, viruses, and enemies that try to get in and harm us. If our body is constantly attacked imagine how often our soul is attacked. We would rather refute this idea because to fight the battle for our soul takes very different weapons, namely meditation, prayer, sacraments, optimism, generosity, hope, forgiveness, faith and love. It also takes honesty about one’s mistakes, attitude, and perspective on life. 

Gungor captures this war very beautifully, producing an oratory cinematic masterpiece. While I recognize that some of you may have a different take on this album, I would like to offer you the musical narrative that has developed in my mind as I meditated on the songs. I will start in order. Feel free to click on the links to the songs as to listen along while you read.  You can purchase their full album on Itunes , Google Play and Amazon.  

There are key words throughout the album; light, shadows, fight, battle, wandering, heart, mystery. Pay attention to them.

The album’s title track kicks off the story. “I am Mountain, I am dust/Constellations made of us”. It is the recognition of unity among human beings and creation. We are carbon and spirit, not mere matter, but spiritualized matter. With this knowledge, we recognize we are in a battle against a force that wishes to make us less than what we are. Any spiritual battle begins with the awareness of the war. Without awareness, then one may be succumbed to either side, light or dark, good or evil. This song is a rallying of the troops, a mustering up of courage in order to fight against an injustice. The songs melodic “Ohh ohh ohh oh ohh” is a battle cry after Lisa calls out “As the light lights up the skies, we will fight for our lives.”

The song has the same effect as Cabaret’s “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, but for the opposing side. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is a rallying song, sung by a Nazi youth with the intention of rousing patriotism for the “Fatherland”. “I Am Mountain” rouses devotion to the Father. As I listen, I envision thousands of people beginning to stand as Michael is singing, joining in the one song that unifies them in peace, love, hope, and justice. The war is about to begin and we are unified in song, being, and creation.

At first this song seems out of place, but in any good narrative there is always a back story. We need to know why we are going to war and who the enemy is. “Beat of her heart” provides the perfect back story for us. I see the troops gathering into their transports as a slow fade transitions across the screen into a musical telling of the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus, a musician and poet known as “The Father of Songs”. Orpheus loses his wife Eurydice to Hades and must battle his way through the underworld to retrieve her.

With my song
I will charm Demeter’s daughter,
I will charm the Lord of the Dead,
Moving their hearts with my melody.
I will bear her away from Hades.(Orpheus)

When he reaches Hades, he is granted permission to bring her back to the mortal realm, but must trust Hades that Eurydice will be behind him the entire time of his departure without looking back to check. Unable to resist, he looks back and watches his wife vanish from his eyes forever listening to her last words, “Farewell.”

This is the beginning of the spiritual war. In Genesis, it is Eve who is first tricked by the serpent then Adam who eats of the forbidden fruit, resulting in spiritual death. In Orpheus it is Eurydice who is bit by a viper and poisoned. The serpent and Hades are symbols of Satan, bringing death to the living. We are reminded that our battle is with Satan and death. How do we recover what we lost, which is eternal life? This is our spiritual war.

How many of us struggle with temptation to sin as Orpheus struggled with the temptation to look back? The serpent will use the truth in order to instill doubt. A Christian view on this Truth is that Jesus destroyed the serpent and death by self-sacrifice, turning death upside down. Accepting this is not enough, we must fight our own battles every day in order to win the war for our soul. 
Now the we fade back to the troops huddled together in army transports.

Since we are now aware that we are in a war and why we are fighting, we must be truthful about our strengths and weaknesses. A soldier who has no knowledge about flying a plane will not sit in the cockpit. In a spiritual war, we must admit that we are indeed “A Long Way Off” from what we think we know. We are sinners, we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, we hurt ourselves and others. We are limits. This song is preparation for ones acceptance as a limit. It is a sort of spiritual "boot camp" where we receive training.  

When the Russians first rocketed into space, it is stated that one of the astronauts said, “There is no sign of God.” Humans are so concerned with finding the tangible evidence of the Creator, as if God were something to be seen, touched, or captured. We want to find the infinite being inside of His own creation, but forget that we are only finite creatures. God is the act of “to be” itself, in which all things find their creation. Therefore, we are a long way off when it comes to our knowledge of God, the universe, and ourselves. In a war we must know our strengths and weaknesses because only then will we know how the enemy will attack.

There can be many prisoners of a war, those who are captured from the opposing side and civilians caught in the crossfire. A spiritual war takes many prisoners, especially those facing an addiction or unhealthy habits. Addictions can be hard to break and can even be compulsory, forcing someone to do something that he or she does not really want to do. One can feel helpless, abandoned, and imprisoned. This is what “Wandering” presents, the image of the lost wandering souls on the battle field, searching for help.

I’ve been wandering through this world
Looking for an anchor to hold me

The song uses auto-tune in a unique way. It builds up with Lisa’s voice into an undecipherable cry. I can see the millions of souls reaching out to the sky, pleading for help. It is what I picture hell to be for all of its captives, a desert of souls parched of faith, hope, and love. It is a ballad in the middle of the musical reminding us of our own mortality. It is easy to imprison ourselves within our own sins.

I’ve been wandering through this world
Looking for a love that might free me

The song provides us with the weapon to fight the war, love. We must love others more than ourselves. "Nobody should be looking for his own advantage, but everybody for the other man's." - 1 Cor 10:24 

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. - 2 Cor 10:4

“Let it Go” is a battle song. The war is finally among us and we are engaged in a full blown "Lord of the Rings" type battle. Anytime you face an addiction you are ultimately faced with a choice. I used to suffer from a major pornography addiction and one night I fell to my knees in tears, begging God to help me let it go. I would pray over and over  as if I were pleading for my life. It felt like the scene from C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” where a man pleads for God to remove the red lizard demon of lust from him. God sends an angel to
remove the demon from the man and he is granted a victory. I too was granted a victory that night, it was a joyous occasion knowing that I won a battle of temptation. God did not just destroy the red lizard of lust, but he transformed it into a beautiful white stallion. God wants to transform our addictions, leading us to ultimate victory.

“Let it Go” is the most upbeat song on the album, it is the song that will be played at parties, the song that everyone will dance to, the song that utters jubilation. It is a victory song. I picture a grueling battle scene, the clashing of bodies, the cracking of sinew, the smell of death, but see the illuminate light of victory for our troops. In spiritual war, we must let go of the things that destroy us from within or else we will lose the fight.

If there’s anything that holds you down, just forget it
Keeping your feet on the ground, don’t you let it
Let it go

All great films use montages to show the passing of time and to compact a lot of narrative into a short section of the movie. “Wayward and Torn” is the war montage scene that reveals a steady fight against injustice. I can see the flashing images of battles, the rescuing of captives, the releasing of prisoners, the feeding of those in poverty, and the growing of an army who welcomes new recruits who wish to fight the good fight.

You walked this road a thousand times
You know exactly where it ends
Where it slopes and where it bends
All the camps have locked their gates
All the lines are drawn and clear
All who are worn
Wayward and torn
You’re welcome here

In a spiritual war, it’s all about evangelization. Bringing the good news to those who have never heard it and helping them discover their own mission and purpose.

You cannot have a film without conflict. At one point your hero must lose everything he or she has in order to discover something greater about themselves. “God and Country” is the image of a devastating battle that is lost due to pride. In a war one can quickly forget their reason for fighting, losing meaning and motivation. With these blurred lines it becomes necessary to create purpose. In a spiritual war, we can fight for a long time, forgetting who we are fighting, why we are fighting, and with what weapons we are fighting with. One can lose their faith if not careful or make an idol of their faith.

Gathered up our God oh we gathered up our guns
For the love of country
For our fathers and our sons

“God and Country” can be seen as a commentary on gun control as well as a symbol of pride’s impact on faith. When we combine faith with government it creates conflict. Who is then the voice of reason, God or Country? The slope is very slippery here and can be crossed back and forth. Pride can settle in and actually turn the soldiers against each other. Imagine two armies of soldiers running full force at one another, then all of a sudden half of one army turns against their own. Spiritually, we do this to one another all the time when we claim to know more than God and what is truly best for another person. We create cliques in our churches, judge others who do not give a certain amount of time, talent, or treasure, belittle those who are different, force out newcomers, and become Pharisees. We will switch sides without ever knowing it or intending to do so because of our own pride.  

Those who live by the gun
Live by the gun
Die by the gun.

Gungor then shows us the devastation we have wrought against ourselves as we reflect on our losses. "Hither and Yon" is like the aerial shot of a war film, capturing the bodies stacked up for miles around. There are no words.

Yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight
The angels flapped their wings and took their songs to flight
The shadows lift their hands and praise the light

“Yesternite” is a lonely cry of mourning in one’s soul. It’s the worst thing that could happen to any character in a film. In "Lord of the Rings", it’s when Frodo loses Gandalf to the Balrog. In "Harry Potter", it’s the death of Professor Dumbledore. It’s the infamous “Nooo” from Luke when he discovers that Darth Vader is his father in "The Empire Strikes Back". This is the moment where the soul is at its lowest point.
In a spiritual war you are bound to hit rock bottom. St. Teresa of Avila speaks of the Dark Night of the soul, a long dry spell of faith.  
The song explores the fear of abandonment, “The gods disappeared from sight”, but also the first light of a new hope, “And so the morning finally shed its light/the mourning of the loss/the sacred fight/sunbeams lift their hands and praise the night.”

Where do you place “The Best Part” among the visions of this spiritual war? It’s musically haunting, yet lyrically hopeful. What I think it represents is the descending of love itself in the heart of the war. Christ came to suffer with his bride, to die in order to save humanity.

I have seen it all
Oh, I have seen it all
I’ve felt it all
Life is running swift now
Like a raging river, how it runs out
Please don’t go

It has the eloquence of a psalm, which according to many theologians are prophetic songs that almost sound as if they were coming from the mouth of Jesus. Especially Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

"The Best Part" is like the motivation for the soldiers to keep on fighting, despite their failures. It’s what causes Sam to pick up Frodo and carry him to Mount Doom in "Return of the King", it’s the courage that causes Harry to meet Voldemort in the woods in "The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2", it is what fuels Bruce Wayne to make the jump in Bane’s prison in "The Dark Knight Rises". This motivation eventually leads to the hero’s victory.
Every film has a third act, which is when the hero discovers a way to defeat the enemy.

Call me back into the silence
Into the sunlight
Every breath a standing defiance
Of death and of clamor
Let darkness be scattered now

The remaining soldiers are ready to fight, knowing the enemies weakness and recovering the tools to defeat it. Harry destroys the final Horcrux to defeat Voldemort, Frodo destroys the ring to defeat Sauron, Batman flies the bomb away from gotham City. The final battle ensues, leaving behind a carnage of destruction, damage, death, and finally victory.

All the stars fall in line
And the seas bow their heads
We remember our dead and we sing another day
As the silence it grows and the worlds fade away
All the sons empty their graves
We will sing another day

One’s spiritual war will end at their own death, where they will either rejoice in victory or wander eternity in defeat. Gungor is imaging this final battle in victory, “We will sing another day.” How did we win? What is the enemies weakness? Gungor reveals it in the final song.

“Upside Down” is a prayer. It is very short, simple, and to the point. It is the resolution of the film, how it all ends. At the same time it is the ultimate result of a real spiritual victory, conversion. At the beginning of the album there is a rallying of troops with “I Am Mountain”. Thousands of people stand firm in unity, but later on most of them fall. Why? They did not experience real metanoia, conversion. Authentically, they must choose to be in a relationship with their Creator in order to sustain their faith. It is the same idea of children who grow up in the religion of their parents. They do not own their faith or experience conversion by blindly following their parents, but find their mission through a personal relationship with God.

Upside down
Upside down
This world is upside down
Do you see
Do you see us
Do you hear us
Make it right
Make it right
Let the sun rise

Wars have peace treaties in order to prevent further war from breaking out again. This song is the peace treaty in spiritual warfare because it reveals prayer. Prayer is what will keep you out of the darkness, help you maintain the peace in your soul, defeat the many attacks that will still come. It is through prayer that victory is sustained.
The song builds to a beautiful crescendo. I envision the heavens opening, light flooding the human soul, darkness being vanquished, and the dead being resurrected to new life. At the end of the song there are faint voices speaking. This is what they are saying:

"Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline."

"God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace and empathy for others and is warranted."


God is not for Christians only, but for all and can be met on every level. A spiritual war is going on inside all of us and we have the weapons to win. Gungor’s “I Am Mountain” is a beautiful reflection on the spiritual life of a human being. Listen closely, carefully, and intently. I’m curios to hear your interpretations on the songs. Please feel free to comment below on any of them and be sure to purchase the album!
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