The Horror and the Wild (2020) is the second album released by the London-based band The Amazing Devil, an alt-folk group formed by Joey Batey (the actor who plays Jaskier in the Netflix series The Witcher) and Madeleine Hyland. The album's central themes are relationships, memory and regret, and learning to live without someone who has been a formative or defining influence in one's life. This album was released between The Amazing Devil's other two current albums, Love Run (2016) which one might argue had not yet achieved the band's now-well-defined sound, and ruin (2021) which definitely has that characteristic sound and could be considered a bookend or companion work to this album.
The Rockrose and the Thistle 03:03 I find you with a thimble weeping / May I, I ask, may I? / And you gently gift it to me/ Cos you've no clue how to sew
The most heartbroken and desperate song on the album, "The Rockrose and the Thistle" depicts the narrator trying to reach out to someone in his life who is struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. Fiber arts - sewing, knitting, needles (or thorns, in the titular plants) and threads and so on - are used as metaphors to express that the other party in the song is at the end of her rope, and has given the narrator permission to try to pull her out of her deteriorated psychological condition. The lyrics also convey how that damage was partly inflicted by parents and her upbringing. The narrator feels nearly as damaged as the one to whom he is singing, and explains that he is so desperate to help her, because without her, he will be alone, too.
The Horror and the Wild 04:40 Fret not dear heart, let not them hear the mutterings of all your fears, the fluttering of all your wings / Welcome to the storm, I am thunder, welcome to my table bring your hunger
This song is a glorious, frenzied, heavily-drumming battle cry, lavishly filled with imagery from fairy tales and folklore. This might be the most ambiguous song, in meaning, of all The Amazing Devil's works, chiefly because it has so very much happening in it. Tentatively I propose that if there is a central unifying theme to the song, then it is both members of a couple acknowledging their own trauma and mental unwellness to each other, while also asking the other to continue bearing with them, supporting one another while trying not to drag each other down even farther into disorder. The lyrics bring up childhood, parental abuse and neglect, defied parental expectations (both positively and negatively), and the effort to grow up into a self-sufficient person who does not spread the damage to other people. The sound of this song overall is triumphant yet haunted, full of conviction and courage despite the pain and insecurity expressed in the narrative.
Wild Blue Yonder 04:16 Every brick you hurled, I’ll use to build this world / Let’s hide under the covers / We don’t know what’s out there, could be all our demons darling / Hold me, lover like you used to, so tight I’d bruise you
This song implies either a broken-up couple getting back together against both their better judgment, in an on again, off again fashion, or else a couple experiencing persistent emotional disconnect trying to rekindle passion between them. The lyrics describe a history of pain between them, used to construct a metaphorical blanket fort in which the can escape reality together for a time.
Welly Boots 05:23 And when you scream that it’s not fair, it’s like I’ve gone off to the coast / Left you behind just standing there pretending not to see your ghost / If only you could hear my voice / But you are screaming far to loud to hear me swear / Just because I left doesn’t mean that I’m not still there
This song is about outliving the people who raised you, outgrowing your religion, and other sources of grief which come from outlasting the people, beliefs, and ideas which were the foundation of your development as a human being. It's also about the strength to overcome that grief and to help lift up others going through their own trials of suffering and isolation, and how kindness and compassion find their way back to the giver. The narrator of the song approaches it from a "Dumbo's feather" perspective, telling the listener that they had what they needed all along, and they don't need the narrator to provide it for them.
Farewell Wanderlust 05:28 You don’t know it yet, but I’m the cupid of things that you just didn’t get, that you struggled to say /
I’m the saint of the paint that was left in the pot / I’m your angel ellipsis, your devil of dots / Every time that you fumble, I’m the laugh from the back / When you think about him, my wings start to flap / When you make a mistake, my feet lift from the floor / And when you lie there awake every night love, I soar
Accompanied by tinny piano - something of an exception to The Amazing Devil's usual choice of rhythmic strings and drums - this song is about lost opportunities, regrets, missed connections, alcoholism and depression spiraling downward, and how all these things can be incited by one especially bad breakup.
Fair 06:17 I’ve seen enough he says I know exactly what I want / And it’s this life that we’ve created, inundated with the fated thought of you / And if you asked me to, if you asked me I would lose it all / Like petals in a storm, cos darling I was born / To press my head between your shoulder blades at night when light is fading
Vulnerable, whisper-quiet, desperately heartfelt, "Fair" depicts a couple who are being honest with each other about why they stay together, acknowledging their insecurities but declaring that ultimately they are together because they are each "unreasonably in love with everything you do." This may be the only song in The Amazing Devil's discography which is unambiguously positive and tender the entire way through, expressing no losses, regrets, or anger.
That Unwanted Animal 04:58 And you rip my ribcage open and devour what’s truly yours / And our screaming joins in unison, I cry out to the lord / Cos if we join our hands in prayer enough / To God I imagine it all starts to sound like applause
This song offers a great deal of flexibility for interpretation, expressing anything from how an overworked and exhausted couple's sex life serves as their last refuge for holding their relationship together by the skin of their teeth, to how a couple's personal demons come out in the quiet hours after the kids have gone to bed, and must be kept at bay through caregiving and intimacy, or else those demons will force their way into the middle of their family life.
Marbles 06:15 And now, even though you’re mad and these memories won’t stay, it’s okay. Cos now I get to meet you for the first time every single day / I’ll wait and hope, your eyes aren’t rivers there to weep, but a place for crows to rest their feet / I’ll wait and hope
And rest my head at night content, knowing where my marbles went
For all its joyous, optimistic instrumentation, "Marbles" may be the most ruthless tearjerker of The Amazing Devil's entire oeuvre, depicting a married couple who have been together more than forty years, and now are facing Alzheimer's Disease together - though the lyrics wait until nearly the end of the song to spring this plot twist on the listener. The rest of the lyrics hit so much harder on a second listen, recontextualised in this manner.
Battle Cries 05:51 Leave without a fight, I won’t let you turn our last night into this / I’m going to binge watch a box set, drink wine, reminisce / This isn’t a break up dear heart, it’s a season finale
The concluding song of the album depicts a couple who are breaking up with each other over conflicting plans for how their lives should go, and even now while breaking up, they cannot come to an agreement about how the breakup should be conducted, with Batey's character wanting a last hurrah in order to part on good terms with one more pleasant memory, and Hyland's character expressing that she considers it cowardly that he is trying to avoid facing the hurt this is inflicting on both of them.
For recommendations on other artists you might enjoy, if you enjoyed this album, consult the companion writeup, ruin. I recommend each of these two albums to anyone who has enjoyed the other, but the sound is noticeably changed since Love Run, in a direction I consider to be a good one - more developed, layered, comprehensive sound, and more expert lyrics and instrumentation. Batey's and Hyland's vocals in The Horror and the Wild range from whispering to raging, demonstrating a versatility which boggles the ear and leaves the listener wanting to hear more.
Iron Noder 2021, 23/30