With how mistakenly short life is, we don’t properly realize and reflect on our ephemeral time on this floating rock often until it is too late. Not only that, but it is also impossible to experience everything that could ever happen to someone, be it good or bad. With that being said, we understandably get so engrossed in our own complex lives and as a result, can be oblivious to the same (but different) complex lives that every individual around us is going through themselves.
It makes me think of the word sonder, which is the realization that every single individual is living a life that is just as complex, if not more, than my own. Keeping this in the back of my mind pushes me to learn about others life experiences so that I can at least be aware of the things that others could possibly be going through at any given moment in their lives. I find the best medium for learning about these kinds of experiences is through music, especially those experiences that cannot be told any other way.
This brings me to the reason why we’re here, The Reticent, our Weekly Featured Artist and a vastly underappreciated modern marvel in telling the stories that need to be told as people don’t want to talk about them given the sheer emotional weight that they carry. Out of everything that can be accomplished with music, the single most powerful aspect for me is the ability to tell a story. It most definitely helps when the music accompanying said story is equally powerful and a huge component when it comes to setting the scene and fully engaging the listener to make them feel as if they are vividly living it for themselves; The Reticent is exactly that when creating these musical narratives.
Before we get into the thick of it, I just want to say that although you’ll see Youtube embeds with various songs dispersed throughout this article, I suggest that you refrain from watching those and go straight to listening to the full records if you can. The music you’re bound to read about is nowhere near as effective when heard as individual songs compared to the ‘full album experience’. If you want to get the absolute most out of the music, this is the way. I don’t mean to force you but it significantly enhances the journey when it is all put into proper context.
Now that we’re this far into it, you’re likely wondering what kind of stories could I be talking about and how they’re told in such a way that it makes you actually feel as if you’re in someone else’s shoes going through something that you’d never thought would happen to you. The mastermind behind The Reticent, Christopher Hathcock is here to elaborate on what his two most recent albums (On The Eve of a Goodbye and The Oubliette) are about, giving you a small glimpse on what is going into the music.
‘On The Eve Of A Goodbye describes the day before, the day of, and the day after the suicide of my friend Eve (hence the title is a play on her name). A lot remains unresolved; that is what happens after a suicide – there are so many questions and they never ever go away. This album is partly me telling the story, partly trying to understand her still, and partly confronting the survivor’s guilt. When it comes to what this album means to me, well, this album marks the official point when I decided I would write whatever I felt I needed to. I realized that just opening up these wounds and letting the venom out was being true to the spirit I had when I started it – it doesn’t have to be anything or any genre. A few people connected with Eve and I was shocked because I honestly thought releasing it was a huge mistake. I thought I said too much, opened up too much. I mean I was sobbing at one point on the record and Jamie (King, Audio engineer/producer) convinced me to keep it in. I was sure I would be ridiculed and lambasted mercilessly, but I wasn’t. The vast majority of the small audience it found seemed to connect with it.
‘I decided that I really relished the opportunity to completely look at multiple facets of a subject or event in the concept album format, so I decided to do it again; to tackle something I had never heard before in a metal or rock album: Alzheimer’s Disease. The Oubliette came out of watching my great uncle Cyrus going through the debilitating disease. I changed his name to Henry in the record as a nod to the documentary Alive Inside which is referenced in the record. Many people don’t realize how cruel, pitiless, and gut-wrenching Alzheimer’s is. It not only destroys the patients, but it drains the life of caretakers and families many times as well. With time, the incidence of this disease continues to rise, so I wanted to take listeners on a journey and, for my part, try to also see the world through their eyes. Hear their story, their dreams, their nightmares, and their realities. Alzheimer’s to me is an oubliette – a prison from which there is no escape. Their mind disconnects from their memories trapping who they are inside that prison; but then their body stops functioning and they can’t control any motor functions, so they become locked in their body, yet another prison; and so, they are trapped in that bed, in that room, in that place. A prison in a prison in a prison in a prison. We are an amalgamation of our experiences and the etched records of those experiences – our memories. Who are we without them? Alzheimer’s when permitted to progress to its final stage is one of the worst fates I can imagine. I wanted to make an album that might hit people hard and make them want to call their parent or grandparent just to say hello – while they still can.’
As you can tell by now, the stories that Chris tells through his albums are ones that are difficult to communicate otherwise. The barrage of all kinds of emotions one experiences when going through these events is so asphyxiating at times, making it easy to bottle up and not ask for help. It slowly withers away at your being until there’s nothing left but bone. Through The Reticent, Chris is able to open up and retell the stories and the whirlwind of emotions that accompanied them in a deeply visceral musical context that allows the listener to fully understand what these events are like, even if they haven’t (yet) gone through these themselves. Well, that is exactly what The Reticent is, a medium for expressing emotions about beyond troubling life experiences that Chris has gone through, experiences that many people in the world go through but just don’t talk about to this degree of openness.
‘I chose the name The Reticent because I had nowhere to go with these ideas, these experiences, or emotions. They weren’t welcome anywhere. I became outspoken about such things. I became more open. However, it still feels like the nature and concepts of the music are largely unwelcome and something others would prefer that we stay ‘reticent’ about. It is indeed contradictory as is so much in life, no?
‘The Reticent gave me a place to direct my pain and put it to some use. Pain and trauma are dark things that can fester and rot within us. They must be dealt with eventually or they will wreak havoc in other ways. I cope by constructing songs. They’re my attempt to express and tell the story to the best of my ability. What people feel in my music may be just the honesty with which I’m performing. You hear pain in my voice because I am actually in pain; I still am. We can recognize it in one other – suffering. I wrote that music because I needed to. I wrote those albums because I needed to give some sort of shape, some sort of face to the storms that torment me. As I said before, music helps as it speaks in ways we cannot otherwise. Of the many reasons I’ll never become world famous or popular, I think one distinct reason is because I am 100% focused on using music to express those things that I don’t know how to fully say – those things that hurt. It would be awesome if writing fantastic anthems that people wanted play on repeat forever was in me but it’s not. I write what I need to write. Not what I want to write.
‘Just like everyone else, I have had to face a lot of terrible things I didn’t want to face. My mind is uniquely adept at holding on to those horrible things so that I relive them over and over and over. Constant pain of the mind can make us cruel and bitter, or it can make us want to do better. I credit the many tragedies of my life as what drives me to want to help other people. It’s why I volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s why I am a teacher. It’s why I try to do something kind each day I am still alive. I cannot unmake the things I’ve been through or all that is wrong with me, but I can make a daily effort to do something positive in the world through the very small acts of which I’m capable.’
As Chris said earlier, we are the product of our environment and our experiences. The things that happen in our lives, good or bad, drive us to be the people that we are today. Hopefully, they drive us to be and do better every single waking moment as they do for Chris. If that isn’t inspiring to you, then I don’t know what is. Both On The Eve Of A Goodbye and The Oubliette are beyond emotionally draining, both for the listener and especially for Chris when he was writing and recording it all. Considering the vast psychological weight of the music, I can see how some listeners would never be compelled to listen to these albums more than once due to the sheer amount of raw emotion that they radiate with every single note. The inherent goal of the music was to invoke these vivid feelings in the listener and The Reticent delivers on all fronts, and then some.
I’ll shift gears and focus a little more on the music itself, especially since we’re pretty far into the article and we’ve focused on the lyrical component up until now (let’s be honest, that component is without a doubt worth an entire article or two in itself). Musically, The Reticent brings the world of progressive death metal and classic prog rock into an exceptional package that feels incredibly cinematic and difficult to describe in all honesty. Think something along the lines of the balance between chaos and pure beauty heard in the golden days of Opeth, mixed with the powerful narrative that Pain of Salvation are highly regarded for. Despite the cheap and easy comparisons, The Reticent is something entirely in its own league; Spotify statistics be damned.
On The Oubliette, you’ll hear so many different styles and special moments throughout the album, such as the upbeat yet equally eerie keyboard solo on “Stage 1: His Name is Henry”, to the sweet and sexy saxophone solo you hear on the successive track, “Stage 2: The Captive”. You’ll even hear a drumline reminiscent of what you’d hear at a high school sports event appear at several points throughout the record as well and its not something I’d expect to work alongside black metal-esque tremolos, but it does. All the classical and jazzy segues makes for seamless shifts from one psychological train of thought to the next, beautifully mirroring the emotions one would encounter in these particular scenarios. I am always baffled at the fact that Chris alone composed and recorded all the instruments across his music. Something with this amount of depth and musicality seems unreal to be done by just one person.
I firmly hold the belief that The Reticent’s latest two albums are perfect examples of why a heavy record needs to be heavy, rather what the purpose for heavy music is. I cannot think of a better example in which the use of harsh vocals are as justified as they are here, as these records would not capture the same emotion without them. Most bands do them just to do them, or simply for the kvlt aesthetic, but not The Reticent. Just listen to “Funeral for a Firefly” off On the Eve of a Goodbye and you’ll hear nothing but pain and sorrow in Chris’ voice as he yearns, which later turns into an unleashing of rage, confusion, and even jealously later on in that very track. In that song, also in “The Day After” for example, it is clear that Chris struggles to perform his parts with how heartbroken he is, yet he masterfully captures the reality of his heartbroken state through his vehement vocal performance. If you don’t feel anything while listening to Chris’ performance, you need to check your pulse.
In The Oubliette, the seven songs that make up this album each represent the seven stages of progression in Alzheimer’s Disease; a progressive neurodegenerative disorder known for its severe dementia and loss of bodily functions in its later stages. With each track, you’re able to follow the progression of the disease and the havoc that it wreaks not only on Henry, but on the caretakers and loved ones that weave their way into the music. I am always at a loss for words with how sucked into the music I get while I listen. The Reticent is a masterclass in song composition as every song is as gripping as the one before it, if not more. Especially with winding structures that circle back to familiar motifs, not to mention the audio clips found throughout the album that really makes this feel like a movie by providing all the context. Each song is more than just a song, they are their own movements with their own personalities, each telling a different component of this overarching storyline.
Each time as I listen through The Oubliette, I am always reminded of The Caretaker‘s Everywhere at the End of Time. If you’re not familiar, this is a 6+ hour long ambient/electronic record that also tackles Alzheimer’s Disease in one of the most heartbreaking ways imaginable, albeit an incredibly exhausting one. This record and The Oubliette focus on the same topic, just a different style of execution. In the case of The Reticent, you’ll feel like you’re Ebenezer Scrooge watching this all unfold from a distance while the Ghost of Christmas Past guides you through the disease progression that is slowly killing Henry yet also sucking the life out of his caretakers (coincidence?) and loved ones that come and visit him.
I don’t even want to ever be put in a place where I’m desperately fighting to get either of my parents to try and recognize who I am, yet Chris’ way with music gives me a bittersweet taste of that. I say bittersweet as I am fortunate enough to not be in that position, yet the mere thought of that likelihood is slowly but surely burning a hole in my heart. One day we will all have to say goodbye to our loved ones, even our parents. Sometimes, we won’t get the opportunity to say goodbye either. It is a not so gentle reminder for me to appreciate the loved ones that I have today, as you just never know when a particular moment will be the very last.
The Reticent‘s ability to effortlessly (I’m confident a lot of effort went into crafting this) represent these different pathological stages from all angles is what makes this album so captivating, making it as powerful as it could ever be all while still being incredibly digestible. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so emotionally overwhelmed as I did the first time I made it through the entire album as it closes with the one-two combo of “Stage 6: The Oubliette” and “Stage 7: _______” (and each time after, let’s be honest). The former of the two tracks is a haunting portrayal of being trapped in your own head, a prison, an oubliette… And the music directly reflects that! Given the natural progression of the album and the narrative here, you likely know how this story ends and unfortunately it isn’t a happy ending; it never is. Despite that, we get a beyond gorgeous send-off with the angelic vocalizations guiding Henry’s soul to the afterlife, it hits unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Music is meant to evoke emotion, but nothing I’ve ever heard hit me quite on this level before.
‘I like to think of songs often as ‘tone poems’. Everything is intentional. Everything needs to serve the story that is being told. What does this riff mean? Why do these words need to be sung this way? Sometimes the meaning and musical connection are evident (for instance, singing the word ‘Falling‘ in “Stage 4: The Dream” after Henry realizes he’s dreaming in a descending scale [the falling] with no instruments [the hollow realization he’s alone]). I don’t ask myself if the song is good or bad (probably why I don’t top the charts haha), I simply ask myself, ‘does this say what I need it to say?‘ It’s like making a film or writing a novel. Did we go on a journey? Is anything interrupting that journey? Can anything be added to take us to that place? I think the only way to do that accurately is to write what you know and what you understand, then you are able to judge the authenticity because it will feel right or wrong. I’ve thrown out great riffs that didn’t feel right. Merge the cognitive aspect (the facts of what you are talking about, the reality) with the emotional (how do the emotions behave or change in response) with the musical (do the pitches, rhythms, chords, progressions, lyrics, etc. align with the former two). If I do it right, it will say what I need it to say. Sometimes I may be too close or it is too personal and maybe I miss the mark because it is too internal. But that’s just how it will be sometimes.’
With how well The Reticent‘s music is received by those who have properly taken the time to sit down and listen to it, it makes perfect sense why Chris has continued with his method of telling these stories about traumatic life events in the form of a concept album. This is the type of music and messages that The Reticent were destined to create and I do not question that whatsoever. Chris had this to say regarding where he has been at lately:
‘I had decided in 2021 that I needed to write an album that was just about my personal struggles. My mental health had deteriorated further and further over the past year. I just felt that I needed to write about what it is like being constantly at war in your own head while trying to maintain outward positivity. How it feels to explain you have a clinical issue and others will say something dismissively pedestrian like, ‘just cheer up.‘ What insomnia is like when you literally are whispering out loud begging, pleading for even 5 minutes of sleep. What a real panic attack feels like – the utter terror and frozen mind. I wanted to capture such things in a way that spoke to me. So I began writing about it all.
‘In the midst of that, just over a month ago my father died suddenly. As my biggest supporter and the man I most admired in the world, his loss has hit me so hard that I don’t believe I’ve come even close to fully feeling it yet. As I oscillated through different stages and extremes of grief, I decided to write and capture the grieving process in its raw form. The apocalyptic rage you feel when anger takes hold, the hopelessness that despair leaves you with. The things you would sacrifice if you could make a Faustian bargain to bring them back. Both of these upcoming records may be the worst things I’ve ever released or the best things I’ve ever released. What makes these two records different from previous ones is that I am writing them as it is happening. On the Eve of a Goodbye and The Oubliette were both situations I had some distance from when writing. I don’t think they’ll sound like people expect. Perhaps the emotions are so raw that I won’t compose well at all. We’ll see I suppose. But as I said, I write what I need to write, not what I want to write. These two records are what I need at the time. I’m still so deep in the bowels of this grief that I can’t think objectively about them musically. I cried, I mourned, I hurt, and these sounds are what came out of me.’
Approaching the end now, I just want to recognize Chris’ efforts as a musician. Not only does he make this immensely impactful music that never fails to rip your heart in half, he was also nominated as a quarter-finalist by the Grammy Foundation back in 2017. This nomination and title means an incredible amount as it is a prestigious accolade, especially since he was chosen from thousands of music educators from all across the country. As if it wasn’t already obvious, he is as dedicated as one could possibly be to earn such a title with how much he truly cares about educating and inspiring students on a daily basis. The reason I bring this up is because as if you already couldn’t tell, music means absolutely everything to Chris. He tirelessly pours his heart and soul into his own music but also into the teaching of it to his students. I would be lucky and eternally grateful to have had Chris as a music instructor with how he injects love and life into this craft.
I don’t think I’ve listened to anything as authentic and honest until the day I discovered The Reticent. Now, most other things I listen to always leaves me slightly disappointed knowing that there isn’t even a miniscule fraction of that kind of ardor and devotion that went into the music when compared anything from this band. Nothing I will ever hear will be as emotionally devastating yet equally liberating as The Reticent‘s music is. This is as real and as sincere as it gets. There it is, I’ve said it and I will never take it back.
The Reticent is:
Chris Hathcock – Guitars, Vocals, All Instruments in studio
James Nelson – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals (Lead in studio)
Cliff Stankiewicz – Live Bass
Mitch Moore – Live Drums
Despite referring to The Reticent‘s works as albums or records throughout this article, they truly are so much more than just another record. Chris’ way with music in these beyond difficult emotional contexts creates a roadmap to his soul that leaves me an emotional mess myself, without fail. It reminds me of our fleeting humanity, thus helps me appreciate the loved ones still currently in my life and pushes me to be a better person with each passing day. Chris deserves all the love and support in the world right now with the absolute hell he has been going through, so please give him a follow on Facebook and Bandcamp. If you want to learn more about the band and its history, swing by their website as there is also plenty of information there!