Following a monster lore filled horror story in the MV “Come Back Home” that originally debuted on Road to Kingdom, Oneus teeter between life, death, and uncertainty in their new mini album Lived. The tracks examine this paralyzing uncertainty and the sentiments and struggles that come as consequences. Similar to “Come Back Home,” Lived follows the protagonists as they struggle with contradictions between their monstrous instinct and conscious choices as well as their weird semi inhuman-like existence. Five of these tracks personify these clashes while one, “Airplane,” mostly deviates from this theme with a portrayal of hopeless infatuation after meeting someone for the first time.
The first track “Intro: Lived,” title “To Be or Not to Be,” and B-sides “Dead or Alive,” “Dizzy,” and “Come Back Home” all further the plot set forth in “Come Back Home,” while personifying inner conflict and contradiction itself. In their highlight medley prior to the album’s release, the members introduce the intended concept of each song and sing short acapella teasers. Here, they explain that the introductory track sees the protagonists standing on the brink of life and death, which serves as a worthwhile mood-setter for the rest of the album.
In the same vein of indecision, “Dead or Alive” literally describes being “on a crossroad” where “even darkness can’t stop” them running to their love. Masquerading as a love song, “Dead or Alive” delves into not only the age-old question “who am I?” but “what am I?” as well–a fitting question as the members slowly succumb to the darkness within themselves. The music is compelling and varied, like much of Oneus’ music with thick EDM-esque drops and an especially fun guitar-driven bridge.
The last song on the album, “Come Back Home” was released previously both as a MV as well as the finale performance on Road to Kingdom back in June. Honestly, I still can’t decide if thematically “Come Back Home” is the beginning of the boys’ foray into their kind-of-dead, kind-of-alive, post-blood moon transformation, or if it’s a conclusion to the story in which they’ve given in completely and are reaping the consequences. Regardless, the song is a lore-filled, monster stereotype smorgasbord of mythical references, intense vampire-like visuals, and futile pleading. I’ve done a more complex breakdown on the blood moons and monster lore that frames the imagery if you so desire.
The title track “To Be or Not to Be” expands on the plot from “Come Back Home.” The MV is crammed full of references to Helios and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And much like Hamlet, death, despair, and love are reoccurring themes that ultimately lead to demise and suffering. While “Come Back Home” suggests a more open ending, as the monarchs ultimately protect the young boy in the video and in turn transform in the dark of night, in “To Be or Not to Be” they flirt more directly with death itself.
Murder and guns are involved, but light, love, and the juxtaposition of death against love are highlighted as well. The way that the lyrics of “Dead or Alive” are repeated and contrasted with the music reinforces these themes. Echoed almost like a question, the lyrics “To Be or Not to Be” are paired with frequent utterances of the word “dead” prior to verses, as well as overdubbed vocal chops that distort as they repeat. The song is driving, exciting, and diverse with clear contrasts between the verses, choruses, and pre-choruses.
One of my favorite songs on this whole album is “Dizzy.” Co-composed by Seoho and Ravn, the construction of the song itself is a bit disorienting. The music behind the vocals sticks to a standard duple meter while the vocals in the foreground teeter between duple and triple meter (two or three divisions of the beat in music theory terms), making the two elements slightly mismatched from each other. Honestly, the difference is mildly jarring and the time signature changes are hard to decipher. Not only that, but the phrases themselves are misaligned, making the times that the singing and background music match up more impactful. Listening deeply into the structure of the music is offputting, and while it takes a little know-how to break it down, the slight misalignments can likely be felt even by a casual listener.
While “Dizzy” is a B-side track that might rarely see the light of day, I think this song is genius and really showcases the members’ composing and producing prowess. It seems more tangentially related to the lore and mythology evoked throughout the rest of the album, but the embodiment of indecision and inner conflict remain.
The song that doesn’t seem to fit is “Airplane.” It’s a lighter, simpler, pop-forward track that is meant to evoke the excitement of meeting someone for the first time. The lyrics frame the persona as someone hopelessly falling in love at first sight, or at the least experiencing a fatal attraction that invites one to cast aside reason and better judgement. The music itself is fairly standard, with no surprises harmonically. Most of the sounds are from a music production software rather than studio recorded instrumentals–which is fine, I might add, but when placed opposite the complexity and depth of the rest of the tracks, it feels lacking. It is pleasant to listen to, but I can not seem to wrap my head around how it fits thematically. (Have you seen how bloody and esoteric the MV for the title track is?)
What I find most interesting about the construction of this album is how the songs seem to weave in and out of each other. “To Be or Not to Be” and “Come Back Home” are part of the same plot, albeit with different angles, while “Intro: Lived,” “Dead or Alive,” and “Dizzy” are all indecisive, insecure, and unsettling in their own unique ways. With the members embodying a weird new inhuman reality, they seem to be at constant odds with their more feral instinctive actions and their humanity. This opens up the opportunity for not only a stunning visual concept for the album (mythology, monsters, Shakespeare, vampires, what else could you ask for in a single mini album?), but it also showcases the group’s versatility both musically and thematically. The music is complex, thoughtful, and demonstrates a musical maturity well beyond their years, especially for a group that only debuted a year and a half ago. Though a bit bloody at times, and disconcerting in its depth as well, Lived is a an evocative release that personifies contradiction and the consequences of succumbing to your own inner demons.
(YouTube , musictheory.net, Images via RBW Entertainment)