Siren: a hybrid creature that lives on rocky islands and lures sailors to their doom with their sweet song.
Unlike the often benevolent depiction of the modern mermaid, sirens are depicted as dangerous, painfully ethereal beings that bring death. Likewise, A.C.E. undergo a dark, veiled transformation in the intro of Siren: Dawn to become unearthly creatures of the sea.
Seen in the group’s stage performances, the story in the album begins with the “Intro: Miserere Mei Deus” or the English title: “We Fell Down” and the title track “Higher.” The main plot takes place in “Higher” but the intro, despite being only thirty-one seconds, holds more significance than one would expect.
The lyrics to the intro in Latin are “Miserere mei, deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam” meaning “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.” It is based off Psalm 51 in which the prophet Nathan came to David after David committed adultery with Bathsheba, already a sinister inspiration to begin with. The music is noticeably dark and heavy especially with the thick harmony and absence of high voices. The vocal texture is only accompanied by an organ, giving the short intro a vampiric, medieval sound rather than a confessionary sacred one.
The lyrics suggest sin and temptation that requires redemption, however, contrary to the lyrics the members are seen donning black veils and succumbing to their own sin. The veils symbolize secret sin according to the 1832 parable by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Minister’s Black Veil, and when A.C.E.’s veils are ripped away by their masked backup dancers, so too are their true selves revealed: the siren.
After transforming into sirens, the members tell a story of forbidden love through “Higher.” Interestingly, the lyrics suggest a desire to shield and protect the subject of their desire (“holding you in the rough waves and pushing them away”) while realizing that their love may end in their ultimate demise (“we’re trapped in tragedy”.)
Caught between love and reckoning with their transformation, the imagery in the MV alternates between fatal attraction and sensual allure alleging that “it’s ok if there’s no end in sight. I’ll protect you.” With the intro in mind, it seems likely that the members used to be mermaids (or mermen?) that become sirens as a consequence of their forbidden love, tempting someone they love to their death despite their initial lovesick intentions. This also explains the juxtaposing protective and fatal themes.
The music in “Higher” is simultaneously sad, longing, and sexy, befitting a newly transformed siren. The chorus is addictive with calls of “Can you hear me” claiming they will continue to go higher. Whether they mean higher or louder in pitch, or just higher in intensity is unclear, but the contradictions that the members grapple with are apparent.
Additionally, one would be amiss not to discuss the overwhelming stunning, otherworldly, and effective visuals. Sporting a variety of sets, outfits, and CGI effects, the members embody charisma and attraction. The settings the members find themselves in are especially evocative, complimenting their style choices as well as furthering the plot in the song. One of the most memorable moments is when Chan glides his hand across the surface of a pool of water “at the end of a faded memory” urging one to “rewind the red thread.” Red threads generally refer to predestined fate or matchmaking in some lore, so here Chan is suggesting they give up and move on. It is a calm and melancholic moment in stark contrast to the powerful chorus that follows.
The whole MV is gorgeous, the story is evocative, and the plot and generally oceanic vibes continue throughout the track list.
The remaining three tracks are opposing sides of the same love story: falling in love and heartbreak, both sad and angry. “Chasing Love” is a beautiful pop-forward track that describes a love where your heart is enamored while your body soon follows. The instrumentals consist mainly of synthesizer lines and drum machine with some light electronic samples mixed in during the verses. The refrains “so complicated” and “chasing you” are surprisingly catchy, albeit it a bit overly repetitive by the end. One cool feature of the mix are Jun’s ad libs around the melody, especially in the latter half of the track.
The songs “Atlantis” and “Story” tell mirror images of romantic consequence. “Atlantis” is angry, depicting a broken paradise soiled by heartbreak and loss while “Story” is hopeful, soft, expressing a desire to leave behind pleasant memories of love at the conclusion of a romance.
Sonically, the two songs could not be more different. “Atlantis” is bass heavy with overdriven, powerful vocals and a driving drum set part. The bass part is especially funky and refined, especially in the chorus. The interesting and addictive bass player alone desires recognition. Atop the instrumentals, the vocals are equally busy and nuanced. The members belt relatively high in their range and the harmonies in the chorus blend nicely. A little grungy and angry, “Atlantis” is a nice addition to the overall timbre of the album.
The final track “Story” is surprisingly soft for an album that begins with “Miserere Mei Deus”, perhaps demonstrating what a deceptively hopeful siren song might sound like. Lyrics like “we can fly high” and “when I’m with you I can smile again” are reminiscent of “Higher,” but without the dark, desperate, and outward desire of the latter. The vocals showcase more falsetto and flowy, overarching melodies that delicately sit atop the instrumentals. Whereas “Atlantis” ended in a vengeful heartbreak, “Story” wishes for a gentle romantic end with a happy story left to be told. With this thinner texture, the members are able to flex their vocals and lean into their range and harmonies, making for a delightfully satisfying end to the album, perhaps indicating a reversal back to benevolent mermen that perhaps don’t lure people to their death.
From goblins (dokkaebi) in HJZM: The Butterfly Phantasy to sirens in Siren: Dawn, A.C.E. have once again demonstrated their penchant for otherworldly, stunningly aesthetic concepts and storylines. While the title tracks and stories could not be more different, A.C.E.’s newest albumis thematically sound and evocative in its own right. Complete with forbidden love, striking visuals, and satisfying musical selections, Siren: Dawn is a powerful and engaging addition to A.C.E.’s discography.
(University of Colorado Boulder, Wired, Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths, and Legends by Terry Breverton, Classicfm, YouTube , Americanliterature.com, Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Literature, Images via Beat Interactive)