Advent Essentials: “Eschaton” by Darlingside

This is the first in a five-part series reviewing songs that help us experience Advent.

I’ve made a realization. It’s a little sad, but it’s true. When I hear a band that I really like with a hip vibe and great artistry, I assume they’re atheist. I guess that’s a bi-product of being native to what Charles Taylor has called The Secular Age. I just figure most people my age don’t believe what I believe. 

In fact, the more intelligent and “with-it” I judge someone to be, the more I assume they’re atheist, post-church, or unchurched. That’s part of why I was so intrigued to discover “Eschaton” from Darlingside’s Extralife.

This is the End 2013

One interviewer confessed that after hearing “Eschaton” he had to google its title. In short, especially in theological circles, “eschaton” means the end of the world. Now, if when I mention “the end” you picture Seth Rogan, stop it. While that movie was awesome, both Darlingside’s and my version of the eschaton are quite different.

If you listen to the whole album you can hear that the band’s lyrics orbit around existential questions of time, place, progression, regression, and in this song’s case, “the end.” That’s why “Eschaton” is essential Advent listening.

Advent, more than any other Christian season, is a chance to entertain existential questions, especially thematically dark ones. It’s the season when the selected Bible readings are all apocalyptic visions of the eschaton. That’s where Advent sits, facing the deep blue and purple of the night sky, searching in the shadows, hoping to shed light on life’s deepest questions. 

Fleming Rutledge writes,

“The uniqueness of Advent is that it really forces us more than any other season, even more than Lent, to look deeply into what is wrong in the world. The truth is Advent begins in the dark.”

Fleming Rutledge. Advent

In “Eschaton,” and on the album in general, Darlingside is not bemoaning the darkness or bleakness of our current moment. In an interview, Auyon Mukharji remarks,

“The nature of our imagined futures is one of the big ones we were grappling with while writing the album. My personal predictions change day to day. Some days the future seems unspeakably bleak, and other days hope reigns.”

Darlingside’s Auyon Mukharji c/o Colorado Sound

I have no idea about the religious affiliation of the band or its members, but I am struck by how deeply Christian and Advent-oriented they come off in this song and on this album (not to mention in this interview). One reviewer picked up on this when they wrote

Photo – Cameron Gee

“This album is exploring ‘what is now’ and ‘what might be’ simultaneously.”

Flemming Rutledge makes the same observation of the Christian season of Advent: 

“It is challenging to hold two ideas in mind simultaneously: once and future, now and not-yet, but this is the summons of the gospel. We are citizens of two worlds, or ages: ‘this present evil age,’ and the age to come, the commonwealth of heaven (Philipians 3:20). Our true home is in the future, but it is made present reality to us by the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our redemption.”

As you may gather, the Christian Tradition has a lot to say about the character of the eschaton as it has been revealed in scripture. This year’s Advent readings are mostly from Isaiah which includes very specific visions of the eschaton. Most often it depicts a day when all creation is restored, war is overcome by peace, and predators become pacifists. 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, 

the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 

the calf and the lion and the fatling together, 

and a little child shall lead them. 

The cow and the bear shall graze, 

their young shall lie down together; 

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; 

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 

Isaiah 11

Whether this is what the band was getting at in “Eschaton” or not is unclear, even to them: “If you were to ask each member of the band about the meaning or vision of any particular song, you’d get four different answers. That’s just to say that we don’t believe there’s a single ‘correct’ interpretation of our music.”  

Regardless, “Eschaton”’s eschaton is certainly not a doom-and-gloom eschaton. It comes from chaos, sure, their lyrics paint an apocalyptic picture of structure and order slipping away. 

“Time, look at the time

And what we used to be

Signs, what are the signs?

Nobody here still reads.

They’re making martyrs out of tennis stars

Did you think they were ours?

There’s something in the water, byzantine

And everyone’s downstream”

“Eschaton” by Darlingside

But it is exactly in the midst of this chaos that the eschaton breaks through, and in a major key no less. 

I hear the eschaton

I see our stripes on floating ground

No matter what we’ve been, we are the upshot now

The Eschaton comes with a major chord. It even gets a gorgeous tongue-in-cheek 7th in the vocals, just to make the dark/light juxtaposition pop. It’s ultimately a light-shining-into-shadow moment. This vision of the eschaton does not engender fear, it engenders hope. Relief even. No matter what has happened before, “we are the upshot now.” 

Commenting on another song from the album Extralife, Mukharji kind of makes my point for me: 

“Finding swatches of hope in dark places applies to this song as well. I can’t speak for the other guys, but I like to think of [this song] as an alternate reality that we only see glimpses of in our flawed world.”

That’s what the Gospel is in Advent. It’s the shimmer that makes even the shadows glow.

What Christians say this time of year is that Christ who arrived at Christmas will come again. Christ is the end of the world. He is the world’s end who has already met us in Christ’s incarnation.

This is the light that shines in the darkness proving that the darkness has not and shall not overcome it. It’s the “thrill of hope” that the eschaton is not to be feared. Instead, it is to be welcomed. In fact, it is here, if only in glimpses.

Perhaps the church’s job is to continue to “look at the signs,” and interpret them in a world where “nobody here still reads.” 

A very old version of evening prayer used in Advent used to always finish with one of the monks standing before the whole gathered community and crying out this paraphrase of Isaiah 35 as the benediction: 

“Tell the timid to take heart, the Lord our God will come.” 
In other words, Fear not. I see the eschaton. We are the upshot now.

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