Breaking Down Fear and the Nervous System’s Chosen Ones

Something many of you might not know is that on top of my lifelong love of horror, I also have a lifelong love of music. I’m not talking about, “Oh, I’ve got a collection of music and I’ll give anything a listen.” Okay, so I DO have a collection of music and I WILL give anything a shot but my love of music also included learning instruments, studying music history, and even dabbling a bit into theory. I try to listen to music the same way I try to watch movies, with both a critical and emotional lens.

With all of that in mind, I thought I’d try something a little different today, something a little special for me! What I want to do is take a song that I love and break down why I find it so fascinating and special. As I was driving home from some errands, my random playlist brought up Fear and the Nervous System’s “Chosen Ones”, a song that I absolutely adore. Since it felt like fate guided my hand, I’m gonna start with this track!

Now, before I go any further, let me tell you a bit about FATNS. The alt/industrial metal band was created in 2008 by James “Munky” Shaffer, known to many as the guitarist of nu-metal group Korn. So far, they’ve only released their self-titled debut, which came out in 2012. FATNS features Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman, Korn’s touring keyboardist Zac Baird, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, and io echo guitarist Leopold Ross as well as Repeater vocalist Steve Krolikowski. The album artwork (see below) was done by Wes Borland and the album’s production was handled by Tim Harkins and Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails, Black Light Burns, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer). You can learn more on their official website.

Alright, with that information given, let’s do this!

Note: all time stamps are in reference to the above YouTube embed.

Structure:
Intro/Chorus 2 – A
Transition – B
Verse 1 – C
Verse 2 – D
Chorus 1 – E
Chorus 2 – A
Transition – B
Verse 1 – C
Verse 2 – D
Chorus 1 – E
Chorus 2 – A
Bridge 1 – F
Bridge 2 – G
Bridge 3 – H
Chorus 1 – E
Chorus 2 – A
Outro – I

The song opens with the chorus (A), minus drums and guitars. When those two instruments come in at 0:20, the guitar is fleeting and we’re introduced to the industrial transition (B) that we will hear once more in the song. Energy-wise, the transition doesn’t have much as it’s meant to bridge two pieces of the song together. That lack of energy, however, will be used to great advantage later in the song.

The first verse (C) begins at 0:32 and immediately something feels strange. Most rock beats feature the snare being hit on the 3 count of a 4/4 beat (ex. 1-2-POP-4, 2-2-POP-4, etc…) but here the snare is hitting on the 2 and 4 of each measure (ex. 1-POP-3-POP, 2-POP-3-POP, etc…), making this feel strangely disjointed. It also doesn’t help that the guitars are using a fuzz effect and note differentiation is hard to hear. This trend continues in the second part of the verse (D), which comes in at 0:43 and ushers in a more sinister tone. Still, though we can nod our head to the music, it feels…off. But that’s all a play by the band as they slam into the chorus (E) at 0:54, when the guitars gain clarity, even through their distortion, and the drums snap that drum to the 3rd beat. Then, at 1:05, the chorus adds that intro melody (A). As that part comes to an end, vocalist Steve Krolikowski belts out, “The majesty of war!“, the final word coming as the song slams into the transition (B), which frustratingly robs the word of its impact. It almost sounds like the ground dropped out from underneath Krolikowski as the word “war” should have strength and violence behind it.

We then enter the 2nd verse (C) and that strange snare pattern appears again. Where the chorus brings cohesion and tightness, the verse seems to embrace chaos and frenzy. We through both verse sections until the 2nd chorus begins at 1:42, though this time the intro (A) melody comes in right away. Once again, when Krolikowski belts out the word “war”, we expect to have some meatiness and depth to the music behind it. But this time, instead of going to the transition, it moves to the bridge (F), whereupon the song suddenly shifts to a 3/4 time signature. The music is almost angelic, with a choir offering psalm-like chants. But the second part of the bridge (G) at 2:20 brings a swirling guitar effect that feels almost like a whirlpool pulling the listener in before the aggressive third act of the bridge (H) at 2:27 begins hammering the listener with staccato chugs and sharp snare hits.

At 2:35, the song enters the final chorus (E) only now it sounds far more deliberate and climactic. When the intro (A) melody comes in at 2:45, you can hear Krolikowski’s voice becoming more desperate, more determined. It’s as though the lack of payoff at the end of the previous two choruses have filled him with a pleading rage and he needs to reach a satisfying conclusion. And, by god, he gets it. When the third chorus ends at 2:56 and the song enters the outro (I), his belting “war” cry is met with emphatic music that explodes beneath him and gives us the satisfaction we, the listeners, have so craved since the first chorus’ teasing ending.

All of this combined is why I adore this song, because it shows that a great deal of thought was put into the structure, the emotional impact, and the aural journey. They say that the third time’s a charm and “Chosen Ones” took that to heart.

Lyrics:
My solitude is incomplete
Keeps me half human
You and your mockery
Love in fool’s clothing

Powerless to set things right
A curse and a heavy life
I am the stronger one
To give up and quit this crown

My sons
My chosen ones
What can divide us now?

My sons, my chosen ones
We know one desire
Rises to divide
The majesty of war

Raise on betrayal
A whore to her revenge
Wicked and spiteful
She launched all my horses

These precious floors of mine
Sticky with suicide
The necks of these warriors
Flowing with my pride

My sons
My chosen ones
What can divide us now?

My sons, my chosen ones
We know one desire
Rises to divide
The majesty of war

An arrow falls
Quietly broken
Sorrow eats at my mind remaining

Each spring
A second winter
Oh your Lord will rise no more

Each tear
A frozen ember
Make your point
Make your laughter

My sons
My chosen ones
What can divide us now?

My sons, my chosen ones
We know one desire
Rises to divide
The majesty of war

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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