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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Black Water" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

What does "Black Water" by Of Monsters and Men mean?

While not the shortest song on Of Monsters and Men's Beneath the Skin, "Black Water" may have the fewest unique lines of any song on the album.  In fact, not counting repeated choruses and lines, there are only 54 unique words in the entire song! The ninth track on Beneath the Skin is, however, still very interesting and fits well with the theme developed throughout all of the album: the acceptance of aspects nature imparts to human identity-a marrying of human civilization with nature's wildness.

In this song, co-vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar "Raggi" þórhallsson sing together in a duet that gives extra power to the ideas in the lyrics. The music itself is not as folk-based as most of the songs on Beneath the Skin, but it ultimately stays true to Of Monsters and Men's style-haunting vocals, soaring harmonies, and crashing climactic symbols, sprinkled all over with abundant nature-based symbolism that gives the song an epic and mythical atmosphere.

"Black Water" Lyrics Meaning

The title "Black Water" is ominously foreboding. People drink water to gain nourishment, but black water has many connotations-all adding to a reputation for danger. Water infected by an oil spill, black water as waste water, and treacherous water viewed at night in the dark are all black water not safe for humans. In addition, the further one dives into the ocean, the darker and blacker and more mysterious the water gets. "Black Water" should be helpful as most water is, but it isn't. All of this suggests that "Black Water" is going to be about something undependable and treacherous.

Of Monsters and Men -
Of Monsters and Men -

In the first verse, Raggi  and Nanna sing, "I need nothing / To travel the sea / I need nothing / I need nothing." The sea is a dark and lonely place, and one can be alone out there for a long time without meeting anyone else. Of Monsters and Men is trying to communicate that traveling "the sea" alone is possible, but not desirable. Not needing anything or anyone isn't portrayed as a desirable state on other songs on the album (like in "I of the Storm" when the protagonists wants desperately to be needed). In the image they have created, they seem to be swimming in the ocean alone, away from community with others. (While it's unrealistic that someone would choose to do so, this image increases the mythical symbolism that is Of Monsters and Men's signature style.)

"But," they say, "there's something / Eating at me." When they get too far out to sea and away from safety, they realize that they do need something else. Things haven't gone quite as planned, and they ask the "[b]lack water" to "[t]ake over." The "[b]lack water" seems to symbolize a dark part of themselves-a part with the power needed to keep them from being bothered by their own loneliness and the dangers that loneliness leaves them exposed to.

Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art
Beneath the Skin Album Cover Art

In the chorus, Nanna sings, "Swallowed by a vicious, vengeful sea / Darker days are raining over me." She's drowning and surrounded by darkness. Life is a scary and overwhelming place where, "[i]n the deepest depths," she loses herself. She's not really sure who she is in the face of all of these difficulties she's facing. She can only seek to know herself by looking through someone else's eyes because she's too lost to her own identity to be able to objectively understand it: "I see myself through someone else." (This could also be a reference to how she needs other people to really be able to understand herself.)

In the second verse, Nanna and Raggi sing that "[t]he strange silence / Surrounding me / Grows closer / Feels colder." Their loneliness has intensified, and they need help now more than ever. However, they're "ready / To suffer the sea." They've resigned themselves to their fate and ask the overpowering "[b]lack water" to "[t]ake over" for them. In the face of a dark vastness, they accept the darkness to numb themselves a while and to outlast the sea.

The song continues with a bridge instrumental and three more choruses, ending in "I see myself through someone else," again suggesting that maybe other people are needed to truly be able to escape the sea and the darkness.

What does Of Monsters and Men's "Black Water" really mean?

"Black Water" is particularly difficult to understand, but it seems to be from the point-of-view of a depressed and lonely person. The person's gender doesn't matter (suggested by how both genders help to sing the song), but what does matter is that this person, instead of seeking help for their depression, actually goes further into the darkness to try to escape.

Of Monster and Men - Clifford Stumme
Of Monster and Men - Clifford Stumme

He/she sailed out on the sea alone and left others behind. Then, loneliness attacked, and the person knew he/she was alone, so she tried to gain power from that loneliness. She even tried to become that loneliness-that empty and powerful "dark water." But these actions leave the person lost and unknown by others. He/she's gone too deep and really needs someone to pull him/her out of the ocean.

The story told here is like the one told in Lord of the Rings (and many other stories) in which many are tempted to use the One Ring to defeat the enemy when, in fact, the Ring is actually the tool of the enemy and is slowly betraying those who use it into further evil and addiction to darkness. Of course, Of Monsters and Men could be going for something completely different...but the analogy does seem to work. The characters in "Black Water" both seek solace in darkness and it doesn't seem to be helping them to any better of a place.

What do you think of my theory for "Black Water" by Of Monsters and Men? Do you think it's about depression and loneliness? What'd you think of the song as a whole? Thanks for reading!

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