Sentinel Beast – “Sentinel Beast”

The mythic imagination of the ancient Greeks populated the Underworld with a host of terrifying monsters, both in imprisonment and employment. Among the latter is the original hellhound Cerberus, who stands watch over the infernal gates lest any soul escape. It was the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, formidable monsters in their own right, and had the tail of a serpent, while like Medusa it had snakes protruding from its pelt. Cerberus is often conceived as having an artistically manageable three heads, though some ancient accounts like Hesiod and Pindar assign him 50 or 100 heads. As the sentinel of Hades, Cerberus features often in mythological accounts of heroes descending into the Underworld (a feat called a ‘katabasis’) to fulfill their heroic destines. The last of Hercules’ 12 labors was to drag Cerberus to the upper world to present to Eurystheus. Aeneas slipped by Cerberus when his guide, the Sibyl of Cumae, distracted the beast with a honey cake. In the “Inferno,” Dante similarly got past Cerberus when Vergil (who wrote the account of Aeneas) tranquillized the hellhound with a soporific snack.

The American thrash metal band Sentinel Beast took their very name from this mythical canine, to whom they penned an eponymous ode included in their 1986 album Depths of Death. The song begins with a warning that any mortal who dares enter the Underworld, to attempt what only Hercules and Aeneas could, will face certain death by Cerberus’ fangs. However, as the song continues, it becomes apparent that Cerberus is a symbol of death itself, and takes on a similar role to the Grim Reaper. As the sands in the hourglass of your life run out, so “the dog draws near” and “waits for you to take your life.” In describing one’s inevitable death by this creature, the lyrics echo the deaths of Homeric heroes in battle: “darkness falls across your face.” Read as a symbol of death, we detect the deeper message. “Try not to fear the sentinel beast” means don’t waste time worrying about your inevitable death, whenever it might come. Coping with this reality is the key to liberation, an essential part of metal’s aesthetic. Live your life to the fullest now, because the beast will always win.

Guards of the gates of Hell
Three-headed dog called Cerberus
Do not seek the underworld
You’re sure to face a sudden death

Oh, times running out
The sands grow short
It’s time to die, 
Oh, times running out
The sands grow short
It’s your turn to die

Oh no, the dog is near
You begin to fear
The Sentinel Beast
No, no, the dog is near
Try not to fear
The Sentinel Beast

He waits for you to take your life
Can feel him breathe down your back
You turn to look, but he’s not there
Just waiting for the beasts attack

Now silence fills the air
No movement, not a stir
But he’s there, you can feel him 
In every shadow of darkness,
Just hold on to your mind
You keep saying to yourself
Must be a dream, a nightmare
But the beast seems so real

End is near, death awaits
A sudden movement, sudden dare
Lunging forth, the beast upon you
Blood is drawn and pain you bare

Lying still, the battle ends
The beast has won, a deathly cost
Darkness falls across your face
No mercy for the life that lost

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