God Save the King by CarbonWorks is a beautiful but sobering song and video whose words tell of disillusionment in the face of hatred and xenophobia. With images from pre-World-War-II Germany and the Nazis’ rise to power, the film could easily be mistaken for a commentary on the events of November 8, 2016, when an election upset of historic proportions escorted into power a man who some feared would give new voice to xenophobia and intolerance. Or maybe “God Save the King” is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on nationalist Britain and its angry departure from Europe.
None of the above, says guitarist and composer Neal Barnard. The images of glass shards falling like snowflakes that begin the video evoke a different November date—November 9, 1938, which became known as Kristallnacht—when hatred flared in Berlin and neighbour turned against neighbour. The following morning found shop windows smashed and hundreds of people dead.
The point of the song, however, is not a remembrance of decades-old events, but rather a reminder that humankind’s readiness for betrayal and cruelty is not limited in place or time. It is in our nature, lurking beneath the surface, and it needs to be recognized and contained.
Musically, the song starts out with quiet power from very spare drums, bass, and guitar. From there, Martha Roebuck’s touching vocal intertwines with Allegra Havens’ violin, gradually leading up to a brief moment of musical insanity propelled by Barnard who wrings emotion from both guitar and piano.
Guitarist aficionados will recognize Barnard’s guitar in the video as a Steinberger, a rare guitar born in the early 1980s with no tuning head and nearly no body—more at home in an art gallery than a music shop. It is a sturdy piece of artillery made of a solid piece graphite and carbon fiber. You could shovel snow with it, and it would still be in tune.