“Hot Gates“ is, by far, the most pointed and purposeful song on Mumford & Sons’s Wilder Mind album. It’s a sharp and clear cry that begs a friend considering suicide to choose to keep fighting on. The music is mostly soft and quiet, though it contains the powerful swells that have been a signature of the style on Wilder Mind. The song, itself, lyrics and music together, is a powerful, complicated plea for life.
The name “Hot Gates” is significant as well. According to Wikipedia, it’s translated into Greek as “Thermopylae,” the site, not only of the last stand of 300 Spartan warriors against innumerable Persians, but also the mythological entrance to Hades. The mythology and history of the title enhance the power of the story by suggesting that Mumford’s friend’s battle with depression is more epic than most would suppose. Just as the Greeks stood at the “gates of Hell” to fight the Persians against all odds to protect their country, Mumford wants his friend to fight on ferociously against one of humankind’s most dangerous enemies, depression.
The first verse condemns giving up. Mumford wants a friend of his to keep fighting on. He sings, “There is no great thing, to stop and sing / Waiting for the rain.” Waiting for life and rejuvenation is not impressive. The friend’s singing seems to be a plea for attention, and Mumford wants his friend to spend less time singing and more time fighting, even if it means fighting without refreshment. The “perfect pill” that Mumford’s friend thinks could solve all of this is “too much” to believe, and will only leave the friend “[o]n the edge again.”
The friend is ashamed in front of Mumford, so Mumford sings, “Don’t look away / Couldn’t help but note the coldest thing / In your precious face.” The coldness, here, is likely a reference to a lack of emotion. People are applauded for having warm, lively personalities, but this person has “gone cold,” and Mumford wonders why he/she “always speak[s] when [he has] no grace / In [his] precious face.” This person only speaks in support of his own depression and doesn’t use energy to fight for staying alive and happy. Mumford encourages his friend to fight even when there is no hope, just as the 300 Spartans did.
The chorus reveals the person’s lack of attempt to fight back: “But even in the dark I saw you were the only one alone.” Everyone else has sought help, and it’s obvious to those around Mumford’s friend that he has isolated himself. “[T]hese hot gates” remain a constant stumbling block for him. He could have conquered his own demons, but he “spent [his] victory on” the hot gates, the battlefield before Hell. He has supported those gates rather than destroy them.
What’s even more difficult for Mumford is that the friend “swore [he] wouldn’t do this anymore.” His friends had all thought he had passed that stage and was going to try to get better. Mumford knows that he “can’t be for you all the things you want me to.” The key to success is for the friend to begin to fight his own battles and to not have unrealistic expectations for others, but Mumford sings,”I will love you constantly / There’s precious little else to me.” His friend may have to fight, but Mumford will support him the best he can, and there’s no ulterior motive to Mumford’s love. He simply wants to purely support his friend (showing the same kind of love Mumford himself craved in “Only Love“). Mumford summarizes his argument in the last line of the chorus: “And though we cry, we must stay alive.”
The second verse spends more time alluding to suicide and self-estrangement. Mumford mentions, “Another fragile edge, and a tender sound” and “a duller blade, a promise out of sight.” The friend feels surrounded, and Mumford empathizes with him. By listing these things, Mumford shows that he understands the fight his friend is experiencing.
The “fragile edge” could be a reference to a building’s edge, symbolic of suicide. The “tender sound” could be a whimper or a cry. Because cutting of the wrists is a method for suicide, “a duller blade” could suggest that the friend is making his own depression even worse. He is able to stop and renounce his self-hurting tendencies even if he feels that the promise of hope is “out of sight,” but he hasn’t yet. Mumford concludes that though his friend “went aground,” “[t]here’s nothing here for you tonight”; killing himself will not help.
After a repetition of the chorus, Mumford gives his final rallying cry. He sings, “Let my blood only run out when my world decides.” He will wait to die of a cause not his own, whether through sickness, old age, or some other force. He continues, “There is no way out of your only life”; his friend, too, must fight on. Mumford wants him not even to consider suicide, to act as though suicide doesn’t even exist. (Of course, this also could be a reference to a Christian immortality of the soul. Mumford, as a believer in God, could believe that life continues even after an earthly death.) As the music swells, the lyrics end with a final encouragement to “run on, run on!” The fight must be continued, and Mumford believes his friend can make it.
Whether depression is something Mumford has personally experienced or not, his call-to-action for his friend is touching and powerful. It effectively communicates the simple message that those who are in a dark place, should not give up. It encourages them to put aside, as best they can, a consideration of suicide, and, instead, to fight on, no matter what the odds. As his way of engaging in the fight, Mumford offers to “love [his friend] constantly,” likely the best help possible for this person.
What do you think about “Hot Gates”? Do you think it’s about depression? Do you think Mumford handles his friend’s situation well? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to like this post if you do like it.
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Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind: