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 Meaning”

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.”

Themopylae in Modern Day Greece, Hot Gates
Thermopylae, Greece

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.

Mumford & Sons ScreenshotWhat’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.

Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Album CoverAfter 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. 

You can continue listening to “Hot Gates” and Wilder Mind on Amazon if you want. And don’t forget to keep up with notifications of future blog posts using Twitter, Facebook, or my mailing system here on the blog!

Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind:

  1. Tompkins Square Park
  2. Believe
  3. The Wolf
  4. Wilder Mind
  5. Just Smoke
  6. Monster
  7. Snake Eyes
  8. Broad-Shouldered Beasts
  9. Cold Arms
  10. Ditmas
  11. Only Love
  12. Hot Gates
  • Anonymous

    v gzb z

  • Anonymous

    Cliff,
    and what if this song is kind of a “God’s reply” to the Mumford cry, so deep and loud in the previous (Only love) one?

    • I had considered that and i think it’s a lovely possibility. It would certainly be an awesome connection to make. What makes you think so?

      • Anonymous

        Because Only love talks about a lonely man who desperately ask for love. And as you said, whe increasing loud at the song ending, looks like a more personal cry for an answer. If you don’t MEET such love, your whole life is a time-waste, you became cinical more and more, even if you “swore not to do this any more”, going closer (as you reported above) to the Ade’s “Hot Gates”. But here is the point. Someone is telling that this love exists. Someone is able to love constantly (which is what “required” in Only Love). In previous albums, the last song is always the more “human-being”, and you listed very well the Muford king of “faith”. Well, Christ himself is the one who gives even his blood. To me, also previous sentences like “a promise out of sight” or “I can’t be for you all of the things you want me to” are kind of answer to what Marcus feels and sings in Believe and so on.
        In other words, it sounds like someone saying “Ok, I can’t be your perfect job, your perfect wealth, your perfect house or car, or whatever. Probably you dont’ even understand (or Believe) everything I am saying, and you can fail and make mistakes. But I will love you constantly. This does really matter, just this, and you know that (only love)”.
        So the real, final question is: who can love like this?

        • Well said. More and more, I could assume that what you say would be the case. Mumford’s music is so much a yearning for something more, whether in relationship with God or others, and him trying to show that perfect love seems like it would be a little bit of a switch up, but it’d be such a beautiful switch up and so profound.
          Concerning the last question you mention there: do you think they conclusively answer the question or just leave it open?

  • Anonymous

    Well, if this is really the case, I guess that Mumford in Hot gates suggests (at least) an answer to this question. Someone actually “can” do this. But to me…I mean, this is THE question that every living men face during the whole life, what his heart really wants…so I don’t think is really a “search-ending” answer, but more a provoking one..You cannot leave to someone else this search for an anwer, it has to become an experience. This is what this two – songs sounds to me

    • Interesting! Yeah, we sometimes get stuck thinking that we can answer every question on our own, but sometimes you HAVE to feel it or experience it. Good stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sure he’s saying “spent your victory on”? I thought I heard “spit your vitriol” which makes total sense, because that would be like the person spitting at the hot gates of Hell with their bitterness and criticism. Maybe that person is angry that he/she has been denied the peace of death and is sort of goading it, egging it on with no regard for their well-being. Hence the spitting and the bitterness.

    I’m not sure which he is saying because I hear both “victory on” and “vitriol”.

    • Yeah! I freaked out over that for several minutes and finally had to go with victory on but I’m still not really happy with it.

  • Brendan Galligan

    Keeping with the NYC theme of several other songs on the album, Hot Gates could be a reference to Hell’s Gate, a narrow tidal straight between Astoria Queens and Ward Island. Due to unpredictable currents, Hell’s Gate has taken countless lives of of those that have tried to swim across it. Ward Island’s only permanent residents are patients of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, which isn’t inconsistent with the common thinking of the song addressing suicidal ideation. The rest of the inhabitants are in assessment centers run by the NYC Department of Homeless Services Police. The police round up the homeless in parks and bring them to the island for medical testing and treatment. Needless to say, between the line about running aground, and “There’s precious little else to me and though we cry, we must stay alive” I think this might what the song is referring to, if only tangentially.

    • Oh, that’s an interesting theory! Thanks for sharing, Brendan. I think it’d be really cool if the whole album were NYC themed-that would make a lot of sense. How do you know about Hell’s Gate? Do you live in NYC? Thanks again!

      • Brendan Galligan

        I live in NJ, and until recently I was commuting to Astoria. After spending more than a few hours a week in gridlock, I started researching what was around me. Lots of well documented history in the city.

        I agree that it’d be a nice easter-egg to find an NYC theme to the whole album.

        • That’s really cool!

          Let’s see: “Tompkin’s Square Park,” “Ditmas,” and “Hot Gates” all have ties to NYC. I’m going to keep my ears/eyes open for more.

  • Han

    You guys are very deep. My first feeling to this song is totally related to me. I felt like I could relate to my current relationship.
    My partner is a bit depressed and low, but I can see he is the only one alone (as in, I’m not. I love him and I have family and friends, he doesn’t since we live in my country 10382901 miles away from his)
    And though we cry, we must stay alive. How many tears we have shed because of the fact that one of us has to give up
    Their family and friends to be with each other . I’m from Sweden and he is from Australia, and we both want to live in our own country.

    And I feel like I can’t be all the things he want me to be, friend, partner, family. He might want an exit, and I am about to give it to him. Tell him to run, run away.

    Although I will always love him more than anything in life, I can’t stand to see him lonely in his only life. We all deserve to feel loved and happy.

    I KNOW this song is not about this! But when I first heard it I related and started crying. Such a beautiful song!

    • Wow, thank you so much for sharing. These songs become truly powerful when they mean something real to us. I think it’s brave of you to share this information, and it means a lot to me. Thank you, Han.