Radiohead, “Pyramid Song,” Amnesiac (2001)

“According to Colin Greenwood, it was the image of ‘people being ferried across the river of death’ that most affected Yorke. This is reflected in the song’s many references to Dante’s imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, Divine Comedy. These include the black-eyed angels, a moon full of stars and jumping into the river.”    –Anonymous user on songfacts.com

Contributed by Justin Meckes

For an academic take on Radiohead’s Dantesque influences, see the discussion of “Pyramid Song” in Brad Osborn, Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead (Oxford UP, 2017), p. 192 [log-in required]:

“In addition to depicting images directly correlating to the song’s lyrics, the song’s music video suggests further allusions to this scene—Dante’s fifth circle of Hell—not directly found in those lyrics (‘let us descend now unto greater woe; already sinks each star that was ascending’).19 The greater woe of the music video is the environmental fallout of a warming planet—precisely what Yorke identifies as Dante’s ‘lukewarm’ (both literally in terms of global temperature, and figuratively regarding humankind’s collective inertia for change). Global warming reappears continually in Radiohead’s multimedia output. Take for example the short Kid A promotional video—affectionately refereed to by fans as ‘blips’—that promoted ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ (2000–10). In this video the iconic ‘minotaur’ that accompanies nearly all of the Kid A and Amnesiac artwork is reimagined as a polar bear stranded on a sinking floe of ice. What immediately follows cements the link between global warming and Dante. As the polar bear slowly sinks to the tune of ‘I will see you in the next life,’ a sinister, red-eyed, black-cloaked minotaur sails across the river—now blood-red—in a tiny row boat brandishing a sickle.”

See also Giulio Carlo Pantalei, “The Middle Ages of Postmodernism: Dante, Thom Yorke, and Radiohead,” Dante e l’arte 6 (2019): 127-142.