“You see the non believers by the path
Jacob’s gonna come and set those sinners free
You can sing all through the night
Preach ‘till the morning light
Some cannot tell wrong from right
Jacob’s gonna come and set those sinners free”
I was afraid of Jacob Seed long before he’d spoken a single word to me.
The rusty bearded vet hangs back silent in Far Cry 5’s introduction, all frayed camo and blade scraped undercut, chemical scarred skin and mud caked fatigues. He scatters morbid calling cards throughout Hope County; charred corpses, victims of live target practice, spray painted paeans to social darwinism. But this is a Far Cry game; massacres cease to mean much after the fourth time the flaming wreck of a chopper singes a cultist’s eyebrows off. It wasn’t the bodies that got to me. It was a song.
They say the devil has all the best tunes, but the way the opening guitars to “Set Those Sinners Free” jangle like the stirrups of apocalyptic horsemen might convince you otherwise. With half-time gospel claps and a doomsaying finality lifted straight from Cash’s ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’, the lyrics elevate Jacob Seed from thinly sketched caricature to folk devil-come-angel of vengeance. The personality that Far Cry 5 fails to convey when it snatches away the player and straps them down for another of its megalomaniacal monologues starts to bleed back through in a haze of radio static.
You catch the cultists singing along, sometimes. A shaggy-haired sniper reclining on a rooftop might seem just like the dozens you’ve already encountered, but when he joins the choir in the chorus to ‘Help Me Faith’ – a tale of bliss-infused absolution from a suffocating pre-cult existence – the thinly sketched stick figure is granted a flicker of wounded humanity.
The track ‘He’s Our Father’ acts as a messianic origin story for Joseph Seed. Lines like He once was a peach picker, emphasise humble beginnings. A common rags-to-vestments thread runs through a story of how Seed became a beggar when the wealthy had no work. The song also uses a common cult technique that expert Arthur J. Deikman referred to as “devaluing the outsider”. They slandered him with every crime there was within their laws, the choir sings. Drawing lines in the sand and denouncing an unenlightened, monolithic ‘them’.
I wouldn’t be the first to point out that it’s often difficult to take the game’s pastiche of vaguely ominous religious iconography and reality-adjacent political anxieties seriously. But songs like ‘Let the Water Wash Away Your Sins” at least hint at a cohesive motivation. Lines like now that this whole world is ending, a new one begins are sung with gleeful conviction. Ubiquitous pale pickup trucks piled high with speakers reinforce the sense that you’re taking part in a conflict that’s just as ideological as it is martial.
The links between cults and music are well documented, of course, and perhaps the reason charismatic cult leaders cast such a tangible shadow over our collective psyche because it’s a position of power we already grant so willingly to our musical idols. Mel Lyman, a magnetic folk musician with deific delusions, would feed his followers huge quantities of LSD before ‘playing really weird soundtracks for them like pure noise — machine gun fire, screams.’ until they were ‘absolutely out of their minds’. Charles Manson wore the skin of the sixties, achieving a facsimile of the martyrdom he aspired to when the media spun his trial as proof of the rotten core underneath the petals and psychedelia of the anti-war movement. Manson even named his prophecised apocalyptic race-war ‘Helter Skelter’ after a Beatles song.
The difference here is while men like Manson wrote their own legends, the fact that it’s other voices singing the cult leader’s praises in Far Cry 5 immediately lends them a twisted legitimacy that wouldn’t be present otherwise. Placing the two radio stations side by side – one playing real world classic rock, the other the fictional cult’s music – highlights a stark ideological battlefield between all-American rugged individualism and the hive-mind eccentricities that are anemetha to the red-blooded, steak eatin’, beer crushin’, good ol’ boys of rural Montana. This comes to a head in the mission ‘Get Free’, which has you free a compatriot from audio-brainwashing by switching the tape with the The Vine’s 2002 track of the same name. (The Vines themselves were Australian, but fuck it, it’s all an amorphous, American freedom pie when set against a common enemy). The religious nutjobs have choirs, acoustic guitars, and hallucinogens, but this is America, son – we have distortion, six packs, and big trucks. It’s not subtle, but this sonic battleground at least has texture to it. Unlike Far Cry 5 itself, there’s no mistaking what the music is trying to say.