River Of Deceit By Mad Season: Lyrics Meaning And Interpretation

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Introduction- Overview of the song

River of deceit well depicts a person’s internal struggles. Indeed, it portrays how a person has to face an internal battle to choose between right and wrong. There is a fear of punishment. But there is also a desire for temporary pleasure and escape. Understanding the river of deceit lyrics meaning will help you to understand the song and songwriters better.

The song ‘River of Deceit’ is by the band Mad Season. Songwriters were Barrett Martin, John Saunders, Layne Staley and Mike Mccready. The band Mad Seson was a teamwork of artists from the Grunge era. (Grunge era emerged during the 1980s, and it was a different rock category). Layne Staley from Alice in chains was on vocals, Mike McCready played Guitar. Mike was from Pearl Jam.

Martin Barrett on drums was from the Screaming Trees. They gave the name The Gacy Bunch to the band. Later they changed the name of the band to Mad Season.

River of Deceit was their only album. Though it could not achieve big commercial success people started to love the album gradually. Brett Eliason is the producer of the band.

This song provides a warning that it is not easy to change one’s self-destructive traits. Finding a religion, or reading a self-help book can be easier. It also offers hope that by hard work, struggle and suffering you can come out of any struggles.

What does the title mean?

River of Deceit, the name itself shows something related to deception and dishonesty. According to Antony – Virginia Beach VA the river of Deceit refers to the river Styx (the river in hell). Many believe that there is a punishment of sins in the hell. And when a person compromises one’s imperfect true self to their sins they fall into the trap of this river. In fact, hell is the symbolic representation of everlasting destruction.

Drug addiction is the river of deceit. Songwriter Layne was trying to escape from his drug addiction through many ways. But his addiction was acting as the river of deceit. It was pulling him down so much that at last it ended with his tragic death. The singer in the song could be Layne or the whole band or the character they created. He sings of being pulled down repeatedly in the river of deceit.

River of deceit symbolizes something that leads to hell. In fact, river of deceit depicts the sin and hell is the symbolic representation of everlasting destruction or death. The title river of deceit bring to our mind the Bible verse “the wages of sin is death”.

You may feel you can stop with one use as a temporary solution. By the time you realize that how much it has taken control over you, it would be late. Layne, the most tormented soul created this most beautiful art. Probably leaving a lesson for the coming generation not to fall in this river of deceit. His life, sufferings and tragic death prove to us that how destructive the drug addiction can be.

Let us analyze river of deceit lyrics meaning verse bye verse.

Verse 1 – What does it mean

My pain is self-chosen

At least, so the prophet says

I could either burn

Or cut off my pride and buy some time

A head full of lies is the weight, tied to my waist


‘My pain is self-chosen’ what a powerful lyric. Most of the drug addicts experience these feelings of guilt. Here the Layne the lyricist expresses his self-guilt as a drug user. Most of the drug users starts to use drugs to escape from other sufferings. They take shelter in drugs to escape from the pain of a broken relationship, an abusive childhood or loss of something dear. That is why the pain is self-chosen.

But in the next line he shows some change in his attitude. At least. So the prophet says’ he feels that is what people say about his drug addiction. Here prophet can refer to the media, peers, religious leaders, family members etc. River of deceit lyrics meaning for verse 1 is intense.

‘I could either burn’ this means that the writer could lose the battle with addiction or cut off my pride and buy some time. He has another choice to confess that he has a problem and take help from someone. Well he has to cut off his pride with the help of someone. And he has to ‘buy sometime’ to extend his life.

‘A head full of lies’ here the lyricist put on a pretense. He tries to make himself believe that he is doing fine. At the same time he hides his feelings and lies to others about his true self. So those lies become ‘weight’ that tied to himself. And this weight pulls him down in the river of deceit.

What does the chorus mean?

The river of deceit pulls down, oh oh

The only direction we flow is down

Down, oh down

Down, oh down

Down, oh down

Down, oh down


Well, river of deceit lyrics meaning for chorus is simple but evocative. Here he talks about how self-destructive his drug addiction is. He is aware that his drug addiction can be ‘the river of deceit’ which will only pull him down. Finally, he will reach a point where he cannot return. And he realizes that it can mean an everlasting destruction without escape.

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Verse 2 – What does it mean

My pain is self-chosen

At least I believe it to be

I could either drown

Or pull off my skin and swim to shore

Now I can grow a beautiful shell for all to see

Though he accepts that his drug addiction and the pain is self-chosen he feels it is the only solution. He believes it is better to die in addiction than facing the real problems in sober state. He is comparing levelheadedness to pulling of his skin and swim. We can clearly see hopelessness in this line. ‘A beautiful shell’ may sound positive. But he compares his sobriety to a beautiful shell.

Probably, he fears that he will become his former self if he becomes sober. From which he tried to escape through drug addiction. On a positive note, pulling off his skin can mean to remove his pretence and being himself. Once, he sheds his make-believe he may feel confident to expose himself to others. He will grow ‘a beautiful shell’ probably a shield where he would feel safe.

A shield where he could either feel safe or he could hide. He feels both drug addiction and sobriety are equal to hell for him. We can sense fear, helplessness and guilt feeling of a drug addict here. Because before Layne’s tragic death he isolated himself from everyone.

What does the outro mean?

The pain is self-chosen, yeah

Our pain is self-chosen

Down, oh down

Down, oh down

Down, oh down

Down, oh down


Here he again admits that his pain is self-chosen. A person who has undergone, lived through drug addiction can well understand this pain of addiction. It could be against his own interest and intention. The pain he chose for himself worsens daily. He wants to be sober but find the path to be scary. So he lets himself be drawn by the river of deceit, down and down. He knows that his pain is self-chosen until he decides to be sober.


This poem depicts how painful and destructive drug addiction can be. It deceives and makes you believe that drugs will give you a solution to your problems.

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