Lovecraft and Heavy Metal: A Macabre Love Story (Part II)
In Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to the work of H. P. Lovecraft, the most pivotal author of weird fiction and a monolithic influence on the music genre we all know and love. As I mentioned last week, Lovecraft’s influence over heavy metal is twofold. Many bands play what we may consider “standard” music but with Lovecraftian lyrical themes. Some, however, play music that is truly Lovecraftian in nature. In today’s entry, MasterLord SteelDragon and I present to you ten songs (or albums) that fall into the former category.
(Ed. note: I messed up embedding on this post. I sincerely apologize.)
Morbus Chron – Red Hook Horror (Sleepers in the Rift, 2011)
Morbus Chron are a standout old-school Swedish death metal band. Red Hook Horror, a killer track off Sleepers in the Rift, is based on a classic Lovecraft short story “The Horror at Red Hook” (do you see what they did there?). This story follows Detective Malone’s memory of a terrible case in Red Hook, New York that has left him cripplingly paranoid of large buildings. The music reflects the creeping black magic and mind-numbing horror of the tale through its eerie barks and dark atmospherics. As a bonus, the razor-sharp riffs conjure images of a certain headless corpse wandering through subterranean crypts and past pagan altars. This song is short but brutal, much like the source material. Jam it.
Sulphur Aeon – Those Who Dwell in Stellar Void (Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide, 2013)
Sulphur Aeon, a relatively young (by metal standards) technical death metal band play a murky brand of DM with guttural vocals, mucky riffs, and tidal chugs that reflect the oceanic majesty of great Cthulhu and his ichthyological servitors. Those Who Dwell in Stellar Void is an abyssal tune off their first full-length album that tells the tale of the Mi-Go homeworld Yuggoth and the conjuring of mighty Rhan-Tegoth. That may mean absolutely nothing to you, but the oceanic scale of this song is surely to put you on your knees.
“This world will fall…
This will be the end of it all
As the sea unveils
What never should have been
What never should be seen
By human eyes”
Bal-Sagoth – Shackled to the Trilithon of Kutulu (The Chthonic Chronicles, 2006)
Bal-Sagoth, the prolific masters of weird black metal mythology, have released a number of albums that relate to Lovecraft and his mythos. However, none of the albums is quite so inspired as The Chthonic Chronicles. Each song is a flight through the fantastical, expounding the tales of Atlantis and Mu, as well as great Cthulhu’s influence and the ascent of his antediluvian adherents. This album is honestly a bit silly, with the Christopher Lee-esque monologues (“Seek ye to invoke the Lord of Dreams, to know His divine will via the dreamscape, to have power over His minions, to unlock the secrets of the deep?”) and bombastic symphonic flourishes. However, the tremolo riffs, blast-beats and esoteric shrieks will keep you enthralled through all the ridiculousness. This is a fun and epic album and a grand farewell to Bal-Sagoth.
Nile – 4th Arra of Dagon (Those Whom the Gods Detest, 2009)
Nile are likely a band that needs no introduction, but in case you’ve been living like a Shoggoth sealed in a tomb somewhere in Antarctica, I’m going to talk about them anyway. Nile play technical death metal so jam-packed with killer riffs, brutal growls, unbelievable blasts, and sweet non-metal instruments that every song is an epic. Those who are intimate with Nile know that the band are no strangers to Lovecraft-inspired songs (Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, The Essential Salts, The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased, etc.), but my favorite of their Lovecraft-inspired songs is 4th Arra of Dagon. This song is based on the short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, a pre-mythos tale that discusses a cursed town in suffrage to a proto-Cthulhu demigod called Dagon. Dagon is actually based on a Mesopotamian fertility deity of the same name that also appears in the Bible in 1 Samuel 5. I don’t want to spoil “Innsmouth” because it is one of my favorite Lovecraft tales and is better than “The Call of Cthulhu”, but it sure inspired one banger of a death metal track. Aside from being heavier than Cthulhu’s tentacles, this song also features a brutal chug at the end that puts every deathcore band in the history of ever to shame. I dare you not to find yourself chanting “Arra! Arra! Arra! Dagon! Dagon! Dagon!” like one of Captain Marsh’s cursed progeny.
Brown Jenkins – Hopeless, Godlike (Death Obsession, 2009)
I’m rounding off my portion of the post with a nasty, nasty sludge band named Brown Jenkins. Brown Jenkins, originally hailing from Austin, are now sadly defunct. However, during the course of their short history they vomited out a disgusting spate of albums with dour lyrics full of magical conjuring and misanthropy. I didn’t include Brown Jenkins just because of their murky atmospheres or horrific lyrics, but also because of their Lovecraft-inspired moniker. Brown Jenkins is a nefarious rat-thing in the brooding story “Dreams in the Witch House.” This mysterious interloper leads the young protagonist in his somnambulistic wanderings into a non-Euclidean plan inhabited by malevolent exospacial beings. Brown Jenkins, much like their namesake, act as your guide into horrific blackened-sludge and droning nightmare. Thankfully, you can embrace the horror for free over at their bandcamp. http://brownjenkins13.bandcamp.com/album/welcome-the-bitterness
Deathchain – Cthulhu Rising (Death Gods, 2010)
Great Cthulhu, though not the most powerful being in the pantheon, is undoubtedly the posterboy of the Lovecraftian mythos. This could be due to the success of his debut, “The Call of Cthulhu,” or because of how fully realized the creature is in comparison to the others. Lovecraft preferred the horror of terrible implication rather than taking a blunt, pictorial approach. The terror was not in the thing, but in what the thing implied – an ancient relic of unearthly stone with incomprehensible hieroglyphs or a backwoods cult worshiping in tongues unknown to humankind and crying out to something beyond the stars. He made a rare exception with the appearance of Cthulhu, and described him with relative detail as “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.” Deathchain (and many, many other bands) recognize the metal potential here and praise Cthulhu in song. It rules. Tell me you’re not growling “CTHULHU RISING” over and over at 6:00 until the absolutely savage death-thrash riff at 6:35 snaps you and your neck out of it.
Lightning Swords of Death – R’lyeh Wuurm (Baphometic Chaosium, 2013)
“The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh…was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults.” – “The Call of Cthulhu”
Somewhere deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, Cthulhu lies within his sunken prison-city, dead but dreaming. Trapped though he is, his secret human followers chant “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” — “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” When the stars are right, R’lyeh will rise from the lightless depths and Cthulhu will reign on Earth. I have no idea what a wuurm is doing down there (or even what a wuurm is), but this is a killer black metal song about it!
Catacombs – In the Depths of R’lyeh (In the Depths of R’lyeh, 2006)
In the Depths of R’lyeh is an entire album devoted to Cthulhu and his terrible awakening. This spine-chilling offering of funeral doom is an appropriate soundtrack for his Coming.
“He who sleeps, ageless, out of time
Awakens now from restless sleep
Stirring from the depths of his aqueous tomb
At the sound of the gathering
Of the neophytese of doom
Chants in unknown tongues
Echoes through accursed halls
The great eyes open…
The very cosmos shudder
At the awakening of the ungod
Arising from the watery chasm
As his acolytes of doom
Lurch forth from ebbing tides
As the world’s doom
Arises from the deep
And they chant…
Ja! Ja! Cthulhu Ftaghu!”
Therion – Cthulhu (Beyond Sanctorum, 1992)
I won’t share the lyrics for this one because they are hilariously incoherent, but this song is an excellent Swedish death metal ripper about – you guessed it – Cthulhu! If you’re not banging your head at 3:39, you have no place among us. And should be killed.
Electric Wizard – Dunwich (Witchcult Today, 2007)
This song is based on “The Dunwich Horror.” As much as I’d like to tell you the story and ruin it for those of you who haven’t read it, I’m going to bite most of my tongue. But not all of it. At the end, some houses, trees, and puny humans end up being crushed by an enigmatic offspring of the Old Ones hailing from beyond the void -“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.” If you have good speakers and you turn them up all the way and play this song, your house, trees, and body will be similarly crushed.
Of whispered past now they’ll learn.
High on the hill,
Black clouds gather now they’ll burn
Bay at the stars.
“Why was I born at all?”
Hear voice of doom,
From other worlds your fathers’ call.”
In the final edition of this post, we will examine truly Lovecraftian songs beyond human reasoning.