Monday, May 12, 2014

Eldritch Noise Terror: 10 Albums Exalting HP Lovecraft

My relationship with HP Lovecraft's fiction goes back a long way. Much longer than any musical relationship I've had, unless you're counting Pink Floyd or maybe Neurosis circa 1993. It was a long road that led to my discovering Lovecraft, whose onset likely started with a typical teenage obsession with Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, but more so Clive Barker. The otherworldly prose of Barker was both alluring in its eloquence and disturbing in its subversiveness, but nonetheless helped me to embrace more obscure authors of his ilk: Thomas Ligotti, James Havoc (Satanskin specifically), Brian Lumley, not to mention the whole onset of Bizarro Fiction that generally still remains obscure to this day. Long story short, everything aforementioned paved the way for me to discover Lovecraft's incredible works.

I can't say that I identified with his characters, as his inventions were generally of a New Englander's origin, and distinctly different than the traits of a modern day Pacific Northwesterner, but what I did identify with was the psychological horrors which he visited upon his characters. As if he brushed these broad strokes of human definition just to cruelly visit unspeakable blasphemies and mental tortures upon them, proving that even the most vividly drawn people in his canon were susceptible to interstellar/interdimensional terrors that would inevitably lead to their mental ruination, if not just their physical demise. His work is so utterly devoid of compassion or empathy yet clinically coherent and addictively worded that I poured myself into his stories. To this day, I don't think any American writer has done better to detail the fantastic, aside from Melville's Moby Dick, perhaps Hemingway or Robert E Howard.

Over the years I have become increasingly drawn to music that is capable of evoking the themes Lovecraft put to paper. Music capable of reflecting the eldritch horrors of the man's mythos, whether by direct reference or metaphorical correlation. While many a collective essay has been devoted to detailing the overlooked films that elicit Lovecraft's often reviled imagery, it's hard to find such lists devoted to music, especially with the realms of extreme music, or extreme noise terror as it were. Bear in mind that what follows is completely subjective. Your prerogative may differ in the interim, but I feel like this list is fairly representative of some of the best music to relay our treasured Lovecraftian themes in the extreme underground.

In the Depths of R'lyeh
Moribund Records (2006)

It's hard to think of another project that so perfectly embodies the aesthetic of the Cthulhu mythos better than Xathagorra Mlandroth's Catacombs. Supreme funeral doom of the highest order, it epitomizes "kvlt" to an intensely ridiculous degree. Plodding and cavernous, awash in the baleful torment of droning guitar leads that worm their way into your head like the elder gods tentacles. Wringing the life from humanity amidst the crushing dirge of the echoing percussion. It's suffocatingly brutal, some of the slowest doom recorded this side of Thergothen or Skepticism, yet entrancingly addictive in its simplicity and underlying melody. It presents a drawn out chaos that could only be inspired by the madness wrought when a god devours a planet. Absolutely essential.

Out Himalayan Records (1987)

Cacophony isn't simply one of the greatest Lovecraft inspired works of art, it is also one of the best sound recordings ever put to vinyl. Honing the sound they achieved on the preceding Death Church, to a stiflingly fast nearly death rock sound, owing just as much to Joy Division as it did to Crass or Zounds. The bass pops and bounces and the guitars noodle along hyperactively mimicking the source material. Not so much a singular ode to HP Lovecraft's fiction as a requiem for the man himself. Encompassing the chaos of his adulthood and drawing ties to front man Nick Blinko's own life. Its near 45 minute run time goes by like a whirlwind of insanity and chaos, and it is as wryly humorous as it is maddeningly accessible. A fantastic tribute that goes beyond in terms of composition and craziness.

Tentacles of Whorror
Moribund Records (2004)

Regardless of what your opinion of Jef Whitehead may be, as Wrest, the sole member of Leviathan, he has created some of the most disturbing and misanthropic music to grace the US black metal scene. While the earlier 10th Sub Level of Suicide album expertly packaged misanthropy and self loathing into a completely grim and raucous exploration of black metal soundscapes, Tentacles inspires an entirely different type of insanity. If there had to be a soundtrack to James Havoc's Satanskin or Raism, it would likely be this album. Brimming with unabashedly abrasive sounds and textures, burps and shrieks, rhythm and pacing it is something I would mostly compare to the sound of going completely insane, or at least being formidably terrified. It's lyrically punny, but in a way that disguises it from being cheeky, instead taboo and esoteric, metaphysical and misanthropic. It's a raging album of seething black metal, played more angrily and tormentingly than I think has been heard, at least on this side of the world.

Necropolis Records (1993)

Nespithe is arguably one of the most unique albums recorded in the annals of death metal history. Setting a high watermark not just for their countrymen also dabbling with the style (i.e. Convulse, Demigod, Adramelech) but for the genre as a whole. This is truly eldritch death metal, with bestial vocals nastily belched forth in a dysrhythmic cadence from the onslaught of distortion created by their instruments. Devastatingly down-tuned guitars that weave between gargled distortion and razor sharp melodies muddied by the production. A huge bottom end where the bass festers with the pummeling drums. All elements that when combined remind of the madness wrought within Lovecraftian lore. It's an otherworldly sound whose aim it is to bludgeon listeners into an empathic stupor of bewilderment and forgotten intentions. Wholly absorbing and entirely sinister.

Swallowed by the Ocean's Tide
Imperium Productions (2013)

Germany's Sulphur Aeon are somewhat new to me but I am already intimately familiar with this album. To put it in broad terms would be to define it as death metal. In getting more specific and not wanting to simply genre-fy the record, it can be likened to early day Hypocrisy on a diet of amphetamines, Behemoth-ish without all the Satan or over the top production, sharing the scalpel sharp melodies and blackened metal of Storm of the Light's Bane era Dissection. You might hear elements of Swano's Edge of Sanity and potential hints of Transcend the Rubicon era Benediction. Or, maybe you won't hear any of that. In my mind Sulphur Aeon retain their own identity here, while staying reminiscent of their peers that may have paved the way. Yes, the melodies here are impossible to ignore, piercing and sharp as a knife while the rhythm guitar gallops along in the mold established by Bolt Thrower so many years ago, chugging relentlessly. The bass is suggestively heavy and pounding, blitzkrieging the listener along with the percussion which matches the bass chop for chop. Overall, though, the dominant feeling of the album is maddeningly liquid, which plays to their theme of the Stygian ocean crypt which imprisons Cthulhu. A blistering herald for breaking the chains of his imprisonment in order for him to cast madness upon the world, after devouring his faithful. It's all there lyrical, direct references to tales as diverse as the Call of Cthulhu, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and At the Mountains of Madness, but especially Dagon, the Lurking Fear, & the Shadow Over Innsmouth. Regardless, it's great stuff and holds its own against the others in this list, by sheer weight of composition and art direction alone.

Tides of Awakening
Firedoom Music (2005)

The title of Tyranny's single long play masterpiece is Lovecraftian in and of itself. Tides of Awakening: as in the tides of the ocean that ebb and flow over the waking bulk of Cthulhu himself. And what better soundtrack for his arrival on our planet than this? A sonorous dirge of apocalyptic weight, its intellectual funeral doom cascading like slow waves of a forsaken sea. The lilting synths contrast with the numbing needling of the guitar lines which weave along with a thunderous and plodding rhythm section bent on decimating the world through laborious brutality. Rather than the guttural growls so often associated with doom of the funereal variety, these are deep audible caverns of seething diabolocal intent pitch black in tone and long drawn out. The entire mythos is explored here, as bleak as possible and reverential as you might expect looking at the phenomenal cover art of Cthulhu's waking eye, reflecting R'lyeh in its depths. Truly behemoth and note worthy, doom of the highest caliber.

Les Acteurs de l'Ombre (2014)

This is another group to whom I'm fairly new to. Hailing from France, the apparent motherland of forward thinking black metal. In most cases dissonant and experimental, spearheading ambiance and atmosphere in tandem with superior progressive black metal. The Great Old Ones, however, are no Blut Aus Nord nor indicative of the blitz approach of acts like Katharsis. The Great Old Ones are a bit more traditional than that, though their intent to weave an intricate atmosphere from nothing is captured expertly here. This entire composition is an ode to the At the Mountains of Madness and the stirring of elder gods. Packaged beautifully with original art, both adorning the cover as well as the pages of the copy of the aforementioned At the Mountains of Madness included with the deluxe box set of the album. High concept stuff to be sure and they pull it off exceptionally well while avoiding the trite pretensions of lesser artists. The music is beautifully composed, and the atmosphere they achieve excels in conjuring imagery from the story. An excellent representation of Lovecraftian metal taken to the extreme.

The Sea Grave
War Anthem Records (2013)

Hailing from Spain is Graveyard, a blackened death metal troupe that plays in the vein of early Dismember cum Grave but with the corrosively sharp reckless abandon of Dissection. The only atmosphere here is a stifling one of speedy brutality and the determination to beat its listeners into submission. They deliver blunt force sermons from a pulpit of seething rage unto their listeners. The guitars a buzzsaw of orchestrated cacophony and a pulsating rhythm section bent to ride the tides of their thrashing death metal. All to the elated themes of Cthulhu dominating humanity. The album is a storied epic painting pictures of R'lyeh lying dormant before the impending visions and insanity that heralds the elders birth unto our world. Each track while distinctly its own flows perfectly into the next, composing a suite meant to be played from start to finish. A relentless project that doesn't only glorify Lovercraft's genius, but the roots of European death metal at the same time.

Catacombs of the Grotesque
Asphyxiate Recordings (2009)

Rather than fixate on their European forebears, Mexico's Denial instead worship at the altar of Incantion. Specifically Onward to Golgotha through Upon the Throne of Apocalypse when Craig Pillard's beyond guttural vocal excretions where just as identifiable as the dense, claustrophobic production. Denial are just as stiflingly brutal, though less preoccupied with blowing the devil's trumpets than with warning us of the impending onslaught of bestial gods and gluttonous monstrosities that lurk in the nether between Earth and space. Their imagery and words eliciting visions of incomprehensible chaos while the music is a reckoning of destruction and glib anarchy where the laws of physics are violated just as superfluously as the laws of men. Dissonant guitars chug lumberingly along with bass so down tuned it could loosen stools with too much volume, and an apocalyptic rhythm section that seeks to crush the listeners under its weight. This is brutal death defined, and it simply worships the words of Lovecraft, while keeping the source subtle enough to think that the madness on this disc might actually be their own.

Self Released (2012)

Chthe'ilist hail from Canada, a death metal hotbed notorious for giving the world legends in the form of Blasphemy, Conqueror, and Revenge. But rather than pay tribute to the aforementioned, this Canadian group owes their sound to Finnish death metal of the early 90's, most notably the already discussed Demilich. Their praise of Cthulhu and cohorts is obvious enough by their song titles, making reference to the elder gods, scripture from the Necronomicon, that reviled fictional text penned by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and non-euclidean geometry at its most foul. This is only an EP but it easily impresses not just with its devotion to the subject matter, but in its musical adeptitude as well. While the cast here is certainly paying homage to Demilich and Adramelech, their skills are undeniable. Devastatingly heavy instrumentation, with guitars that teeter between the Swedish buzzsaw effect and Finland's more devastatingly straight forward rampage with sweeping arpeggios and tremolo breakdowns that beat along with the expertly crafted basslines punctuating the rhythm of the blasting drums. Vocals here are guttural chants that avoid the belching of their idols in Demilich, but carry their own weight. Definitely a demo worth finding and one that works to capture the wealth of weight in Lovecraft's words.

No comments: