Lovecraft and Heavy Metal: A Macabre Love Story (Part III)
In this final edition of our intrepid voyage into the harrowing unknown, Masterlord SteelDragon and I are going to introduce you to a number of bands bearing the unholy mark of Lovecraft upon their very souls. These are the groups that have wrestled the ethereal horrors lurking in the spaces between dimensions and bound those entities with archaic runes into the very essence of their songs. Each of these bands is adept at conjuring horror and mystery in unconventional ways, often without ever even directly referencing H.P. himself. The tools of their trade: menacing atmosphere, indecipherable tongues, dissonant modes, and unconventional, non-Euclidean song structures. Steel yourself for a plunge into the foreboding depths.
Patrons of the Rotting Gate – Chest of Light (The Rose Coil, 2013)
The video I’ve linked here contains all of the excellent album The Rose Coil, but I’d like to draw special attention to standout track “Chest of Light.” Although many of the other bands in this feature channel the mythos by creating a miasmal environ evoking the sounds of madness and chaos that would result from the actual incursion of a Great Old One into our frail reality, Patrons of the Rotting Gate use a slightly different tactic. Their music is ritualistic and distant, creating a mental image of a strange cult dancing in forbidden adulation around an ebony idol somewhere off in the distant woods. This is cold fire, both unsettling and inviting. The primal howls and rhythmic drums draw you ever closer to a morbid fate you never knew you wanted. This whole album is worth your attention, and you can nab it for any price on Bandcamp.
Terra Tenebrosa – Disintegration (The Purging)
I had a hard time choosing just one Terra Tenebrosa track because they all sound like the cacophonous collapse that would result if Lovecraft’s mythos came true. Cascading drums, tortured howls, and cyclical riffs create an oppressive atmosphere and bind you to the sacrificial altar. Terra Tenebrosa are masters of aural lurking horror, and the totality of their art and visual presentation is turned to that end. It can be difficult to plumb the depths of their diffuse sound, and doing so may come at a great price.
Stagnant Waters – Castles (Stagnant Waters, 2012)
If the previous bands were the soundtracks to the first incursion and subsequent glorious massacre at the hands of the Outer Gods, Stagnant Waters is the sound of your mind collapsing into a singularity upon witnessing their terrible visages. This is claustrophobic, disorienting black metal riddled with static and worrisome electronic chirps layered behind visceral shrieks of loss and longing. “Castles” is a grueling listen that holds a shattered mirror to your sanity and then laughs at your misfortune as you attempt to realign the pieces of your haunted memory during the jarring, yet soothing piano outro. Like an unreliable narrator in one of Lovecraft’s tales, you will never be certain of what you have witnessed. Stream the track over at Decibel.
Portal – Heirships (Outre, 2007)
I debated including Portal in this list because they easily receive the most exposure of all of the listed bands. However, their singular purpose of invoking cosmic cataclysm won me over, so I have selected a scathing track from an earlier album. “Heirships” features their signature muddy production and guttural chants, and the clockwork drums and searing leads serve to drive you further and further down a spiral into oblivion. Some may prefer tracks with more clarity, but the overbearing nature of Portal’s earlier albums serves the desired effect; this song does in fact remind me of an impossible beast emerging from a great portal and dragging mankind into a fate worse than death.
Ævangelist – Veils (Omen Ex Simulacra, 2013)
Ævangelist are the only band on this list that legitimately frightens me. The two-man group has synthesized the collective inhuman horror of weird fiction into a curiously pure and putrescent concoction combining dense guitar work, crashing blasts, infernal growls, lilting choral work, menacing synths, and other bizarre noises. The music here is as dense as black matter and inaccessible as dead R’lyeh. “Veils” is an elusive, non-terrestrial beast that lures you in with siren charms then crushes you utterly with a dismal wall of sound. This is music unfit for fragile human psyches, and the atmosphere is wholly effective at disarming all of your senses, leaving you frightened and vulnerable. Stream the album at Bandcamp and check out the offputting trailer for their upcoming third album.
Thergothon – Yet the Watchers Guard (Stream from the Heavens, 1994)
The Great Old Ones exist outside of space and time. They inhabit realms and dimensions apart, beyond the blackest edges of space and yet so closely connected to our own. Though not visible, their wretched influence is ever reaching into our world. Thergothon seem to be both lyrically and musically inspired by that dreadful concept. From the spoken word sample in “Yet the Watchers Guard”:
“Despite the waste outlook this region is inhabited
The unholy presence of these ancient beings is almost touchable
You can neither see them nor touch them, but you can
Feel them present at all the times and you can smell them,
smell their foul presence…”
Thergothon‘s funereal dirges are often characterized by sustained empty space between notes. Plodding drums and effects-drenched chords echoing out into nothingness reflect the immeasurable vastness of vacuous space. By the time the eerie synth kicks in at around 4:00, you’re floating through the fucking void all by yourself. OR ARE YOU? The phlegmy snarls and growls that undulate in the distance suggest something cold and inhuman calling out from behind the farthest star. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
Chthe’ilist – Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth (2012)
According to Lovecraft himself, our pronunciation of Cthulhu is simply the closest that our inferior human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the ancient alien language of the Old Ones. I’m guessing that trying to pronounce the name of Chthe’ilist‘s demo is quite similar. This is Demilich worship. My mother always told me – if you’re gonna worship something, it may as well be Demilich. As such, the vocals are a far cry from typical human vocalizations and sound more like the inter-dimensional babbling of some horribly incomprehensible being gnawing hungrily in unlighted chambers beneath the earth. Seeing as how no pitch-shifters were used in these recordings, I’m wondering if the vocalist isn’t actually one of the manifestations of Nyarlathotep – The God of a Thousand Forms.
Ceremonial Castings – The Great Old Ones (Cthulhu, 2014)
A “Lovecraftian” atmosphere transcends your garden-variety creepiness; it requires the expression of a very specific brand of horrifying. Through experimental scientific research, deep archaeological exploration, or just general inquisitiveness taken too far, many of Lovecraft’s protagonists stumble upon something that they were never meant to see – a glimpse, if you will, into the “big picture” of the universe. As their feeble minds work through the awful and far-reaching implications of their discoveries and connect them to the existence of unfathomable star-born horrors, a fear seizes them that can only be understood by the few who have unlocked the archaic secrets of cosmic truth and come to an alarming realization of their helpless insignificance as a human being. Ceremonial Castings channels it through the impressively oppressive atmosphere in their upcoming worship-album, Cthulhu. The section of ceremonial name-chanting in “The Great Old Ones” is truly goosebump-inducing: “Cthulhu – Azathoth – Nyarlathotep – Shub-Niggurath – Dagon – Yog-Sothoh!”
The Great Old Ones – Antarctica (Tekeli-li, 2014)
Here’s another band that captures the Lovecraftian atmosphere quite well, and judging by the comments in previous segments, I’m guessing many of you will be happy to see them included. The album is named after an alien phrase uttered by the Shoggoths – glowing, black slime creatures created by the Elder Things. They cry repeatedly: “Tekeli-li!” which some believe to be a phrase they learned from their masters. French sci-fi horror nerds The Great Old Ones pay homage to one of my favorite stories, “At the Mountains of Madness,” in this year’s release. It’s worth your time.
Deathspell Omega – Abscission (Paracletus, 2010)
When our star-crossed adventurers happen upon hidden regions of the Earth, they often find themselves amidst the beyond-ancient ruins of strange Cyclopean architecture, which they describe as having “abnormal geometry,” made up of forms that are “non-Euclidean and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours” with “crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after the first shewed convexity.” The observer always seems to have difficulty explaining something so fundamentally different from anything they’ve seen in the world, and that so blatantly defies their dimension’s physics. Deathspell Omega is the aural equivalent of those great, distorted, slime-dripping Cyclopeon ruins. Even within the realm of metal, our ears are accustomed to melody, harmony, and structure; and Deathspell Omega shuns the lot in favor of jarring, atonal chaos.