“But even all this was not so bad as the blasted heath. I knew it the moment I came upon it at the bottom of a spacious valley; for no other name could fit such a thing, or any other thing fit such a name. It was as if the poet had coined the phrase from having seen this one particular region. It must, I thought as I viewed it, be the outcome of a fire; but why had nothing new ever grown over these five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields? It lay largely to the north of the ancient road line, but encroached a little on the other side. I felt an odd reluctance about approaching, and did so at last only because my business took me through and past it. There was no vegetation of any kind on that broad expanse, but only a fine grey dust or ash which no wind seemed ever to blow about. The trees near it were sickly and stunted, and many dead trunks stood or lay rotting at the rim. As I walked hurriedly by I saw the tumbled bricks and stones of an old chimney and cellar on my right, and the yawning black maw of an abandoned well whose stagnant vapours played strange tricks with the hues of the sunlight. Even the long, dark woodland climb beyond seemed welcome in contrast, and I marvelled no more at the frightened whispers of Arkham people. There had been no house or ruin near; even in the old days the place must have been lonely and remote. And at twilight, dreading to repass that ominous spot, I walked circuitously back to the town by the curious road on the south. I vaguely wished some clouds would gather, for an odd timidity about the deep skyey voids above had crept into my soul.” – H.P. Lovecraft
In one of his most masterful short stories, The Color Out of Space, famed forefather of weird fiction H.P.Lovecraft described the accursed ruin wrought by an inhuman, alien consciousness’ visit to our planet. In the story, a strange, miasmic entity takes up residency in a bit of farmland in New England, slowly leeching the life force of all flora and fauna in the region, belching forth a noxious vapor that blights the land and shrouds the sun. The entity’s most distinct quality, though, is the way in which it shines with an extraterrestrial luminescence beyond the description of our cultural color-wheel.
It is this alien color, this otherness beyond our mundane existence, that Chicago-based drone metal act Plague of Carcosa seeks to channel and exorcise in musical form. That goal is fully realized on debut EP The Color Out of Sleep, a two-track manifestation of malefic, vampyric drone that feeds upon emotion, expectation, and indeed color. Every aspect of this short release is calibrated to convey a sense of extradimensional foreboding, to toy with our senses and to give us a brief glimpse into the unknown. The chief mechanism by which sole musician Mark accomplishes this task is through a stark dichotomy between the terrestrial known and the alien unknown.
The blasted heath from Lovecraft’s tale is embodied in grinding, gnashing drone riffs tuned all the way down to F. Throughout both “And the Beast Shall Inherit the Earth” and “Yithian Ruins,” Mark spreads ash through rattling low-end and tree-splintering chords. Most interesting, though, are the ephemeral lead lines Mark conjures to sit atop all the Sunn O)))-esque battering. These shimmering, beguiling chords trick and intrigue, beckoning you deeper into the desolation of the rhythm section, as though the forbidden knowledge gathered in the Great Race of Yith’s doomed city of Pnakotus is beckoning you with a siren song. Alluring, too, is the rhythmic syncopation deployed in “And The Beast Shall Inherit the Earth,” with a pace that accelerates dangerously beneath those mesmerizing, shimmering leads as if Mark is trying to usher in a Biblical apocalypse himself.
Plague of Carcosa isn’t exactly breaking new ground with this style of music, but the manner in which Mark, like some skilled medium, channels and amalgamates all manner of unexpected influences makes these two drone songs all the more enticing. There’s an almost Spaghetti Western quality to the enticing leads, one that should by all rights sound of out place in a metal track and yet works surprisingly well. As you listen to “And the Beast Shall Inherit the Earth,” it isn’t hard to picture Clint Eastwood as Roland Deschain riding up to the dusty town of Tull, drawn by an aurora of dazzling light in the sky. As he approaches, the crunching riffs dive and seethe beneath the alien colors, auguring the violence ahead. “Yithian Ruins” then draws you deeper into the relics of a buried world with very subtle drum accents and a strange, abominable hybrid of western and Phrygian modes in the lead lines. The density of the drone lines is palpable, but it is the taboo tribal pulses and effervescent riffs that really make these two songs feel like doom.
This EP also wins bonus points for a unifying schema and intentional aesthetic. All of the song titles, even the third bonus track’s A Song of Ice and Fire-inspired moniker “The Rains of Castamere” evoke a sense of doom and destruction at the hands of an otherwordly, compelling force. That force is certainly felt in each chest-crushing track, yet it is most potent in the two droning songs that form the bulk of the EP rather than the more traditionally sludge take of “The Rains of Castamere.” Throw in the excellent sanguine cover art and the horrific band name (an allusion to a cursed city from Chambers’ The King in Yellow), and you have a holistic vision of terror and power.
Everything has seemed a bit more hazy, a bit less coherent since I hit play, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
—”Cassilda’s Song” in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2