‘In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy Satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.’
No, that excerpt isn’t from one of our super literate and wicked cool music team, but from HP Lovecraft’s ‘The Music of Erich Zann’! In many ways Lovecraft was very forward thinking in anticipating much of the work we do here at OneMetal Towers, and influencing much of what we do our scribblings about. In this article I’m going to attempt to chart the chronology and breadth of influence that good ole HP has had on our genre and annotate both the prominent, dog eared leaves and the more obscure appendices of the metal Necronomicon.
Lovecraft’s influence on the metal genre is no secret; the slow side of metal (stoner/doom) in particular has long been inspired by his journeys through dreamscapes and mind-expanding cosmic terrain. Furthermore, as far as the murderous walking undead and dismembered corpses with a healthy sense of irony are concerned, well that’s about as death metal as a rape in a chainsaw factory! Having expounded such heart warming themes as entropy, nihilism and the futility of human endeavour, as well as being an avid reader of Nietzsche’s work, he has naturally captured the ice-cold hearts of many a grim faced kvltist. Speaking of which, he’s not the only gibbering racist to have exerted a strong influence in that particular area. But before we get our balls sued off, let’s crack on. So, in no particular order…
Nile – ‘As He Creates So He Destroys’
Like the frantic notes of the Idiot piper, Nile’s instruments tear holes in the fabric of the universe, their frenetic shredding and light speed drumming possessing ‘a symphonic quality which I could hardly conceive as produced by one player’. The piper is a recurrent character in Lovecraft’s work as well as being the subject of this number, and is a thought provoking metaphor, not only for the chaotic caprices of the universe, but also the absurd stabs mankind attempts at estimating divinity. Lovecraft is quoted as having said of religions, that ‘They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe’. Nile’s output, like many on this list, is enswathed in Lovecraftian imagery.
Metallica - ‘The Call of Ktulu’
Obvious, but no less relevant, no list of Lovecraftian metal would be complete without this entry. This was one of Metallica’s shining moments and a magnificent example not only of Cliff Burton’s classically influenced composition, but also of his ability to make his bass emit sounds ‘loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours’. These factors qualify the original as a classic by anyone’s standards, however the 1999 reworking accompanied by Michael Kamen’s San Francisco symphony orchestra adds an extra creep-factor to that infamous intro, whilst the brass and strings sections echo the abyssal screams of the Ancient Sleeper like gargantuan arcane whale song.
The Black Dahlia Murder – ‘Thy Horror Cosmic’
Admittedly not a personal favourite, although I can certainly see how this one could be responsible for its fair share of sore necks. Aside from anything else, however, this track does serve to illustrate that Lovecraft is still a vital force in modern metal, his influence having resonated through the generations like a subterranean psychic scream.
Nehëmah – ‘The Elder Gods Awakening’
Doing little to differentiate themselves from their Scandinavian counterparts, French black-metallers Nehemah create musical landscapes which aptly echo the bleakness of Lovecraft’s vision, as well as some of the physical landscapes described in his works. Read ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ and it soon becomes clear where many the ‘Grim and Frostbitten Kingdom’ has its origins.
Black Sabbath - ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’
Ever since they decided that the horror genre was criminally under-represented through the medium of music and went and created heavy metal as a result, HP’s inclusion in Black Sabbath’s music was pretty much guaranteed, being the master of horror that he was. Although they were the first heavy metal band to release Lovecraftian material, the first band to actually do this were psychedelic tripsters HP Lovecraft, predating Sabbath by several years. Their track ‘The White Ship’ is a noteworthy mention and its hypnotic instrumentation and shimmering vocals mirror Lovecraft’s more ‘medicinally induced’ works. Furthermore, it hasn’t escaped my notice that Sabbath are the only band to limit their veneration for Lovecraft to only one song. It seems other acts have so much love for the ‘Craft that they devote various offerings to him.
Rudimentary Peni- ‘Nightgaunts’
Researching this article really did uncover some diverse offerings. The closest I could find to Lovecraft-influenced grind was this 58-second tirade of cosmic horror. Described as anarcho-punk, these UK mentalists sound like Dead Kennedys with learning difficulties! The lyrics (if you can make them out) reference Lovecraft’s lifelong struggle with sleep terrors, which would manifest as faceless creatures appearing in his room. He dubbed these his ‘nightgaunts’, and included them in several tales, most notably ‘The Journey to Unknown Kadath’. It’s also worth noting that Rudimentary Peni allude to the frequency with which Lovecraft is referenced with the lyric ‘HPL paraphrased ad-nauseam’. Amen brothers!
Solstice – ‘New Dark Age/Sleeping Tyrant’
The roaring waves, a pulsing articulation and the opening paragraph of Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ inaugurate this titanic offering of epic Celtic prog-inflected doom. Founder member Rich Walker went on to begin his record label The Miskatonic Foundation, and in a OneMetal exclusive he was kind enough to share his thoughts on Lovecraft:
Always being a fan of dark horror, fantasy and SF I first came across the nameless cult in the 80′s through the eldritch outbursts of Nick Blinko, and his band Rudimentary Peni, in particular, their second album Cacophany. At the same time, I bought an album by a band called Dream Death from the USA, their Journey Into Mystery opus which combined the raw savagery of Celtic Frost and doom of Candlemass with Howard and Lovecraftian themes lyrically. Both seemed leagues apart from what else I was hearing and reading in both the metal and punk scenes, and both managed to convey that sense of suffocating horror and madness so evident in the writings of the Weird Tales triumvirate[...] I can see why many musicians are swallowed whole by these ancient masters. It’s that love of weaving a tapestry of unspeakable fear, then stepping back and still not being able to see the whole picture, because there lurking on the periphery is something you can’t quite explain, or your mind won’t let you comprehend for fear of losing your sanity. Now, the challenge will always be to try and recapture some of that feeling via the medium of music and lyrics, though not by mere pastiche and slavish imitation, but by taking the very essence of Lovecraft and creating something anew. And of course, we all love a challenge, don’t we…?
Morbid Angel – ‘Angel of Disease’
The catalogue of these death metal titans is replete with references to The Ancient Ones, including the song, erm ‘The Ancient Ones’. They also quite comically reference each Elder God individually as influences in their liner notes. The dark occultism of Lovecraft’s creations combined with Morbid Angel’s satanic imagery adds an air of the obscure and forbidden to this track. Music to cavort around sacrificial swamp pyres to!
Electric Wizard – ‘Dunwich’
No prizes for guessing that this one is based on Lovecraft’s ‘The Dunwich Horror’, a tale of forbidden love, heroism and latent Aryanism! With music evocative of the Manson-esque hippy cults of the 1960s, it seems the inherent occultism of Lovecraft’s works has resonated with musical movements previous to metal, as indicated with the band HP Lovecraft. This, coupled with the drug references in his works (e.g. ‘Celephais’, the tale of a man who gets off his chops so he can dream about a magical city) comprise integral elements of the Wizard’s identity. This particular work recounts the story of a woman having it away with Yog Sothoth, a rite reminiscent of the druidic activity (or at least the Christian portrayal of it) which was (and apparently still is) rife around Electric Wizard’s native Dorset. Not difficult to see how they are irrevocably bound to Mr Lovecraft.
Mercyful Fate – ‘Kutulu (The Mad Arab Part Two)’
Never one to be the most politically correct, Lovecraft cited ‘The Mad Arab, Abu Alhazred’ as the author of the Necronomicon, whose existence has a lot to answer for. Like this track for example! In all honesty not one of Mercyful Fate‘s finest offerings, but a demonstration nonetheless that the waters of Lovecraftian influence run deep in metal. After all where would we be without the good King Diamond and his entourage?
Necrodeath -’At the Mountains of Madness’
There seems to be rather a dearth of Lovecraftian thrash, and indeed this genre isn’t necessarily renowned for its literary influences on the whole, however Italian outfit Necrodeath expound repeated Lovecraft references. Although this particular tale would tend to lend itself to a more measured and cerebral approach, Necrodeath wield Lovecraft like a blunt instrument, delivering their assault with the combined ferocity of Celtic Frost and Kreator.
Cruciamentum – ‘Convocation of Crawling Chaos’
Referring to Nyarlothotep, another repeat offender in HP’s cornucopia of ne’erdowells. In the tale of ‘Nyarlathotep’ an audience is left spellbound after an evening’s entertainment. Seemingly a popular motif with Lovecraft was a subterranean gathering of clandestine initiates chanting inhumanly, witnessing diabolical displays by obscure figureheads and carrying out acts of wanton debauchery. Sounds eerily like gig night to me.
Cyaegha – ‘Mask In Flesh’
A wholly Lovecraft-influenced tech-Ddath concern, eschewing strains akin in sound to Origin and Hour of Penance, twisting and writhing like the tentacles of Cthulhu. The lyrics are often written from the narrative perspective of decadent gentlemen miscreants in keeping with Lovecraftian tradition. Aside from that, simply a bit of a tune and chosen mostly on musical merit rather than a milestone (in non-euclidian dimensions, naturally).
Manilla Road – Black Cauldron
Canadian heavy-metallers with a penchant for the fantastic. Once again, their works are peppered with Lovecraftian references. ‘Black Cauldron’ is a comparatively thrashy affair, however Manilla Road are capable of varying things up somewhat to more suitably represent the more cerebral aspects of Lovecraft’s work, so they can wreck your mind as well as your neck. Furthermore, we can see at this point in metal history, there was still very much a ‘sword and dragon’ motif throughout the genre, largely a prog-rock legacy, into which it seems Lovecraft was lumped. Interesting to observe that this has been predominantly eradicated from many modern metal genres (with the exception of power metal) to be replaced with more traditional Norse mythology or elements of Lovecraftian mythos. This has allowed many contemporary metal acts to embrace speculative fictions without feeling the need to dress as elves and the like.
Cradle Of Filth – ‘Cthulhu Dawn’
Frequently writing from the perspective of the decadent Gentleman, in much the same way as Byron (whom COF also cite as an influence) serves to reinforce their extreme gothic approach. I am not the first to point out that metal musicians often write from the perspective of the chanting cultist foot-soldier rather than the aristocratic puppet master, however COF utilise this narrative standpoint in a unique fashion to perpetuate the notion of savage elegance replete throughout their works.
The Axis of Perdition – ‘Forms On the Other Side of Silence’
Although Lovecraft was quite tragically unrecognised in his own era, he has influenced the horror genre significantly since his death, with none other than Stephen King citing him as an influence. This track features excerpts from one of King’s homages to the wierdmaster, ‘Crouch End’. I have our organ grinder, Phil to ‘thank’ for this addition to the list, and also to invoice for a new pair of slacks. Moving away from their usual industrial black metal, this track utilises ambient noises which are darker than a coal miner’s arse, accompanied by spoken passages from King’s story. This really is NOT one to listen to alone in an ill-lit basement room (for example!). ‘Forms On the Other Side of Silence’ sits apart from all others in this compilation, as it’s problematic to label it as music per se. Whereas the other entries use Lovecraftian content to create atmosphere in their music, Axis of Perdition (and obviously King) use atmosphere to create Lovecraft here, bringing his words to life and breathing them into you like a ghostly miasma. The spoken narration adds to this, the narrator’s voice rising to panic stricken crescendo at times and tweaking the listener’s fear glands masterfully.
So there you have it, ladies and gents. Naturally, since just about every metal band on the planet seems to have at least one ‘Crafty little moment there were enough picks which had to be scrapped to fill Old Whateley’s specially modified house. Feel free to add your picks below, and until next time ‘Cthulhu fhtagn R’lyeh Yog Sothoth’.