After my last set of reviews, many readers wrote and commented and said I should write more music reviews. The tribe has spoken. So I will.
Originally, I was going to write reviews of 5 HP Lovecraft concept albums, but all the good ones were by non-metal bands, so I’ve decided instead to review five albums with loose connetions to HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, either because the band itself are heavily influenced by Lovecraft, or they write music within the spectrum of the mythos, or the album has a suitably Eldritch title. I’ve tried to pick lesser-known albums, and I hope you’ll enjoy this rather eclectic musical menagerie.
Necronomicon – The Sacred Medicines
As Islander so eloquently puts it, with a three-piece “It’s just a helluva lot harder for mediocre musicians to hide within the sound when there’s only three of you. The spotlight shines with particularly unforgiving brightness on the guitarist, jumping from rhythm to lead and back again. So when a three-piece band fails, they tend to fall hard, and when they deliver the goods, the achievement is all the more impressive.” His recent review of the new Necronomicon album reminded me that I have “The Sacred Medicines” and I haven’t listened to it in awhile, so I rectified that immediately.
Necronomicon focus on portraying atmosphere, using inteludes, spoken word sections, and even … horror! … female vocals to produce a unique melodic death album. There’s a real tribal feel to this album, which ushers forth visions of Lovecraft’s “negroid” cultists in the fury of their worship. Drums, guitars, vocals … all flow seamlessly to create a dark, brooding and magical atmosphere.
In a three-piece, the guitar solos stand on their own, but here, you hardly notice. A decent vocal performance and some kick-ass tribal drums. Necronomicon – highly recommended.
Bal Sagoth – The Power Cosmic
Although this isn’t strictly a Lovecraftian concept album, The Power Cosmic IS a concept album from a band who loves their Lovecraft. Practically everything Bal Sagoth has ever written directly or indirectly relates to Lovecraft and his bleak, outer space monsters. Their name, Bal Sagoth, comes from Robert E. Howard’s (a friend of Lovecraft’s) story “The Gods of Bal Sagoth”. The reason I’ve chosen to review The Power Cosmic is twofold: 1) it’s the only Bal Sagoth album I own, and 2) it’s apparently their best work. Now, I must confess I’ve only listened to this album a couple of times before, and I didn’t actually like it, so it’s been sitting at the bottom of my CD stack (under “The Best of Europe” and a couple of other oft-listened to disasters). A few years on, I’m giving these wacky Brits another chance.
All of Bal Sagoth’s albums are bound by a central story arc, held together by an extremely poetic vocalist (aptly named “Lord Byron”, who “plays” multiple characters and narrates the tale. The Power Cosmic deals with an imprisoned demigod called Zurra, who breaks free of his celestial shackles and sets about reeking havoc on all and sundry. There’s Lovecraftian characters aplenty – all with immense vocabularies of archaic english – and lots of cosmic space battles and objects of vast, unknown power. Bal Sagoth compose their songs on the keyboard, using classical scales, then add the metal elements later.
Bal Sagoth have managed to create a truly bombastic space-metal experience. If you’re looking for bone-crunching brutal riffage or technical guitar virtuoso, you won’t find it amongst this melodramatic space battle between giant squishy demigods and men with abridged copies of the Oxford English Dictionary. Do I detect an early “pirate metal” riff on “Callisto Rising”? I am reminded of Dr Who battling the cybermen. Music reviewers don’t say this often, but The Power Cosmic is truly original.
Do I like it? Um, sorta. It’s fun. I like how Bal Sagoth focus on the “space” themes rather than the horror in Lovecraft’s stories. There’s some catchy riffage, which will endear practically any album to me. There’s lots of big words, which also makes me happy. It’s well orchestrated, but a little too keyboard heavy I think, to really gain a permanent hold on my heart. There’s not enough weight behind the guitars to add a darkness to this album, and I think it could have done with being a little darker … otherwise, the lyrics come across as rather contrived. Also, this is a lyrically-heavy album – and, like Cradle of Filth, I do think Bal Sagoth write enough interesting musical sections they could do with letting the vocals hang back a bit, to let everyone else have a chance at the spotlight. So much of metal is about telling a story with the music, rather than explaining everything through the vocals.
Catacombs – In the Depths of R’lyeh
Following the demise of Heirophant, a funeral doom band with some actual potential (one of three funeral doom bands I think are worth attention), Xathagorra Mlandroth brings us Catacombs, the death/doom project which begun with this little-known gem. In the Depths of R’lyeh focuses less on creating a solid story arc, and more on using a single concept – in this case, Cthulhu’s Sunken Home – and exploring that concept from every angle, using music to bring R’lyeh to life. Here, ambience, atmosphere, and a pervading sense of impending doom override every track – there’s a true sense of letting the music tell the story, of giving sound and voice to Lovecraft’s words.
The primary adjective used to describe doom metal is “crushing” – the heavy, slow crunch of the riffs fall upon the listener like a hammer, seeming to crush them under their weight. Likewise, the eventual destruction of mankind and the pervasive futility of existance pervade every syllable of Lovecraft’s work, and that bleakness crushes the reader in its own way. For this reason, doom metal lends itself particularly to interpreting the works of Lovecraft.
Every song sounds the same. Take this as you will. A lot of good albums – especially doom albums – suffer from “sameness”, and it by no means falls on that annoying level of sameness occupied by every HIM album ever released. The monotony may be deliberate, part of the atmosphere, part of the pervasive gloom of this music. “It’s all the same, marching slowly (achingly slowly) toward oblivion.
Don’t listen to In the Depths of R’lyeh if you don’t like doom metal, because it won’t change your mind. If you happen to be a doom metal fan, however, this is a good release – heavy on the atmosphere, heavy on the gloom, heavy on the fucking heavy.
Disciples of Zoldon – Unto Thine Darkness, Death Doth Deliver
Who said anything unique doesn’t come out of New Zealand? OK, it might have been me, but I’d forgotten about. Another one-man project, Disciples of Zoldon is a satirical grind-death effort of Luke Brimblecombe. Luke’s music focuses solely on the worship of his deity, Zoldon. Some facts about Zoldon (blatantly stolen from the Disciple’s website):
Zoldon is the God of Heavy Metal, but is also concerned with Darkness, Hate, and the Dead.
He exists physically in the Dimension of Metal.
His throne is located within a palace that is within a large city-fortress. (Although he has never left this location in recorded history, it is assumed that he can)
Zoldon, while standing, is approximately 600 feet tall.
He spends the majority of his time sitting upon an object known as the throne of darkness, passing judgment before his court.
Capital punishment is lawful under the rule of Zoldon. He is known to act as the executioner himself.
Serious offenders can under extreme circumstances be consigned to an eternity in the abyss surrounding the Dimension of Metal itself.
Zoldon enjoys drinking from an object known as the ‘Chalice of Malice’. Preferred beverage is a mix of blood, Malice, and Souls.
His Weapon of preference is an object known as ‘Lifeslayer’. It is unclear whether this object is a sword or an electric guitar.
According to Legend, Zoldon has employed the services of a champion known only as Korg, Master of the Keyboard.
The city-fortress that guards his Palace is garrisoned by an army of the dead. They are able to exit in haste via the city Gates.
It is known that Zoldon is working on a plan of some kind that will have dire ramifications. Details unknown.
Zoldon, it would seem, is what would happen if HP Lovecraft had been alive to listen to Slayer while he cried alone at night.
Onto the music – Unto Thine Darkness- sounds like a muddy, drum-machine-driven homage to the above Bal-Sagoth album, only with more grind and less groove. This a fun little oddity, and I think you should give it a listen, although it probably won’t become an instant favorite. Performing satire involves a tightrope walk of death, and I don’t think Disciples of Zoldon will make it across the abyss without pissing themselves. Luke seems to have perfectly captured the essence of Lovecraft’s sense of humor – and yes, he did have one. It’s just that no one else got the joke.
Daemonicium – Through Time and Death
Fuck. Sometimes you never know what searching under “lyrical themes” on Metal Archives will turn up. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I haven’t heard a symphonic black metal album I’ve instantly adored in a LONG TIME, and then the first otes of “Confession” by Daemonicium came through, and, yeah … fuck. Instantly likeable. If you want to hear an exquisite example of “how to use keyboards in black metal without sounding like a goit”, then this is it. The only thing that detracts from this album are some of the spoken word passages, which interrupt the flow. Otherwise, this is the absolute best band I’ve discovered this week – an unpretentious symphonic death metal onslaught with overt Lovecraftian themes.
And yes, the vocalist is a chick, and she’s quite hot too. I thought you might like a picture.
Yes, there’s a definite resemblance to early Cradle of Filth, but I think these Polish lads (and lass) stand up to the comparison. The vocals are an improvement over Dani’s, that’s for certain.
I am going to eat vegetarian food and gossip about boys tomorrow night, so chances are, you won’t see a post from me tomorrow. The whole of Auckland shuts down this weekend, because they have to move a giant crane along the Southern Motorway (I SWEAR I don’t make this up) so I will mostly be at home, catching up on writing and compiling a killer Lovecraftian Metal Mixtape for you all.
Super Snuggles and Shoggoth Kisses