THE TRVE MEDVSON’S SANCTUM: LOVECRAFT – COSMIC HORROR AND METAL

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

Hello and welcome to this first edition of the trve Medvsons Sanctum. This time, I want to explore two topics that are very important to me and as it turns out… also go extremely well together: Lovecraft and Metal. So, join me as I dive into cosmic horror and it’s an influence on heavy music! Before we can start to explore his influence on the genre, we’ve got to know the man himself though. Who was this Lovecraft and why is his work so important and influential?

Howard Philips Lovecraft was an American writer who lived from 1890, born in Providence, Rhode Island, until 1937, where he died of cancer just there at the age of 46. In his relatively short lifetime he was virtually unknown for his work, yet he left behind an expansive universe of fiction that grew to become a cult phenomenon, now more popular than ever! Whilst some might have never heard his name, almost everyone nowadays has stumbled upon the Cthulhu-Mythos, or as Lovecraft himself called it, “Yog-Sothothery” at least once. And even if not, his influence on media of every kind is not to be underestimated!

Lovecraft mostly wrote short-stories and his vast body of work contains only an extremely small number of longer fiction, yet many of these relatively short pieces are intertwined into a bigger picture, a mythos. His genre of choice was horror or “weird fiction” and many consider him to be the father of what is today known as “Cosmic Horror”, a genre fuelled by tentacled, slimy abominations beyond human comprehension and enormous existential dread. Yes, Lovecrafts work through and through is nihilistic, depressing and far ahead of its time with its celestial concepts and elder gods. It is difficult to describe his work in a compact manner, but basically, the works of H.P. Lovecraft focus on beings that have existed for far longer than the human race has: the great old ones, the elder gods and even more outlandish creatures. They are in many ways much further in development than humans, so much that their mere existence can drive somebody insane. These advanced species often have a major influence on the progression of human society through direct or indirect manners. Some of the most prominent of these beings are of course the name-giving Cthulhu, as well as Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth the Blind Idiot God and Nyarlathotep among many more. Most of the Lovecrafts protagonists are forlorn from the very start, almost never do they get an even remotely happy ending to their story, they are forced into situations of absolute terror and many of them end up either dead or on the brink of insanity.

More themes that Lovecraft frequently used in his work feature forbidden knowledge, apocalyptic scenarios, religion and cults, superstition, race (to more controversy) and many more. Most of these lend themselves very well to dark, heavy music and have been used in such for a very long time, since before the birth of the metal genre even, let’s dive into the development of Lovecraftian influence in music now, shall we?

I: Before the Dawn of Metal & Beyond

“But are not the dreams of poets
and the tales of travelers notoriously false?” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

After Lovecraft’s death, a lot of his work was collected by his closest friends and published many times since, but his influence only really started to grow a few decades after his death, in the late 50’s and early 60’s. As it turns out, it didn’t take long after that for the first signs of Lovecraft-infused music to appear!

H.P. LOVECRAFT – H.P. Lovecraft
October 1967, Philips Records

Formed the same year this album came out, the band named after Lovecraft himself is the earliest example of the writer (and his work) appearing in heavy music that I could find. The band released multiple Psychedelic Rock albums under the Lovecraft name and the songs all mention the author’s short stories and oftentimes even adapt their titles. Musically it is reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era / early PINK FLOYD, using vocal harmonies, somber guitars, bass, and organ prevalently. Their most famous track is “The White Ship”, named after a short story of the same name, in which a lighthouse keeper dreams of a journey with the titular ship that later turns out may have been a premonition to a horrific shipwreck happening moments after the keeper awakes. The wreck could have even been caused by him sleeping/dreaming, as he finds the lights turned out when he wakes up from his dreams on the wet stone in front of the lighthouse. The story is adventurous at first and turns horrific later, this is very much represented in the music itself, as it sounds venturesome at first, yet keeps a kind of eerie undertone.

 

BLACK SABBATH – “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from Black Sabbath
13th February 1970, Vertigo

This is arguably the first Heavy Metal album ever made, and as it turns out, the very first metal album already brought in the Yog-Sothothery. While many may think of this album as more of a satanic themed one, with its overt references to Satan as in the title track, “Behind the Wall of Sleep” is a direct referral to a Lovecraft story of almost the same name: Beyond the Wall of Sleep is about an intern at a mental hospital that reports an inmate describing things way above his imagination after sleeping. The intern than establishes a telepathic communication through a device he built after discovering the nature of thought as a “radiant energy”, this leads to a conversation with a being of pure light which explains unimaginable realms to him, realms that humans can only explore in a sleeping state, as they too become light beings. This telepathic and transcendental theme is represented in the music also, as the vocals of Ozzy seemingly travel around you as the listener, overall a very trippy experience, the songs lyrics also roughly mention the plot of the story.

 

METALLICA – “The Call of Ktulu” from Ride the Lightning
30th July 1984, Megaforce Records / Music for Nations

 

 


METALLICA – “The Thing that Should Not Be” from Master of Puppets
3rd March 1986, Elektra Records

“The biggest metal band in the world” are also Lovecraft fans, yeah? Seems to be the case, as METALLICA have referenced Lovecraft not once, but twice in their early career! “The Call of Ktulu” is an instrumental track that serves as the outro to their second full-length. It has an eerie, yet intense sound to it, fitting to the narrative of the story it’s based upon, The Call of Cthulhu, in which a group of sailors uncover the cult of the Sleeper of R’Lyeh and awaken him from his slumber in the ruins of the sunken city, realizing that definitively beating the Great Old One is an impossible task and with that they ultimately doom humanity. Their second track in reference to Lovecraft is “The Thing that Should Not Be”, a heavy and underrated Thrash-masterpiece. It is based upon the mythos in general but especially alludes to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, with its mention of cults and lurkers beneath the sea, abominations like the fishmen and their god Dagon present in that story precisely. Later in their career METALLICA would again reference Lovecraft in their tracks “All Nightmare Long” & “Dream No More”.

II: Existential Dread & Doom

“All of my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos-at-large.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

Doom Metal arose soon after the birth of heavy metal itself, yet it took some time and development until the stoner doom genre in all its psychedelic, fuzz-infused magnificence took on the mythos. Later, the Funeral Doom subgenre revealed itself as a fitting vessel for Cosmic Terror.

ELECTRIC WIZARD – “Supercoven” from Supercoven
1998, Bad Acid Records

 

 

 

ELECTRIC WIZARD – “Dunwich” from Witchcult Today
20th November 2007, Rise Above Records / Candlelight Records

Stoner Doom masters ELECTRIC WIZARD specifically took on Lovecraft on two occasions: On their EP “Supercoven”, the title track seems to be written as an account of cult activity, some group praising the Outer God Yog-Sothoth, Lurker at the Threshold, an all-knowing deity, able to see the past, present at future at all times. “Dunwich” is a direct reference to The Dunwich Horror, a story where again, Yog-Sothoth is strongly featured, clearly the band’s favourite deity from the mythos. Lyrically it addresses the “Dunwich Child”, most likely referring to Wilbur Whateley or his twin brother, I won’t go into further detail here as I strongly recommend checking this story without spoilers! In a typical manner, the band besides the Lovecraft story of course also mentions dope/weed in the lyrics, giving the story a fuzzy twist so to speak.

THERGOTHON – Stream from the Heavens
1994, Avantgarde Music

Going into even heavier territory here: Finnish band THERGOTHON did not only pioneer the Funeral Doom genre, but is also strongly based on the Cthulhu-Mythos lyrically and in sound. For example one of the tracks features Kadath in its name, a place within the Dream-Realm of Lovecraftian canon, among other references. The typical Funeral Doom sound is used in a fitting way on this album, slow, lethargic riffs and inhuman death grunts create an oppressive atmosphere throughout, capturing the existential dread ever so prevalent in the mythos.

CATACOMBS – In the Depths of R’Lyeh
21st February 2006, Moribund Records

CATACOMBS is the logical next step in Lovecraftian Funeral Doom! Lingering riffs and intense, yet echoey vocals take this into true cosmic horror. You as the listener feel immersed, as if you yourself where caught in the depths of the sunken city of R’Lyeh, awaiting the eventual demise-incarnate that is Cthulhu.

III: Bearers of the Extreme & the Black Vortex

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity,
and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

In an age of extremes, it was only a matter of time until the most intense subgenres of metal adapted the terror that of the mythos to expand its topics into even darker territories. While Black Metal was inherently satanic and Death Metal very much gore-focused at their inception, the genres have expanded and since adapted the mythos numerous times.

CRADLE OF FILTH – “Cthulhu Dawn” from Midian
30th October 2000, Music for Nations

CRADLE OF FILTH were never shy of experimentation and as far as I found, they were the first Black Metal band to incorporate Lovecraftian themes into their music, in this case in the track “Cthulhu Dawn”, mentioning the Great Old One and delivering a cinematic and epic song as usual for their early outings. Dani Filths screams fit horror themes extremely well, so they don’t harm the cosmic variety either!

1349 – “From The Deeps” from Hellfire
24th May 2005, Candlelight Records

Norwegian black metal project 1349 has always delivered when it comes to intensity. With intense blast beats, fast and infernal riffing and fierce screams further enhanced with occasional chanting of “iÄ, iÄ” (intro & outro), a recurring ritual chant within the mythos, “From the Deeps” captures a more aggressive side of the mythos. Keeping in mind the title of the track, it summoned pictures in my head perhaps of an attack of the Deep Ones of Innsmouth or the inherent madness caused by Cthulhu rising from the ocean.

THE GREAT OLD ONES – Cosmicism
22nd October 2019, Season of Mist

This record is not out yet, but taking into account the previous records this project put out and also the singles released so far, French Atmospheric / Post-Black Metal band THE GREAT OLD ONES may put out the definitive Lovecraftian Black Metal experience this October! They have continuously demonstrated that they not only know the mythos very well but also the intricacies of the black metal genre, this is one to keep your eyes on!

REVOCATION – The Outer Ones
28th September 2018, Metal Blade Records

From the blackest reaches of Metal, I now proceed to Death. REVOCATION have previously used the concept of Cosmic Horror in their albums, but their latest release The Outer Ones goes full Lovecraftian with an amazing cover artwork by Tom Strom (that alone made me buy the vinyl) and songs that are of equal quality! With this album I found the technical and progressive nature of the riffing and overall musical composition to really give it that extraterrestrial nature, while the more groove-oriented riffs mixed throughout let it keep a very organic quality! The lyrics focus on the Outer Ones, beings beyond human comprehension, a concept very close to the Lovecraftian vision of actual terror, something so scary and out of this world that our minds aren’t able to accurately process what they are confronted with.

SULPHUR AEON – Gateway to the Antisphere
4th April 2015, Van Records

So here we are… Without this album, the article you’re reading would probably not even exist! Gateway to the Antisphere is a monument of an album, german blackened death cultists SULPHUR AEON created a masterwork in Lovecraftian Metal with this record! From the amazing artwork, even better in the full gatefold version that you should definitely check out, to the music and vocal performance, this album is a 10/10 for me! Slimy wet and tentacled abominations for intros, heavy, damning yet atmospheric riffing, pounding drums, intense growls and occasional cult-screams with a demonstration of mythos-knowledge… Simply perfect, arguably SULPHUR AEON have, with this album, created the definitive Lovecraft-Metal-monstrosity! I could go on a fanboy tangent here, go through this record track by track, but this would further elongate this article so just please, listen to this album, you won’t regret it!

And while you’re at it, check out their entire discography, it’s worth it!

IV: From the Oceans Depths

“Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

Oh, you thought this was it? As it is with the mythos itself, the depths of the ocean always hide further abominations to be discovered by a poor soul… unprepared for the horrors to come. While I picked some great albums to be found on Bandcamp, I strongly recommend to browse through the “Lovecraft” tag yourself after reading this article.

You can do just that right here

COSMIC ATROPHY – The Void Engineers
30th November 2018, Independent release

If you enjoyed the Lovecraftian Tech-Death that is REVOCATIONs latest album, COSMIC ATROPHY may very well be something for you! While it is not as technical, at least not the whole way through it’s runtime, The Void Engineers has some great Progressive Death elements and uncannily disjointed riffs that really convinced me. There are no direct references to Lovecraft, but with themes of Phantasmagoria, cultisitc idols and altars as well as the black reaches of space, this record still ends up deep in Cosmic Horror territory.

BURIAL IN THE WOODS – Church of Dagon
29th June 2019, Naturmacht Productions

The Esoteric Order of Dagon has never been so trve! BURIAL IN THE WOODS’ debut release Church of Dagon really surprised me when I listened to it for the first time. Slow, sinister black metal with the addition of organ and ice-cold screams, this could very well be a ritual performed by the actual Esoteric Order from Lovecrafts The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The band builds up the great atmosphere on the album, it is stripped down to musical essentials, which isn’t necessarily bad, as it keeps the “trve” black metal edge… This is a debut you should definitely listen to!

OBED MARSH – Innsmouth
19th July 2016, Independent Release

Named after the character of the same name from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, OBED MARSH from Perth, Australia haunt the deeps of bandcamp with uncanny Blackened Doom since immerging with their first demo in 2014. Their 2016 debut full-length Innsmouth is absolutely terrifying, the harsh, heavy and hauntingly atmospheric doom riffs and stomping drums one their own really convince, but it is the vocals that lift this Depressive Doom project to the next level. Monstrous, gargling screams and tortured gasps, this vocal performance could very well be executed by the Lord Dagon himself! OBED MARSH is the definite highlight of my dwelling in the dark void of bandcamp, give this album and its 2019 follow up Dunwich a thourough listen, this project deserves more attention from the cultists of Lovecraftian Metal!

V: The Ambiance of Cosmic Horror

“The process of delving into the black abyss
is to me the keenest form of fascination.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

Moving away from Metal a bit now… For me, Dark Ambient has always been a very compelling, yet also quite complex and difficult genre. I found myself strangely attracted to it, like a devotee to an idol of the Great Old Ones… Ambient music is a great tool of tension when reading Lovecraft, I found myself listening to it more and more as I dove into the writers literature and was glad to find the many projects devoted to Cosmic Horror that exist in this genre! Here are my recommendations.

THE SEAL OF R’LYEH – From the Ruins of Sarkomand (Compilation)
21st May 2011, Independent Release

Starting this section off with a more easily approachable release, THE SEAL OF R’YLEH delivers dark and moody Dungeon Synth, or as the bandcamp page says, “Black Ambient for the Great Old Ones”. I really liked that the usual kind of kitschy qualities of this genre are not quite as present and yield to a more atmospheric soundscape. This particular Compilation brings together two previously released mini tape albums, taking on eight well known short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, such as The Dreams In The Witch-House and Celephais, which refers to another city of the Dreamlands. The doomy, slightly trippy and deep syntheziser drone / sound on this album has an otherworldly appeal to it and brought together with occasional distant, pounding drums / knocks and ambient noise, leads to a great minimalistic, yet compelling Dungeon Synth experience.

BLACK MOUNTAIN TRANSMITTER – Black Goat of the Woods
31st October 2009, Lysergic Earwax

Set out to sound like the soundtrack of a low-budget horror movie rediscovered today, BLACK MOUNTAIN TRANSMITTER created an experimental/electronic noise / ambient album in one long track. As you probably realized, I had problems to accurately classify this record, that is due to the fact that the sound of this 40 minute track is constantly shifting, confronting you with new eerie, uncannily distorted sounds every few minutes. The name of the album refers to Shub-Niggurath, also often called “the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”, an entity only sparcly defined by Lovecraft himself but expanded later through other mythos authors. Just as the deity, this record is not really definable by human speech, it’s as Lovecraft would have said, non-euclidian to its core.

CRYO CHAMBER COLLABORATION – Cthulhu
30th September 2014, Cryo Chamber

CRYO CHAMBER is a collective of Dark Ambient projects, releasing separate albums on a regular basis. This, however, is something different, a collaboration of more than 10 of the groups artists that set out to make one large and ambitious Lovecraftian Ambient piece, and as far as I would say, they succeded! The track is a whopping hour and 20 minutes long and other than many Ambient releases before, it didn’t lose my attention a single time throughout its runtime. CRYO CHAMBER has created something very special, I consider them to have gotten extremely close to actually portray the grandiose nature of Cosmic Horror. Ambient droning, sounds of the deep ocean (and some other surprising elements that I don’t want to spoil) are what makes this album so compelling and create an impressive soundscape to get lost in. While Cthulhu is my personal favourite of the bunch, the group has since released multiple collab-pieces focusing on a plethora of deities from the Lovecraftian pantheon that is all worth checking out… just plan in some time, as these only get longer with each release, many of them compiled of multiple hour-long tracks. Get lost in the abyss and welcome the embrace of the cold, deep ocean.

Here we are at the end of this article, I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Lovecraft is a topic that is hard to fully process in a compact manner, but maybe this article helps to get a basic overview over some of Metals Lovecraftian entities. Keep reading & exploring the mythos and support the bands you liked from this article, they all deserve it!

See you next time in my unholy Sanctum Metallum… the trve Medvson

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange æons, even death may die.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

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