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30 July 2014

H P Lovecraft

Supernatural Horror in Metal

Henry Akeley

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naïvely insipid idealism which deprecates the æsthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to “uplift” the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite sensitiveness. –H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

Despite their very different media, and the fact that their respective peaks occurred about a half-century apart, one might say that the musical genre of heavy metal and the literary works loosely collected under the title of “weird fiction” share a significant number of commonalities. Perhaps most tellingly, the two genres share a trait that many others do not; namely, they were both formed as a result of the strong philosophical disposition and worldview of their pioneering constituents.

With Black Sabbath and H.P. Lovecraft being at the center of each constellation, it is quite interesting to note, then, that the two share a direct connection in Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep”, from its self-titled debut album, which is directly inspired by one of Lovecraft’s stories, namely “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”. Black Sabbath is, of course, not the only heavy metal band to derive influence from Lovecraft, nor indeed the only band with any degree of celebrity. Yet, the fact that the very beginning of the genre was already drawing influences from weird fiction is a strong indication the similarities in interest and inspiration, such that there is a clear parallel between what inspires one to write such literature as well as heavy metal.

To be truthful, when one speaks of such a statement as “weird fiction’s influence on heavy metal”, it is not much different from saying “H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on heavy metal”, perhaps with a smattering of Edgar Allan Poe—insofar as Poe can be fairly regarded as a practitioner of weird fiction. Other weird writers—such as Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Robert W. Chambers, Frank Belknap Long, Arthur Machen, Robert Bloch, T.E.D. Klein, and Ramsey Campbell—receive hardly a passing mention in liner notes from time to time. Howard, it should be noted, receives far more attention for his non-weird prose.

This is not, of course, in any way an indictment, but rather a simple observation aimed toward narrowing the focus. While the references to others are touched upon, the very canon upon which one may draw dictates that any study into the subject must gravitate by and large around the figure of H.P. Lovecraft, whose stature in this category is matched only in his towering supremacy amongst his peers in his own field. It is of little use to exaggerate the impact of a work such as The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson in heavy metal despite its great influence on Lovecraft himself, for example.

With that in mind, it is worth beginning with a cautionary tale of sorts regarding Lovecraft’s true influence. Countless musicians, within heavy metal, hard rock, and other genres alike, have been inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft—musicians of varying degrees of talent and vision that they might call their own. Many of them have, in turn, incorporated his writings, works, and ideas, into their own.

Truth be told, the majority of the references to the Necronomicon one might find in some random heavy metal band’s lyric sheet or artwork will more likely than not be derived from sources other than Lovecraft’s own writing. Depending on the type of band, the Simon Necronomicon—for those who profess interest in occultism—or the Evil Dead movie franchise—for those who like to sit around and watch gory movies—are the likely sources referenced. A simple exhibition into the early Floridian death metal scene will easily bear out the truth of the matter.

Two of the more popular (and artistically successful) acts spawned from this scene were Deicide and Morbid Angel, both of whom make reference to the fictional book of the dead aforementioned. Yet, while Deicide’s “Dead by Dawn” mentions it by name, the lyrics, as well as the song title, make it clear that the inspiration is not the fictional tome in the Lovecraft Mythos, but rather that of the Evil Dead movies.

By the same token, while Morbid Angel fails to cite it by name, the band makes frequent mention of the various “gods” of the Necronomicon. However, the abundance of quotations directly from the Simon Necronomicon on the Formulas Fatal to the Flesh album, in addition to songs such as “Azagthoth” from Abominations of Desolation (later known as “The Ancient Ones” when it was re-recorded for the Blessed Are the Sick album) make it clear by which source the band was primarily influenced.

Such cases are quite frequently stumbled across when attempting to speak coherently of Lovecraft’s influence on heavy metal; it is quite clear that, often times, his true influence is merely secondary, at times tertiary, to the true source, and many times it is not even clear that the artist understands the origin of his inspiration. On the other hand, some of the most famous bands in the genre have proven to be genuinely influenced by the works of the master of cosmic terror, Metallica and Black Sabbath in particular. Others still, such as Mercyful Fate, Entombed, Nile, Manilla Road, and Reverend Bizarre, represent a group of some of the larger underground heavy metal groups that make explicit references to Lovecraft’s fiction.

With that in mind, Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” is the first heavy metal song to be influenced directly by the works of weird fiction; as previously mentioned, its lyrics are drawn from Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”. What is it precisely in this tale that was attractive to the British quartet, enough that it would come to inspire a song on their debut album? Wherein does the philosophical connection reside between H.P. Lovecraft and Geezer Butler, such that a story from the former turned into a set of lyrics from the latter? And more importantly, is this song consistent with the philosophical disposition demonstrated throughout the rest of the band’s catalog—or at least during their most critical juncture with Ozzy Osbourne?

It is worth first discussing the Lovecraft tale in question and what meanings can be drawn from its pages, which comes from the early years of the author’s critical works; in fact, it is one of his earliest works of maturity. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is a tale that, at its most transcendental, takes one on a journey beyond the realms of human consciousness, of an anthropocentric existence, a journey that is the quintessential attribute of the “imaginative liberation” that he so desperately sought in his writings. It tells the story of a sort of being of light that is communicating through the body of a backwoods, Catskills hick. The juxtaposition of the light being’s celestial rants and the inability of the frail tongue of the simpleton Slater is tantamount to the relationship, in Lovecraft’s mind, that humanity collectively shares with the great expanses of the cosmos. Consider the following passage, replete with fantastical and ecstatic visions far beyond the doldrums of common existence:

Chords, vibrations, and harmonic ecstasies echoed passionately on every hand, while on my ravished sight burst the stupendous spectacle of ultimate beauty. Walls, columns, and architraves of living fire blazed effulgently around the spot where I seemed to float in air, extending upward to an infinitely high vaulted dome of indescribable splendor. Blending with this display of palatial magnificence, or rather, supplanting it at times in kaleidoscopic rotation, were glimpses of wide plains and graceful valleys, high mountains and inviting grottoes, covered with every lovely attribute of scenery which my delighted eyes could conceive of, yet formed wholly of some glowing, ethereal plastic entity, which in consistency partook as much of spirit as of matter. As I gazed, I perceived that my own brain held the key to these enchanting metamorphoses; for each vista which appeared to me was the one my changing mind most wished to behold. Amidst this elysian realm I dwelt not as a stranger, for each sight and sound was familiar to me; just as it had been for uncounted eons of eternity before, and would be for like eternities to come.

This constant striving to reach beyond the conventional human experience is a notable theme throughout the author’s work, and, unsurprisingly, it is also far from absent in the lyrical canon of Black Sabbath. Not one to tamely embrace the set of circumstances by which one is surrounded, the band’s lyrics, often penned by Butler, are regularly vocal in their discontent, though far more often of an earthly nature than that of Lovecraft’s writings. Lovecraft’s private communications, which are arguably even more substantial and significant than his works of fiction, find him to be a heavily grounded and vocal social and societal commentator as well.

Lovecraft was, in his own way, a notable social commentator, and a much more progressive mind than many would perhaps grant him without having had an exposure to his wide assortment of personal letters. In this sense, he certainly would have been rather sympathetic to many of the downtrodden and doom-ridden passages that litter Black Sabbath’s seminal works from the 1970s. One interesting comparison might be traced through the usage of drugs as an escape from an oppressive reality. The protagonist in Lovecraft’s Dagon, for example, can be quantified as just such a persona:

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone, makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.

Despite the disparity between the ultimate source of insanity, Black Sabbath’s “Hand of Doom” perfectly coincides with the latent desire expressed in Lovecraft to escape one’s oppressive existence by retreating into one’s mind, and on certain occasions to do so through the use of mind-altering substances.

What you gonna do? Time’s caught up with you
Now you wait your turn, you know there’s no return
Take your written rules, you join the other fools
Turn to something new, now it’s killing you

First it was the bomb, Vietnam napalm
Disillusioning, you push the needle in
From life you escape, reality’s that way
Colours in your mind satisfy your time

Black Sabbath’s lyrics, like much of Lovecraft’s private communications, reflect the mind of an individual that stands opposed to the inexorable onrush of modernity and unchecked societal ‘advancements’; indeed, one might say that this is the cornerstone of Black Sabbath’s most fertile works, and the band no doubt finds a kindred spirit in the form of Lovecraft. This is largely why Lovecraft’s writing stretches beyond the veil of the known and into the speculative realm of the cosmos; and here is where the two titans in their field intersect in Beyond the Wall of Sleep and “Behind the Wall of Sleep”.

As previously mentioned, the Lovecraft story details the disembodied journey throughout the cosmos of a being of light. Slater, the crazed, murderous backwoods vagrant, is somehow possessed by this being, which is able to communicate through him. An intern at the hospital in which he is committed as he slowly dies is able to communicate directly with this being through a device of his own dimension. He is able to enter “beyond the wall of sleep”, which is narrated in the quote above. Slater is about to expire, and as a consequence, the connection between the physical being and the light being that is his equivalent will shatter, and the light being will become fully detached from the corporeal world. See how the lyrics in the Black Sabbath song correspond to this experience:

Feel your spirit rise with the breeze
Feel your body fall onto its knees
Sleeping wall of remorse
Turns your body to a corpse
Turns your body to a corpse
Turns your body to a corpse
Sleeping wall of remorse
Turns your body to a corpse

Now from darkness there springs light
Wall of Sleep is cool and bright
Wall of Sleep is lying broken
Sun shines in you have awoken

The celestial release from the corporeal life is tantamount to both the short story and the song. The light being of the “dream” world slowly deteriorates Slater’s physical body, which also directly echoes the lyrics of the song; it is clear beyond the song title that the lyrics are derived directly, if somewhat loosely, from Lovecraft’s work, and in the same spirit as well. Yet, it is not the only song in which Black Sabbath touches on the cosmic, however.

Consider “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid, which, while perhaps not truly cosmic in the Lovecraftian sense, nonetheless echoes the sentiment of recognizing the relative insignificance of the human experience in comparison to the great expanses of the cosmos by reveling in its planetary exploration:

We sail through endless skies
Stars shine like eyes
The black night sighs
The moon in silver trees
Falls down in tears
Light of the night
The earth, a purple blaze
Of sapphire haze
In orbit always

While down below the trees
Bathed in cool breeze
Silver starlight breaks down the night
And so we pass on by the crimson eye
Of great god Mars
As we travel the universe

Of course, Black Sabbath may be the first band in heavy metal to draw influences from the master of the weird; yet it is far from the only one, even in the mainstream, to divine similar inspiration. Metallica is, of course, the most well-known example, and it is certainly not one to be taken lightly despite the band’s rather patchy reputation—particularly in the underground—today. As early as 1984’s Ride the Lightning, the band was clearly inspired by his work.

Having allegedly been first brought into the fold by bassist Cliff Burton, the band collectively seized upon the opportunity to put to music the atmosphere of his tales. “The Call of Ktulu” is, of course, working upon the theme of The Call of Cthulhu, the short story that is arguably Lovecraft’s most well-known. Indeed, an entire “Cthulhu Mythos”, separate from his own vision, has formed in the wake of his writings.

It is a theme that is distinguished by some from the “Lovecraft Mythos”, as the writings of the former often stray, sometimes significantly, from the spirit of the creator’s original writings and intentions, notably beginning with writers such as August Derleth, whom Lovecraft referred to as one of the “self-blinded earth-gazers”.

The nine-minute instrumental is a haunting and disorienting affair whose atmosphere is rich with the anxiety of impending doom, mingled with the regality of god-worship befitting the delusional “Esquimaux wizards and the Louisiana swamp-priests” of the voodoo cults in New Orleans.

Even more potently, however, is “The Thing that should not be”, an homage to the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, not merely in its lyrical adaptation of his tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth (perhaps with some reference to The Call of Cthulhu), but also in its notably unique atmosphere in Metallica’s back catalog. Its slow, plodding doom metal tempo and, most specifically, the maddening and disorienting solo provided by Kirk Hammett on this song clearly differentiate it as set apart in spirit and inspiration from what the band had done previously, with the variable being the influence of Lovecraft. Perhaps its otherness in comparison to the rest of 1986’s Master of Puppets may make the song more difficult for some to appreciate; however, knowing the lyrical intentions of the piece, the reality is that the aura of the song is perfectly suited to evoke the emotions of madness and fear as in the work of Lovecraft.

While the author’s stories need not be summarized by way of comparison, suffice it to say that the lyrics are clearly derived from the aforementioned works of Lovecraft. Indeed, the song even makes reference to the infamous couplet from the fictional Necronomicon that Lovecraft inserts into the narrative of The Call of Cthulhu“That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die”. Naturally, the passage had to be augmented in order to comply with the rhyme scheme and structure of the rest of the lyrics, but it is still easily identified as one and the same.

What is also clear is that the song makes reference heavily to The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Of particular note is the reference to “hybrid children”, a clear nod to the inbreeding between the townspeople of Innsmouth and the Deep Ones, which are the offspring of Father Dagon and Mother Hydra beneath the Devil’s Reef in the sunken city of Y’ha-nthlei. The lyrics, in their limited meter, are somewhat ambiguous, however, and it is not entirely clear to which story some passages refer. For example, take the following set of lyrics:

Crawling Chaos, underground
Cult has summoned, twisted sound

Out from ruins once possessed
Fallen city, living death

The “fallen city” could perhaps refer to the sunken city of R’lyeh, where “dead Cthulhu lies dreaming”; however, it may simply refer to the downfall of the town of Innsmouth as it succumbed to the hybridization of the Deep Ones and fell under the control of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Meanwhile, the summoning by the cult could equally refer to the aforementioned Esoteric Order, or it could be a reference to the Cthulhu swamp cults of New Orleans and around the world, who prepare for his awakening. The latter would be supported in the second chorus, which reads:

Timeless sleep
Has been upset
He awakens
Hunter of the Shadows is rising

Regardless of the specific influence, however, it is clear that the song is distinctly differentiated musically from the rest of Metallica’s repertoire, not only in tone, tempo, and structure, but also in philosophy, which is of course a testament to the Lovecraftian specter that hangs over the composition.

Perhaps it could be said that, in contrast to Black Sabbath, its distinction from the rest of the band’s catalog is a clear indication of its lack of integration with a broader ideology. That would be a fair observation; however, there are a number of other bands, though paling in popularity, that are more closely intertwined philosophically with the motivations that drove the penning of much of the canon of weird fiction, such as Reverend Bizarre.

Reverend Bizarre’s “The Festival” is one of the more interesting, and perhaps less well-known, examples of a relatively popular heavy metal band drawing influence from Lovecraft: this, despite the song title being lifted from the short story from which it draws its inspiration. The Festival is the first instance, of few, in which Lovecraft exhumes a substantial quote from the dreaded Necronomicon, and it is this climactic passage that sends off both the tale and its namesake song.

The tale revolves around the continued existence of ancient festival rites, which take place in the equally ancient town of Kingsport. The protagonist is lured there by his forefathers, yet he finds the town, and its people, rather suspicious once he arrives. As he sits and waits uncomfortably in the house of his forefathers for the processions to begin, he reads from the Necronomicon until he is particularly disturbed by one passage. Soon, however, the traditional rituals commence, and he is led down endless pathways into the earth, wherein he beholds a most disturbing site:

Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts.

What is more, the townspeople of whom he was suspicious are revealed to be something quite different as well. The man that first greeted him at the door had been wearing a waxen mask, after all, and its eventual displacement drives him into madness. He plunges into the frigid river in order to escape the insane horde. It is only some time later that he is able to confirm again what he’d read in that book:

“The nethermost caverns”, wrote the mad Arab, “are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl”.

The above is, of course, an excerpt from the Lovecraftian tale, but the quotation within the quote is the elusive passage from the Necronomicon upon which the protagonist stumbled. It is likely the most extensive quotation from the fictional tome that Lovecraft provides throughout his entire corpus, and is of course the climactic moment of the story upon the great reveal. This is naturally picked up upon by Reverend Bizarre, which transcribes the story into lyrics as follows:

Deep in my dreams lies horror to the books that should not be.
There is no-one to keep those dreams locked deep inside of me.
How can this be? My father did not mention any tunnels.
Descending slowly, with creatures that should crawl instead of walking.

Of course, there are yet still many more bands that take direct influence from Lovecraft, including Lord Vicar, the band that guitarist Peter Vicar began following the dissolution of Reverend Bizarre. The song “Pillars Under Water” has clear Lovecraftian influence, particularly from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, although in fairness its most direct inspiration would appear in fact to be the movie Dagon, which is a slightly altered adaptation of the aforementioned Lovecraft tale. Another band that often takes explicit influence from Lovecraft, though hailing from South Carolina, quite often has its head buried in the sand.

Despite its reputation as staunch Egyptologists, Nile is far from rigid in its glorification of ancient Egypt and its rituals. Many, for example may not realize, that the Nephren-Ka to which is referred in the title of the band’s debut album is a character invented by H.P. Lovecraft in The Outsider in 1921; indeed, the full album title, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, is lifted verbatim from the selfsame story. The closing song on Nile’s debut album is nearly entirely quoted out of The Outsider, in fact, with only minor alteration. Excepting the second stanza, “Beneath Eternal Oceans of Sand” is essentially a repetition of the penultimate paragraph of the tale:

When I returned to the churchyard place of marble and went down the steps I found the stone trap-door immovable; but I was not sorry, for I had hated the antique castle and the trees. Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile. I know that light is not for me, save that of the moon over the rock tombs of Neb, nor any gaiety save the unnamed feasts of Nitokris beneath the Great Pyramid; yet in my new wildness and freedom I almost welcome the bitterness of alienage.

Much as the aforementioned is derived from a tale of Lovecraft’s, however, Nile’s “Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten” appears to be derived primarily from Lovecraft’s contemporary, Robert E. Howard, who invented the Nameless Cults grimoire, which later received the German title of Unausspechlichen Kulten for inclusion in the collective mythos both Howard and Lovecraft, as well as other writers, referenced in their works.

The song may be perhaps particularly drawn from Howard’s The Children of the Night, in which a modern day individual finds himself, by the circumstance of being knocked unconscious, awakened in a pre-historic world in which he is confronted by snake-like “men”, while he is transmuted inside the body of a man named Aryara, of an ancient warrior tribe. When he awakens as himself, he remains haunted by visions of this alternate life of what may well be his centuries-gone ancestor, a scenario that would help to shed light on the following passage in the song, which closes the Annihilation of the Wicked album:

I dare not again surrender
To the deep sleep
Which ever beckons me
Lest I in dread
Shudder at the nameless things
That may at this very moment
Be crawling and lurking
At the slimy edges of my consciousness

It may yet still more broadly reflect an influence of Lovecraft’s The Nameless City in addition, a tale that may very well have also inspired the instrumental “The Nameless City of the Accursed” from the band’s Black Seeds of Vengeance album. Yet that is far from the last bit of influence that the old master has had on Nile’s work. Indeed, far from waning, the tradition of Lovecraftian numbers continues on through the band’s discography with Ithyphallic and Those Whom the Gods Detest, namely in the songs “What can Safely be Written”, “The Essential Salts”, and “4th Arra of Dagon”.

The first two songs, from the Ithyphallic album, demonstrate varying degrees of influence from Lovecraft while also displaying different means of employing that influence. The former is essentially a retelling of the Cthulhu cycle that runs throughout several of Lovecraft’s tales in an attempt to construct a consistent and coherent narrative, or collective knowledge of sorts, of the Old One.

The song is not without creative license, of course, casting the story from a personal — rather than objective — perspective by attributing great wrath and delight of destruction to the creature that Lovecraft himself does not; though, in fairness, the characters in his tales regularly, and understandably, misattribute qualities and motives onto his ‘gods’. The song, however, primarily derives its narrative, predictably, from The Call of Cthulhu, as the following passage will no doubt attest:

When the stars in their endless turnings
Assume the angles of the same rays they shed down
In the primordial dawn of the world
Then does R’lyeh rise upward so the house of Cthulhu
Emerges from under his watery prison
The mind of the god waxes strong
And he sends forth his will to those men
Who are open to his influence
The command to release the seals that bind his tomb

“The Essential Salts”, on the other hand, is a more interesting usage of Lovecraft’s influence, as it merely takes an essential idea from him in order to build around it a broad, original narrative. The song takes as its central premise the basic idea behind The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which involves the reanimation of the dead:

They had found unholy ways to keep their brains alive, either in the same body or different bodies; and had evidently achieved a way of tapping the consciousness of the dead whom they gathered together. There had, it seems, been some truth in chimerical old Borellus when he wrote of preparing from even the most antique remains certain “Essential Saltes” from which the shade of a long-dead living thing might be raised up. There was a formula for evoking such a shade, and another for putting it down; and it had now been so perfected that it could be taught successfully. One must be careful about evocations, for the markers of old graves are not always accurate.

Compare the above excerpt from the aforementioned tale to this passage from Nile’s “The Essential Salts”:

The necromancers of Giza
A cult of reanimators
Concerned with interrogation of the long dead
Corpses who may be revived and made to talk
And describe the contents of rare books
And gold hidden in the earth
Although they are often reluctant to reveal their secrets
And must be encouraged with fire and blade

All of this is perfectly in line with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, from the interrogation of great thinkers of the past revivified to the acquiring of secret riches and the need of force. Yet, it is still interesting to observe Nile’s adaptation of the general idea of the story, importing it into Egypt and swapping the protagonist with “a cult of reanimators”.

Lastly, “4th Arra of Dagon” from Those Whom the Gods Detest is yet another example of Nile taking a piece of Lovecraftian lore and building a narrative around it. In this instance, the band takes the concept of the Elder Sign and builds around it a sort of narrative that tells of its origins and history:

Painted and inscribed on flat stones
Abhorrent to the deep ones
Abhorrent to their great father
Is the symbol to guard against Dagon

Created by the elder things
Long ages past
To guard against Dagon and his spawn

Getting back to a somewhat more literal adaptation, however, Argus’ “The Outsider” is arguably the finest modern example of Lovecraftian heavy metal. Naturally, it is a retelling of the Lovecraft story of the same name, and, as evidenced by the aforementioned Nile debut album, is not the least influential of the author’s works. “The Outsider” is the epic closer from Argus’ self-titled debut album and, like its namesake, is a first-person narrative of literal self-discovery:  namely the discovery that the protagonist, as revealed by the mirror, is some sort of unnamed monster. It is yet also a tale of self-acceptance and an embrace of the freedom inherent in the role of the ‘other’:

But in the cosmos there is balm as well as bitterness, and that balm is nepenthe. In the supreme horror of that second I forgot what had horrified me, and the burst of black memory vanished in a chaos of echoing images. In a dream I fled from that haunted and accursed pile, and ran swiftly and silently in the moonlight. When I returned to the churchyard place of marble and went down the steps I found the stone trap-door immovable; but I was not sorry, for I had hated the antique castle and the trees. Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile.

From Black Sabbath to Argus, Metallica to Portal, it is clear that H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on heavy metal is not only pervasive, but enduring, having lasted the length of the genre’s existence with no clear signs of relenting any time soon. The antiquarian scribe remains now as ever a powerful influence on many heavy metal bands in ways that highlight the parallels between the essences of weird fiction and heavy metal.

It should be of little surprise, in light of this, that Lovecraft’s influence extends much deeper into the underground than Reverend Bizarre and Argus. Among the bands that have brought his writings to life are Rage, Darkified, Sentenced, Atlantean Kodex, Necrodeath, Revenant, Draconian (Sweden), Poison (Ger), Manilla Road, The Lamp of Thoth, etc. The list goes on for some time.

Yet few draw much influence from Lovecraft’s contemporaries and disciples, or indeed those who influenced Lovecraft himself, with the natural exception of Poe. The vast majority of Robert E. Howard’s influence on the genre is for his sword and sorcery, adventure stories, as aforementioned, and where precisely to draw the line around his weird fiction work is blurry at best. Manilla Road, for example, used The Frost Giant’s Daughter and The Fire of Asshurbanipal as source material in recent years, which do have a stronger supernatural element than past songs inspired by Howard such as “Queen of the Black Coast” and “Children of the Night”. Such a study on the influence of Poe, Howard, Frank Belknap Long, and others, however, would be better reserved for another time.

Source: Heathen Harvest

 

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