overground scene


H.P.Lovecraft and Death Metal (4th update)

After a long time I decided to revise this post about the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s body of works on the Death Metal genre. When I first wrote it back in 2009 I had just started delving into the wonders of Horror literature. I rediscovered Stephen King, some of whose works I read back in the 1990s, and I quickly found books by Clive Barker and H.P.Lovecraft, two other great figures of Horror literature. My interest in the horror genre was not accidental. Having grown up listening to Heavy metal, I was inadvertently exposed to horror literature references. My first Heavy metal CD ever was Iron Maiden‘s Live after death. The thing that first mesmerised me before even listening to the music, was the amazing cover. On the tombstone, a quote from Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu is inscribed: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with strange aeons even death may die”. Part of my interest in exploring those references in more detail stemmed from my desire to understand my favourite musicians a bit better, and connect with them on an abstract cultural plane. Another factor that enabled this obsession with horror literature is the availability of extremely cheap books in England. I have bought almost all my books from local charity shops, and each book has cost me between 50p and £2. Finally, my interest in horror literature can also be linked to my fascination with horror movies, which goes back to my early childhood. I remember being in the early grades of primary school and watching The Hand (1981), together with my mom, or The Blob (1986) without my parents knowing, or Poltergeist III (1989) and not being able to sleep, or being 9-10 years old and looking forward to Friday night to watch the new episode of Friday the 13th the TV series (and talk about it with my cousin George next time we’d meet).

As Roland Barthes has pointed out, all texts refer only to other texts. This post is about Lovecraft’s influence on various texts (i.e. lyrics and images) associated with the Death metal genre.

Nile‘s first full length, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998), is my personal favourite Nile album and a true gem of mid- to late 1990s American brutal death metal. Both the words “Nile” and the title of the album can be found in the same sentence at the end of the haunting short story by Lovecraft, “The Outsider”. The catacombs are the home of the deformed creature which has dwelled there mummified for centuries, before it ventured to visit the outside world. The catacombs are the place where the creature returns after realising its abominable existence. Another noteworthy example, as pointed out by one of the readers of the blog, of Lovecraft’s influence on Nile’s music is the monumental “4th Arra of Dagon” off Those whom the gods detest (2009).

Morbid Angel,  the cornerstone of American brutal death metal, is clearly guided by Lovecraft. References to the Ancient Ones and Yog-Sothoth, characters built around the Cthulhu mythos, are ubiquitous in all Morbid Angel discography, especially in albums Blessed are the sick (1991) and Formulas fatal to the flesh (1998). Morbid Angel not only write lyrics inspired by Lovecraft, but also their philosophical explorations draw on the mystical cosmos created by Lovecraft; what constitutes reality; which part of reality the human mind can perceive and what its limitations are; how the human mind is bound by social and cultural norms prohibiting us from accessing other realities, and so forth.

ENTOMBED---CLANDESTINE-2013-Back-CoverEntombed‘s masterpiece Clandestine (1991) contains the song “stranger aeons“. The lyrics are written by Kenny Hakansson. Phrases like “stranger aeons” and “Stranger things that eternal lie” point towards the Cthulhu mythos once again. Other phrases like “lurking at the threshold” also point to other Lovecraft tales like the Thing at the Doorstep, or The Lurking Fear. The painting by Nicke Andersson at the back cover of the album, depicts a head with frightening hollow eyes and tentacles, reminiscent of Lovecraft’s ancient God Cthulhu.

In 2006 Death Breath from Sweden released the excellent album Stinking up the night. The album closes with a haunting instrumental titled “Cthulhu Fthagn”. The song is apparently a tribute both to Lovecraft and Metallica, who had recorded the instrumental “The call of Ktulu” in their Ride the lightning (1984) album. These words (cthulu fthagn) are what Wilcox the sculptor heard, during his horrifying dreams of the city where Cthulhu slept. In the same album, the song “A morbid mind” also refers to the Lovecraftian mythology, and ”Flabby Little things from Beyond” refers to the short story From Beyond where a scientist creates a device that allows people to perceive hidden dimensions. Massacre‘s first album From Beyond (1991), one of the ultimate Death Metal albums, is dedicated to this story as well. What I have identified as Lovecraftian references in Tiamat‘s work, are a bit more obscure. The title “In the shrines of the kingly dead”, off Tiamat’s debut album, alludes to the terrifying story The hound, where the phrase “the narcotic incense of imagined Eastern shrines of the kingly dead” can be found. The story Celephais includes the recurring phrase “where the sea meets the sky”, and a similar phrase is also found in Tiamat’s “A caress of stars” off Clouds (1992).

Other references to Lovecraft come from bands like Therion, and their song “Cthulu“, off their fantastic second album, Gutted‘s “Nailed to the cross”, a strange blend of Lovecraft and anti-christian lyrics off their debut album Bleed for us to live (1994), and Sinister‘s “Awaiting the Absu”, from their masterpiece Hate (1995). In the eponymous track of Septic Flesh‘s first album (i.e. Mystic places of dawn (1994), one of the superior albums in death metal history, or even music history overall), there is  the lyric “… Sarnath the doomed, and names that echo in the labyrinths and the cavernous depths of chaos”.   This is a reference to the short story “The doom that came to Sarnath”, which talks about an imaginary city that prospered after ravaging an ancient alien race, which eventually returned to take revenge. The song “Lovecraft’s death” off Communion (2008) is full of references to stories such as The rats in the walls, The whisperer in darkness, and The music of Erich Zann, among others.

Another amazing song coming from recent years, is Morgoth‘s “Nemesis” off their awesome comeback album Ungod (2015). The lyrics of “Nemesis” come from Lovecraft’s homonymous poem, and I cannot imagine a better soundscape for it. Another relatively recent example of Lovecraftian death metal comes from Morbus Chron. Their first album includes the brilliant song “Red Hook horror“, which references The horror at Red Hook, one of the most talked-about Lovecraft stories. It is one of the stories that have been identified as an example of Lovecraft’s xenophobic and far right beliefs, as it is laden with derogatory epithets and imagery about US immigrants and the economically deprived. Morbus Chron have borrowed minor elements of the story and created their own vague, gruesome narrative.

seagrave

The art of Dan Seagrave, one of the most important painters-cover artists of the death metal genre, clearly draws on Lovecraft’s imagination. Much of his more recent work, finds the artist obsessed with bizarre architecture (i.e. “non Euclidian geometry”), of the kind mentioned in the dreams of Lovecraft’s characters of the city R’lyeh. Looking at covers like Morbid Angel‘s Gateways to Annihilation (2000) or Suffocation‘s Souls to Deny (2004), can only bring into mind descriptions from the Call of Cthulhu like, “…great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths…”.

Some of the readers of this blog have made some contributions in the comment section, so please read on for more Lovecraft influences! To be continued…

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14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is a great article my friend (Y)
I love H.P Lovecraft!
Keep up the good work 😀

Comment by Patrick

Yeah, I’m back baby!
4th arra of Dagon by Nlle

Comment by Morten

ha, welcome back 🙂 You’re right, very cool song too. I need to update this post soon, there’s lots of other stuff I’ve come across since I last updated it.

Comment by lentil81

Thank you for your nice words! I’m glad you liked the post! Yes Lovecraft is god!
Cheers

Comment by lentil81

Nice article with lots of info!
I think that the Finnish band “Deathchain” also uses a lot of Lovecraft in their songs? Songs like
Incantation of Shub-Niggurath and Monolith of Death seem to have some Lovecraft stuff on them.
ANyways, Lovecraft rules!

Comment by Jonathan

Thank you, I obviously didn’t know about Deathchain! That’s nice, because by commenting you contribute to the post! I’ll check it out.

Comment by lentil81

Dude. This is huge! I never knew there were so many bands influenced and inspired by H. P. Lovecraft! I myself found out about his mythology first time when i was around 10 years old and read about the lyrics of Metallica’s Call of the Ktulu. Later on i was amazed of the quote of the grave stone in Iron Maiden’s Live after Death because i discovered it when i began listening to Iron Maiden. Now i’m very interested in H. P. Lovecraft literature but have only read about him and his books on the internet. I haven’t finished any book written by him yet, but i really wanna see if i can get my hands on one, especially a book about the Cthulhu Mythos. Thanks alot for making this man, was really great to read! And if you’ve got time, please list some of H. P.’s books only concerning the Cthulu Mythos. (I’m mostly interested in those) 🙂

Comment by Glenn

Thanx for your really nice words! You should know that it is very easy to start reading Lovecraft because he has written a lot of short stories. His stories range from 10 to 150 pages. Some of the short stories are the best!!! His entire work is being compiled in three books, Omnibus 1, 2 and 3 by Granada publishing. You can find these books really cheap on Amazon. I have read Omnibus 3 so far and I can tell that it is amazing. That one contains the call of Cthulhu and other amazing stories such as the outsider and the thing on the doorstep! The second Omnibus, though, is filled with short stories, which make it easier to read.
Also I don’t know if you are into more classical metal, but if so there are other bands that write songs inspired from Lovecraft. For example one of my favorite bands, Rage, have a couple of songs on their Black in Mind album based on Lovecraft stories, like the shadow out of time (amazing song). Mekong delta also have two albums named after Lovecraft stories: “the music of Erich Zaan” and their latest album “the Lurking fear”. I suggest you start off with Omnibus 3 – The haunter of the Dark! I’m sure you’ll love it.
Cheers!

Comment by lentil81

Thanks alot for your Reply! Sorry i haven’t been checking the site lately. I’ve been doing alot 🙂 I’ll buy Omnibus 3 right away! 🙂 And i’ll listen to Rage and Mekong Delta in the near future 🙂 I loved Death Breath’s song you linked! I’m also listening to alot of Nile atm but i’m still getting to know more of their songs, i’ve only heard a couple of em 🙂 Thanks alot for your answer man! // Glenn 🙂

Comment by Glenn

Heya
First of all I would like to compliment you for this great initiative! Collecting Lovecraft references in death metal is a great hobby 🙂

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh C’thulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Iä iä Cthulhu

Apart from those already mentioned I would like to contriute with naming a few bands, who have at least made one song relating to the Cthulhu mythos: Second track on ‘Legion’ by Deicide ‘Dead but dreaming’ refers to the “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” quote from “The call of Cthulhu”.
The 6th track ‘Dagon rising’ on ‘Chorozonic Force Domination’ by brazilian Internal Suffering refers to the story of the same name.
Danish heavy metal legend Merciful Fate, on the records ‘Time’ and ‘Into the unknown’ made the songs ‘The mad arab part 1&2’, referring to the author of the ‘Neronomicon’ Abdul Alhazred, who appears frequently in Lovecraft’s stories.
English storytelling metalband Bal Sagoth has made several songs, most prominently ‘The dreamer in the catacombs of Ur’ 7th track on 2001 release ‘Atlantis Ascending’, referring to the Cthulhu mythos in general.
These are just off the top of my head, there’s certainly more out there 🙂

Best regards from Morten

Comment by Morten Andreasen

Hey thanx for your comment! Of course ‘Dead but dreaming’!!! How did I miss that one!? Legion is one of my all time favorite albums, definetely the best Deicide album… I saw them live a couple of times back in the day, and dead but dreaming was the only song they played off “Legion”. I am not familiar with Internal Suffering and I never listened to Bal Sagoth, but Merciful Fate are gods! I’m pretty sure there’s much more out there… I just read the story “Herbert West – the Re-Animator” and it appears that Death Breath’s ‘Coffins of the unembalmed dead’ is inspired by it. In the short story “The Hound” the sentence ‘…the narcotic incence of imagined Eastern shrines of the kingly dead…” points to the song from the first Tiamat album! Anyway, thanx a lot for your contribution!

Comment by lentil81

[…] Lovecraft is much loved by heavy metal bands—practically every notable group has worked in some lyrical references to Yog-Sothoth and […]

Pingback by Most-recommended: tales of crime and horror « Tender Leaves Blog

Thanks for the read mate. Interesing stuff.

Comment by iliketherain

[…] will do something slightly different. I will focus on song lyrics (as I have done in the past in a post on H.P. Lovecraft) and I will hypothesise that Autopsy got the idea for the song “Dead” from a section of […]

Pingback by Is this where I came from? #10 Dean Koontz and Autopsy | overground scene




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