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Is this where I came from? #10 Dean Koontz and Autopsy

This series of posts has traditionally been about obscure examples of musical intertextuality across genres. I have so far discussed several examples of riffs, melodies and song structures traveling through time and space; from 1970s English Hard rock to 1990s Swedish Death metal (#5), from 1980s Irish Shoegaze to 1990s US Progressive metal (#3), from 1990s Welsh Alternative rock to 2000s German punk (#8), and others. In this, the 10th installment, I 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 Dean Koontz’s book The eyes of darkness.

dean_koontz-1Dean Koontz – The eyes of darkness (1981)

For a long time I considered Koontz a horror/mystery writer who was good, but by no means of the order of Clive Barker or even Stephen King. That opinion changed when I read the absolutely fascinating Phantoms (1983), a book whose plot is amazing, the different avenues that the plot follows and the crossroads on which these avenues meet is mind-blowing, and it is quite gruesome as well. The eyes of darkness is a book that was definitely enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as Phantoms. It is about a mother who tries to solve the mystery around her son’s death. I will not go into more detail because the plot is irrelevant to the aim of this post. What is relevant to this post is a description of the protagonist’s dead son on page 6:

“Torn and crushed in a bus accident with fourteen other little boys, just one victim of a larger tragedy. Battered beyond recognition. Dead.

Cold.

Decaying.

In a coffin.

Under the ground.

Forever.”

14c-autopsy-bandAutopsy – Dead (1991)

Mental funeral is an unprecedented masterpiece, and my all-time favourite Autopsy album. The song Dead is a strange song, in that its lyrics are just 10 words, morbidly narrated (and written) by Chris Reifert, on top of a gruesome riff. The melody preceding and then following the narration proved to be an extremely influential one in the death metal genre, with countless bands imitating it (you can hear the similarity on Entombed‘s “Somewhat peculiar“). The muddy composition, the singing style and the lyrics make it one of the most memorable and creepy songs in one of the most memorable and creepy albums of all time. The lyrics/theme are almost identical to the short text by Dean Koontz:

“Dead.

Stiff and cold.

In your box.

To decay.

Dead.”



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…