The Enduring Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Extreme Music

Vision Bleak, Necronomicon, Azathoth, and Hod
From the left: Vision Bleak, Necronomicon, Azathoth, and Hod.

In the blackened pages of the most gripping horror fiction, unspeakable atrocities await the unsuspecting, and ghastly terrors befall even the most benevolent. Some of the finest writers of the past two centuries have gleefully and sadistically conjured chilling tales designed to keep readers in varying states of dread. Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Bram Stoker, Clive Barker, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Anne Rice are just a handful of writers whose work has influenced the style and content of numerous counterculture musicians. But no individual has had as great an impact on today’s extreme acts as H.P. Lovecraft.

A misanthropic storyteller virtually unknown in his lifetime, Lovecraft was an outsider who invented cosmic vistas inhabited by creatures that callously manipulated, consumed, or discarded those around them. Sinister voodoo worship in a New Orleans swamp, a quaint New England town populated by a foul race of fish people, and a failed Antarctic expedition that uncovers ancient aliens are just some of the spaces explored in Lovecraft’s world of gothic horror. The writer also reveled in creating barren landscapes inhabited by undersea monsters, intergalactic demons and parasitic beings that dwelled in dreams. Some of these were “Gods,” like the infamous squid-like Cthulhu; others were simply unknown entities. The way Lovecraft explored previously uncharted realms of nature and imagination, presenting them with the clarity and vividness of a high-def documentary, left an indelible mark on the reader. (Reading Lovecraft is not without its problems: while he was a brilliant and imaginative writer, he was also a flawed, hateful individual whose work is not without its share of ugly issues.)

While the majority of musicians fueled by the imagery and tales of Lovecraft play, or have played, various styles of metal (starting in 1970 with Black Sabbath’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”), the scribes’ fantastic stories have also piqued the interest of prog, electronic, experimental, and soundtrack composers. To celebrate what would have been Lovecraft’s 126th birthday, 13 Lovecraft obsessives weighed in on why the writer’s legacy has been so enduring and how it inspired their extreme music.

YIDHRA

Yidhra

Named after a shape-shifting outer goddess in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, Los Angeles quartet Yidhra play surging doom metal infused with layered, melodic guitars. The band’s heavy-lidded third release, the 2015 EP Cult of Bathory, includes the cinematic instrumental “Iron Mountain,” which shifts between full-fisted riffery and echoey, psychedelic splendor. But it’s the band’s 2013 full-length, Hexed, that features the Lovecraft tributes “Ancient Ones” and “Dagon.” “I love the supernatural, psychological and cerebral nature of his works,” says vocalist Ted Venemann. “It’s better than a good mentalist. Anyone and everyone can get creeped out on a personal level by his stories.”
Favorite Tales: Too many to decide

AZATHOTH

Azathoth

In 2014, the ambient label Cryo Chamber recruited 13 electronic artists to collaborate on the Lovecraft single-track tribute album, Cthulhu. The project went so well that a year later, the label coaxed 22 acts into taking part in the double-disc follow-up, Azathoth (named after Lovecraft’s ruler of the Outer Gods), which features two numbers “Azathoth 1” and “Azathoth 2.” Both are hypnotic and nightmarish, conjuring images of rocky, snow-capped peaks inhabited by an all-powerful deity, who, like a pitcher plant, lies in wait for unsuspecting victims. Along with the gradual swell of keyboards and sporadic splashes of sound, the release is augmented by subtle cries, cascading waterfalls and noises only highly advanced creatures can properly interpret. “Lovecraft’s writing is very atmospheric stuff, and it’s very cult,” says Azathoth contributor Thomas of the project Mystified. “An entire alternate cosmology is offered, and I think that appeals to other artists. They enjoy the idea of becoming a part of that cult universe.”
Favorite Tale: “The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath”

NECRONOMICON

Necronomicon
Necronomicon. Photo by Marc Bizouard

Symphonic death metal band Necronomicon named themselves after a powerful book of spells owned by a Lovecraft character. Since 1988, the Montreal-based outfit (currently a trio), has released five full-lengths, including 2016’s Advent of a Human God, which weaves orchestral passages throughout a foundation of skewed, melodic guitars, distorted vocal growls and double-bass drumming. “When we named the band, we wanted something that had a background and that sounded dark and mysterious and wasn’t just a word,” says vocalist Rob The Witch. “Necronomicon came to me one day as I was looking the sky and a huge storm was coming.”

Favorite Tales: “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour out of Space,” “Dagon,” “The Dunwich Horror”

NILE

Nile

Over their 23 year existence, Greenville, South Carolina tech-death band Nile have injected Middle Eastern imagery, themes, and sounds into their mathematically complex music. At the same time, band founder Karl Sanders has been fascinated by the works of Lovecraft. The group’s 1998 debut full-length Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka was titled after a fictional pharaoh in Lovecraft’s stories, and the album closer “Beneath the Eternal Oceans of Sand” is a line from “The Outsider.” In addition, “The Nameless City of the Accursed” on Nile’s 2000 album Black Seeds of Vengeance comes from the 1921 story “The Nameless City,” which features the Necronomicon and is considered the first story of the Cthulhu Mythos. “Lovecraft has a huge influence on everything from the story concepts of Nile to the way I write,” Sanders says. “When you’re writing lyrics. you’ve got to figure out what you want to say and express it with just a few words. Lovecraft packed the most amount of horror and dread into a small space and the effect was very powerful. It’s like drinking 80 proof liquor as opposed to 40 proof liquor.”
Favorite Tales: “The Nameless City,” “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”

THE GREAT OLD ONES

The Great Old Ones

This French outfit is rooted in post-metal and modern black metal, and their brooding, malevolent compositions perfectly complement their lyrics, which are strictly devoted to the Lovecraft mythos. Since their formation in 2009, The Great Old Ones have released two full-lengths and a split album. Their second record, 2014’s Tekeli-Li, is their greatest offering, a grandiose six-song tribute to “At the Mountains of Madness.” Even though the lyrics are all in the band’s native tongue, the oppressive, evocative music conveys its intent. “The Lovecraft mythos is an endless source of inspiration,” says guitarist and vocalist Benjamin Guerry. “It permits us to explore a lot of atmospheres, and stories can take place in the sea, in the mountains, or in a sinister village. When you read Lovecraft you are immersed directly out of your actual life. For us, our music has the same effect.”
Favorite Tales: “At The Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “The Call of Cthulhu.”

PLEBEIAN

Incorporating samples from Lovecraft stories into its instrumental sludge metal, Canadian one-man band Plebeian show great promise with their 2015 self-titled debut EP. While the production quality is lo-fi and the songs sometimes meander, the music is multi-textured and ever-ominous, invoking the dread and mysticism of its prime influence. “Lovecraft’s suspenseful, macabre storytelling mixed with his overtly descriptive writing style make his works so inspirational to metal bands,” says HP Doomcrafter. Plebeian’s next release, A Bounty Not Yet Decayed, will be a four-song EP about the story “Herbert West: Reanimator.”
Favorite Tale: “Herbert West: Reanimator”

THEOLOGIAN

Theologian
Theologian. Photo by Gretchen Heinel

Since abandoning the confrontational Navicon Torture Technologies and launching Theologian, New York-based industrial, electronic sound architect Lee “Leech” Bartow has released the harrowing 2013 album Some Things Have to Be Endured and contributed ambient background music to several Lovecraft spoken word projects. Leech has a profound respect for Lovecraft, whether dealing directly with the writer’s text or using his ideas to color his own tormented sound collages. “The cosmic scale that Lovecraft deals with is fascinating,” says Leech. “He takes on the prime theme of the insignificance of human life, and he then typically focuses on single-person narratives from characters who gain a tiny glimpse of something beyond their own comprehension, almost always ending up insane or suicidal.”
Favorite Tale: “At the Mountains of Madness”

THE VISION BLEAK

The Vision Bleak

German horror metal duo The Vision Bleak have been consumed with all things dark and macabre since their formation in Mellrichstadt, Bavaria in 2000. While the band’s second album Carpathia – A Dramatic Poem (2005) was directly inspired by the Lovecraft stories “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “Dagon,” its sixth offering, the epic, multifaceted The Unknown, is less inspired by fictional horrors than real life trauma. Sill, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Schwadorf says Lovecraft remains a primary influence. “His works have this psychological depth that make them more than just horror stories,” he says. “To me he’s talking a lot about inner demons and abysses – the darkness that is slumbering within us and is a part of the universe, as is the light.”
Favorite Tale: “The Outsider”

INFINITE SPECTRUM

Infinite Spectrum

Progressive and provocative, the New York-based six-piece Infinite Spectrum have been  dreaming up eclectic, multifaceted songs since 2007, drawing from influences including Yes, Rush, Marillion, Dream Theater and Kamelot. Infinite Spectrum have matched the technical complexity of their music with some pretty lofty concepts. 2013’s Misguided was an 80-minute epic tale of lost love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption and the band’s latest, Haunter of the Dark is even bleaker, delving into the subject matter of the titular Lovecraft short story. “He created a world with a lot of detail. It’s dark, dreamlike and pretty fully realized, so there is a plenty to tap into,” says vocalist Will Severin “There’s this impending sense of dread that permeates much of his work and we like that it’s more about what is unseen that what you can see.”
Favorite Tale: “The Strange High House in the Mist”

CEMETERY FILTH

Cemetery Filth
Cemetery Filth. Photo by Stephanie Figueroa

“Filthy death metal practiced in the ways of the ancients” is how Johnson City, Tennessee quartet Cemetery Filth describe their brand of extreme music. While they’re referring to Lovecraft’s “ancients,” they might as well be referencing the old-school Swedish death metal of Entombed, Dismember and Grave. Cemetery Filth have followed up the sepulchral groove of their three-song 2014 EP Screams From the Catacombs with three heavier, more developed songs on the split-album 4 Doors to Death, which includes the trudging Lovecraft homage “Dagonian Dialect – The Obelisk Unearthed.” “Lovecraft’s horror is weird to say the least, but it’s terrifying in a much bigger way than most horror,” says vocalist Matt Kilpatrick. “It shatters your reality and makes you question your existence in the most disturbing of ways. I think extreme musicians, especially those in the death metal scene, find so much inspiration in that sort of horror, because it’s addictive.”
Favorite Tale: “At the Mountains of Madness”

DREAM LONG DEAD

Even in Athens, Greece, the Lovecraft Mythos is greeted with fascination and awe. Doom/death metal quintet Dream Long Dead includes two music journalists who are well-schooled in metal history, and have an equal love for Trouble, Asphyx and Obituary. As for lyrics, Lovecraft has played a major role for the band since its 2012 debut, MadnessDeadGrave – Invocations Three to the Ones That Lurk at the Threshold. Guitarist and vocalist Tassos Palaiologos says Lovecraft’s contempt for mankind is a primary source of his appeal for outsiders. “I don’t know if the source of his misanthropy was self-loathing, but it forms the basis and underlying foundations of his writings,” he says. “So when you’re are done reading Lovecraft you don’t feel as much scared, as humiliated, cold, cynical and miserable.”
Favorite Tales: “The Outsider,” “The Shunned House,” “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs”

HOD

HOD
Hod. Photo by Erik Bredthauer Necroblanca

Named after the English version of the Norsegod Hodur, San Antonio, Texas black/death metal band Hod are less interested in war metal than supernatural horror. For their 2007 debut EP Cry and Piss Yourself they introduced their logo, which is designed to look like a slimy creature from the Cthulhu Mythos; all of their subsequent artwork has depicted serpentine, tentacled and ghastly monstrosities straight from the pages of their favorite writer. The band’s latest, 2014’s Book of the Worm, is a tight, bludgeoning piece of classic death thrash that draws influence from Morbid Angel, Absu, and Dark Angel. “Lovecraft has everything an extreme metal fan could want, from interdimensional beings whose appearance alone drives people to insanity or death, to entities and creatures who predate Christianity and want nothing more than to devour mankind and render it extinct,” says vocalist Vladibeer Reebs. “It encompasses everything that goes bump in the night. And that is beautiful.”
Favorite Tales: “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”

BEAST CONJURATOR

Beast Conjurator

Combining the low, mid-paced guitar buzz and vocal grunts of occult metal band Celtic Frost with the frantic thrash of Possessed, the recently broken-up Recife, Brazil quartet Beast Conjurator were rooted in the lore and imagery of Lovecraft, which they weaved throughout the bludgeoning songs on their 2013 EP Born From the Darkest Entrails. “Madness, pain, doubt, the death of the concept of ‘God,’ and the downfall of all our rational systems are at the core of Lovecraft, and that’s pretty much what extreme metal is all about,” says vocalist Thiago Satyr (aka The Dunwich Horror). Look for the band’s swansong, Summoned to the Abyss, later this year.
Favorite Tales: “The Shadow Out of Time”, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Call of Cthulhu”

Jon Wiederhorn

17 Comments

  1. rutkowskim
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    For some Lovecraftian drone, here’s Plague of Carcosa

    https://plagueofcarcosa.bandcamp.com/releases

  2. PLBertlein
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Catacombs/Hierophant is another I’d suggest, funeral doom heavily influenced by Lovecraft

  3. Posted August 19, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    No mention of Rudimentary Peni?!

  4. Posted August 19, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Also check out Xoth on bandcamp for lovecraft shred madness

  5. Buck Faust
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    HIGH ON FIRE fellas!

  6. bowlweevils
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    I wrote my Advanced Placement English Literature “write about something you didn’t read for class” essay on At the Mountains of Madness.

    I also did one of my AP Biology essays, on the carbon cycle, in comic strip form, with Cthulhu narrating. Cthulhu’s seen the entire carbon cycle from nuclear fusion in the core of a star through its blasting through the galaxy in a supernova, onward toward its incorporation into the shells of the cephalopods and the digestive tracts of their predators, until the earth is absorbed by our bloated red giant sun eons from now…

    Yes, I got the highest grade possible on both tests.

    But WTF? No Dreams in the Witch House or The Music of Erich Zann? These bands are shaking my confidence in them by ignoring these tales.

  7. Miasma
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Sulphur Aeon is definetly worth to mention here
    https://sulphuraeon-vanrecords.bandcamp.com/

  8. Jim McCarthy
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Engrossing but no mention of Furtive Murk, Febrile Miasma or Shit Grifter?

  9. carlos
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Sanctifier,Death Metal from Brasil too.

  10. Larengord
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget Sabazius’ soulgnawing song https://sabazius.bandcamp.com/track/the-madness-from-the-sea.
    Sabazius’ music is very often lovecraftish with regard to the atmosphere even if the songtext isn’t – so check the other songs too if you wish.

  11. Bongo Jonny
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Rudimentary Peni’s masterpiece “Cacaphony” is a concept record about Lovecraft.

  12. J.
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    yOU forgot this one : https://sulphuraeon-vanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/gateway-to-the-antisphere . Of COurse !

  13. Juice
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Metallica too

  14. Simon H
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget these guys, the band “H P Lovecraft”:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft_(band)

  15. Posted August 23, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Necrocosm – Octopian Eclipse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhaT6cA0MPA

  16. Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Seems most of the songs by Raukous are also driven by Lovecraft.

    https://raukousoc.bandcamp.com/releases

  17. Blayne
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    No Bal-Sagoth? For shame…

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