Tag: lovecraft

Cadabra Records – The Call of Cthulhu – Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)

Album: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: Spring 2018
Label: Cadabra Records

Cadabra Records has effectively carved out a niche for themselves with their H.P. Lovecraft vinyl series. It might seem strange to essentially buy an audiobook without the convenience, but their pressing of Lovecraft’s 1929/1930 work Fungi From Yuggoth takes the story’s effect to unimaginable heights. These projects aren’t mere reading. They’re gripping, haunting works of art in and of themselves.

Andrew Leman’s utterance of Lovecraft’s words is harrowing enough in and of itself, but the inclusion of post-industrial legends Theologian was a true stroke of genius. Their nebulous soundscapes embody Lovecraft’s fear of the unknown to a degree no other artist could hope to reach. Given how great Fungi turned out, it only made sense of Cadabra to unite the same artists once more to tackle Lovecraft’s magnum opus—The Call of Cthulhu.

A palpable aura sets into place right when the needle hits the wax, and only tightens its grip on the listener’s senses. Listening to this thing in the dark at high volumes is profoundly nightmarish, as the speaker and the musicians work to magnify the dreadful feeling The Call of Cthulhu elicits. The chemistry between Leman and Theologian is unprecedented in this type of media. Their respect for the source material is evident, as each sound and word resonates at the core of Lovecraft’s chilling narrative.

Subscriber only variant.

While Theologian’s input on this release doesn’t stray far from amorphous noisescapes, their sonic tides rise and fall in synchronization with the story’s emotional crescendos. As Leman gets more impassioned, the soundscape acquires more layers of paranoid sound. The result gives a dumbfounding fervor to protagonist Francis Wayland Thurston’s descent into madness. Lovecraft always made a point to detail the mental fallout experienced by his protagonists after beholding the Great Old Ones, which this recording mirrors as Leman’s tone of voice gets increasingly agitated.

Leman and Theologian’s respective contributions were obviously made to be mutually exclusive, but this project keeps both the reading and the music compelling. Leman’s reading would be captivating without Theologian backing him up, just like Theologian’s finely-crafted ambiance could transfix by itself.

Theologian made a good call to avoid trying too hard to evoke each plot-point as it happens. The musician instead supports the overall atmosphere, working tirelessly to up the ante as the chilling narrative takes its course. There are a few nuanced additions to drive some of the most terrifying moments home. When police official John Raymond hears the ritual drums that lead him to the Cthulhu cult’s terrifying procession, a very quiet, but deliberate rhythmic pulse creeps into the aura.

Instead of trying too hard to musically interpret the story, Theologian intuitively creates a head-space for the listener. It almost works like subliminal messaging, preparing the ears and mind for Lovecraft’s words. This release forces listeners to contend with monsters beyond comprehension after being whisked away to Lovecraft’s macabre world.

For vinyl lovers who haven’t read Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, this is the perfect introduction. For anyone already familiar with The Call of Cthulhu, this provides a re-experience like no other. This album’s immersive ambiance and expressive reading is nothing short of spectacular. It takes nothing from the source material, only adding to its impact as a seminal work of horror and weird fiction. Cadabra may well have outdone themselves with this project.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

To Satan, a poem by Samuel Loveman to H.P. Lovecraft

To Satan, a poem by Samuel Loveman
to H.P. Lovecraft

paired with the album:
Unimagined Space by Skincage

 

The name H.P. Lovecraft has become more and more prevalent within the dark ambient community in recent years. It’s no surprise, when reading his works, to find that so many artists of all sorts have found something to love and inspire them. Whether we are talking about the series of Cadabra Records spoken word releases over the last few years, or the Lovecraftian gods series of dark ambient collaborations at Cryo Chamber, Lovecraft keeps coming back to the top of the to-do list.

So, in the search for all knowledge Lovecraftian (I’ve become a bit of a fanatic), I stumbled across a mention in S.T. Joshi’s exhaustive, yet exceedingly interesting, biography “I Am Providence: The Life And Times of H.P. Lovecraft” of this poem. The poem, “To Satan” written by Samuel Loveman to his good friend H.P. Lovecraft seemed too interesting to be ignored. The poem was featured in the July 1923 edition of The Conservative, Lovecraft’s amateur journal. Then, so far as I can discern, the poem fell into the obscurity of distance and time.

So, after I tracked it down, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I decided to share it with the readers of This Is Darkness, as a soft start to another new section, “Writers’ Corner”, where we will cover some older works like this, but more importantly, we will share new works by up and coming authors/poets.

With each new “Writers’ Corner” article, we will share some musical work that seems particularly fitting to the subject matter. I’ve decided to pair this first article with an album that has already been out for some months, but has made a great impression on me, and doesn’t seem to be picking up the recognition it deserves. (I’ll be doing  a proper review of the album in the near future.)

The album Unimagined Space by Skincage, released on Annihilvs Power Electronix / APEX, is a brilliant tapestry of soundscapes. The first thing that stood out to me was the technical prowess of the artist. This album feels really tight, expertly produced. The second positive was when I realized the subject matter is, for the most part, about specific H.P. Lovecraft stories, with a nod to Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow short story collection, to top it off.

So, I hope you will enjoy this first pairing. Give us any feedback you’d like about the new section, the poem, future literary submission, or whatever else you fancy!

A special thank you goes to S.T. Joshi for offering me some quick and critical guidance about the copyright information on this poem!

 

To Satan

Published in: The Conservative, Thirteenth Number, July 1923
Edited by: H.P. Lovecraft

To Satan

By: Samuel Loveman

“Tu tires ton pardon de l’eternal martyre
Inflige sans relache aux coeurs ambitieux.”
–Baudelaire

To H.P.L.

When, mid the hyacinth deep that girds the sky,
You saw, O Brother, ere your eyes grew dim,
In wrath and loneliness the sight of Him,
Amid His bow’d and litten hierarchy:
Heard songs that fell from lips half-strange with years,
Outcast and ruin’d, beautiful in flame,
You–with the lost among the damned few,
The fallen rebel crew–
Hearing the flattery that fawned His name,
Turn’d back to hell a face that shone with tears.

Did you not at the sunken portals wait,
And where the golden estuaries fell,
Gazing at heav’n before the glow of hell,
Stretch forth your hand to where the tyrant sate?
With the first cry that shook th’ enslaved world,
Swift, silver, clarion, Lo! I make you free,
Free as the winds and as the waters are,
Sons of the morning-star!
O souls of mine, I give you liberty–
No withering hate into the darkness hurl’d!

Not from those spaces charm’d to dusk and rose,
Nor in the scarves with light and music pent,
Came the soft wail of disillusionment,
But lower than the lowliest in their woes,
The trodden and the dispossess’d of fate;
These, brooding in a quiet flash of tears,
By stars that to the massive night are graven,
Recall’d their austere haven–
The sorrow and the bitterness of years,
Conceiv’d in ruin and embalm’d in hate!

And now shall men no longer fear and dread!
For heav’n is shatter’d, faded is the host,
That without pity judg’d the tortur’d lost,
And radiantly parcell’d forth the dead.
See! where your molten throne uprears in night
The legions gleams, the drowsy vultures wing;
That which first met your plaintive, human eyes,
Ev’n that, is paradise……
At last, my Brother, the awakening!
Ere Dawn appears, a perfect chrysolite.

For more Samuel Loveman poetry, check out: “Out of the Immortal Night: Selected Works of Samuel Loveman”, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Article compiled with additional information from these sources:
Lovecraft, H.P. The Conservative. London: Arktos, 2014.
Joshi, S.T. I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft Vol. 1&2.
New York: Hippocampus Press, 2013.

Cadabra Records – Fungi from Yuggoth by H.P. Lovecraft – Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
Jason Barnett (Art)
Album: Fungi from Yuggoth by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: September 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

Cadabra Records has, by this point, solidified themselves as the forerunners in the genre of spoken word arts. Not that they have a ton of competition in this field, but even if that were the case, the works that they have been creating could only be described as premium in every element. Each chosen theme is given the absolute best presentation one could hope to find. Original album artwork, professional well-rehearsed readings and soundscapes that give the perfect atmosphere to each reading all come together in a packaging that is itself top-notch.

For myself, as well as for readers of This Is Darkness, the selections by H.P. Lovecraft have been the most appropriate to cover. The connections between H.P. Lovecraft’s works and the dark ambient scene run incredibly deep, with inspiration from his works going far back in the history of the genre. Though currently, more so than ever before Lovecraft is a prime inspiration for the dark ambient musicians and their albums. I could give a pretty lengthy list of all the tracks and/or albums of the last few years which have been inspired by Lovecraft or one of his weird contemporaries.

While Theologian doesn’t often tap into the energies of Lovecraft in his solo albums, he has become the face of the Lovecraft collection from Cadabra Records, contributing his brilliant and haunting soundscapes to most of the Lovecraft releases on the label. Fungi from Yuggoth is no exception in terms of energy or quality. Theologian again seeks to top his previous output on Fungi from Yuggoth and wholly succeeds in adding the perfect score to this beautiful collection of weird poems.

Fungi from Yuggoth is almost universally agreed to be the most successful collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s poetry. Where Lovecraft had previously written a large swathe of verse about everything from epic ancient Greek mythology to short and playful poems often included in greetings cards to his correspondents, Fungi from Yuggoth taps directly into Lovecraft’s knack for cosmic horror and weird fiction. We are given short fleeting glimpses of many of Lovecraft’s most recognizable components of his corpus of weird works.

Starting with “The Book”, we witness an account of someone taking a tome from some dusty shelves and hurrying it to their home. This singular act builds a backdrop for the rest of the poetry in the collection. We could take each poem as separate parts of a thematically similar whole, or we could see “The Book” as presenting the protagonist of the first few poems with a collection of dark tales, which unfold as he reads through the old tome, so as the protagonist and us, the modern reader/listener, become one and the same. The perfect start to the collection, “The Book” talks about an old tome from elder times, which holds some monstrous secret. Andrew Leman reads with perfect emotional emphasis, giving one particular line a whole life of its own that Lovecraft surely would have appreciated, when he says,

I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.

With an emphasis on the word “charmed” Leman gives extra attention to the fact that Lovecraft was a life-long bibliophile. When writing this poem, Lovecraft surely would have been day-dreaming of how wonderful it would feel to actually discover a collection of books, all but lost to history, which told of occult secrets and ancient forgotten aeons. He would have equally felt the same exhilaration when removing one of these dusty tomes from the collection and spiriting it off to his home for further investigation.

By the third poem, “The Key”, the protagonist has made it home with this book and is now able to greedily consume its ancient knowledge within the privacy of his own home. Again, Leman’s recital of this poem and the emphasis on certain sections bring the story to life, giving it a level of emotional depth which surely would have made Lovecraft smile. In the last two lines we hear the greed of the protagonist in successfully getting home with the book, but we also hear the fear that immediately sets in as he realizes he might not be alone after all.

The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.

Whereas the first few poems seem to build a sort of narrative, giving a foundation to the collection, later we are presented with snippets of plots which are further elaborated upon in Lovecraft’s prose. Two of these particular poems, “Azathoth” and “Nyarlathotep” give accounts of several of Lovecraft’s ‘Outer Gods’. The “Nyarlathotep” poem works in a similar way to its prose-poem counterpart of the same name. It gives an account of Nyarlathotep’s emergence from Egypt and the ensuing chaos which befalls humanity at his hands. Taking Nyarlathotep to be the messenger for Azathoth, as he has been described in several stories, the poem “Azathoth” seems to describe the narrator/protagonist of the Fungi from Yuggoth collection being taking into the depths of unimagined space by Nyarlathotep to witness his master, Azathoth. The poem ends interestingly with an elucidation of how these two gods interact with one another.

‘I am His Messenger’ the daemon said,
As in contempt he struck his Master’s head.

The artwork for this release was created by Jason Barnett (no relation). In the insert which accompanies the physical release Barnett tells of his immediate reaction to the thought of working on a Lovecraft concept,

When I was approached by Cadabra Records to illustrate H.P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth, a sequence of 36 sonnets, my mind was immediately flooded with fleeting and horrifying glimpses of Lovecraft’s universe. As if these denizens had been patiently waiting in my sub-consciousness to be summoned.

Barnett went on to create a beautifully realized landscape painting which would be included as a whole on the inner two panels of the package as well as on a large 24″x36″ promotional poster which comes with purchases of the album directly bought from the Cadabra Records online store. This landscape artwork is brilliantly detailed with images of many of the elements from the Fungi from Yuggoth collection, including among many other things, the statue of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep emerging from his tomb, Azathoth descending upon fog enshrouded mountains and the night-gaunts traversing the skies. While the outer-cover of the release is greatly darkened and subtle, the painting is certainly one of the best to-date from a Cadabra release.

As with most Cadabra releases, there are a number of different variants of Fungi from Yuggoth. The box-set edition, as usual, is the most impressive, with black swirls on clear vinyl making for an incredibly gorgeous album, probably one of the nicest variants of a vinyl I’ve seen to-date. To regular buyers, there are two options: the “Night-Gaunts” variant which is metallic silver and the “Nyarlathotep” variant which is a light blue and white opaque mix. The packaging is a thick sturdy cardboard which should withstand years (dare I say aeons) of storage without deterioration.

It seems with almost every Cadabra release I cover I must make this statement, and here again it is in order: this is one of my absolute favorite releases of the year, one of the best releases yet by Cadabra Records and absolutely worth the highest recommendation for fans of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Theologian or both. Cadabra continues to put quality at the forefront of their consideration when releasing albums and seem to have no intentions of letting up on this rigid adherence to detail above all else. A highly recommended release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
Alan Brown (Art)
Album: Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: 11 November 2016
Label: Cadabra Records

Tracklist:
1A/1B. Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft

Cadabra Records is a relatively new label. Launching barely two years ago, they have quickly amassed a large following and an impeccable reputation. Coming from the mind of Jonathan Dennison, Cadabra Records is a spoken word label, with exclusively vinyl releases. Each release is packed with features, from commissioned paintings, to limited color vinyl variants, to subscriber only releases. In an age of digital media, Cadabra Records seeks to invoke a nostalgia in their followers which is all but lost.

The vinyl only release gives followers a way to have that special feeling of opening a physical product for the first time, looking over its artwork and extras, pulling the vinyl from its slipcover for the first time to witness the unique colored variant of their particular purchased edition. Placing this beautiful piece of art onto the turntable for the first time and giving it an inaugural spin. Each release has its own combination of graphic artist, story-teller and soundtrack composer.

The emergence of a vinyl revolution has been welcomed with open arms by most hardcore collectors of music. Yet, many of these releases come up short on their final product. Cadabra Records does not follow this trend. My first purchase from Cadabra Records was Pickman’s Model. I knew it was going to be a special addition to my collection, but I honestly wasn’t prepared for the quality of this release.

The gate-fold is of a heavy-duty ultra high quality cardboard, printed on all four sides with the beautiful artwork of Alan Brown. Each panel conveys a different imagining of the creatures Lovecraft describes in this story. The full-size booklet included is packed with even more of these original compositions. In these images, we have ample opportunity to let the creatures unfold in our own minds as Pickman’s paintings are described throughout the story.

Andrew Leman of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society delivers the narrative of Pickman’s Model. I am not one to often enjoy audio-books. My mind often wanders, either to the background music, or to something else entirely. There is no monotony in Leman’s voice. He performs his art with an emotional charge rivaled by few others. In the beginning, he speaks in a whimsical and stately tone, with a sense of amusement and lightheartedness. Yet, as the story begins to unfold, Leman’s voice becomes increasingly shaky. As the narration begins to descend into those cursed subterranean chambers of Pickman’s macabre art studio, Leman’s voice becomes increasingly emotional. At some points we are greeted with gentle whispers and at others a crescendo of alarm and fear brings him to a rapid execution of his duties. The constantly changing dynamics of his vocal execution keep the attention of the listener firmly grasped.

Lovecraft’s work is often evoked through dark ambient artists. There are numerous attempts, some more successful than others, in bringing the magic of his writings to life through their own musical interpretations. Theologian, the main musical project of Lee Bartow whom also owns Annihilvs Power Electronix, takes the helm as musical interpreter of this release. I have not yet heard his other contributions to Cadabra Records releases, but by all accounts Pickman’s Model is his best to date.

The music starts out in a more theatrical template. The sounds of the conversations’ setting provide an animated backdrop to the beginning of the story. But as the plot thickens, so too do the sounds of Theologian. We move from the setting of the conversation, some midtown establishment, where the narrator and his listener sip some booze and coffee, to the depths of Pickman’s ancient Bostonian dwelling without even noticing the change.

The greatest accomplishment on the part of Theologian is in his ability to at once keep the listener enraptured in the atmosphere while simultaneously having enough subtlety to not distract from the experience provided by Andrew Leman. Listening to the full performance a handful of times over a few short days was by no means a labor. Each listen allowed for the focus to either fixate on the narrative, analyze the musical composition of Theologian, or to allow the full breadth of the release to unfold with no particular focus. No matter the mindset or time of day going into the release, I was met with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction in listening to this story.

If this release of Pickman’s Model is any indication of the rest of the Cadabra Records discography, they have an illustrious future ahead of them. With previous releases like Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they have already paved the path to attracting a wide range of followers from the fan-base of these historical literary geniuses. The future of Cadabra Records does seem bright… in the darkest of senses.

Written by: Michael Barnett

In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft by W. Scott Poole – Book Review

Author: W. Scott Poole
Book: In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: 13 September 2016
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

H.P. Lovecraft can be found everywhere these days. His stories are constantly being reprinted. His ideas are used in films, games and musical compositions. I found my way to his work through one such project, the Lovecraft Gods series on Cryo Chamber. Seeking to understand the meanings of his system of Gods, I began to delve into Lovecraft. But, with so many stories, many of which only barely touch on any of the structural order of the Gods, the task proved to be daunting. This is when I came upon In the Mountains of Madness.

In the Mountains of Madness is a 300 page book which serves as a historically grounded biography as well as a means of connecting Lovecraft‘s legacy to current trends in the entertainment industry. W. Scott Poole is certainly not the first author to set out on this task. Where his telling becomes unique is in its attention to fact over myth or prejudice.

Most books in the market on Lovecraft serve one of two purposes: to glorify his life and legacy, or to provide a highly critical antithesis to his cult followers’ works. Authors like S.T. Joshi and August Derleth have dedicated their lives to furthering the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, and to covering up his less desirable traits in the process. Their opposition most significantly focuses on his deeply held racist beliefs. One of the victories of the opposition was the removing of the “Howies”, the award busts of Lovecraft, from The World Fantasy Convention.

Lovecraft in 1915, age 25

Poole manages to walk the thin line between these two camps. Throughout In the Mountians of Madness he consistently shows both positive and negative aspects of Lovecraft as a person. He is able to achieve this goal because of his focus on historical accuracy above all other considerations. This has led S.T. Joshi to voice some of his criticism against the project, even while contributing to its accuracy by way of an interview conducted by Poole. Poole has the necessary nuance to admit that S.T. Joshi is the most dedicated and accurate of Lovecraft scholars, while simultaneously attempting to debunk some of Joshi‘s long-held beliefs/findings on Lovecraft.

Poole leaves himself open to lavishing Lovecraft with the deepest praise where due. Speaking of a correspondence between Lovecraft and Robert Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian among other tales of swords and sorcery), Poole states, “Lovecraft writes to Howard in an early 1930 letter that ‘the basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature and the profoundest violations are the least concrete and describable.’ Perhaps no better short description of the chills Lovecraft administered to his readers has been written.” Yet moments later Poole states that, “Unfortunately, most of their letters are unrelievedly boring. Both are contemptuous of immigrants and African Americans and pour into their missives venomous indignation about the ‘mongrel hordes’ allegedly swamping the United States.”

Oct ’79 cover of Heavy Metal Magazine

The question of Lovecraft‘s racist leanings is revisited often throughout In the Mountains of Madness. Poole argues against the excuse of Lovecraft‘s position being a product of his time, by showing evidence of some of his closest friends attempting to change his views on these topics. Yet, Poole simultaneously admits that since Lovecraft had very close friends which held these opposing views, he clearly wasn’t given to shouting down those with beliefs contrary to his own. In conclusion, he admits that the topic is very complicated and both sides of the argument have valid points, while neither camp will ever fully admit to the complexity of the matter.

Poole speaks in detail about the women of Lovecraft‘s life, from his mother and aunts to his Jewish wife of a short-lived marriage. Speaking of his wife, we are shown a perfect example of the complexity of his racist leanings. The fact that he was able to marry a Jewish woman and still hold derogatory views about her heritage is very telling of these complexities.

Poole convincingly explains how it was unlikely that Lovecraft‘s mother played such a negative role in his life contrary to many previous biographers. Pointing at numerous documented events throughout Lovecraft‘s history, he shows how Lovecraft‘s mother, through allowing her son to indulge all of his unusual interests, gave him the perfect foundation for becoming the revolutionary author which he is now remembered to be.

Providence, Moore

As the book draws near its close, Poole gives us a brilliantly presented overview of the most recent happenings related to Lovecraft. Poole speaks about Providence, a new graphic novel series by Alan Moore which focuses on a character who is very much like H.P. Lovecraft and explains how Moore has managed to capture the essence of the man behind the books, with all his flaws and short-comings. Poole then goes on to document a vast and international list of stories in which Lovecraft himself is the main character, leaving readers with a huge catalog of books and comics to track down, if one so desires.

Poole‘s attention to minute details, and his ability to objectively analyze Lovecraft‘s life events, gives readers the means to accept Lovecraft for his achievements as well as his flaws. Then, he gives an informed overview of the legacy of the man, through all the adaptations of his works into various entertainment media. So, in these roughly 300 pages, there is a great deal of important information for readers new to the life and writings of Lovecraft. Yet, there is also some much needed criticism of the years worth of analyses of Lovecraft as a person, giving well-read fans plenty of new information to analyze. At a relatively cheap price and having just been released in 2016, Poole‘s In the Mountains of Madness should be a must-read book for anyone and everyone with any interest in H.P. Lovecraft.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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