Tag: spoken-word

Cadabra Records – The Call of Cthulhu – Review

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

Ruptured World – Exoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Exoplanetary
Release date: 7 August 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. The Bright Communion of Primal Energies
02. The Sunken Valleys
03. Future Cries of No Tomorrow
04. The Twilight Hours
05. A Time Without Saviours
06. The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces
07. The Voyage of Tarknassus
08. Closing Theme

Exoplanetary follows the story of a scientifically based exploration of the planet Proxima Centauri B. Ruptured World is a sci-fi cinematic dark ambient release created by weird fantasy and horror fiction author Alistair Rennie. Exoplanetary takes Rennie’s knack for writing fiction into new territory, giving us something that feels familiar, and yet new. Most tracks feature spoken-word, which is all performed by Rennie himself. Along with the booklet, this gives the album a lot of material for listeners to absorb, making multiple listens a must. Thankfully those multiple listens have been equally as enjoyable as the first.

The mission plan refers to “select members of the human species”, leading me to wonder about the class warfare that must be happening simultaneously (though this theme is not explored on Exoplanetary). As the 99.9% realize that they are going no where, and Earth will soon double as their grave marker, drifting through infinite space.

On “The Sunken Valleys”, Rennie speaks in his sort of 50s sci-fi movie style voice, explaining the characteristics of the landscape. But, there is even further detail committed to this topic in the 16 page “Executive Mission Summary” booklet, which accompanies both the digital and physical versions of Exoplanetary.

“The Twilight Hours” begins by explaining a bit about the Krivren species, which appears to be a deadly, intelligent race of creatures that populate Proxima Centauri B. Again, here, the booklet goes into even greater detail about this alien race, giving us enough information to start forming images of these creatures in our minds, as well as hearing their communications throughout the track. “A Time Without Saviours” picks back up on this dialogue, this time going into more detail about the routines and actions of this race, and their possible understanding of humanity’s arrival.

“A Time Without Saviours” is likely my favorite track on the album. It slowly builds until we hear some dialogue I mentioned above, then the track turns musical, allowing a slow almost glitchy melody to become the new focus for the remainder of the track. This section is highly evocative of some of my favorite Sabled Sun melodic sections. In fact, probably my favorite thing about this album, as a whole, is its similarities to the Sabled Sun 21XX series. But, here we are more focused on conveying the story through actual dialogue and through the accompanying booklet. Whereas with Sabled Sun there is much more left to the imagination, in terms of specific greater plot details, and the focus is instead on real-time soundscape cinematics (i.e. electronics bleeping, footsteps, doors opening). I wouldn’t commit to liking one or the other style better. I think it’s great to see these themes covered from varied angles.

“The Voyage of Tarknassus” brings together all the elements of Exoplanetary in a concise fashion. We hear a radio tuning into a station, finding a beautiful piano arrangement. This soon shifts to a transmission of the voice of Dr. Hector Macrae, which eventually trails off into a slow droning section. This seems to give listeners time to contemplate the words we’ve just heard and the greater plot of the album, going on for eleven minutes as the longest track. Exoplanetary ends on peaceful note, being another of the more musical tracks. A number of different elements come together here, built upon a peaceful drone and a prominent bass line.

Cryo Chamber continues making their bold moves into varying fringes of the dark ambient genre. Yet again, it seems they’ve made a successful gamble, bringing an artist into the fray with some highly detailed visions for his work. Alongside Simon Heath, this is likely to be a highly fruitful endeavor in the future, just as we’ve already seen here on Exoplanetary, as well as in similar circumstances with God Body Disconnect. Ruptured World must be the best project I could recommend for lovers of Sabled Sun and other cinematic sci-fi ambient releases. There is a little here of everything that makes that sub-genre so compelling. The beautiful cover-art, booklet and layout of Exoplanetary make it all the more attractive. I wouldn’t recommend this as background music, there are plenty of dark ambient albums out there that will blend nicely into your evening. Ruptured World asks more of their listeners, but the reward is worth the effort. Highly Recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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

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 – No Ordinary Fairy by Roland Topor

Laurence R. Harvey (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
Roland Topor (Artwork)
Album: No Ordinary Fairy by Roland Topor
Release date: 13 February 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

Side A: No Ordinary Fairy
Side B: Laying the Queen

We likely live in one of the greatest times throughout history, if only for dreamers. We have instantaneous access to the works of artists, great and small, which span literally thousands of years. An attempt to absorb even 1/4 of the “must experience” artists throughout history becomes nearly impossible, even for someone with nothing but time. My first encounter with Cadabra Records came in the form of H.P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model. I made the discovery thanks to a night of browsing the Theologian discography. Since that portentous first encounter I have fallen madly in love with the works of Cadabra Records. Not only because of their well-above average physical productions (Pickman’s Model remains the most physically impressive vinyl release I’ve ever seen), but because of their choices in material to cover.

My first new discovery by way of Cadabra Records was Clark Ashton Smith, on their release of The Muse of Hyperborea, read by S.T. Joshi, the leading scholar on Lovecraft, and the music again performed by Theologian. A name that often cropped up in my reading of Lovecraft’s biographical coverage, I hadn’t actually delved into his works. Though, once introduced, I’ve been rabidly consuming all his poetry and weird fiction that I can manage.

Roland Topor is yet another name that I had only encountered in passing. Though I quickly found out that he was responsible for the novel, The Tenant, which would, a decade later, be brought to the big-screen by Roman Polanski, one of my very favorite film directors. Roland Topor was one of the leading visionaries of the mid-20th century. He, alongside others such as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal, worked within a version of surrealism that aimed to retake the movement from the mainstream, watered-down version that it had become on account of its increasing popularity and exposure. Topor’s works are dark, shocking, often crude.

The No Ordinary Fairy LP brings out a slightly different side of Topor than many would guess. The vinyl contains two short stories: No Ordinary Fairy and Laying the Queen. They complement one another perfectly in their dark humor and crude nature. No Ordinary Fairy is a tale of an encounter with a real-life fairy, three wishes and all, going sour. Laying the Queen, true to its title, documents the journey of one deranged fellow with the solitary goal in his existence of having sex with a queen, any queen. In both these tales absurdity is pushed to the max making for quite a hilarious scenario. But there is still a dark shadow looming over each of these tales, especially No Ordinary Fairy, a tale which takes place directly following a bout of horrific domestic abuse.

Theologian, at this point one of the top contributors to the Cadabra Records soundscapes, again delivers top quality dark ambient music to complement the story as well as its diction by Laurence R. Harvey. We move from broodingly dark moments through more whimsical sections of sounds. From claustrophobic frenzy into vast vistas of solemnity. Theologian takes a grasp on the story content and always manages to heighten the appropriate emotions as the story moves among them. It is no wonder that Cadabra Records keeps returning to him as the musician for so many of its projects.

Actor Laurence R. Harvey makes his first appearance on a Cadabra Records release with the No Ordinary Fairy LP. Harvey is best known for his parts in The Human Centipede II and III, as well as The Editor and Rats, among others. His performance here is, like Theologian‘s, a perfect fit for this release. His vocal diction is creepy, to say the least. Not in a horror sense, but in a “maybe I’ll sit on the other side of the bus” sense. He takes the concepts behind these absurdly dark comical stories to brilliant new heights with his various inflections. In particular, toward the end of Laying the Queen, his performance of the narrative is stunningly appropriate to the story.

Cadabra Records pride themselves on the physical manifestations of these releases just as much as the aural content. No Ordinary Fairy does not break from this tradition. The cover-art is the work of Roland Topor himself. The 150 gram opaque purple vinyl comes in a deluxe tip-on jacket with liner notes by Heidi Lovejoy, giving us a bit of history of Topor’s legacy. The packaging is sturdy and attention to detail is paramount. The vinyl is in the 30 cm 45 rpm format.

If you are a fan of Topor’s works, enjoy the music of Theologian, or just love to collect unique and high-quality vinyl releases, the No Ordinary Fairy LP should be right up your alley. Cadabra Records have quickly solidified themselves in the vanguard of the spoken arts. I really can’t recommend the works of this label enough, and No Ordinary Fairy is a perfectly suitable place to start.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – The Muse of Hyperborea – Review

S.T. Joshi (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
C.M. Kosemen (Art)
Album: The Muse of Hyperborea by Clark Ashton Smith
Release date: 13 February 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

List of Poems:
Side A
The Harlot of the World
Ode to the Abyss
A Dream of Lethe
The Tears of Lilith
From the Crypts of Memory
The Sorcerer Departs
The Touch-Stone
Side B
The Litany of the Seven Kisses
To The Daemon
The Nightmare Tarn
Memnon at Midnight
The Muse of Hyperborea
The Memnons of the Night
The Mortuary
The Traveller
Love Malevolent

Clark Ashton Smith was born and lived the entirety of his life on the west coast of the United States. In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range Smith never ventured far from Auburn, California. Residing near San Fransisco, Smith found himself in a circle of poets that would be the center of the west coast’s literary scene for generations to come. Born in 1893, Smith was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and a pupil of sorts to George Sterling. Sharing with Lovecraft an early discovery and love for The Arabian Nights as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, by the 1920s the two men would become close pen pals.

Clark Ashton Smith dedicated much of his early life to poetry. His first collection of poems, Odes and Sonnets was an immediate hit on the west coast, and while it wasn’t particularly well known outside the region, it drew the highest praise from many of the foremost poets of the period living in the region. He was drawn into the “Bohemian Club”, a group of respectable writers, by George Sterling. But upon contracting Tuberculosis and with little financial stability, Smith would never allow himself to become a frequent member of this circle.

Much like H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith would gain most of his broader popularity posthumously. As most of his works were only published in limited edition at local presses, the works of Smith would take many more years to fully spread his legacy around the western world. While, in particular, “The Hashish-Eater” found a broader audience and garnered wide-spread acclaim, by the time of Smith’s death in 1961 he was barely remembered and thus the even of his death went wholly unnoticed.

From the drastically increased popularity of H.P. Lovecraft over the last thirty odd years, the name Clark Ashton Smith has arisen more and more often. Smith and Lovecraft both frequently contributed to Weird Tales throughout the 1920s – 1930s. The two writers were in communication often through this period, which is evident in the number of times that they borrowed from each other’s mythologies.

Cadabra Records have taken the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft very seriously and have already released two beautiful albums of spoken art. With Andrew Leman reading the stories and Theologian creating custom soundscapes to fill out the atmosphere, both these works are delightfully well executed. On The Muse of Hyperborea, Cadabra Records moves into a bit different territory, yet continues to pluck at similar emotional chords.

The Muse of Hyperborea is a collection of Clark Ashton Smith‘s poetry. Equally distributed between metered poetry and prose poetry listeners are given a thoroughly diverse image of Smith’s styles and execution.

None other than S.T. Joshi, the man behind pretty much every leading treatise on H.P. Lovecraft, has this time recited the poetry of Clark Ashton Smith. His delivery is quite different from that of Andrew Leman, yet the eerie elements are quite pronounced. Joshi uses his deeper tone voice to his benefit and slowly delivers each poem in a way that best fits the format of each individual piece. The metered poems are delivered almost musically as he is easily able to translate the rhythm of the individual lines into the perfect aural space. The second poem on side A, “Nyctalops” is a perfect example of this almost musical delivery. In this way Joshi is able to fully immerse listeners in his readings.

The other half of the poems curated for this release are in the prose-poetry format. In which the poems are crafted much like a short story, but still manage to retain the literary depths and beauty of his metered poetry. On these poems, Joshi often takes on a more eerie style than on the metered. His words are each delivered with a trained precision that brings the stories to life in a way many audio-book authors could only dream. This is quite understandable, as Joshi has dedicated a good deal of his time to a thorough understanding of the life and works of Clark Ashton Smith, as he was such an integral element in the life of H.P. Lovecraft, the subject of Joshi’s ultimate scholarly focus.

The subject matter of the compiled poems is reasonably wide ranging. Yet, if there is a connecting theme running throughout, it is the dark and weird elements, which would later become part of Smith’s weird prose fiction that featured in the annals of the Weird Tales magazine. The following metered poem appears half way through Side A and is a brilliant example, in short, of Smith’s amalgamation of the romantic with weird and often occult themes.

The Tears of Lilith
O lovely demon, half-divine!
Hemlock and hydromel and gall,
Honey and aconite and wine
Mingle to make that mouth of thine—

Thy mouth I love: but most of all
It is thy tears that I desire—
Thy tears, like fountain-drops that fall
In gardens red, Satanical;

Or like the tears of mist and fire,
Wept by the moon, that wizards use
To secret runes when they require
Some silver philter, sweet and dire.

Side B delivers two fitting poems as opener and closer of this second half of the album. On “The Litany of the Seven Kisses”, a prose poem, Smith delivers a piece which is certainly the most romantic of these compiled works. As a stark contrast to the opener, “Love Malevolent” closes the album with the description of a love enshrouded in the macabre, invoking the imagery of graveyards and opiates, vipers and poisoned kisses.

Theologian proves once again that his dark ambient talents are a perfect match for the Cadabra Records template. Knowing Theologian best from his harsher industrial elements and his previous project Navicon Torture Technologies, it would be a surprise to find that he is able to also craft such toned-down soundscapes. Yet, anyone who has followed Theologian closely over the years will likely have expected his talents to run into such wide-ranging areas. Running the Annihilvs Power Electronix label, the man behind Theologian knows how to work with a broad variety of styles and even genres. His ability to find diamonds-in-the-rough is quite well known to his more intimate followers.

As Theologian explains in the liner notes, he had a totally different approach to The Muse of Hyperborea than he did on Pickman’s Model or The Lurking Fear. Especially with Pickman’s Model, the story was a direct narrative. It was literally delivered from the mouth of the protagonist to one of his fellow art enthusiasts. So Theologian had a need for creating a sort of soundscape to encompass the landscapes of the cafe in which the narration centers, or the cellar where one of the final scenes takes place. The Muse of Hyperborea, being a collection of totally separate and diverse poems, gave Theologian the freedom to focus wholly on atmosphere and emotion, and less on complementing a narrative. This often leads his sounds into eerie, other-worldly and down-right hypnotic territory. Some of the musical pieces will extend across several poems, slowly building and oscillating upon their foundations. Others will bring a specific mood to a given poem, taking its cues from the delivery of S.T. Joshi.

The Muse of Hyperborea is yet another absolute delight from Cadabra Records. It is quite inspiring to witness the product of a deep-seated love for the Spoken Arts medium. Cadabra Records cut no corners, leave no element of their product lacking. From the color variants of the vinyl itself, to the sturdy construction of the jacket, to the beautiful art of C.M. Kosemen commissioned specifically for this release, Cadabra Records give us another gem to add to our collections of their indispensable and steadily expanding catalog.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model Review

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

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

DARKLEAKS: The Ripper Genome – Infinity Land Press – Book Review

Authors: Jeremy Reed, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak
Book: DARKLEAKS – The Ripper Genome
Release date: 16 April 2017
Publisher: Infinity Land Press

Infinity Land Press is continuing to prove itself to be one of the most exciting new developments in the world of book publication. Since the company’s inception a few short years ago, they have already brought together a combination of art-books and psychological treaties which firmly set them apart from anything that could be considered a normal format. The Void Ratio by Shane Levene and Karolina Urbaniak brought together photography and poetry to form a powerful picture of the life of mental destabilization matched to crippling drug addiction. Altered Balance by Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak delivered an unorthodox variation of a tribute to Coil, through the memoirs of Reed and the emotive monochrome photography of Urbaniak. The Rorschach Text by Martin Bladh showcased his brilliant use of collage in creating a narrative. Many of these elements have come together in DARKLEAKS – The Ripper Genome to form what I consider to be the best work yet by Infinity Land Press. Bladh, Reed and Urbaniak bring to the project their own unique talents forming a powerful portal which transports readers throughout landscapes and thoughtscapes to help us understand the inner workings of this so-called ‘ripper genome’, the tendency throughout recent history for various people to share in a sort of template which draws them toward murder as an art form or even a religious rite in some instances.

As explained by Stephen Barber in the introduction, Reed and Bladh both perform their own sort of ‘cuts’ throughout the book, bringing their work in harmony with the knife work of Jack the Ripper. As they narrate stories bringing other figures throughout history into the context of a sort of split personality disorder, believing or disbelieving themselves to be Jack the Ripper reincarnated, they are in essence becoming part of the story themselves, taking on the murderous knife work of Jack the Ripper through their own media. Jeremy Reed makes ‘cuts’ into various times of history, embodying historical figures such as Burroughs, Baudelaire and Sickert. While Martin Bladh’s cuts are even more literal. Martin uses the scalpel to cut the pieces for his collages which at times bring the faces of two or three different men together, as if drawing them all into a set narrative. For me, the most frightening example of this was toward the end of the book where he combines Aleister Crowley, Anthony Hardy and the physician who was believed to be Jack the Ripper himself, adorning the right page. With the clippings from three articles detailing the works of these three men on its opposite. The combination is a fitting example of the way this entire book works. We are given snippets, flashbacks and narrated accounts of the thoughts and desires of so many different people throughout recent history, since the time of Jack the Ripper. This amalgamation of swirling narratives comes together to form a picture of this ‘ripper genome’, this hardwiring of the brain in some people which naturally inclines it toward these savage deeds.

Reed moves between the narratives of the victim, the killer, and random figures who aren’t sure if they are the killer or not, as well as people who glorify the killings. The story of Brother Martin (pg102) combines a little of all these elements. It takes the perspective of the victim, as the killer excitedly tells her the supposed old tale of a Brother Martin who killed many people, including his sister. She is spooked and leaves, having nightmares about the man. A few days later he finds her in the streets, exclaims that he is Brother Martin as he murders her.

Sometimes Reed will only focus on the atmosphere of the London streets, always coming back to the presence of a thick fog. He uses colors, emotions, disjointed narratives and allegories to bring the reader stumbling toward an understanding of the whole theme. To add even more complexity, and often disorientation to the mix, Reed hops from prose to poetry and back again. Some tales from the view of our modern times, others taking place in the late 1800s – early 1900s.

Reed moves for a section through the streets of London, blinded by fog from the Thames. He recollects a conversation with Sleazy of Coil, they reminisce about Balance, alcoholic turned visionary. About how they created music which recollected their time travels, rather than trying to induce them for the listener. Sleazy relates a story about how him and Balance had witnessed the Jack the Ripper murders in a mushroom-induced interpersonal vision. The killer was Michael Maybrick, they concluded, a sort of celebrity/pop star in his time.

We find out, through various newspaper and magazine clippings toward the end of the book, much of what we may have been missing throughout the narrative. For example, we find that, “After the stroke Sickert would have ‘ripper periods’ in which he would dress up like the murderer and walk about like that for weeks on end.” Many examples could be shown of what at first seems to be random, disjointed snippets later proving to be crucial elements of the whole.

Martin Bladh takes on a more direct form with his writings. Each piece of text is accompanied by a collage… or vice-versa. The text is most often an imagined or real note written by a murderer to the police. Taking on the persona of the killer himself, Martin uses misspelled words, archaic phrasing, and a sharp sense of humor to lure the reader into the mind of the killer. Sometimes the notes seem to be written by more than one person, is the note from the killer or is it a fake written to seem like it is by the killer? Martin makes this conundrum central to his narrative. Sometimes the killer will take on the mantle of godly vigilante, as showcased in Martin’s work ‘Good Morning Amen’ on page 109. At other times Martin will take us directly to the crime scene, with a detailed list of the wounds and positions of the murdered body. As if he is the contemporary crime scene investigator.

The last piece in this brilliant collection is only included in the Limited Edition Boxset. A six track CD brings some of the sections of DARKLEAKS to life in the form of spoken word over a dark and cinematic soundtrack. Karolina Urbaniak, on her first foray into music, produces a set of tracks which reflect the disjointed snippets of story. Her soundscapes include many field recordings. We hear footsteps, dripping waters, slashing knives and screaming victims in their death-throes. Over this backdrop the tracks are distributed between Martin Bladh and Jeremy Reed with spoken-word excerpts from the book. Bladh, also vocalist for IRM and Skin Area, takes on one of his more chilling vocal styles reading several of his notes written by the killers. While Reed recites some of the more poetic clips from his works. With the disc being full of spoken-word elements it should be looked at as its own individual addition to the set, not as a background listen when reading. Each track helps color the stories in even more detail, bringing each segment to life in a totally different format from the written words and collages.

For anyone that is already familiar with the works of Infinity Land Press, this purchase should be a no-brainer. As described above, I truly believe DARKLEAKS brings together the finest elements of each of its contributors. The years’ experience of Reed and Bladh are brought to a pinnacle on DARKLEAKS. While the experimental elements of the accompanying disc prove to be an utter success. This could be the perfect entry point for discovery of the works of Infinity Land Press, giving readers a bit of an introduction to many of the contributors to other works in their catalog of releases. DARKLEAKS is a whirlwind of emotions and contrasting styles which keep it fresh and engaging from introduction to conclusion.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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