H. P. Lovecraft remains an enigma. He was an early and ultimately a highly influential writer of psychological, fantastical horror. His stories focused on interactions between humans and powers that were beyond the scope of our imagination. These beings were terrifying not because they necessarily intended humankind any harm, but because we were completely inconsequential to them. Obscure during his lifetime, he died broke at an early age.
He was also a major racist.
Today, the Lovecraft mythos has developed a clever form of nerdy cred. His anthro-octopoid deity Cthulhu appears in comic strips, on bumper stickers, in board games and video games, and even as Christmas tree ornaments. Several movies and television shows are directly or indirectly based on the writings of Lovecraft, with a recent HBO series using his racial animus as an avenue for exploring systemic racism in the U.S.
The music world has also paid its respects, most coming from heavy metal bands. But early 2021 brings us two sets of Lovecraft-inspired recordings from a wide range of experimental and dark ambient artists. And these offerings, from an international and multi-ethnic cast of musicians, are perhaps a way to reappropriate the positive aspects of the Lovecraft legacy while rejecting the negative.
Various Artists – Yig (2020; Cryo Chamber)
Billed as being a “Cryo Chamber Collaboration”, Yig is not an actual compilation. Instead, it is a pair of hour-long tracks that close to two dozen artists worked on together for over a year. Thus, distinct contributions of each artist cannot be distinguished, are not labeled, and presumably would be difficult to map out. These collaborators include a number that we have written about previously, including Dronny Darko, Dead Melodies, Atrium Carceri, Northumbria, Beyond the Ghost, God Body Disconnect, Randal Collier-Ford, Dahlia’s Tear, Aegri Somnia, and Alphaxone. This is actually the seventh(!) such collaboration put out by Cryo Chamber in the last several years. These musicians cover a lot of ground, including tribal ambient (some with a Middle-Eastern flavor), spacious drones, and breathy soundscapes. In general, the tracks are more percussion-heavy than your typical dark ambient but still include the expected synth layers. Where Yig goes in a surprising direction is with its incorporation of noir ambient – with steady beats and hazy piano melodies.
Various Artists – The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings (2021; Eighth Tower Records)
While shorter than Yig at about 80 minutes, The Black Stone is a true compilation and covers a similarly broad swath of sounds. There is little overlap in terms of musicians between these two recordings, with Alphaxone being the only one on both. This is the second Lovecraftian set from Eighth Tower, a follow-up to 2018’s In Tenebris Scriptus. Content-wise, most of the tracks gravitate toward distinct styles. New Risen Throne, Alphaxone, and Moloch Conspiracy offer what we can now call more “traditional” dark ambient – haunting drones and soundscapes. Dead Space Chamber Music and the trio of Cosottini, Bocci, and Barbiero take a chamber approach with acoustic instrumentation and abstract percussion as well as electronic processing. Solatipour Reza’s The Resurrection combines a chorus, falling drones, and electroacoustic manipulation for a haunting mix. The remaining tracks can be placed somewhere between these poles, with some invoking post-industrialism but most focusing on the early 20th-century sci-fi/horror that Lovecraft now embodies.