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Sunday, September 25, 2011

H P Lovecraft's Unnameable cosmic horror of the mind

H P Lovecraft wrote stories of cosmic horror. And they weren’t just stories of horrible things that happened in the cosmos – but, even more, they were stories of the horror of being part of it all: stories of the horrors of humanity, dwarfed by a big, bad, black universe. A universe twisted and distorted by alien malevolence, where humans are nothing and blackness, bleakness, are everywhere.

It’s the sort of universe that springs out of xenophobic paranoia – big and dark and full of foreign threats, but closed and claustrophobic too, where every breath is stifled and scared, endangered, alone.

H P Lovecraft wrote mostly in the 1920s. But, since then, his influence on literature and art and even on music has been profound, with traces of him popping up especially in bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath, the Black Dahlia Murder and Dream Theater.

But all of that plays just lip service to the real terrified, terrific, horror of H P Lovecraft. There’s something much more profound, much more disturbing, going on here than what a bit of black metal nihilism, however good it is, can show you.

And it wasn’t until Melbourne avant garde musicians Clinton Green and Andrew McIntosh released their 2001-2 album But of that, I will not speak …, under their moniker The Unnameable, that the real ghastliness of cosmic horror was, at last, captured and preserved.

Inspired by Lovecraft’s writing, the music of But of that, I will not speak … takes you deep into the dark and troubled regions the human psyche, the real place where his cosmic horrors were born and bred. It is the music of a haunted soul, much more than of a haunted cosmos.

The album opens with ‘This, no human creature may do’, where primordial groans and drones, chanting like an ancient ritual of the wind, draw you into the loneliest, most frightened crevices of your mind. The music is big, but entrapped, and there is no light, no escape.

It’s an uninviting place, but it is the right one for this music because, in this blackness, when you hear the lifeless, lumbering heartbeat of ‘You fool, Warren is DEAD!’, or the yawning, cavernous rumble lurking beneath ‘Life is a hideous thing’, you know that it can really be nothing other than your own blood, throbbing, congealing, within you. There’s nothing else here, other than you.

There is a grim megalomania in ‘Space belongs to me, do you hear?’, a sustained drone that seems to have every tone and semitone and quartertone drawn into it – like a psychic black hole that takes everything, every bit of light, hostage.

Were it not for where this music has already taken you, you might think that something really was hovering around you in ‘The Orbit of Yuggoth’, where a strange, sinister whistle dives down and creeps up again, in and out, backwards and forwards, like a spacecraft circling you, waiting to pounce – but, by now, you know that it’s not out there, it’s in here and, no matter how much you block your ears and try to hide from it, it won’t go away.

The first real hints of melody come in the album’s final track, ‘Only the most accursed rites of human blasphemy could ever have called Him…’, where wraithlike notes are plucked out of the gloom to make a little tune, a macabre lullaby, perhaps, singing you into the endless sleep of loneliness and paranoia to which you were doomed from the moment the music started.

The Unnameable’s take on H P Lovecraft is fascinatingly outlined in Andrew McIntosh’s liner notes essay, and brilliantly captured in this unique music, where Lovecraft’s bigotry and racism and conservative nostalgia for a fabled past are seen not as incidental deficits to an otherwise brilliant creative mind, but rather as the essential and only real way of understanding the dark and unfriendly universe that he created.

But of that, I will not speak … takes you into that universe in the most unexpected of ways: by turning out the lights, closing the doors and the windows, and leaving you alone.

Available, once again, from Shame File Music.

1 comment:

  1. Some fine reviews, recently, Ian after a quiet time on the blog.
    Just a reminder of the late 1960s Chicago-based band H. P. Lovecraft ('Love' - geddit?), which produced two studio albums and one live album, described by the i-Tunes store as, 'an acid-laced 1968 ballroom blitz from these Chicago-based masters of mind-splintering, maroon and mauve magic!'(A review like that would be enough to make any band break up, but this one was written decades later, of course.) Something of a cross between The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, H. P. Lovecraft's music was certainly dark and brooding!