“Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window. In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.”
– H. P. Lovecraft, “The Music of Erich Zann” (1922)
Aside from the ever-popular J.R.R .Tolkien, few if any literary figures feature as often in the metal canon as the elusive horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Ever since Black Sabbath penned the song “Behind the Wall of Sleep” for their 1970 debut, the menacing shade of unspeakable cosmic horror has been hanging over metal and its sub-genres. A rudimentary search of the Encyclopaedia Metallum reveals 262 bands with “Lovecraft” as a main lyrical theme, with another 62 entries for his most famous creation “Cthulhu”, compared to 161 hits for “Tolkien”. In this article, I will look at a variety of metal bands of different sub-genres that have taken inspiration from Lovecraft’s texts, either for single tracks, for an album, or even their entire concept. Along the way, some context for the stories that are referenced will be provided. The discussion will mostly be limited to bands of some note, so if you are simply looking for a list of obscure Lovecraftian bands, head over to the Metal Archives. Before delving into the mythos-inspired music proper, I have a few notes about what could be referred to as “Lovecraftian by proxy”. As with most pop-cultural phenomena, a certain amount of Lovecraft’s writings have bled into the cultural consciousness, by a form of cultural osmosis. Aside from the ever-growing popularity of the elder god-creature Cthulhu, who has become a mainstay in geek culture, Lovecraft’s biggest contribution to the broader popular culture is probably the fictional book called the Necronomicon. A mystical grimoire, said to be penned by the mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred, the concept of the Necronomicon was popularized in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead-movies, as a book bound in human flesh.
The Necronomicon as seen in Evil Dead
In 1977, four years before the first Evil Dead movie, a book that I will refer to as the Simon Necronomicon was published. This alleged grimoire claimed to be a genuine compilation of magical writings, making creatures such as “Kutulu” out to be Sumerian deities. Although some people will still claim otherwise, the Simon Necronomicon has been debunked as a sort of hoax or prank, and in reality the manuscript is a grab-bag of themes taken mostly from Lovecraft and Alesteir Crowley.2 The existence of the Simon Necronomicon, however, as well as the Evil Dead Necronomicon, has served as an inspiration for a number of artists, perhaps most notably Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth. His lyrics frequently refer to Lovecraftian concepts such as Cthulhu and Azathoth, Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god”, but Azagthoth has distanced himself from the idea of being inspired by Lovecraft.3 Similarly, songs such as Deicide’s “Dead By Dawn”, albeit invoking Lovecraftian themes, seems to be directly based on Evil Dead, rather than Lovecraft’s works. I will mostly be avoiding further discussion of these artists, since the connection to Lovecraft is tenuous.
The Simon Necronomicon
There is also the issue of what has become known as the “Cthulhu mythos”. During his adult life, H.P. Lovecraft was actively corresponding with many other writers of the genre that has become collectively known as weird fiction. Authors such as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, who became famous for their own universes, also contributed to the fictional universe that Lovecraft created. Sometimes these other authors would add their own concepts to the mythology, be they deities, monsters, or grimoires, and occasionally Lovecraft would adopt these concepts into his own writings. Therefore, it can be difficult to draw clear lines between Lovecraft’s work, and that of his contemporaries. For the sake of simplicity, I will stick to bands using the concepts and ideas explicitly utilized by Lovecraft himself, otherwise noting when something is not an original HPL-creation.
On the next page, we get into the beginnings of Lovecraftian themes in metal, which coincides with the birth of metal itself.