Swampcult - The Festival - (6/10)
Published on November 11, 2016
H.P. Lovecraft has been an enduring source of lyrical inspiration for many metal bands, as fellow TMO writer Ailo has pointed out here. The Dutch duo in Swampcult is one among many to draw inspiration from the master of horror fiction and while they’re certainly not the first to write a concept album based on Lovecraft, Swampcult is the first that I know of to base their album on “The Festival,” one of Lovecraft’s early short stories and among the first of the Chthulu Mythos. This album, appropriate enough also called The Festival, is Swampcult’s second full-length.
Occasionally bands that draw on Lovecraft’s work have an otherworldly, experimental approach to metal to accompany the lyrics of cosmic horror. Swampcult is not that kind of band. In fact, The Festival is incredibly simple in structure, being a minimalist take on blackened doom. Essentially The Festival is first wave black metal slowed to a doomy, funereal crawl. The riffs are basic; the drumming even more so, with dramatic, theatrical vocals that serve as narration for “The Festival.”
Swampcult’s emphasis on Lovecraft is everywhere on The Festival. The narration and the dark, somber atmosphere all bear his influence. The album even has 12 cards that detail the story so the listener can follow along. The narration itself is performed by both members of Swampcult and takes the form of bombastic shouts, spoken word sections, hushed whispers, and harsher growls.
While the album succeeds in incorporating Lovecraft’s story in a creative way (the album at times seems more like an audiobook set to metal than it does a concept album) it fares less well musically. Its plodding riffs don’t really have much in the way of dynamics, making The Festival a monotonous affair. Even more of a problem is the sparse, simplistic drumming, which is far too pedestrian to be effective. The no-frills approach is at odds with Lovecraft’s themes of esoteric knowledge; The Festival hides nothing. While it has the atmosphere and riffs to some extent it’s far too basic and collapses under its own ambitions in the second half of the album.
I give Swampcult a lot of credit for trying something different with Lovecraft, as The Festival uses both a lesser-known story and a different musical approach from the myriad of bands who have written about The Elder Ones. When it clicks The Festival is a good album, as on “The Madness” and “Al-Azif Necronomicon.” But there is simply too much that doesn’t work on The Festival. Devotees of Lovecraft and blackened doom should still check it out, but I found it disappointing.