There is a dearth of good Lovecraftian films. For every “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Call of Cthulhu” we are blessed with we are given a “Beyond the Walls of Sleep.” There isn’t justice I tell you! Thankfully, though, we have a wealth of Lovecraftian music, and there are some pieces of music that are truly wonderful. Take a look at Cryo Chamber, each year for the past three they have unleashed a collaborative album based on the monsters of Lovecraft that haunt our dreams. Lovecraft, along with Tolkien, has had a profound effect on music (which always makes me wonder if they would even like any of the music their work inspires by that’s a question set for a different day). What is it about Lovecraft’s cosmically nihilistic world that so inspires artists? Art and madness seem to have a give and take relationship, if pressed I’m sure every writer, artist, and musician would admit that they’ve had a black muse before. Sanity is something that, I believe, only a few are qualified to search and understand. Lovecraft opened up that world of madness and cosmic horror and in the years since we have taken to searching every corner of that world.
Why did I mention Lovecraftian movies alongside Lovecraftian music? In a nutshell, nearly every piece of Lovecraftian music is the score to some unmade Lovecraftian film. Case in point is Nemuer, and dark ambient, folk music, synthy neoclassical fusion band and their newest release “Labyrinth of Druids.” I was shown a teaser video and in those few minutes I was hooked on what these guys can do. They use a wealth of sounds and instruments to carve out their sound and it’s an epic one.
On the first go around, I tried to find out what Lovecraft story they were telling the listener. I heard hints of “Shadows over Innsmouth” (my personal top 3) “I heard the poem “Nyarlathotep,” but the more I listened the more I realized this wasn’t necessarily a Lovecraft story, but more a story inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
The music, the creepy ambient foundation, the folkish guitar strumming, the epic field recordings, are all so cinematic and well produced I honestly would have believed that they were creating a soundtrack rather than a simple album. Listen to it and tell me that I’m wrong. The sound is smooth and professionally crafted, each sound has a specific place, volume, and power. Each note is polished. But more so than anything, the music paints a picture in the mind’s eye. Labyrinth of Druids paints a very stark picture, a minimalistic film noir with a protagonist we the listener-observer can’t quite trust. We know there’s something below the surface, just out of camera range. We can’t tell what’s really there but we can tell that there is something wrong. There’s a sense of dread in the air, the protagonist, the hero of this tale maybe, tells us as much without any words.
Even in times of reprieve, when the tension, dread, and unease have let up, the listener-observer can still feel something wrong, the sound is not quite right, the notes aren’t completely synchronistic (that of course seems to be the intent of the musician here, not an oversight). It feels wrong. But once we let go of the paranoia, we are dropped right back into the thick of it. The sound is a maelstrom of tension without noise. I kept expecting a loud bang or something unsettlingly jumpy but it never happened, the longer the tension build the greater my fear was that something was coming. But it never did. I wouldn’t say that there is no pay off though, far from it. In Lovecraftian literature, and film and music, we are taught never to expect something momentous to happen, the terror happens in the small moments over time, it builds until we can no longer stand it.
What’s the story in Labyrinth of Druids? Well that’s not really up for me to decide is it? Labyrinth of Druids is another excellent example of four dimensional storytelling. We can listen to the hero of the story going one way, then we can see him do the opposite the next time we listen. He might not even be the hero the next time we listen, he might be the villain, the monstrous thing that is causing the madness. The villain, the hero, whatever he is, he drives the story of Labyrinth of Druids, detailing the origins and comings and goings of some sort of secret society, a group that seems fanatically driven to destroy one listen then to a secret but light hearted society in the next. It’s really up to the listener and what they hear.
Listening to the album a few times sitting in amounts to a frozen cube of brick at the moment, the natural elements are the strongest. The winds, the waves, the crunch of the boots in the earth, the creak and whine of rusted metal, all of them seem amplified over the sound of the music itself. The sounds are vivid and thusly paint vivid pictures in my; the winds are more biting and harsh, the waves are cold and forbidding, the crunch of boots and the whine of metal feels terrifying. The scant vocals serve as a sort of punctuation of events, ethereal voices that call to the listener from some other dimension, another reality where madness is a sort of requirement.
I believe that Labyrinth of Druids, and albums like it, are going to come around more often in music. They exist in a sort of limbo, they are not concept albums where the story is fixed and out of the control of the listener, nor are they full movie soundtracks. They exist in a place where they are both and neither. They tell stories, stories that the listener controls. I have begun to love these albums, as soon as I realized they existed. They are fun and exciting, they allow me, the listener, to play a sort of active role in the music and sound that I’m hearing. It’s brilliant stuff, I recommend it!
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