If you don’t know, on August 20, 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the quintessential Yankee city of Providence, Rhode Island. A reclusive antiquarian who hated the modern world, Lovecraft eventually grew up to be a little-known pulp writer who did not achieve any real fame until after his untimely death in 1937. Since then, Lovecraft has become arguably the biggest thing in horror and science fiction. His cosmic creations, especially the tentacled god Cthulhu, can be found everywhere in pop culture, from television shows to bumper stickers. Heavy metal is no different, and in fact headbangers might be Lovecraft’s biggest and most appreciative audience.
The reasons for metal’s love of Lovecraft are simple:
- The guy wrote horror stories about ancient gods and puny humans. Metalheads dig that kind of stuff.
- Like any fan of technical death metal or super low-fi black metal, Lovecraft was something of an elitist.
- His stories and novellas have directly influenced the holy trinity of metal: Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and The Dunwich Horror.
Basically, Lovecraft’s nihilistic worldview, which can either be called Cosmicism or the Cthulhu Mythos, fits in perfectly with metal’s typically misanthropic stance. In Lovecraft’s world, ancient extraterrestrials want to wipe out humanity in order to once again reclaim the world. If this sounds like the concept behind a heavy metal album, then there’s a reason for that: Lovecraft and metal go together like apples and pie. So let’s celebrate the greatest weirdo to ever come out of New England by checking off 8 heavy metal albums inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.
Bonus: Secret Treaties by Blue Öyster Cult
Blue Öyster Cult are a bonus, rather than a part of this list, for one simple reason: you’d guys complain that they’re not heavy metal. You’d be right, of course, but Blue Öyster Cult have certainly influenced a million metal bands over the years, plus their lyrics are more outré than most people realize. Take for instance, “Career of Evil,” which includes the lines
Pay me I'll be your surgeon, I'd like to pick your brains
Capture you, Inject you, leave you kneeling in the rain
I choose to steal what you chose to show
And you know I will not apologize
Your mine for the taking
I'm making a career of evil
Sounds like Herbert West, the re-animator, talking, right? Well, 1974’s Secret Treaties also includes songs about “Flaming Telepaths” and “Astronomy” (Lovecraft’s favorite academic subject), plus the record contains shout-outs to fishpeople and secret scrolls in “Subhuman.” Sounds like The Shadow Over Innsmouth and the Necronomicon to me.
8. Vader, Sothis
While technically an E.P. and not a full album, Vader's Sothis is just too Lovecraftian to ignore. Sothis begins with a chaotic incantation called "Hymn to the Ancient Ones," which name checks such eldritch gods as "Kutulu [sich]" and "Ninnghizhidda", while at the same time using such familiar ejaculations as "Ia, Ia!" Other tracks on Sothis, such as "Sothis" itself and "Vision and the Voice" do not show the overwhelming influence of Lovecraft's haunting cosmology, and yet the E.P.'s overall ambience (to say nothing of its cover) is so dripping with Lovecraftian horror that one can smell the sea salt from Innsmouth all over it.
7. Celtic Frost, Morbid Tales
That’s right, the Swiss pioneers of black metal devote a lot of time on their debut full-length to Lovecraft’s creations. On “Morbid Tales,” not only do they mention “Yog-Sothoth,” but Celtic Front also speak of the spells of Nitokris, a fearsome female pharaoh Lovecraft’s mentions in “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” a 1924 short story he ghostwrote for Harry Houdini. Later, on “Nocturnal Fear,” Azathoth is mentioned alongside other monstrosities. Overall, “Nocturnal Fear,” as well as much of the language on Morbid Tales, is reminiscent of Lovecraft’s purple prose.
6. Massacre, From Beyond
The Lovecraft influence begins with the title. “From Beyond” just so happens to be the name of a Lovecraft short story about strange beings that attack humans once they use their pineal gland to transcend the normal boundaries of existence. It is also the name of a 1986 Stuart Gordon adaptation, which I’m sure the Massacre boys saw. Also, Ed Repka’s cover art may or may not show a bevy of Lovecraftian monsters swirling around in the celestial ether.
Lyrically, Lovecraft is present on songs like “Dawn of Eternity” (“The fall of man is now at hand/Awakened from their ancient slumber/The immortal ones return”), “From Beyond,” and “Symbolic Immortality,” which references Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” — a 1919 shot story that Black Sabbath also liked.
5. Morbid Angel, Covenant
Frankly, every Morbid Angel record could be on this list (well, maybe not Illud Divinum Insanus). I mean, his name is Trey AZAGTHOTH (see: Azathoth) for Howie’s sake. Anyway, Azagthoth, who seems to think that the Necronomicon written by “Simon” in 1977 is the real deal Holyfield, is a serious student of New Age thinking and the darker arts. As such, Morbid Angel’s lyrical content has always run in the same streams as Lovecraft’s writing. 1993’s Covenant is the height of Morbid Angel’s own brand of Lovecraftian diabolism, from the album cover’s nod to forbidden and arcane lore to songs like “Angel of Disease” (“Chanting to the Ancient Ones” / “Shub Niggurath, the goat with a thousand young”).
4. Electric Wizard, Come My Fanatics…
Again, like Morbid Angel, almost everything Electric Wizard has ever done can somehow be related back to Lovecraft. While Morbid Angel are a little more serious about Lovecraft’s version of the occult, Electric Wizard go more for the misanthropy and the sleazy ‘70s take on Lovecraft’s stories. While albums like Dopethrone and Witchcult Today sample and dedicate songs to American International Pictures’s drive-in classic The Dunwich Horror, Come My Fanatics…is the whole package. Electric Wizard’s second studio album is the perfect distillation of Lovecraft’s cosmic nihilism in one spacey, but heavy-as-fuck release.
3. The Black Dahlia Murder, Unhallowed
The Black Dahlia Murder’s 2003 debut deserves to be celebrated as one of the best examples of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, and yet few people notice just how Lovecraftian it is. Take for instance “Elder Misanthropy.”
Blood of the ancient one is burning through my veins
The blood of gods man's never known
I am the one who cannot die
I am the the killer for all time
Seeds of infinite hate I've sown
Still not convinced? How about “Thy Cosmic Horror,” which sounds an awful lot like “The Call of Cthulhu.”
For vast aeons has slept, lurking 'neath the haunted deep
Sea soaked perversion, arise
Named of the foulest tongue, his will ebbs within me
Beckoning — what was shall once more be
In the house of the dead you lie and wait
While this may all sound like typical death metal lyrics to you, that’s kind of the point this article is trying to make. Lovecraft has so deeply influenced heavy metal, extreme metal in particular, that it’s hard to separate his words from metal's standard lyrical vocabulary.
2. High on Fire, Blessed Black Wings
Besides sword and sorcery and conspiracy theories, Matt Pike’s other big influence is clearly Lovecraft. 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis takes its name from a fake tome created by Lovecraft, while the entire album’s concept combines the Cthulhu Mythos with a whole gobbledygook of strangeness. However, 2005’s Blessed Black Wings is High on Fire’s most Lovecraftian release. Sandwiched between songs about battlelust and wholesale destruction are tracks like “The Face of Oblivion,” which not only mentions Arkham (a fake Massachusetts city created by Lovecraft before being snatched up by Bob Kane), but also speaks of a dead city (R’lyeh) and an “Elder race.” In another instance, “Cometh Down Hessian” mimics the narrative plot of Lovecraft’s “The Hound,” which deals with the hideous consequences of grave robbing.
1. Nile, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka
With a title lifted from Lovecraft’s tale “The Outsider,” Nile showed their allegiances right out of the gate. While they are better known for writing about all things Ancient Egypt, Nile are not above giving old Lovecraft an nod or two. “Beneath the Eternal Ocean of Sands” not only starts off with “In the cosmos,” but it name drops our friend Nitokris as well. Like Nile, Lovecraft had a special fondness for Ancient Egypt, as well as the Islamic Golden Age. This is why the author of his Necronomicon is the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred. It is also remarkable that the names of Lovecraft’s monsters sound so Mesopotamian to so many ears, that many believe they are actually Sumerian.
Bonus: Rudimentary Peni, Cacophony.
Although not a metal release, British punk band Rudimentary Peni made the ultimate Lovecraft album in 1988 with Cacophony. All thirty tracks have something to do with Lovecraft, and it that’s not enough, Lovecraft’s last day on earth, March 15, 1937, is labeled as “The Day the Universe Ceased.”