As I confessed in an earlier post, as a teen I was a flat-chat metal head. I guess I could feel shame about this fact as I’ve since become a latte-sipping jazz snob. But the way I see it, I’ve been through a few musical phases in my life, and am confident that the bands I was into were the pick of each genre. Sure, I went through a rap music phase. But I listened to Public Enemy, not Vanilla Ice. Sure, I went through a grunge phase. But I listened to Nirvana, not Silverchair. Sure, I went through a sixties phase. But I listened to Jimi Hendrix, not the Monkees.
I stand by my choices.
And I stand by the choice I made when I bought my first ever record, a telling indicator of a person’s musical taste. I didn’t buy cheesy fad-pop such as The Only Way Is Up by Yaz and the Plastic Population for my first record like my sister did. I bought Ride the Lightning by Metallica. It’s an album that remains a high water mark of the thrash metal genre. Hearing the tightly constructed riffs and searing guitar solos was a consciousness-expanding experience for me. But the track that hit me the most was Metallica’s ode to the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, the almost nine-minute-long epic ‘The Call of Ktulu’.
The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled… The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.
-H.P.Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu, a 1928 story published in Weird Tales, is probably Lovecraft’s most well-known work. The late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was apparently a big fan, and the writing of Lovecraft was the inspiration of another tune, ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’. The lyrics of this tune are a hot-pot of references to Lovecraft’s fiction, although I feel they didn’t try hard enough to work in the word ‘eldritch’.
‘The Call of Ktulu’ is, for me, a more cogent effort at re-imagining the themes of the story through music. Complete with guitar solos. The pensive arpeggio introduction evokes the disturbed civility of Francis Waylan Thurston, the character who stumbles across the truth of Cthulhu. Chunky riffs build in intensity throughout the instrumental, creating a sense of inevitable horror. The wah-fuzz bass work of Burton mimics the frenzied shriek of Cthulhu cult members writhing in the swamps of New Orleans. And the grandiose timpani evoke the epic terror at the conclusion of the story, when Cthulhu (spoiler alert) rises from the ancient city of R’lyeh to beat up on a bunch of sailors.
Okay, so maybe it’s a stretch to map the narrative directly onto the tune. But it’s a great song nonetheless.