Wednesday, November 9, 2011

H.P. Lovecraft - II (1968)

It's little surprise that the work of H.P. Lovecraft has resonated through metal as much as it has. Preoccupation with otherworldly evil, a whole-hearted willingness to offer point blank depictions of situations meant to dismay anyone with delicate sensibilities, and a concision that can be appreciated by even the most ADD-addled Napalm Death fan. It's a relationship that extends back to the genre's origins (“Behind The Wall Of Sleep” gracing Black Sabbath's first album), and one that has little parallel in any other style.

From what I can gather, however, the first band to lay bare their debt to Lovecraft's work was the California-by-way-of-Chicago band with the rather unsubtle moniker H.P. Lovecraft. The band started as a collaboration between folk session musician George Edwards and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Dave Michaels, after the owners of Dunwich Records (that's right) suggested the name and morose aesthetic to the members. The band recorded their an eponymous debut album which, while featuring the langorous title track “The White Ship,” was a largely uninspired affair, a melange of fairly standard garage rock and pop psychedelia that was being heavily peddled at the time.

The band relocated to the more hippie-friendly climes of San Francisco in late 1967, and were generally well-received, selling thousands of albums in the Bay Area alone and touring the West Coast heavily. Due to the extensive touring schedule, the band had little time to prepare material for their sophomore release and when it came time to record H.P. Lovecraft II, the band had to rely on studio improvisation, orchestration, and extensive use of trippy sound effects. The resulting album was received far less warmly despite the fact that it demonstrates a band utilizing a variety of strengths to create something that stood apart from the sunnier side of most rock music being produced at the time.

Shame this guy doesn't show up.

Tightly-intertwined vocal harmonies display the two singers' varied backgrounds, songs drop away into eerie sound effects or string sections, brief bits of narration provide a sinister edge. The fact that all the Strawberry Alarm Clock fans of the world didn't get it is a testament to its power. It was an exploration of the soul's darker corners, still psychedelic, but in a way that only occasionally references the flowers and sunshine tropes of the band's contemporaries. Yeah, they sing about love sometimes, and there aren't too many literal references to Lovecraft's literary works, with notable exceptions like “At The Mountains Of Madness,” but the general mood is one of a band reaching for something more unsettling than their contemporaries and succeeding wildly, providing an effective evocation of Lovecraft's writing and a portent of the manner in which his writing would affect similar somber-minded bands for decades to come.



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