“Lovecraftian” seems to have taken on two meanings in recent years. On one hand, you have the traditional Lovecraftian, which is focused on a deep sense of existential dread and paranoia, with human beings facing against monstrous beings far beyond their own comprehension and against which they had no recourse but to wait for death. The work was dismal and nihilistic, and it helped to invigorate the horror genre, and continues to do so to this day.
On the other, you have a much more energetic kind of Lovecraftian, one which focuses less on the incomprehensible terror and more on the sheer visual and sensory awe of Lovecraftian beasts. Like Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger, the horror of the original Lovecraft has been replaced with a more visceral fascination with the mythos itself. The most Lovecraftian of all Lovecraft’s monsters, Cthulhu, has become as pop as a being of incomprehensible terror can be. The Elder God has countless collections of fan art throughout the internet, as well as his own Lolcat-esque website and even a campy retro RPG with him as the protagonist.
If this sounds like the ramblings of some crotchety fool, ranting about how much better the old thing was than the new thing, well, you’d be right. But it helps to keep this in perspective when reviewing Out Of The Aeons: Music For A New Dark Age, as it seems far more entrenched in the latter than the former. This is a work that is less interested in the horror of Lovecraft than with the mythos itself. This is no Halber Mensch or Armenia; the music is less frightening and more interested with the image of frightening things stripped of what originally made them frightening in the first place. It’s Freddy Krueger without the paranoia of nightmares. It’s Leatherface without the horrors of the meat industry. It’s the talking fox from Antichrist without…whatever the hell that film was about. It’s a far cry from the original Lovecraft.
The album is called “Music From A New Dark Age”, although perhaps a more accurate title would be “Music from a Dark Age Which Spans The Last Thirty Years Or So”. The songs are composed of orchestral, dark ambient, metal, and house music influences, loosely organized through the narration of horror icon Doug Jones. None of the songs seem to use the Lovecraftian themes to any innovative purpose so much as they remain firmly within their existing musical genres, which were themselves partly inspired by Lovecraft. The first song of the album, “The Silver Key”, begins with Doug Jones narrating a passage straight from Lovecraft, followed by swelling orchestral music that sounds very much like it was ripped straight from a movie’s score. Exactly what sort of movie it is a score from can’t be said.
And therein lies the problem. The music has no uniting identity to justify their placement within the same album, save for when the music is randomly injected with more more Doug Jones narration. The creators seem rather overzealous about filling the album with his narration, as if they were so floored with having Doug Jones they decided to cram him in anywhere it was possible to cram him into. His performance is oddly subdued. His tone remains the same throughout, with a whimsical, campfire-storytelling attitude that would work very well for an audiobook of some of Lovecraft’s works, yet feel very odd when coming from the mouths of people talking about their growing insanity or the creeping demise of all humanity. These narrations have at best a tangential relation to the actual music, and at worst no real relation at all. I can’t help but feel they were placed there because the creators worried the audience wouldn’t realize the music is about lovecraft, but rather about some other disconcerting subject matter. Filling out W-4 forms, perhaps.
The music itself is decent to bad, at best utterly forgettable, at worst memorable in the least complementary way. The worst track of all might be “The Tomb: I Am Jervas Dudley”. The music veers unevenly between sounds of typewriter clackings, orchestral violins, electronic beep-boops, and Doug Jones’s narration altered and pitch-shifted to sound ear-gratingly robotic. The narration alternates from tolerable straightforward narrations to an atrocious sci-fi catastrophe where Jervas Dudley, apparently now a malfunctioning member of the Borg, repeats his name over and over and over again, to the point where I begin to understand why so many of Lovecraft’s narrators go insane.
When I first was given the option to review Aeons, I was intrigued, being very interested to see a musical represntation of the works of Lovecraft. Yet the problem with Aeons is that it doesn’t go far enough with its primary influence. Instead, it focuses on a shallow, generic, modern interpretation of Lovecraft, combined with uninteresting or painful. Superfans of Lovecraft may enjoy it, but I can’t recommend it to anyone else. I won’t say the Old H.P. is rolling over in his grave — but he might be twitching a little.