Dark Forest Productions
July 8th, 2014
Release length: 1:10:41 / 2:11:35
Cthulhu is separated into three different chapters: The Ritual, The Revival, and finally The Revelation. Each chapter does try to have its own seperate sound that would differentiate the tone at that point of the plot, though they can sort of blend together, especially towards the end of a chapter. “The Great Old Ones” shows off the darker twilight to the album’s rawer nature that is surprisingly sleek thanks in part of the Science Fiction effects and keyboards that shine through the rougher drums and Black Metal distortion buzz of the guitars. The mixture of rasps and growls add extra variety to the steady blast-fuelled passages and infectious hooks that find some frostbitten emotion at its core, such as around the four minute mark. However, the cleaner ritualistic vocals can sound a bit off in the main verses. Thankfully this is a plight really limited to just this track. Yes they appear in a couple others, but the way they are handled, such as with the enthusiasm at the start of “Return to the Cosmic Infinity” which, along with “THe Dreams of Depths & Terror,” have some of the more memorable performances in the chorus, not to mention just generally infectious and moving material.
The second chapter, The Revival, mixes together an abrasive atmosphere with truly miserable and often hopeless settings. The violent start of “Submerged Stones of R’lyeh” marks the drawing of a man to that very location. The aggression sets up a hotter environment that gives way to darkness during the narration of what he sees upon descending into the crypt, closing on a note that carries a bit of Death Metal to the Egyptian undertones that set up the origins of the Necronomicon, a tome eluded to in the narrative itself. But then there’s A Throne Below the Black Sea” mixing the wonder of discovery with a truly ominous and fear-inducing aura when the man in the chamber gazes upon the elder ones and the great Cthulhu itself. One thing missing, however, is the loss of sanity represented in the music. It’s kind of there lyrically when discussing the green jelly dripping from his orifices as he feels Yigs crawling under the skin, but that’s about it. Even a passing glance upon the elder gods is something the mortal mind cannot comprehend, causing anyone who looks upon it to go utterly mad.
Even The Revelation, the final chapter of this nightmare, doesn’t do much to capture that lunacy in the tone of the music. “Storming the Pacific” does attack the listener with the same intensity as the dark one’s rise. Blistering drums and furious guitars span the first minute, accompanied by haunting keyboards that signal the transition into a very sombre environment as the doom bringer cries obedience to Cthulhu as it rises and floods the world to rule the planets once more. The tension rises again during “Swallowed by the Aeons of Time,” a song that has a bit of melodic akin to early Cradle of Filth around the start. What life there was from the sun and the stars is now void, musically and conceptually, heralding the arrival of Yuggoth and the catchy conclusion assuring the listener that all life as we know it has ceased to be.
There’s also a couple Ambient pieces that act more like transitions into the next phase than anything. “Below a Mirror of Stars” captures that Science Fiction presence “The Great Old Ones” started with, pushing a more astral sense through effects that sound like the typical buzzing of a passing satellite. Meanwhile “Above a Reflection of Water” captures the Cthulhu’s rise thanks to the tense effects one might expect in a gritty eighties b-movie horror flick when the humans discover the beast, or at least the underground lair in which they wandered into. Finally the effort wraps up with “Endless Oceans” and the sound of waves that represent the world of water in which the elders turned our planet into. There is the random drum note against an eerie hum that drones on that seems to symbolize the lifeless silence left in their wake.
The emotional presence throughout much of Cthulhu is one of the more impressive elements on display. When the pace picks up you are given the standard abrasiveness the genre is known for, but there’s some truly moving moments to be found. The main verses of “Return to the Cosmic Infinity” does establish a depression that works with Cthulhu having been asleep and the desire for his return, mixed with the proper planetary formations in the tale, that can present a sense of parental nurturing. And then there’s “A Throne Below the Black Sea” is a truly haunting and ominous piece through the first half powerful enough to send a chill down your spine. The only complaint in this department is “Swallowed by the Aeons of Time.” Whenever you come off the faster material, such as around a minute and forty-eight seconds in, it feels like there could be a grander push from the music to establish the mayhem the awakening has caused. This could have easily been handled by layering the guitars for the second set of bars in the initial verses, making the distortion a bit richer, or even have a little more going on in the keyboards other than the odd echoing effect that sounds like Mothra invading Japan once again.
Cthulhu is available through the group’s official Bandcamp page as a digital album. However, there is a physical edition that includes a second bonus disc that doesn’t seem to be included in the downloadable format. This additional disc, entitled Cthulhu Unbound, is a single track that weighs in at over one hour long. No, it isn’t anything new to the conceptual first disc, nor is it a chaser piece that acts as a grand prelude or follow-up. Instead it’s a stripped down instrumental version of Cthulhu that isn’t separated into tracks, even though there are some sudden cuts to represent when that specific song ends.
This disc is mostly composed of the effects used throughout the album. There are some additional keyboards, altered guitars, even a modified voice at one point to fill the gaps. All of this takes the initial eleven tracks and turns them into the Ambient representation of what you just heard, putting the focus back out into the astral plains instead of down here on Earth at the shores where Cthulhu is awakened from his slumber. If you think a darker, more ominous version of the score to films like Logan’s Run or Fortress and you’ll get the general idea of what this disc has in store for you.
Ceremonial Castings has been one of the most influential groups within the US Black Metal community, and one spin through their latest opus confirms they still have what it takes to capture the listener’s attention and refuse to let go regardless of how hard it struggles. Cthulhu is a superb composition, both lyrically and musically, that only really lacks the sense of madness that Mr. Lovecraft himself stated repeatedly would happen upon gazing at the elder gods. Aside that glaringly absent element, the only other notable issues aqre the instruments kind of clashing against the crisper vocals, and a few moments where the chanting sounds off, but even then a few spins through will put most of those elements into their necessary place. Cthulhu is simply an album fans of Black Metal need to hear. However, if you pick up the digital version, make sure to acquire the lyrics if you don’t get them with the purchase, as following along and understanding the story really does makes it a more enjoyable experience. Of course, if you’re able to get the physical edition, which is limited to only one thousand copies, there’s no argument that it’s the superior version thanks to the bonus disc offering a whole new interpretation of Cthulhu that is well worth investing in.
Chapter I – The Ritual
01. The Great Old Ones – 7:03
02. Return to the Cosmic Infinity – 6:34
03. The Dreams of Depths & Terror – 7:39
04. Below a Mirror of Stars – 4:04
Chapter II – The Revival
Chapter III – The Revelation
Physical Edition Disc Two:
|Physical Format Score: 9.5/10
Digital Format Score: 9/10