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Various Artists

The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft - A Synphonic Collection

Review by Gary Hill

While this set was released several years ago, I've just recently found out about it. Given that I'm currently working on a revised and expanded edition of The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H.P. Lovecraft, it seemed like a good idea to do a retro review of this for Music Street Journal at the same time I worked on getting it into that book. This is a progressive rock release spanning three CDs. There are some better known acts like Unitopia and Glass Hammer included, but a lot of others who have less well-known status. Everything here is strong, and there is a decent range. While there are quite a few instrumentals, plenty of songs have vocals, too. It's actually a nice balance. It should be noted that not all the lyrics are in English, with several songs in Italian and one in Spanish. The booklet is quite comprehensive including lyrics, credits and even a short description of the story that serves as the inspiration for each song. If you like interesting progressive rock or are into H.P. Lovecraft based music, this is definitely recommended. If you, like me, fit into both of those categories, it's a "must have."

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD1
                   
The Samurai of Prog - The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

This opens like something from Emerson Lake and Palmer. It works through some intriguing shifts and changes as it makes its way forward. There are some world music elements that come in at points. It drops for the vocal section, coming in mostly spoken. This section is quite weird. As it grows outward from, the sense of insanity seems to continue. The vocals over the more powered up section are more sung, but it drops to the weirdness again after a time. That section becomes rather theatrical. From there it gets into more powered up progressive rock from there. This has some really freaky movements at times. Around the four minute mark it turns toward a folk rock styled thing. It grows outward from there. At times I'm reminded a bit of Paul Roland on this section. We get a powerhouse instrumental segment beyond that point. Then more of the folk rock section takes it for the next vocals. I love the keyboard solo section that comes upward for a short time later. Violin soloing emerges from there as the instrumental movement continues. It drops to a more world based section. The next vocals come over that concept with folk and world sounds merging nicely with a folk rock basis. As the piece continues to evolve it gets quite theatrical. There is a drop to weirdness for a short bit of lyrics. Then this powers upward to a hard rocking jam that's not far removed from heavy metal. They explore things instrumentally for a time before it works to another folk rock like section. The piece continues to grow with revisits and alterations of earlier sections. A powerhouse instrumental movement takes this to the end.

Glass Hammer - Cool Air
There is a spoken introduction that is a reading of the Lovecraft story. The cut powers out with prog fury from there, working through with some great old school prog sounds. It drops to a mellow progressive rock movement for Jon Davison's vocals. It powers out for a section with a fuller vocal arrangement. It drops back downward for the next lead vocal movement. After another more powered up section it works outward into some seriously soaring progressive rock to continue. They work it onward with some pretty crazed prog stuff. There is a feeling of insistency and one of insanity as it drives forward. It drops to weird ambient music with strange sound effects as it moves into another spoken bit from the story. A melodic, but rather dark prog jam emerges from there. Some odd bubbling noises are heard as this moves forward. Then a killer guitar solo takes it. It drops to a balladic movement for a couple lines of vocals. They power it up into soaring melodic prog from there. More melodic guitar soloing rises up and reaches for the clouds after the next vocal movement. Then the piece drops to a keyboard based section with some sound effects that serves to end it.
Karda Estra - The Haunter of the Dark
Trippy music serves as the beginning of this number. There is a symphonic bombast as this grows, despite the fact that it essentially mellow. This instrumental moves through a number of changes, but remains more or less as an electronic kind of number that's creepy and proggy. There are some funerary elements along this road.
Unitopia - The Outsider
Starting with ambient elements and a spoken sound bite section, this rises up from there with creepy progressive rock elements at play. It drops to trippy, mellow sounds. The percussive element is intriguing and the melody is suitably melancholy. The vocals come in with a slow, measured approach over that backdrop as it grows forward. It rises to a more rocking movement after the extended vocal section. Saxophone drives it at first. Then a guitar solo takes over for a while. More soaring sung vocals come in over the top of this as it continues on its path. This is powerful and just a bit Pink Floyd-like. It drops back for an ambient section with more sound bites. A killer instrumental jam comes in at the end of that. It is screaming hot with a more modern metallic prog sound. Eventually the cut comes into another sung segment. This one is more soaring and powerful. The overall concept on this movement makes me think of Yes in a lot of ways. I love the second vocal part that comes in as counterpart to the soaring ones as this drives forward. Another smoking hot instrumental break comes in after that and continues the onward progress of the piece. It drops to weird atmospherics from there, though. A rather jazzy instrumental section takes it for a short time from that point. Then it soars back upward with a slow moving, but very powerful and melodic, section. The cut closes with another drop back for spoken clip.
Simon Says - The Wailing Wall
This is a powerhouse progressive rock instrumental that really has some great shifts and changes built into it. It turns symphonic at times. By around the three minute mark it drops down to a mellower section that has a bit of a creepy classical element. Quite symphonic sounds take over as it rises up from there. A gong sounds, giving way to a false ending. Piano rises up from there to move it forward tentatively with a real creepy texture. It continues to evolve, turning into a percussion work out around the six minute mark. After about a minute in that motif this explodes out into more powerhouse progressive rock music from there. Some powerful and quite intriguing shifts and turns take this. There are segments that make me think of classic cinema sounds, but all delivered with a progressive rock musical concept. This is a piece that is epic in scope and length.
CD2
               
Jinetes Negros - Hypnos

The lyrics on this one are in Spanish. The cut comes in with some cool progressive rock stylings that are on the mellower side. After the first bit of vocals, it powers to some near heavy metal territory. That works through a couple iterations. Then organ rises up, and the keyboards take control for a while. This thing keeps shifting and changing as it marches onward. The vocals eventually return over a powerhouse prog jam. It drops to a slightly mellower and a bit odd (but incredibly cool) jam from there. Multiple layers of vocals come over the top. This piece continues to evolve as it drives onward. A scorching guitar solo enters, and the cut drops to ambience for bit from there. It eventually rises upward to more powerful prog rock to continue. A fast paced crescendo is replaced by a piano chord at the end.

Blank Manuskript - Beast in the Cave
Freaky sounds bring this instrumental into being. It rises up from there to an oddly timed section that makes me think of Pentwater. This thing works through a number of changes. It's tastefully off-kilter and strange. It still manages to rock out like crazy, though. A jam around the two minute mark has a more mainstream rock vibe as it serves as the backdrop for a powerful guitar solo. The piece shifts to more oddity in a crescendo there. Then it works out to a driving prog jam that makes me think of Kansas to some large degree. This piece is quite dynamic and never fails to be interesting or captivating. A melodic, measured movement later features more guitar soloing, this time of the soaring variety. That guitar work at times makes me think of Brian May just a bit. The cut drops to a mellower movement from there for a very short outro.
La coscienza di Zeno - Colofonia
An electronic, mellower vibe brings this into being, and the cut begins to grow outward from there. A rather mellow trippy thing takes it for a time. It powers out from there to a jam that has a lot of fusion built into it. The lyrics on this one are in Italian. The vocals come in over the top of a variant on that concept. Eventually that works through, and there is a transition to a dramatic and powerful instrumental movement. It drops way down for the next vocal movement. After that movement does its job we get another soaring progressive rock jam. This makes me think of the band Halloween to a large degree. The guitar solo is particularly expressive. It drops to another mellower section at the end. It's short-lived, though, serving as the outro.
Guy Le Blanc - Beyond the Wall of Sleep
A piano based melody over atmospherics makes up the opening section here. While it bursts out into more progressive rock power, it drops back to just the piano again. That holds it until another melodic prog jam rises upward from the backdrop. This time around there is a cool keyboard solo built into it. There is some killer jamming as this instrumental continues to weave its sonic tapestry. The musicians involved put in potent performances on this thing.
Ars Ephemera - The Other Gods
Neo-classically styled keyboard work opens this. There are strings that add to that type of effective. It powers upward to some killer melodic prog from that point as the other instruments join. This makes a journey through all kinds of different things as it continues to evolve. There are decidedly fusion like parts. Other things are more pure progressive rock. This instrumental is dynamic and powerful. The build up toward the outro makes me think of vintage Genesis quite a bit. The closing movement is a keyboard section that works quite well.
Attilio Perrone - Topi nel muro
This comes in with some crazed fusion styled jamming at its heart. The piano really drives a lot of this opening section. The shifts to a frantic movement that feels a lot like Emerson Lake and Palmer. There are a couple work through, stop and restart bits as this makes its way forward. Drums take over for a short time mid-track, but it burst back out into ELP like fusion from there. After a while, though, there is a shift to more pure jazz to continue. This keeps twisting and turning, seemingly at every opportunity. If you don't like where this instrumental is, just wait because it will change quickly.
Ciccada - The Statement
I love the keyboard section that starts this. The cut shifts to more of a fast paced progressive rock motif from there. Layers of non-lyrical vocals soar over the top as it continues. There is definitely an old-world traditional music element here. Still, it's delivered with more of a prog rock element. It drops to a prog ballad approach for the first real vocals. After that movement works its way through, they drop it to some strange mellower sounds to continue. A cool fusion bass line rises up to take it into the next movement. As the rest of the instruments are added to the mix there is a sound that is a combination of fusion and pure progressive rock that takes over. This instrumental movement takes the piece through a number of changes. Eventually we're taken to the close of the piece.
D'Accord - The Doom That Came to Sarnath
A dramatic movement starts this off, slow moving at first. Then faster paced prog jamming takes over from there. A bit of a middle-Eastern sound serves as the connector to a mellower motif. That sound serves as the background for the first vocals. The piece alternates between mellower and more rocking sections. At times the vocals on this number make me think of Eddie Vedder. There is more of a jam band vibe to a lot of this, too. A jam with a lot of flute around the four minute mark begs comparisons to Jethro Tull. As it powers out from there with a more furious rocking sound Tull remains a valid reference point. A blues rock bit is heard around the five minute mark, but this just keeps making its way forward with varying shifts. A crescendo around the five and a half minute mark gives way to a mellower, slowly building movement that combines psychedelia and progressive rock to good effect. Some killer slow moving melodic guitar soloing comes over the top as this continues to resolve. As it approaches the eight minute mark it has shifted back upward to a harder rocking prog jam. The vocals return after a short time. Before the nine minute mark it drops back down to mellower, organ dominated groove. There is a real psychedelic rock element at play as the vocals continue over this backdrop. Don't get complacent, though because this continues to evolve from there, shifting toward more powerful prog jamming to continue. Another drop back gives way to a melodic, energized prog jam to carry it forward. Those middle Eastern melodies at the end of that. Some psychedelic sounds end the piece after that.
CD3
             
Sithonia - I gatti di Ulthar

This is another cut with lyrics in Italian. The sounds of a storm along with nature elements start this. Other weird effects are heard as mellow prog atmospherics join. Picked acoustic guitar enters as the piece begins to modulate toward the more musical. The piece gradually grows and evolves as it makes its way forward. It slips toward more rocking music just a bit as it approaches the three minute mark. Some vocals come over the top around the three minute and 20 second mark. This definitely resembles folk prog as this section winds through. Then it shifts to a harder rocking jam with some seriously meaty guitar sounds to continue. An organ solo comes over the top as this continues to drive it onward. After a time a guitar solo is heard on this extensive instrumental movement. It continues grow until around the six minute mark when it drops to weird textural sounds for the next vocals. After that movement a melodic, folk prog meets classical section with a lot of piano and flute takes over. The vocals return over this backdrop. By around the seven and a half minute mark it seems like it might end. Then more powered up prog rock jamming emerges from there. With some changes that section takes the number to the end.

Daal - The Call of Cthulu
Cool mellow electronics mold this into existence from nothingness. The cut gradually grows upward from there. Some piano comes over the top to herald a new movement. Louder keyboards rise upward bringing more of a rock element to the piece. It drops to another piano based section before it shifts to a pure prog rocking jam that is quite powerful. While the earlier sections felt like soundtrack music, this is very much progressive rock. Before the three minute mark it drops back to the opening sections to continue. Shortly after, though, it powers into a driving movement that has a lot of heavy metal built into it. This is so mean and yet also majestic. It's quite electronic, but has such a heaviness and fury built into it. The piece continues to evolve from there working through a number of changes. By around the five minute mark it drops back to mellower sounds similar to those that started it. The piano really guides this section of the piece as it makes its way forward. It turns dissonant for a short time before a new prog rocking jam emerges, delivering a sense of mystery. This gets pretty intense and some middle-eastern melodies come over the top of it at times. It drops to pure atmosphere after the seven and a half minute mark, almost seeming to be over. Then piano and some weird accompaniment rise up to move it forward in a mellow, but menacing way. Strange effects based stuff eventually becomes the sole remaining element here as this makes it to the closing.
Kate - Dream-Quest to the Unknown Kadath
Gentle folk styled sounds begin this. It grows into more of a folk prog style movement as it works forward with the proggy elements driving upward. This gets trippy and pretty cool as it continues. It shifts into trippy atmospherics around the three minute mark. It starts to build upward with unsettling freeform sounding stuff that seems tied to the Rock in Opposition movement. Keyboard take control on a mellower, but no less strange, movement around the three minute mark. Before the seven minute mark it coalesces into a melodic prog jam that is particularly cool. Some trippy music elements come over the top as this continues to grow and march forward. That extended instrumental movement eventually takes this to its conclusion.
Nexus - The Colour Out of Space
This rises upward like a King Crimson meets ELP kind of jam. It marches forward with that kind of a musical concept. Eventually this shifts to a more melodic progressive rock jam that has a soaring vibe. It's perhaps closer to something Yes might do. It works its way forward from there, making some shifts and changes as it does. This continues to evolve as moves through varying sections. This cut gets into more powerful mainstream progressive rock stuff at times and shifts toward rather odd stuff at others.  It is really steadily shifting, but the changes aren't generally abrupt. While there are some synthetic "voices," this is actually an instrumental.
Safara - Calendimaggio
Coming in with a more rocking sound, this alternates that with something mellower as it moves forward. There is a real alien vibe to a lot of this. It's steadily shifting with a real RIO kind of vibe. The cut works to a more mainstream prog segment for the beautiful female vocals as it continues. The lyrics are in Italian. As much as this has mainstream progressive rock elements, it has plenty of weirdness, too. There are moments where the vocals create more of a strange vibe and the music matches (particularly in a mellower segment after the half way point). It's almost like the mainstream sections provide some respite from the weirdness of other portions. There is some strange angular guitar soloing later in the cut that really takes it into experimental directions.
Aether- Mountains of Madness
Starting with a mellow guitar based movement that serves as the backdrop for the first vocals, it shifts out there to hard rocking stuff with a definite fusion angle. Scorching hot guitar solos over the top of that movement. The piece continues to shift and evolve as it makes its way forward. While there is a lot of fusion built into this, there is plenty of mainstream prog, too. Around the three minute mark it drops to atmospherics as the bass guitar essentially drives it. As that works upward it threatens to explode outward. Instead textures come in over the top to advance the piece with a soaring modern prog sound. Eventually it evolves to more of a melodic prog vibe to continue. There are some intriguing bass elements at play here, too. This rises up as it approaches the nine minute mark for a series of powerful progressive rock jams to ensue. There is some pretty awesome music that works through as this continues to be explored and grows.
Bonus Track

          

Goad - At the Mountains of Madness

A mellower, melodic progressive rock sound brings this into being with style. It grows gradually with a psychedelic rock meets prog sound. It rises up for some powered up sections. They continue to change this as they take it through some different movements, some instrumental and some including vocals. I love the cool mellower instrumental section around the six minute mark. As this continues to grow vocals come across to carry it forward. That section gives way to a different, more rocking movement around the eight minute mark. There is some killer instrumental work, particularly the violin, as that continues. Vocals return as that movement drives onward. It really rocks as it makes its way from there. That takes it to a very short ambient bit to end.

 

 
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