H.P. Lovecraft himself unknowingly defined Weird Metal in his 1921 short story ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ by describing “sounds which filled me with an indefinable dread”, though he was around too early to ever hear any. Apparently he didn’t really like music anyway, although I did read that he was partial to the odd flute melody.
That sense of indefinable dread he describes is at the core of the literary genre known as Weird Fiction. You feel it reading early writers like Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. You feel it reading the New Weird of Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville and Steph Swainston. But you feel it listening to music too. In the unearthly screams of short-lived Mayhem frontman Dead on the black metal classic Die Mysteriis Dom Sathanus. In the shockingly-fast, dissonant murkiness of Nile’s Lovecraft-infused Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka. In the endlessly enveloping monotony of the uncomfortably slow drone-doom that is Sunn O))). So listening to music can affect a similar sense of Weirdness as reading fiction. This feeling is especially prominent in music that can be considered ‘extreme’ in some way – extremely strange, very fast, agonizingly slow etc. – characteristic of sub-genres such as black, death and doom metal.
Many musicians achieve this effect regardless of whether they have read any Weird Fiction. But there’s plenty who have. Weird Fiction often blends science fiction (sf), fantasy and horror, and metal bands have been heavily inspired by these genres for decades. In fact Black Sabbath referenced Lovecraft on their very first album, which effectively kick-started metal in the 1970s, as have hundreds of bands since. So it’s important to consider the many glorious riff-laden hymns to Cthulhu that have been written, the groups named after Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, and the concept albums based upon his stories. Lovecraft may dominate discussion of Weird Fiction but there are plenty of less famous Weird writers, such as Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, who continue to influence artists like Newcastle’s ritual drone band Bong and Dorset’s seminal doom act Electric Wizard from beyond the grave.
This is where I come in. I first wrote about Weird Metal in a chapter for New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft, which I’m extremely grateful to editor David Simmons and publisher Palgrave MacMillan for accepting. I also spoke about it at an amazing conference on The Weird held at the University of London in 2013. In this blog I’ll be discussing what I consider to be important examples of this phenomenon, and further developing some of my ideas. I’m always going to gigs, buying records and reading books, so I’ll also be using Weird Metal Blog to post other reviews as well. You can hear Weirdness outside metal of course, in all sorts of genres and styles, and I’m definitely interested in those too. It’s no coincidence for example that Italian Baroque composer Guiseppe Tartini believed his ‘Sonata in G Minor’ – known as the ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata – was first played to him in a dream by the Devil himself. Just because the piece’s eerie glissando trills are played on a violin not a Les Paul doesn’t lessen their effect.
So what is Weird Metal?
Weird Metal is the hybrid of Weird Fiction and Extreme Metal.
Weird Metal is the “sounds which fill you with an indefinable dread”.
Weird Metal is frisson from sonic horrors.
Weird Metal is music from beyond…
And what is Weird Metal Blog?
Weird Metal Blog draws correlations between literature and music.
Weird Metal Blog gathers slippery, renegade genres from culture’s nether realms.
Weird Metal Blog celebrates the prominence of Weirdness in metal.
Weird Metal Blog welcomes you…