- H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulu)
|Metallica's first two albums|
Kill 'em All (1983)
Ride The lightning (1984)
There is a whole variety of ways to express your creativity when obsessing about death, especially when you are Metallica. “Ride the Lightning” as stated a moment ago is about the execution of a criminal via the electric chair. “Seek and Destroy” is fairly self explanatory kind of slaughter, that we could perhaps label as militaristic. “Creeping Death” is about an Angel watching as a plague wipes out mankind. “Fade to Black” is about suicide. And to top things off “The Four Horsemen” is about the end of days where everyone dies. But like so many people fascinated with the horror of death Hetfield and Ulrich were drawn to horror literature.
The history of great American horror literature can be simplified in three parts, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. This is a gross oversimplification because it skips over many great authors, especially modern ones, but the public at large is most familiar with or is most influenced by these three titans of the genre.
|Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King|
|Magic the Gathering's eldritch horrors|
the Eldrazi are based off of Lovecraft's
old ones. Nice artwork.
The list of movies and video games inspired by Lovecraft is very long; in fact this list supplied by Wikipedia is missing seven or eight movies I can reference off the top of my head, like “Reanimator”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu_Mythos_in_popular_culture
Perhaps Lovecraft’s most famous book is “The Call of Cthulhu.”
|Cthulhu by Obrotowy|
A reoccurring theme throughout Lovecraft’s work is that mankind continues to survive solely because we are beneath the notice of the horrible eldritch abominations that could easily wipe us out, and the more someone learns about the true horrors at the fringes of the world the more those horrors become aware of you. The unknown is the greatest thing human beings fear and in Lovecraft’s works, ignorance is our own only fragile salvation. The gradual discovery of the mystery and horror of Ktulu is the perfect example of the majority of Lovecraftian narrative where the more our primary character learns what they are dealing with the more they are driven insane, and I believe Metallica has captured this perfectly and without words.
Despite being an instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” is, to me at least, obviously about Ktulu the ruinner of worlds. Perhaps it is simply by the power of persuasion and the title gives a mindset for all of us to fixate on, but the movements of Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” to me symbolize a decent into madness. Metallica’s “The Call Of Ktulu” like so many other great songs has fantastic rising tension, it a song built on growing escalation. The inclusion of more complicated melodies are gradually introduced and the sound grows heavier, or at least seems too as time goes on. If nothing else “The Call of Ktulu” is an intense haunting song and once the concept of Ktulu is placed over top it perfectly captures the tone and mood of the novel, you add in the fact this is a great guitar song, probably Kirk Hammet’s best work and I am left to conclude that “The Call of Ktulu” is basically a perfect song.
Here is some non-news for you, Metallica is hugely successful.
Metallica is so successful, and not just commercially, that they have been huge inspirations to the vast majority of American metal bands that have come since. There is an interesting cultural parallel that can be drawn between American horror literature and American heavy metal. The expansion and growth of art works in fluid movements, and much the way Poe inspired Lovecraft who in turn inspired King; Metallica has inspired fellow musicians and fans alike with their music, so much so I have lived several personal anecdotal stories where I introduced Metallica fans to Lovecraft through “The Call of Ktulu.” But more importantly to this vein of conversation Metallica is so well liked by their metal compatriots they have been covered a lot.
Without going into two many examples a quick Google search reveals seven tribute albums to Metallica:
- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 1 (1994)
- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 2 (1996)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 1 (1998)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 2 (2000)
- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 3 (2000)
- Metallica Assault: A Tribute to Metallica (2001)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 3 (2002)
There are two sets of three volume works here; also worthy of note is this article listing the supposed ten best covers of “Enter Sandman” - http://ultimateclassicrock.com/best-cover-versions-of-metallicas-enter-sandman/
I think there is also a Metallica Christmas tribute album out there somewhere.
Most of these albums slipped into obscurity not long after their initial release and now are very difficult to obtain without a deliberate effort which is way you have probably never heard of any of them until now. There is one cover I am very fond of however, off of “Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 3” a band called Headroom did a cover of “The Call of Ktulu.” And I know nothing about Headroom other than this cover.
Headroom - The Call of Ktulu
Not since Emmerson, Lake and Palmer has the inclusion of lyrics to a cover been so unnecessary (see Emmerson, Lake and Palmer’s cover of Mussorgsky’s “The Great Gate of Kiev”) an instrumental song is almost always best left as an instrumental, sometimes things are beyond words and at times it is presumptuous to attempt to apply poetry or specified meaning to someone else’s creative effort, as the possibility for misrepresentation/misinterpretation is high. However Headroom did something very smart with their cover of “The Call of Ktulu,” they returned to the source material.
“The Call of Ktulu” is a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, so any newly added lyrics should also be a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. When you listen to the lyrics from Headroom’s cover they sound very Lovecraftian in word choice and structure and a quick search reveals the dialogue to be a slightly modified passage from “The Necronomicon.” No not from the book of the dead by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred which is of course fictional, but from the Necronomicon Project. There have been multiple published version of the supposed book of the dead but the sample quote from this cover song is from the Necronomicon Project – Book 1: Testimony of the Mad Arab, an online tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and a serious attempt at creating a literary version of the fictional legendary book.
These lyrics work. Read the lyrics (more or less) and the rest of the Necronomicon project here: http://www.chaosmatrix.org/library/books/necro_proj/n_hazred.html
And the reason these lyrics work is that both the passage from The Necronomicon Project and the music from Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” are tributes to the same source material. Headroom wisely combined two works inspired by, and mimicking in style to, the classic American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. In the end we get a unique and fun cover song.
The study of the anthropology of music is a fun hobby, but also it gives additional meaning and significance to everything. Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” is made all the richer once you know about H.P. Lovecraft’s novel “The Call of Cthulhu” and vise versa. The same goes for Headroom’s cover and their reference to The Necronomicon Project. When all four works are considered together, it creates this very satisfying sense of belonging and expansion. From here we can include any number of things that tie back together either to Metallica or Lovecraft and this very powerful connection between artists of various mediums can clearly be seen and what we are seeing is art transcending into culture, and that is awesome.
“The Call of Ktulu” by Metallica is more than a great guitar song it has become a very valuable brick in the construction of our modern zeitgeist of horror and metal and who knows what else.
Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.
- King of Braves
Other sons by Metallica inspired by H.P. Lovecraft are “The Thing that should not be” and “All Nightmare Long.”