Heavy metal and horror have always been natural bedfellows from Black Sabbath onwards, and one of the most frequent literary inspirations to the genre has been legendary weird fiction author and creator of the Cthulhu mythos H.P. Lovecraft. With his tales of malevolent extraterrestrial entities who seek the downfall of humanity, and the men who go insane upon confrontation with the horrors, Lovecraft’s legacy has flourished ever since his premature death in 1937.
One such band looking to the son of Providence for inspiration is French black metallers The Great Old Ones, whose debut release “Al-Azif” gained rave reviews in 2012. Two years later they have once again descended from the stars to present cowering humanity with “Tekeli-Li”, a concept record based on Lovecraft’s popular novella ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. The book’s tales of an Antarctic expedition that stumbles across the ruins of an ancient, alien-built metropolis amidst the frozen wastes that may not be entirely abandoned is perfectly suited to the Bordeaux quintet’s ice-cold black metal aesthetics and the mounting sense of dread penned by Lovecraft is expertly captured throughout the fifty-three minutes of “Tekeli-Li.”
After a brief spoken word intro, the freezing atmospherics and aggression of ‘Antarctica’ set the scene by landing us right there in the frozen tundra at the mercy of whatever may be lurking there. Lovecraft was a master at building tension through psychological unease and this is clearly something the band understands, for the track shifts in pace repeatedly, rather than fall back on simplistic blasting. The choral-esque guitar lines and doomy soundscapes of ‘The Elder Things’ continues this trend, adding in some achingly intense post-rock style peaks and troughs with the instruments all sounding as organic as an overfed Shoggoth.
The shifting unease and surging menace of ‘Awakening’ recalls much-missed fellow post black metal explorers Altar of Plagues while the pitch-black blasting of ‘The Ascend’ harks back to the grim, early outpourings of the Norwegian Second Wave as the true horror becomes apparent. This is what black metal is supposed to do; have you looking over your shoulder as the realisation that humanity isn’t the favoured race of a loving creator after all sinks in. The post-rock of before returns again in final track ‘Beyond the Mountains’ which covers a lot of ground in its seventeen minutes. Although the riffs are searing, the atmosphere chilling and all the elements are in place, the track is a tad too long and should perhaps have been slimmed down. Still, it is a wholly satisfying ending and just as bleak as the novella itself.
Bringing the coldness back to black metal and showing how even nearly 90 years after it was first written, ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ can still make neck hairs stand on end, The Great Old Ones have done a great service to both extreme metal and to horror. It’s uncertain what Lovecraft would have made of the music but he no doubt would have approved of the band’s commitment to creating music that chills the blood.