The writing of H. P. Lovecraft has been a source of inspiration for metal artists seemingly since the birth of the style, and for good reason. He wrote works of great fantasy and escapism, something often sought within metal. His stories told tales of secret societies that had long kept secret the true nature of existence, much in the way metal fans not only view themselves as an “outside” subculture, but sometimes (smugly) hold their views of music as a greater truth.
But mostly, Lovecraft wrote about things that went bump in the night, and one of the many roles of heavy metal is that it is the music of horror. Lovecraft described his otherworldly creatures in detail, but he also made sure that the reader understood the full power of these beings, as the only humans to actually see them (the characters) went mad from their mere sight. In Lovecraft’s stories, mankind’s eternal quest for knowledge led to darker truths beyond human perception, and for the reader, always left a sense of wonder and mystery after the terror had long since abated.
The issue with most metal that uses Lovecraft for inspiration is that it focuses solely on the horror aspect, and forgets all about that sense of wonder and mystery and unknowable whole of things. France’s aptly-named The Great Old Ones, however, have a more holistic grasp on this translation. Like Lovecraft’s stories, the music of TGOO starts with an incredibly eerie atmosphere that never feels truly safe, builds its horror gradually, and strikes with great violence only when the time is perfect.
On EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy, they achieve this effect through a style that is most conveniently described as “post/black metal,” but in terms of pure vibe, TGOO have very little in common with the bands that typically carry that label. Sure, they use blackened tones in both guitar and vocal, and offer huge waves of tremolo riffs that ride over methodic dynamics, but this has neither the folk-tinged aspect of Alcest nor the screamo edge of Deafheaven. (It also doesn’t for one second sound “happy.”) Rather, they have developed one of those great different-but-not sounds that is instantly accessible to many a metal ear, but offers greater rewards simply because it feels fresh and encourages the mind to wander.
This is how TGOO succeeded on their first two (also excellent) albums, and this is precisely how they succeed on EOD. “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” absolutely blazes out of the gate with a combination of blasts and black metal riffage, executing small shifts in the drumming, shimmering leads, and rhythm guitars to subtly affect the mood. When it drops into slower passages, it sounds less at ease than drained, and the effect is that the listener never quite gets to relax, beautiful as the music may be. The song then proceeds to shift and churn in any number of ways before finally opening into its final grand view, like the first time one of Lovecraft’s human characters lays eyes upon his horrific creations.
It isn’t groundbreaking in any way, it just nails the whole Lovecraftian aesthetic better than the vast majority of bands going that route. It also shows a pretty uncanny sense of songcraft, possessing both the grand arcs that one expects of a “post” band and a rich amount of detail, both in terms of actual sounds and how the band stokes the imagination. “The Ritual,” for instance, very much tries to give the listener a false sense of security, but explodes halfway through with the most savage music this band has yet put to tape. “In Screams and Flames,” meanwhile, carries with it a sense of acceptance of some upcoming struggle or suffering, but maintains a sense of fear and terror, adding to the album’s overall arc.
Plus, beyond all of the Lovecraft associations and songwriting skills and details, this band just plain sounds cool. The production is absolutely impeccable, capable of handling both the massive atmosphere and gargantuan heft; a three-guitar lineup means guitars can be employed for traditional metal brutality and plenty of eerie effects; Léo Isnard deftly adapts his drumming for each change in mood and tempo, showing great knowledge not just for styles, but also placement; and the vocals often pair a higher, typical black metal delivery with a very low death metal style, adding to the band’s layered aura even more.
Point being: The Great Old Ones nail just about everything. EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy is a beast of an album that you think you’ve heard before, but will surprise you with how much it may, well, surprise you. To provide too much detail would not only spoil the album’s many treasures, but might paint the picture in a way that is not natural for another person. This is imaginative music, and deserves to be greeted with your imagination fully running wild.
Lovecraft is too often used as a cheap gimmick in metal. Here, however, his writing is used as a vehicle being driven on a well-planned route to greatness.