Warning: It's best not to take this review seriously. I know next to nothing about modern jazz music and as such this is largely a disgruntled critique based on what I expected an album inspired by H. P. Lovecraft to sound like. Happy Halloween!
Last month I was doing my usual rounds of the internet in search of new music to listen to when I stumbled across an album titled Cthulhu Rising. Immediately I checked to see if it was a concept album about H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and not just some random title slapped on there to tease oddball Lovecraftian horror fans. Low and behold it was a concept album, mostly covering the Cthulhu Mythos, but also a few other Lovecraft stories, such as The Shadow Out of Time and The Music of Erich Zann. Awesome.
Not so fast. I soon found that the album’s artist, Reuben Bradley of Wellington, New Zealand, was a jazz composer/musician. I have practically no knowledge of this genre of music, even less of the contemporary/classical jazz sub-genre Bradley is known for, but I’ll give pretty much anything a shot. Then I discovered that Cthulhu Rising was an instrumental album and my apprehension grew. I’m really not a fan of much instrumental work (I can count on one hand the instrumental albums I regularly listen to), but again, that won’t stop me from listening to such music every now and then. I like to think I have an open mind when it comes to music, even if I do have a well-defined taste in heavier sub-genres of rock. So I strapped myself in and gave Bradley a chance…
…I’ve heard more authentic Lovecraftian horror sounds emerge from the lips of my two year old while he watches Barney & Friends. This shit is less terrifying than watching Adam Sandler accept his fourth consecutive People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedic Movie Actor. If this were the music that played during Cthulhu’s awakening, humanity would squash it like the pathetic Cthulhu Larva that it is.
Suffice to say, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Not once did I experience any sense of unease, feel hopeless, or question my own sanity. The vast majority of the album sounds like what I can only describe as technically proficient lounge music. I don’t know about you, but when I think about Cthulhu I don’t picture myself in a hotel foyer or at a high-class dinner party where a band plays easy listening material as background music. If it were not for the occasionally read excerpts from Lovecraft’s work, I’d have thought I was listening to the wrong album. Lovecraftian this is not.
Taking Cthulhu out of the equation, I can find little fault in the album from a technical standpoint. It’s competently performed and from time to time there are nice flourishes of instrumentation that I can get behind. Bradley is most certainly a talented drummer and he’s accompanied by two other musicians, Taylor Eigsti on piano and Matt Penman on bass, of equal skill. However, the mixing leaves something to be desired, in my opinion, as the piano has been brought too far into the forefront, drowning out the percussion a lot of the time.
Nevertheless, the album fails both conceptually and artistically. Other than “Shadow Out of Time,” which does somewhat aesthetically match the source novella, the music betrays the cosmic horror atmosphere of Lovecraft’s work. If your goal is to write music fitting of its inspiration, you have to imbue it with the same defining characteristics or otherwise what’s the point?
However, I’m probably not qualified to evaluate this supposed “dark modern jazz” (if this is as dark as jazz gets, well I don’t know what to say really). Bradley has a very prestigious education in music, so who am I to question his interpretation of Lovecraft’s work? That’s why it’s probably best for you to judge for yourself and to help in that regard, here are two songs from Cthulhu Rising that Bradley has made available via SoundCloud.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for some real Cthulhu music, click “Next page” below for my personally crafted playlist of Lovecraftian horror sounds for the Halloween season.