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Abysmal Growls Of Despair : Lovecraftian Drone

It's a difficult trick to make a Lovecraft-themed concept album that is neither pretentious nor cartoonish, but Abysmal Growls of Despair manage.

France's Abysmal Growls of Despair is the funeral doom project of the remorselessly prolific Aimeric Lerat. He is an excellent musician, and has brought enough atmospheric richness and melodic invention to his work to make him stand out from the legions of self-released bedroom solo doomsters that clutter the Bandcamp servers. Abyss, his penultimate release as Abysmal Growls of Despair, was especially excellent: storm clouds of distorted down-tuned guitars swathed in sheets of atmospheric noise, balanced with delicate, elegiac keyboard arrangements and interpolations of classical compositions; a lovely, if fairly standard, entry in the genre. 'Lovecraftian Drone', the most recent release, is a different animal entirely.

This record is an ugly, feral-sounding thing. The atmosphere here is a crushing sense of monumental indifference and creeping dread, which is absolutely fitting, considering that each track is named for one of the alien deities that comprise horror writer H. P. Lovecraft's pantheon. The sounds here are harsh: immense, roiling guitars, suffocating clouds of static and noise, minimal, stark synthesizer embellishments, and underneath, Lerat's unique guttural growl. Gone are the plaintive neoclassical melodies and delicately-picked arpeggiatos of earlier Abysmal Growls of Despair. The gods of the Cthulhu Mythos are incomprehensibly other, terrifying transdimensional beings for whom humanity is beneath notice, and the music reflects this ably. This is a subject matter perfect for the toolset of the more dramatic styles of doom metal. In lesser hands, it can be an overwhelming font of inspiration, with cringe-inducing results. Although I cannot say that the entirety of 'Lovecraftian Drone' is successful, Abysmal Growls of Despair manages the difficult trick of making a Lovecraft-themed concept album that is neither too pretentious nor cartoonish.

The guitars here sound somehow simultaneously monolithic and savage, an immense, shredded tone. Vast interstellar winds tearing through the decaying flesh of some unknowable cosmic beast. The bass throbs and shudders like a continent-sized piece of sheet iron being flogged with a dead whale. The slow pace of most of this record allows each chord and note plenty of space to unfold into gnarled swaths of rich, fuzzy texture, or decay into the vivid magma-glow of howling feedback.

The synthesizer passages here are much shorter and simpler than on previous AGOD songs, mostly consisting of looped otsinato motifs, notably on 'Shub-Niggurath' and 'Azathoth'. The intro to the former song is an eerie jagged creaking figure, something like rusty metal grinding against itself. 'Azathoth' begins with the only sustained percussion on 'Lovecraftian Drone', a deliberate, muted funeral march on bass drum. This is soon joined by a simple, fragile synth flute figure, over which Lerat begins chanting, or gasping, "Azathoth, Azathoth." Perhaps the most foregrounded keyboard passage on the album is the synth chorus in the intro of 'Yog-Sothoth'. The ominous, choir-of-the-damned sound is a pretty standard part of the funeral doom arsenal, but combined with Lerat's chthonic growl and the measured single-string guitar passage here it is certainly hair-raisingly effective. In addition to the electronic treatments, Lerat also has a good feel for extended technique on the guitar, as well as other mechanical noisemaking strategies. Where earlier AGOD used ambient approaches and noise in to limn sonic landscapes, here these strategies often result in a claustrophobic texture, as if one is trapped in a small space and something is clawing at the outside, trying to tear its way in, especially in 'Azathoth' and in 'The Great Old Ones'. This functions as a balancing contrast with the sense of endless mass and space created by the guitars.

The vocals on this album are particularly strong. Lerat has a surprising emotional range, considering that he sings here exclusively in an inhuman growl. In 'Cthulhu', his voice has a sort of mantic, measured pace, suited for the unspeakable sleeping king of R'lyeh beneath the ocean. At the end of 'Shub-Niggurath', his double-tracked vocals are genuinely horrifying, creating a squamous, crawling effect which is used sparingly, but to great effect once or twice more. In 'Azathoth', the main lyric is delivered in a despairing croak that manages to convey the terrifying mental price exacted upon the feeble minds of humanity by that "amorphous blight of nethermost confusion". The lyrics are also good, largely taken directly from Lovecraft, but with some well-crafted connective tissue by Lerat.

'Lovecraftian Drone''s largest weakness is its great length: it consists of six tracks clocking in at a total of one and a half hours. Each song is strong on its own, but after thirty minutes — much less the entire ninety — the sameness of texture wears on the ears. There are certainly distinguishing elements in each song, but guitars are so dominant that they can start to run together. There is a tendency for the other sonic textures to be used too discretely: synthesizer will open a song, overlap with the guitar for a few measures, and then disappear for the next ten minutes, only to be trotted out once again for a quick coda at the end. This is a lost opportunity for providing more dynamic and timbral variation.

Overall, however, this is a delightfully nasty piece of work. Funeral doom is largely too pretty for my tastes, but this has a jagged texture and a lovely spacious droning quality that I find very appealing. I doubt that I will return to the album in its entirety very often, but these songs are the best things that Lerat has done to date. If you like bleak, literate doom of whatever stripe, I highly recommend that you check out 'Lovecraftian Drone'.

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Reviewer's rating: 7/10


Tracklist :
1. Cthulhu
2. The Great Old Ones
3. Shub-Niggurath
4. Azathoth
5. Yog-Sothoth
6. Nyarlathotep

Duration : Approx. 91 minutes

Visit the Abysmal Growls Of Despair bandpage.

Reviewed on 2014-10-25 by Chadwick Crawford
Aesthetic Death
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