The Great Old Ones- Al Azif
How strange it is that one of the most influential creative forces that has helped shape Metal in all it's forms would be a long dead horror writer from Providence, Rhode Island with one of history's truly great ironic monikers. H.P. Lovecraft and his cosmic, esoteric Cthulhu Mythos is among the most referenced subject's in Extreme Metal's historically limited lyrical pantheon(also featuring a little cloaked man with horns and various naked, mutilated women), yet seems to carry a certain air of class about it. Anybody can write a song about Satan or goats or gore, but in order to Lovecraft-up your lyrics, it means you had to actually read what is now considered classic literature(though Lovecraft was only mildly successful in his own lifetime). Pretty classy, and the main draw behind The Great Old One's newest album, Al Azif. Though French, The Great Old One's sound is distinctly American; specifically, the new breed of atmospheric, Shoegaze-and-Doom influenced Black Metal popularized by the likes of Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room and Krallice. Being French and all, you would hope that The Great Old One's would have some fresh new ideas to bring to a very trendy, very popular genre, other than the whole Lovecraft thing.
Well... no, not really.
Frankly, Al Azif comes and goes, leaving little in the way of extra-dimensional terror or cosmic infestations. Hell, it barely lifts a tentacle as it plods along at typical Depressive Black Metal tempos and thick, admittedly inviting Black/gaze/Krallice riffs rule the day. This is just very typical, very mild stuff The Great Old One's are showcasing as dynamic, progressive Atmospheric Black Metal. Song's follow predictable progressions, usually alternative between a soft intro followed by lots of fast bits, with softer compositions popping in just on time to break the monotony before the fast stuff starts again... usually for excessively long play-times. Memory fails when trying to find a single highlight in the haze, and the haze itself is pretty bland: more a smokey, smelly mess then a true thickening of the air that causes the lungs to struggle against inhaling it. The only aspect of the album that stands out in anyway is the wonderful production: I'm a big fan of the thick, static heavy approach to Black Metal, and it does work here, if only to provide the lone bright light in a sea of dimness. Al Azif struggles to give the listener much of anything: riffs, atmosphere, or even delivering on the promise of it's subject matter.
This is the thing I understand the least about Al Azif: why even bother going with a Lovecraftian theme if all you are going to write are typical, generic Blackgaze songs that Leucosis and Ash Borer did better last year? Truth is, I know little about Lovecraft as a writer, but it seems to me the man had a really cool vision. The whole idea of cosmic horror and esoteric, ethereal old spirits slowly devouring our souls and minds sounds pretty fucking twisted, especially considering the age in which Lovecraft wrote these stories. If your concept band is going to make a concept album about this kind of shit, it better be as demented and perverse as the concept itself. Compare this tripe to Brown Jenkins, another Lovecraftian themed Atmospheric Black Metal band(now essentially called The Ash Eaters), and it's like comparing an infant wearing a Cthulhu mask to the real thing's massive, tentacle cloaked member. We could compare this also to the works of Thergothon or Catacombs, but it's pretty much the same result. Al Azif might as well be titled Al Franken or Al Capone, because in the end there will be no "visions of R'lyeh" to haunt your dreams after listening to this chore.
Al Azif is not a poorly played album. It doesn't sound bad, in fact it sounds utterly fantastic. And it really isn't even a poorly written one. It follows all the established guidelines of the genre to their well-tread ends, on time and with gusto. It's that none of it feels unique, memorable or intense in anyway: everything is a blur, and the twisted chants of the star cult are completely obscured by the dime-a-dozen Blackgaze eclipse wonderfully suggested on the albums (brilliant looking) cover art. The rites of Cthulhu this is most certainly not.