Tekeli-Li: soundtrack to classic Lovecraftian novella doesn’t quite capture the evil

The Great Old Ones, Tekeli-Li,  Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, CD Digipak (2014)

Dedicating their career to detailing the stories and various aspects of American early 20th-century writer H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, French post-BM band The Great Old Ones – even their name demonstrates their total commitment to all that is Lovecraftian – deliver their second album which in a nutshell is a musical retelling of the classic short story / novella “At the Mountains of Madness”. If you want a short summary of that story, a team of explorers follows in the footsteps of an earlier group of adventurers in Antarctica and stumble upon the ruins of an ancient city; there the team discovers not only what became of that lost group but also the secrets of an ancient civilisation that pre-dates even the rise of the dinosaurs; and moreover, indications that the creators and destroyers of this civilisation may be slumbering beneath Antarctica until the time comes for their revival. That revival is not far off and when it does happen, it will signal the end of humanity. We have a lot to look forward to!

As befits a soundtrack inspired by a story that delineates the magnitude of the malevolence that the explorers unwittingly stumble over, the album revels in a massive and majestic sound. The danger with this undertaking is that the music might become too unrestrained and overwhelming, the players derailed by the scale of their ambition into wanking off on dreary solo guitar and sheer indulgent bombast might be the result. There is plenty of chug-a-lug weightiness in the music and maybe a bit of editing for length is needed here and there but on the whole the musicians try to keep everything moving at a steady clip. TGOO really start to hit their stride with “The Elder Things” with some very rich and luxurious layers of guitar, organ and synthesiser, frantic drumming and passages of often catchy riffing and melodies. The formidable nature of one of the ultimate enemies of humankind is grasped with music that ranges from sweeping, slashing guitar grandeur to moments of blast-beat desperation.

The one weakness I find with this album is the singing which does not vary much when individual songs, written and sung from different points of view, would suggest that different vocal styles should be used. This is apparent on “Awakening” where the lyrics switch the point of view away from the humans, and a really guttural death-metal vocal might have been called for.

“The Ascend” (sic) gives an opportunity for the band to let off a lot of tension and steam in a runaway instrumental of blast-beat rush and tom-tom pounding but it does not add a great deal to the album’s overall development. That burden falls onto the last track “Behind the Mountains” which sums up what the explorers find and their final warning to their fellow humans. This is a sprawling, meandering work ranging from fast and raging to slow, quiet and introspective, all held together by the lyrics.

There’s plenty of ambition and grandeur on the album, and the music is technically good and consistent, yet somehow it just didn’t go far enough for me. There is chilly atmosphere but there’s not enough frigid space showing how utterly alien, unearthly and above all hostile and malignant the lost civilisation and its creators are. With this subject matter, I’d have liked to hear something really cold and reptilian, something that crawls down your spine, freezes your blood and utterly petrifies you so you can’t move, and you feel fear and fright because of that. There’s too much post-BM busyness and rush going on hither and thither and not enough of the sense of dread, cold bleakness and ultimate despair at the thought of humanity meeting an adversary here on Earth utterly committed to its destruction, and the universe continuing on, caring nothing for our extinction.

This might be an instance where a post-BM style of music wasn’t really appropriate to tackle the theme of an incredibly old and extraterrestrial civilisation menacing all life on Earth, and humans feeling completely helpless and desperate when Cthulhu and company finally arrive for all-out Total War with the Elder Ones.

Contact: Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions