What’s that coming over the hill?
This week, it really is a monster (or mythical creature). Ten of them, in fact.
297: The Monster Mash
There were lots and lots of suggestions for this (thanks to everyone who contributed) when I asked about it the other week, and the only way to whittle things down was to have each monster or mythical creature to appear just once.
So only one song about werewolves, or unicorns, or whatever, and no songs about generic monsters (so none of The Automatic, or Gothminister, or The Monster Mash). This also meant a few obvious choices didn’t make the cut, but also meant that a few bands that I might never have considered previously ended up being included, and I’ve now heard more of a few bands than I perhaps ever need to hear.
That said, there are maybe less songs on this subject than I thought. Or maybe I just don’t listen to enough metal anymore.
So, prepare to Put that thing back where it came from (so help me) (so help me).
Me and Mr Wolf
The Last Werewolf
As is traditional in this series, the song that inspired the subject of the week is the one that opens the list, and this week, that falls to an artist that I must confess I’ve never really paid much attention to (my wife is much more of a fan), and hadn’t really liked much of what I’d heard.
Intriguingly the album that this song features on is the soundtrack, as it were, to a book by the author Glen Duncan (and it’s not their first collaboration, either), and many of the songs might well have also worked in this list, but the deliciously sleazy double-meanings of this song (a duet between Mr Wolf and the object of his lupine – and carnal – desires), and the curious musical electro-jazz hybrid, made it an easy choice in the end.
Bela Lugosi’s Dead
All but viewed to be year zero of gothic rock, this song must have been quite the shock when it first arrived, straight from the town of Northampton. A song that references Bela Lugosi and his most famous role (that of Count Dracula, a vampire of course) in various ways, it is also notable for actually sounding – particularly through the lengthy intro – like smoke is enveloping the music, swirling around it. The culmination of a horror film, if you will. There are, of course, many vampiric novels and films – even more in recent years than we really need, the best of which being the utter hoot that is What We Do In The Shadows – but Lugosi’s original turn, and the even older Nosferatu (the Dracula tale in all but name) remarkably remain the most striking and creepy cinematic takes on what is such a well-known idea nowadays.
Black Dragons Soar Above the Mountain of Shadows
Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule
Bal-Sagoth are a band who, it seems from looking at their discography, use more words in their song titles than other bands use in their songs. Also, one of the few British Black Metal bands to still be standing after nearly three decades (although they are very much on the symphonic side of things), this is a band who rely almost entirely on the fantasy and myth to populate their lyrics, and this song, which heralds the introduction of this album, brings to mind what the title suggests – the portent of doom as gigantic dragons swirl overhead, ready to send you to your doom. Or something like that. Interestingly, while there are many songs featuring dragons in their titles, mostly they are actually about heroin…
Circle of Cysquatch
After their breakthrough success with Leviathan, an album about another beast entirely – and one at least partly based in fact – later albums took some more fantastical turns, such as this song based on some strange hybrid between the Sasquatch and Cyclops (as if Bigfoot wasn’t enough of an enduring legend). Where the combination came from I’ve no idea, but the headspinning, tech-prog of this track is one of the best on this album, that’s for sure.
This May Be The Reason That The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons
The Men have a wonderful habit of making social comment in otherwise frivolous-sounding (and immensely catchy) songs, and their victorian-steampunk-punk-rock here takes on the Victorian concept of the working class family day out at the seaside, an escape from the smog-choked city to the relatively healthy air of the coast (even with grumbling relatives in tow). Except at Margate, on this day, someone has summoned Cthulhu, and he’s on the beach too. As you do.
The horrors of the Elder Gods – a Lovecraft invention, of course – have been touched upon in song a few times, by Metallica a few times, and also the much-missed industrial black metal of The Axis of Perdition.
Anyway: “didn’t we have a lover-ly time the day we met Cthulhu…”
Ghost of Frankenstein
The Devil’s Rain
One band almost entirely associated with myth, monsters and horror are the Misfits, a band who have been active in a variety of different line-ups going back as far as 1977. Critically they are best remembered for their early eighties output, and this latter material entertains me even less than that early stuff (disclosure – I was never a fan of this band, I’m afraid). This track, while clearly drawing on the whole Frankenstein story somewhere along the line, is a rather dreary metal-punk track with vocals that sound phoned-in from another state. In fact, probably as blank as Frankenstein’s monster…
Script for a Jester’s Tear
With a few notable exceptions in more recent years (Dark Star, Teeth of the Sea), prog in most forms is rather absent from my music collection. So, it was with a little trepidation that I set aside the time to listen to this recommendation – and not the first time the band have been suggested for these posts, either – one of Marillion’s earliest songs, looking at the myth of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster. Across no less than seventeen minutes. Having never heard their early material, I can see why the comparisons to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis are made, that’s for sure, and musically there is everything, including the kitchen sink, here. But the whole idea of the song – switching the perspective of the narrative – is certainly an interesting one, I guess…
The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee
Tales From the Kingdom of Fife
I have to admit that this band feature here because of about four or five enthusiastic suggestions for them to be included. Bombastic power metal that – happily – really doesn’t take itself too seriously, if at all, this is gloriously over the top, tongue-in-cheek stuff complete with galloping rhythms, synth flourishes, and utterly mad lyrics that tell the titular tale, as if it was the most fantastical, serious tale ever told (the most fantastical bit about it to me is that Unicorns would choose Dundee). And those vocals. That’s a hell of a pair of pipes he’s got there…
One of the more bizarre myths is that of El Chupacabras, a blood-sucking monster that has reputedly been draining animals of blood in Central and South America over the decades, with – as is often the way with this kind of legend – a variety of descriptions of the monster itself, and also dispute over the effects caused, too. The Super Furries somehow took the idea of this, and fashioned it into a wonderfully catchy, psych-punk sing-along that is over almost as soon as you’ve begun singing along!
Morning Dove White
A band rather forgotten nowadays – they only released one album, and singer Dot Allison ended up with a solo career instead – and that one album that came out was a sultry, drowsy work of beauty. Andrew Weatherall worked with the band to create the melancholic, post-club comedown air that permeated much of the album, but what was remarkable to me was how they took apart one song and changed it radically. Sirens was initially released on an NME cover-mounted cassette, a languid, shuffling beat with Allison’s vocals multi-tracked to create the image of the titular ship-wrecking creatures of Greek myth, and that version is rather better than the dub-influenced, quirky one that made it onto the album. The long-time fansite Morning Dove Web offers insight that suggests there were all kinds of issues with “marketing” the band, and that might have had a factor in the drastic changes to some songs.. The wordless, elegant sigh of the vocals was, thankfully, left as was.
OK, so I lied a little, here’s a second vampire, and an eleventh song. But the crucial twist here is that vocalist Brian McMahan is the vampire in the song, and it sounds creepy. as. shit.. Slint – a band who almost totally vanished at the time – and only gained critical acceptance some years after the release of this album, as it became clear that many post-rock bands later in the nineties had borrowed liberally from their ideas, particularly from the epic closer Good Morning, Captain. The taut musical structures, bone-dry production and the murmured vocals often lost in the mix make for a pretty unsettling listen generally, although Nosferatu Man is the only one that creeps into outright horror as McMahan inhabits his character to the full.