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Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn! - 90%

cgwillard, August 27th, 2013

I’ve always been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, but I have found almost all albums heavily influenced by—or revolving around the concepts of—his work disappointing. To me, this has never made sense. The cosmic horror of the unknown in Lovecraft’s writing seems like the perfect inspiration to explore musically.

Enter: The Great Old Ones.

This quintet from Bordeaux, France has managed to craft a fitting homage to “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale,” as Stephen King called him. The album was released on April 27, 2012 and I have been listening to it regularly for the last couple of months. According to Lovecraftian lore, Al Azif was the original name of the storied Necronomicon and like that hideous tome the album has a consistent theme of the power and horror of the unknown. Or what is not meant to be known.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

The album represents an entry into the modern French black metal catalogue somewhat along the lines of more recent efforts from Deathspell Omega. It is quite rooted within the black metal genre, but, especially structurally, it is heavily post-metal influenced. To a certain extent the album is comparable to bands like Wolves in the Throne Room or Xasthur with a dash of Isis thrown in. If I had to compare Al Azif to another album, however, it would be to fellow countrymen Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars as it has a similar spaciness and unsettling atmosphere. But make no mistake, this is an entirely different cosmic terror.

The album opens slow and moody with the title track and quickly reveals its atmospheric tendencies with haunting synth behind waves of guitar work. Each song is composed with a variety of eerie cleans and aggressive distortion. From the beginning of the album through the middle, the listener is forced to encounter a certain feeling of attractive dread. As you continue onward, the music’s tentacled grip does not let up, drawing you deeper and deeper towards those spaces between the realms where the unknown lurks and what is meant to be left unknown is glimpsed and cannot be unseen. About halfway through the album you hit the track “Jonas” which, for the most part, is the most post-metal song on the album, but features some chanting vocals reminiscent of Lovecraft’s ancient cults. Like the lulling of a bizarre dream not quite turned nightmare.

The final track on the album “My Love for the Stars (Cthulhu Fhtagn)” is perhaps the most expansive on the album and brings this cosmic trip full circle, revealing the limitlessness of the cosmos and leaving the listener to ponder the dark possibilities within. We are left with a feeling of calm after the storm, but what psychic damage has already been done?

Ultimately, with Al Azif The Great Old Ones have crafted a classic of modern French black metal, all H.P. Lovecraft fondness aside. Anyone who is a fan of recent entries into the Deathspell Omega discography or of any of the aforementioned bands should find something to like here. The bonus is that as with any H.P. Lovecraft story, this album will haunt you long after the encounter is over.

You can pick up the album in a variety of formats via links on the band’s website including digital download, CD, and a beautiful double LP from Antithetic Records.

Originally posted at on February 28, 2013.

Cthulhu Shifts, Then Drools, Then Snores - 35%

HeySharpshooter, October 17th, 2012

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.

Rating: 3.5/10

originally posted at

All hail H.P. Lovecraft - 91%

nilgoun, July 3rd, 2012

Well, the French surely weren’t the first band which tried to set the Necronomicon to music, but I guess they were the first to play it in a quite atmospheric black metal style with post-rock and doom metal influences. Three years lie between the bands inception and their first lifesign in form of their debut, but they surely used the time well. The record offers 52:22 minutes of playing time, seperated on six tracks, with which the French try to catch your attention and to abduct you into the universe of H.P. Lovecraft, with impressive might!

The most important stylistic feature of the French is surely their special mixture of influences from the different genre which altogether create this incredibly thick and atmospheric body of sound. They don’t really care about music that is easy to grasp, as quite thick and sluggish songs are defining the soundscape of Al Azif. The songs mostly consist of about six levels: The vocals, the bass, the atmospheric background noises (done by guitar number one), the melodies (done by guitar number two), the rhythm (there is guitar number three, but this one is doing some melodies as well) and finally the heart of the tracks, the drums. Those levels aren’t synchronised for the whole time, which results in interesting displacements of the song structures, one of the reasons why this record is quite difficult to listen to.

The defining stylistic elements are oldschool black metal and post-metal, but in the bands really own way. The main influence of the band may be the Ukrainian black metal band Drudkh, at least in terms of the vocals, but I think I recognise some melodies as well (compared to the penultimate record of the Ukranian). Some other influences may be bands like Altar Of Plagues, Wolves In The Throne Room and at least partially Secrets Of The Moon. The really interesting fact about The Great Old Ones is, that they are able to create stunning melodies, embedd them into an upsetting guise and to switch nearly flawlessly between different levels of dynamics as well as tempi.

The tracks are pending between quite relaxed, nearly spheric (in the sense of “floating in space”), doomy and incredibly aggressive, fast and upsetting passages and therefore between nearly catchy and really heavy tempers. The fact, that perfects Al Azif are surely the well placed and scattered disharmonics the band uses, as they form the unique character of each song. The Great Old Ones create music, that won’t ever fit into one of the established stereotypes of (post-) black metal but the record still has some flaws. The main flaw is, at least in my ears, the similiarity to the penultimate record of Drudkh, but there are some other problems as well, for instance the middle section of Rue d’Auseil, as it’s way to bulky (again: in my ears, you may think otherwise). The positive aspects are, nevertheless, outweighing the negative ones, even in the abovementioned song, through for instance unexpected but brilliantly played soli.


Although Al Azif has some weak points it’s still easily one of the best debut records of all time. The French offer nearly an hour full of gripping post-black metal with their quite own style (although there are still similiarities to some better known black metal bands!). The songs are streaked with atmosphere and well placed disharmonics, which guide the listener to the fluently done transitions between quite doomy and really frenzy black metal passages (although the doomy ones are the majority). If you can bear quite bulky music with some really difficult song structures buy this record, as it’s full of brilliant melodies and atmosphere that will captivate you!
Written for

The Great Old Ones - 80%

dismember_marcin, May 4th, 2012

Only just recently I was listening to the excellent album from Australian band called Memoria, which delivered an astonishing dose of atmospheric and sort of post black metal music and now yet another unknown black metal band attacks my “chamber of annihilation” (hehe) and it’s a French band called The Great Old Ones. The moniker do not ring a bell at all, which is not a surprise really, as the band was only just formed in 2009 and now debuts with a first album, called “Al Azif” through LADLO Productions. Well, just like with Memoria, yet again I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this band, but now I am quite excited about their music. I can actually put both bands in the same box of atmospheric post black metal, but at the same time they do have many differences (like The Great Old Ones do not use any clean vocals), which only proves how wide and interesting this black metal subgenre is.

The Great Old Ones is first and foremost a black metal band and as such they do not want to skip all those ingredients that make black metal the most evil sounding and nasty genre in the world. And so you’ll find here many raw sounding and furiously fast parts, with obligatory fast drumming and shrieking vocals of Benjamin Guerry. Such fragments are present quiet often and I like it, as it gives the music more uncompromising and intense feeling. But since I labelled the music as post black metal, this must mean that The Great Old Ones is not just a standard black metal band and trust me, they’re not. Among all those more classic sounding parts, you’ll spot many things, which will distinguish the band from 99% of the others. First and foremost it’s the song structuring here, which is incredibly rich and multi layered. The band arranges the song in very interesting way, putting an extra attention on long instrumental passages. The guitars may be playing fast parts through few minutes, but they do so in the most interesting way, creating a proper mood and often changing the tempos and style of riffs into calmer, sometimes almost rock sounding ones, which sounds really great (but that’s not as calm as say bands like Alcest do, it’s way rawer). There are some softer parts like the one at the beginning of “The Truth”, which has some more acoustic and melodic playing, but this is the whole beauty of this style. No way is this one dimensional music and as such it may find as many allies as foes, but personally I consider myself as an enthusiast of such playing. I find it as amazing how black metal has evolved through the past two decades, into so many different hybrids and this one – post black metal – belongs to one of the most interesting ones, as hardly anything else can bring so many emotions and be so atmospheric and dark. This is way better than yet another primitive and boring raw black metal.

Think of the likes of Altar of Plagues, Wolves In the Throne Room, Wodensthrone and Krallice… and The Great Old Ones basically in the same league, both quality and style wise. There are six very long tracks (with about 55 minutes in total) and definitely it is not music to listen to in parts… You need to be with it from the start to finish and delve its atmosphere fully. So, it only depends on your whether you like such kind of playing or not. But if I was about to recommend you any new bands, then definitely The Great Old Ones, as well as Memoria I mentioned earlier, would be that kind of band. Check it out.