A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #49 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Metal is more well read than most people think. It seems like every metal band has had a crack at some classic book or other. A professor could probably teach a whole heavy metal history of Western literature, from Manowar’s bonkers take on The Iliad to Anthrax’s Cliffs Notes version of Stephen King’s The Stand. Iron Maiden alone has a dozen or so literary songs that cover everything from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to the Dune themed “To Tame a Land.” It all suggests some pretty diverse reading habits from metalheads, but most seem to share a fascination for one author in particular: H.P. Lovecraft. The genre, not to mention every little subgenre, is littered with Lovecraft references. Which brings us, finally, to today’s subject: Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be.” Some might argue that Metallica’s sound isn’t doom-and-gloomy enough to pull-off a good Lovecraft song. But I think they do a decent job.
First off, I love that the title captures the essence of Lovecraftian vagueness. Actually, Lovecraft probably would have called it “The Indescribable and Unimaginable Horror That Should Never Have Been,” but Metallica gets close enough.
The lyrics are dead-on too. The song is loosely based on Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which tells of a town run by a cult of Dagon worshiping fish-people. It’s one of Lovecraft’s best, and Metallica’s lyrics, while they add some elements from other Lovecraft stories, are basically a bunch of couplets that gloss over its themes.
Hybrid children watch the sea
Pray for Father roaming free
Crawling chaos underground
Cult has summoned, twisted sound
Out from ruins once possessed
Fallen city, living death
Seriously, the way James Hetfield sings “Pray for Father roaming free” always makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Considering that speedy, melodic thrash-metal is probably not the ideal subgenre, Metallica still gets pretty close to what the musical accompaniment to a Lovecraft story should sound like. There’s the chorus laden guitar chords that open the song with a watery vibe. There’s Lars Ulrich’s splashy cymbals. There’s slightly slowed down, slightly down-tuned riffs that have an oceanic feel. There’s even Kirk Hammett’s whammy bar freakout of a guitar solo, which, while not particularly well done, is still an appropriate response to the line that precedes it : “In madness you dwell!” It’s a perfect blend of theme with sound.
So stop by the library to pick up our copy of Master of Puppets from the rock section, and you might as well grab Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” while you’re at it, they just go well together.
Review by Matthew