Eighty years ago, a sickly New Englander published his scary haunted-house story in the pulp magazine Weird Tales. He died in obscurity and poverty, but today H.P. Lovecraft is known as one of the greatest minds in horror of all time. With his fame at last creeping over the populace, his masterful works are being re-imagined in film and music, such as Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera.
The project was born when producer Mike Dalager read Lovecraft’s original 1933 short story on a transatlantic flight. The words haunted him: “What was that faint suggestion of sound which once in a while seemed to trickle through the maddening confusion of identifiable sounds even in broad daylight and full wakefulness? Its rhythm did not correspond to anything on earth, unless perhaps to the cadence of one or two unmentionable Sabbat-chants…” He could hear the sounds in his own mind, and it came as heavy metal music.
The stars aligned to bring the album together. Andrew Leman and Chris Laney, long-time collaborators with Dalager, joined in with the lyrics and music. Powerhouses Anders Ringman and Lennart Östlund brought in Swedish metal flair that would give the music life. As the project grew and passion about Lovecraft’s work awakened, artists flooded in with video work and nightmare images for album covers.
The creation is a powerful story told in two acts over 16 tracks. Much of the plot follows Lovecraft’s, with a few exceptions that bring about new perspectives on the old story. To better frame the story for the opera, it is cast as the flashback tales of Frank Elwood confessing to Father Inwanicki, introducing the poor students living in a weird old house in Arkham rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Keziah Mason, a witch from the Salem witch trials, who mysteriously disappeared. The rock opera plays up the religious aspects hinted at in the story with crucifixes and prayer as defenses against the witch and her dark master.
In a modern take on the story, rather than Lovecraft’s original envisioning of Keziah Mason as “a mediocre old woman of the Seventeenth Century” who stumbled onto transdimensional travel through black magic, the opera suggests that she was a genius centuries ahead of her time and driven to magic out of self-preservation in a misogynistic world that feared her power.
The music is phenomenal and energetic. Several tracks are available on the website for streaming such as the mind-blowing rendition of “Azathoth,” but you need to listen to the whole album in a single sitting to truly enjoy the explosive weaving of storytelling and metal. Listeners are left with a thrilling yet uneasy sensation thanks to the drama of a hero in too deep, the horror of things humans can scarcely understand, and the wondering whether, in the end, there is hope or only loss of innocence.