Swampcult - The Festival“H.P Lovecraft built the stage on which most of the last century’s horror fiction was performed” – Neil Gaiman.

And he’s right. Substitute “horror fiction” for “heavy metal” and the quote is no less accurate. Old Howard is hardly an exclusive real estate, in fact, he’s downright de rigueur. Now, don’t get the wrong idea, Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors and possibly the writer whose prose, creatively speaking, has had the most indelible effect. I adore his work and there can be no denying its adaptability in the metal medium, but it comes as little surprise to find myself scrutinizing another H.P Lovecraft themed album – still, my expectations were high. Hailing from the Netherlands, doom duo Swampcult offer us sophomore outing The Festival – this time in full concept album regalia. We have all heard the myriad odes to Cthulhu and the Elder Ones, of star spawned atrocities and dark bloodlines, replete with many a tentacle toting album cover. Thematically speaking, originality is barely worth discussing; the real question is, as always: is it any good?

Members A and D (that’s right…) have decided to avoid treading the obvious boards of Howard Phillips’ work and have adapted a very short and comparatively little know story called, you guessed it, The Festival. The brief tale tells of a single man’s journey through his ancient family’s oldest tradition and the horrific implications it has on his ancestry and bearing. “Chapter I – The Village” begins proceedings with some nice atmospherics before a slow and belligerent palm-muted riff kicks in, minimalistic and foreboding, recalling some of the earliest work of the famed Peaceville Three. Vocalist and drummer, A, soon begins the tale with some of the very best Tom G. Warrior vocals since the man himself recorded Monotheist, an album which has seemingly been heavily referenced – its presence on The Festival is a constant, clearly informed by that release’s bleak environment. “Chapter III – Al-Azif Necronomicon” is, frankly, the best Celtic Frost song you’ve never heard.

Tracks, or should I say chapters, I-IV utilize the same mid-pace, albeit, flavored with a little proto-black metal for good measure. The rhythm section, drums in particular, are sparse so as to support the singular guitar work; an attempt to accentuate the narrative – and for the most part, this works – D’s carnival-esq narration often running alongside A’s lead vocals, build to a King Diamond theatricality. Now, any King Diamond comparison might well be the highest possible accolade I can give, after all, he is the king… but when the goal is a dread anxiety meant to underpin the purposefully primitive instrumentation, the first cracks in the structure appear. At the halfway point, Swampcult halt the Frost tribute and make a bizarre creative turn; the ensuing triptych (oh yes I did) of chapters VI-VIII: “The Rite”, “The Flight” and “The Dawning” is, for all intents and purposes, one song, the majority of which is D preaching in tongues, stentorian from the mount, with only the odd lick of the same, now redundant, riff for company. Six tracks in and that repetitive, slow chug becomes increasingly banal – eschewing the tenets of decent song writing. The entire second half sadly follows suit with closer “Betwixt Dream and Insanity” consisting entirely of only feedback and dissonant keys.

Swampcult 2016

When Swampcult succeed, they hit the mark with engaging and simplistic guitar lines, managing to generate enough mood to adequately represent the existential horror of Lovecraft’s best work. The uniformity of the rhythms, which feels like a creative choice, hits almost as often as it misses and with an above average DR score, the production allows for just enough organic murk on the guitars to permit a little disquiet to float, unbidden on the reverb, straight into those dark places of the mind.

The Festival is not an awful record by any stretch; but it is a blunt attempt at a level of nuance the band simply aren’t yet capable of. However, with some serious self-editing, there’s enough material here to warrant an appreciable EP. With a combination of Lovecraft and doom, what could possibly go wrong? Turns out, quite a bit. The Festival was a genuine challenge to review as, despite its brief stay, the homogeneous track listing became increasingly monotonous. If, like me, you have a penchant for extra-dimensional horror and the melodrama inherent in doom metal, then you’ll likely find something to enjoy here… but for me, the disappointment was simply too much to bear.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Websites: swampcult.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Swampcult
Releases Worldwide: October 2nd, 2016

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  • Gaëtan Baratin
  • Innit Bartender

    Azatoth, that photo…

    • Swamp party!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      It’s the annual burning of the jamming printers.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Nary a mention of the swamplord.

    • Ferrous Beuller

      All apologies.

  • Reese Burns

    I’m a pretty patient guy, but I gotta ask when the new Opeth review is out. I already have my opinion on the album but I wanna hear what you guys think.

    • Whenever AMG sees fit to drop it. Don’t nag!

    • André Snyde Lopes

      AMG still has another article about Sonata Arctica to release. Please be patient.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      So far I’ve only given it one listen, and I’m currently underwhelmed. It starts off promising, but then moves into a set of meandering, Heritage-like songs by mid-album. It seems to be a big step down from Pale Communion, but we’ll see. I didn’t care for Darkher on my first listen, and it’s since grown on me.

    • Bart the Repairman

      I think that AMG doesn’t want to spread himself too thin and the Opeth review will just show up as the September ROTM article.

      Jokes aside, I predict 3.5 here.

      • Reese Burns

        I’d personally give it a three, but since he likes modern Opeth more than I do, I’d say that’s a fair prediction.

    • The Nerd.

      I’d give it a 3.5. It still saddens me that a band that once sounded like no other, now sounds like Jethro Tull.

      • Reese Burns

        I suppose we’ll always have Blackwater Park… But on the other hand, we’re never going to have another Blackwater Park…

        • The Nerd.

          Sadly true. And I’m rather surprised you have a Avenged Sevenfold profile pic. I didn’t think anybody else here liked them

          • Reese Burns

            Haha, they’re my favourite, but definitely the odd ones out of the bands I’m into

          • The Nerd.

            Agreed on all accounts.

  • I bet they put on a good live show. Maybe they have bowls you put your hands in labeled eyeballs and brains and you can get grossed out touching grapes and cold spaghetti.

  • Jason

    Are Lovecraft’s writings particularly swampy? This is not a release I would associate with Lovecraft based on my limited knowledge of the subject, the band’s name, and album artwork.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      I mean, The Call of Cthulhu literally features a swamp cult, so…

      • That is true. However, it seems a fairly a minor detail to the main story.

        • Francesco Bordoni

          I’d say swamps are among the most effective settings in which he could develop his kind of horror: secluded, isolated, misty; he used them also in some earlier stories, if I recall correctly. On a note, in the 2005 film adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, the swamp scene was just spot-on.

          • Eldritch Elitist

            Is that the silent short film? Been meaning to check that out.

          • Francesco Bordoni

            You should totally do it man! Even if it may end up feeling a little cheesy here and there, it’s very atmospheric, detail-oriented and adherent to the story.

            I enjoyed it a lot, definitely one of my favourite Lovecraft-inspired movies, along with Die Farbe (a brilliant adaptation of The Colour from Outer Space), Re-Animator and In the Mouth of Madness!

          • Eldritch Elitist

            I’ll definitely give it a watch, along with Die Farbe. Thanks for the recommendations! In the Mouth of Madness is on my Halloween horror movie list this year so I’ll be watching that soon as well.

          • Francesco Bordoni

            You’re in for a lot of fun/desolating cosmic and existential dread!

    • Ferrous Beuller

      The album’s concept and title are based on a short Lovecraft story of the same name. They even describe the album as “Lovecraftian metal”. Check out their bandcamp page.

      • Jason

        I got that much out of the review. My familiarity with Lovecraft is Cthulhu and unspeakable ancient tentacled beings from the great beyond, so I was wondering about the swamp connection, since that’s new territory for me.

        • Ferrous Beuller

          Ahhhh, I see. The story The Call of Cthulhu, mentions an ancient cult who dwelled in the swamps and worshipped unspeakable idols – it’s referenced in a few other tales, too. You should definitely check more Lovecraft out – it’s great stuff!

    • Innit Bartender

      There is often some water element (either flowing or frozen) in his best tales. A bay or a sea or something. Innsmouth for example. The South Pole. It goes well with his obsession with fish-hybrids.
      Interestingly enough, some years ago there was an Italian mockumentary about HPL travelling to Italy and exploring the swamps of the Po river, which is the equivalent of the Southern swamps, “True Detective 1st season style” we have here. It is very well done and you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/K2zh22kfx-M

  • Eldritch Elitist

    I love Monotheist, and (as if it weren’t obvious) I really love HPL, so I hate that you’re telling me those two things don’t go great together. Ah well, there’s always Tyranny and Catacombs for my fix of Cthdoom.

    • Ferrous Beuller

      Yeah, I wanted to love this when I checked them out… it was not to be. Give it a try anyway – you never know!

      • GardensTale

        I’ve noticed AMG writers rarely happily bash an album. We all WANT to like it… But we can’t overlook everything that’s wrong with it.

    • Reese Burns

      Catacombs are fucking ace!

  • Francesco Bordoni

    Lovecraft alert! Lovecraft alert! Take out your ritual robes and brush up your Cthonian!

  • Westpaceagle

    I was thinking of joining a swampcult…but then there’s deathcult. Of course I really like ravencult. Or just traditional simple Kult.
    Then I was thinking of going super old school with caveman cult. But I like barnyard animals, so there’s always goatcult….sorry that’s enough

    • basenjibrian

      Or the true horror, the Unicornicult. With the High Broney running things.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Surprised to find out Swampcult is neiher a Kalmah cover band or a side project from Kalmah members.

  • Best modern Lovecraftian metal band has to be Sulphur Aeon. All these other pretenders can bugger off, especially when they’re as bad as this.

    • Dudeguy Jones

      Unaussprechlichen Kulten is another super example of the warped and twisted feelings of a Lovecraft story. Maybe even more so, as theres a unique atonality that I think evokes Lovecrafts non-linear geometry descriptions. But Sulphur Aeon is just so bad ass.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    These guys run the gamut of emotions from A to D.

  • Treble Yell

    Extra-dimensional? More like one-dimensional, amirite?