People who have known me for a long time will also know that my passion for music equals my passion for all things geek. I was introduced to classical music at a young age, and when I started to develop my own musical identity I began to lean heavily towards the areas of progressive rock. Even when I learned to play the guitar some 41 years ago those prog heroes like Steve Howe, David Gilmour, and Steve Hackett largely drove me to be a better guitarist. Even today I look to other masters such as John Petrucci for inspiration, so it’s safe to say that my love for prog has not diminished in the slightest.
What? Why did I bring this bit of personal history up? Well I’ll tell you….
While at the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival I came across a merchandise table that was primarily selling items involving everyone’s favorite horror elder god, Cthulu. Yes, this was a table specializing in all things H. P. Lovecraft, and it was here that I came across something that most definitely caught my eye; a CD of Dreams In The Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera. Well you can bet I wanted to learn more and I engaged in a brief conversation with the gentleman running this merchandise table, Mike Dalagar.
I won’t go into full details on what we talked about, however I did express my desire to interview him so that we could discuss this rock opera CD, and he was more than obliging. The episode with the interviews from the film festival can be found at TG Geeks Webcast Episode 38, and the interview with Mike begins at the 1 hour, 19 minute, 20 second mark and lasts roughly 12 minutes. I will say that what he shared with me during the interview piqued my interest regarding the rock opera as well as the story of the same name written by Lovecraft in 1933. After the interview Mike was kind enough to give me a copy of the CD to listen to, and I have indeed listened to it. Twice.
Sean Branney and Andrew Leman adapted the story for this rock opera. Andrew Leman and Mike Dalagar then wrote the lyrics, with music by Chris Laney, Anders Ringman, and Lennart Östlund, with Mike Dalagar as this project’s executive producer.
This is indeed a rock opera, with the narrative of the story taking place between a young man named Frank Elwood (Leman) and a priest, Father Iwanicki (Branney), and as Elwood tells his nightmarish story to the priest we hear an overture, followed by rock arias, each one giving us a deeper understanding of what Elwood is describing. Now unlike other prog works, such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, where most of the characters are sung by Roger Waters (and the remaining by David Gilmour), this production has a full cast of singers, including one character referred to as The Crawling Chaos sung by Trans-Siberian Orchestra luminary, Jody Ashworth. Clearly we have here a production that is musically driven by the singing. There is a rock band, and while they aren’t playing anything that would be considered progressively pyrotechnical (à la Dream Theater), the playing is extremely solid and well arranged to serve as accompaniment to this cast of vocalists.
The story is incredibly fascinating as young Elwood tells of his friend named Walter Gilman (Dalagar), a university student studying in quantum physics, who takes up residence in an attic of a house located in Arkham that was once occupied by a witch, Keziah Mason, and how the attic appears to conform to some unearthly geometry. Through Elwood’s confession we learn of dimensional teleportation, witchcraft, and the horrible nightmare that happened to Gilman, and how it ultimately took his life.
The music can only be described with two words. The first is haunting, and that’s compliments to the composers as well as the band and singers for helping to realize what the composers were trying to accomplish. The second word is one that I dislike using because it gets thrown around in an almost cavalier way, but there is no other word in the English language that conveys the same meaning, and that word is EPIC! From the humblest moments to the grandest of crescendos, there is a feeling of epic vastness to the music. The sometimes-gothic lyrics to the specific arrangements used here help to create an epic feel that is required to tell a story that quite literally spans dimensions. For me personally, a standout number from this would have to be the song “Legends And Lore.” It embodies everything that a rock opera should be, and it left me practically humming the melody long after listening to the entire recording.
If there were one flaw it would be in some of the mixing. There are moments when the band is still playing and there is dialogue between Elwood and Father Iwanicki that is lost, and the CD did not come with a lyric sheet or a libretto for the listener to follow along. Listening to it repeatedly will ultimately make possible for someone to glean what is being spoken, but for a first time listener it was slightly annoying and sort of took me out of the overall listening experience. Other than that this is a recording that has made its way to stand alongside such masterworks by artists such as Pink Floyd, Yes, and Dream Theater.
It is presented in some Lovecraft stories that once certain individuals start down a particular dark path of discovery, be it the cult of Cthulu, or even advanced mathematics and the connection they have to dimensional teleportation, these people can’t stop in their pursuit of this knowledge and their quest to understand it. It haunts them to the point where relief can only come from further exploration of this dark path. Just as it is for many characters in Lovecraft’s stories, so was it for me when listening to this rock opera. At first I thought the overall product to just be “simple,” but as it went on I found myself becoming totally wrapped up in the music and the story. It drew me in on a level I did not expect, to the point where I could empathize with various characters as they sang whatever turmoil they were experiencing, and as I finished listening to it I found myself going through the entire recording a second time, only this time those parts I previously found simple now had elegance, structure, and depth. I almost became lost in the gloriousness of the music and the story, and even after listening to it a second time I had melodies run through my mind that dominated my thoughts to where nothing else existed.
It could be argued that what has happened to the innocent victims in Lovecraft’s stories was happening to me as I listened to Dreams In The Witch House, that maybe my reaction to this rock opera is merely a reflection of what happened to so many others who had gone on before in Lovecraft’s stories. Yes, perhaps my experience in listening to this rock opera is a parallel to those tales. Then again maybe, just maybe, the reason I keep wanting to come back again and again to this recording is simply because it’s just THAT UNBELIEVABLY GREAT!
I give it 4.5 out of 5.