Read by John Arthur, Score by Mike Olsen
Verdict: This largely musical and reading of Lovecraft’s own series of strange poems will lead you into a trance that is at once dreamlike and horrifying, and the reading could be described as nothing short of first class voice acting.
Billed as rerelease in high definition of a recording from some years ago, Fungi from Yuggoth: A Sonnet Cycle is an ambitious undertaking by narrator John Arthur and scorer Mike Olsen. Composed of 37 tracks (the first track is a musical-only overture), the album contains Lovecraft’s original sequence of 36 non-linear (non-Euclidean one might say) poems and snippets of prose, set to music that is evocative of both dreamscapes and nightmares alike.
That ends up being the problem with the listening experience. Although Mr. Arthur is a clearly talented voice performer, and his musical counterpart Mr. Olsen can create atmosphere via sound with the best of them, there is an endemic schizophrenia to Lovecraft’s experimental endeavor. Some poems are wonderfully dreamlike and pitch perfect in invoking Lovecraft’s alluring dreams-as-another-reality subset of weird fiction. Then there are the truly great horror-based poems.
The cognitive dissonance created by the split personality of the original piece is exacerbated in the extreme by the fact that the listener is on rails while listening to the album. It’s dream, then nightmare, then dream again . Of course, this is not Mr. Arthur and Mr. Olsen’s fault, but they chose to apply their talents to a Lovecraft work often seems like a notebook full of sudden fiction. It’s not that the literature itself doesn’t work. On the contrary, the thirty six installations that comprise The Fungi from Yuggoth are both beautifully written and very effective at setting up the mood which they are intended to set up. But they all end very quickly, just as the reader (or listener in this case) gets settled in. Listeners will need to roll a sanity check by the end of the album because being taunted by a good story dozens of times in a row could drive anyone mad.
The second bonus CD that comes with this album is comprised of a dozen eminently classy instrumental/choral pieces, at least one of which is claimed by this album’s creators to have been approved by Lovecraft himself (that is, Lovecraft had approved the original song in the context of accompanying certain of his fictional writings). Music is done by Daniel Walczak on piano, Maria Jette on vocals, as well as Jonathan Adams, Paul Dice and Del Merritt. All said and done, these tracks are superb. They are professionally performed and recorded, and each offers very clean and distinct notes of either horror, dreamlike joy, dread, or nameless expectancy.
This bonus CD contained more clarity and certainty than the principle album itself, the latter of which being the victim of the aforementioned discordancy. The piano of Walczak in the tracks “Mirage” and “The Elder Pharos” invoke the feel of a quiet speakeasy lounge in the 1930s, and when accompanied by Maria Jette’s operatic lyrics, the experience firmly fits the dreamscapes of Lovecraft’s imagination.
The crowning achievement of this second CD and perhaps the entire album are the grand and poignant piano pieces performed by Walczak titled “Elegy For H.P. Lovecraft” and “Lament For H.P. Lovecraft,” both of which serve not as odes to his fiction, but to the tragic life of a man who lived in the early 20th century. The songs remind us that the pain and brevity of Lovecraft’s life might only be justified in that without such pain he might not have ever inspired us to wonder about his worlds of light and dark as we have a century later.
“Fungi From Yuggoth” is a product of Fedogan and Bremer, to be found at fedoganandbremer.com.
You can also find it on Amazon.com.