In February 1928, a man named Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who would be 120 years old today, published a short story to little acclaim called The Call of Cthulhu. A horror story written in a narrative style, the tale investigates a secret cult that worships a strange, mad star god named Cthulhu.
Since then, the squid-headed Cthulhu has gone on to be one of the most influential characters in modern horror, paid homage to by the likes of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Brian Lumley, and has also become a pop culture icon. For instance, he runs for president every year, often with the slogan "This time, why not the greater evil?"
But the place where you find Cthulhu the most is in music, and references to Cthulhu basically fall into three broad categories: Metal, comic, and sheer weirdness. Rocks Off would like to bring to you what we consider to be the top contenders in each of those categories.
Cthulhu is more popular in metal than Santa Claus is in the mall a week before Christmas, and greats like Mercyful Fate and Cradle of Filth have written any number of dirges for his pleasure. But any discussion of Cthulhu in metal must begin with Metallica's instrumental "Call of Ktulu" from Ride the Lightning.
The nature of the spelling is debated, sometimes quite fiercely. Lovecraft himself said the name's pronunciation was simply the closest humans could come to saying an alien word. It is said in some of Lovecraft's writing that mortals are not allowed to use the proper spelling, as it would summon the god. Though it's romantic to believe Hetfield and co. are big enough believers to follow this rule, the more likely explanation is that they feared the name would be copyrighted (It's not).
The members of Metallica are all quite big Lovecraft fans, and have included themes and references into other songs like "The Thing That Should Not Be". "Call of Ktulu" is also the Cthulhu song to have the highest success, with the S & M recording winning a Grammy in 2001 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
When dealing with insanity and the end of the world, as we know it, it is very important to keep a sense of humor. Eben Brooks and his band of misfits are dedicated to keeping tongues in cheeks where they belong. The band's mission in life is to use an irreverent approach to music in order to affect change, and they often mask serious social statements behind a humorous foreground.
In particular, they are a major part of Heroes Against Hunger, a monthly concert series that raises money and awareness to feed San Diego's homeless. But when they aren't out saving the world, they sing of its eventual destruction when the stars are right and Cthulhu rises from the sea to eat us all.
We mentioned Cthulhu is set to rise from the sea one day, and the uninformed among you may be asking yourselves "From where?". Lovecraft states that Cthulhu's city of R'lyeh sunk beneath the waves and that he lies dead and reaming until the stars align for his return. The risen city is also the location of the stories conclusion. Lovecraft located the site at 47°9′S 126°43′W / 47.15°S 126.717°W, near the pole of inacessabilty (the place farthest from any land) in the Pacific Ocean. If you need a visual for its location, simply type "R'lyeh" into Google Earth and it comes up. Seriously.
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"Call of Cthluhu" is just a story, of course, but in 1997 something odd happened almost exactly where Lovecraft claims R'lyeh is located. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded a massive low frequency underwater sound nicknamed "The Bloop" emenating from within miles of Lovecraft's coordinates. Some scientists claim that the sound fits the audio profile of a living creature. NOAA spokesmen have stated that if the sound did come from a living creature, it would have to be many times larger than a blue whale. Something the sizes of say, Cthulhu, whose head was the bigger than a good-size ship.
The Bloop is not unique. Many such sounds have been recorded and remain uncategorized. MP3s of the sound are fairly easy to find, and in 2001, California electronix artist Dntel used a repeating sample of The Bloop in the title track of his album Life Is Full of Possibilities. While not a direct reference to Cthulhu, the strangeness of The Blood and R'Lyeh's congruent origins is a bit of dark lore that Lovecraft himself would have dreamed up.
If you're interested in more music about Cthulhu, we suggest you pick up a copy of The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft by Gary Hill, which includes an entry for Houston's own Asmodeus X and their song "Darker Shores" from the Sanctuary album. Until then, what part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" do you not understand?