Before getting onto the music, there are several things that need explaining for the uninitiated. Firstly, H.P. Lovecraft; this man is considered by many to be the father of modern horror. Often imitated and frequently referenced, not least by Stephen King, in the 1920’s and 1930’s he introduced a style of horror where there isn’t necessary a conflict between good and evil sides battling for supremacy, and in his works humans were at best unwilling witnesses to forces they had no chance of comprehending, let alone defeating. Secondly, his 1936 story ‘The Haunter of the Dark’ perhaps better encompasses his favourite themes of timeless horrors and the blissful ignorance of humanity than the likes of the more famous ‘Call of Cthulhu’ which had a small element of heroics and daring do normally so out of place in his Mythos. It is this tale that New York prog/power metallers Infinite Spectrum have chosen to commit to album.
The album starts off with a spoken crackling prologue, much like a dustily replayed wax cylinder recording, before the music kicks in with ‘Federal Hill’, which sets the style for the album with soaring clean vocals, swirling keyboards, and a massive guitar solo played out over the swaggering pomp of the drums and bass, a style that pretty much defines the album. ‘The Calling’ practically sprints past at only a little over six minutes, before the truly epic near nineteen minutes of ‘The Church’, an atmospheric piece that allows vocalist Will Severin to blast his way through swathes of thesaurus mangling lyrics lifted from the original story over a massively built sonic landscape. This is not a track to rock out to, but rather one to sink back into a comfortable seat and let wash over you. It is honestly hard to review the ‘Haunter of the Dark’ in terms of individual tracks, as each leads into the other to tell the story, and like the original source material, it is not a tale of battles and swinging swords, rather slowly creeping intellectual realisation. Yes, some tracks are more sedate than others, ‘The Stranger Things I’ve Learned’ being a gentle, expositional piece that links to the far heavier, dramatic ‘Haunter of the Dark’, a track whose choppier riffs harken back to ‘Mindcrime’ era Queensryche, itself playing into the technical sprint of ‘Fear’. Throughout the album, each member of the band displays a considerable and enviable mastery of their chosen instrument, and the whole is mixed in a clean style that allows each element to shine through, far from the fuzz and distort that is my normal doom laden musical diet.
It is hard to put the album into a simple niche, although it compares well to the less heavy power metal tracks of Blind Guardian, whilst being equally comparable to the pure Prog of Yes. Whilst described as a concept album based on the original HPL story, I am put in mind of a category of album described by musical satirist and Coldplay hater Mitch Benn, who put forward the idea of the “Symphonic Narrative Album” to describe the likes of Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War of the Worlds’ whereby it is not a collection of songs themed around a concept, but rather a linear story told via the medium of music. In that respect, Infinite Spectrum have massively succeeded, and have pretty much created what is the sound track to some future stage musical. It is at least as easy to imagine ‘Haunter of the Dark’ being played and acted out on a musical theatre stage as it is to imagine a concert performance. Maybe the two could be combined, such as in the stunning light and slide show that accompanied the original performances of ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’. However you chose to label the album, this is a polished performance, and one that I’d be more than a little interested in seeing performed live, if only to see how it is delivered.