“The Muse of Hyperborea” is a long form poem by Clark Ashton Smith, read by H.P. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi and scored by Theologian. It follows the same formula as many other releases by Cadabra Records, blending otherworldly, weird fiction stories with the terror inducing minimalism of soundscape artist Theologian. While the performance by Joshi and Theologian are both solid here, the prose from Smith is a mixed bag that doesn’t always translate to modern tastes.
If you’re not a fan of Smith’s work, then fret not; Joshi’s performance is captivating to the point that, at times, the words don’t really matter. On tracks like “The Harlot of the World” and “Ode to the Abyss,” I found myself focusing on Joshi and Theologian instead of the prose, catching interesting words when they’re accented by the music, but not really following the progression of the story or poem. I don’t view this as a negative; I’m perfectly content to zone out while the low drone and synth pads carry me off to worlds far away.
The tracks run together as a complete piece, with shifts in soundscape to announce each new section. Theologian serves as the glue holding it all together, an example being the transition from “The Tears of Lillith” into “Nero,” where the rhythmic pattern dissolves into a bell-like sound, before shifting into a siren call over the fog of a noisy synth. It shows a real understanding of how to blur the line between spoken word and music; it’s hard to imagine this album with anything other than their ambient touch.
The record is housed in a gorgeous, single-sleeve package with art by C.M. Koseman. The dark reds and blacks dart around a yellow sky, giving the impression of creatures dancing around a fire. The back cover appears to depict some sort of red monster devouring a smaller black creature, but the abstract nature leaves everything up to interpretation. Inside, there are some liner notes by Lee Bartow of Theologian, as well as a facsimile of the front cover art. The vinyl itself is a bright, solid red and feels closer to 180-gram than the 150-gram listed in the notes. A download card was not included.
The Muse of Hyperborea is limited to 300 copies and available on 150g opaque red vinyl at Cadabra Records.