Revisiting “Dreams in the Witch-House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera” & 2018 Updates

21 Jan

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Fans of the rock musical genre will be lured to sleep, perchance to dream of forgotten places where the sounds from the gods of heavy metal reign in a brilliantly conceived album, Dreams in the Witch-House: a Lovecraftian Rock Opera. When I want my spirits lifted away, I listen to this album originally released in 2014.

I wrote this review for Nerd Titan a couple of years back; because this media hub is down, I’m offering updates in what has happened since here and offer some thoughts in why this album is timeless. It has a huge potential to become a new live musical, the direction I hope it might take.When Bruce Kulick (Grand Funk Railroad and formerly with KISS), Douglas Blair Lucek (W.A.S.P.), Nalle Påhlsson and Johan Koleberg (Therion) are part of this album’s showcase of talent, heavy metal fans will be pleased. While I would love to see this group perform, but sometimes these concerts may have house musicians to take their place. But to hear the original musicians provide a musical discourse that tells of Walter Gilman’s (Mike Dalager) descent into madness only has me feeling excited. This character is an overachiever, and what he aspires for requires making a pact with the dark forces residing in the building he lives in.

Dreams in the Witch House saw many reinterpretations over the years on TV, stage (by WildClaw Theatre Company in Chicago) and film (Curse of the Crimson Altar starring Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Christopher Lee). To realize this tale as a musical is truly a journey for the producers and I feel owning it is a must for any H.P. Lovecraft aficionado. This tale was partially inspired by a real-life Witch-House located in Salem, Massachusetts even though it was occupied by a judge [1]. Add an influential lecture and book this author may have attended and read during that time, and the character of Keziah Mason was born.

Stuart Gordon imagined this tale for the 2005 series, Masters of Horror

Among a few literary critics, namely S.T. Joshi, this tale is clumsily written and the motivations of Mason, the witch, were never made clear. When considering barely a week was spent writing it, this observation might have some merits [2]. Many versions of this tale have been conceived for the small screen or interpreted differently. But not many products have considered the sonic analogy to the ideas presented in this tale until now.

In this imagining by Mike Dalager, Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, the witch’s allegiance is better defined and her journey may well be a shining beacon of hope than hate. The Christian allegories made in this production make for a nice touch to create a melodrama. Even Dalager realizes this detail and noted that Lovecraft embraced the Judeo-Christian structure only with this story. “He doesn’t do that anywhere else in his stories, as far as I’m aware,” said this executive producer.

But for Gilman, his tragedy was with what he and the witch lusted for. Their desires could be likened to that of Faust.

Parts of this musical’s style are reminiscent of a Studio RKO production. It’s a radio drama that’s very stylized. The narrative moments introduces each song very well, and the tunes are a mix of grunge, progressive metal and symphony. Listeners can easily visualize what’s going on due to the engaging lyrics.

download (1)

“Legends and Lore” showcases the talent of Alaine Kashian. Out of all the songs featured on this album, this tune is the most lyrically influenced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songwriting bravura. In “Madness is my Destiny,” the emotional depth expressed in the musical composition, the lyrics and Dalager’s vocals are a masterpiece. The song nicely brings together all the motifs that Lovecraft often loves to engage in with his tales. Instead of feeling melancholy, the song will have listeners feeling energized.

The potential for this concept album to head in that direction exists, but only time will tell if it happens. Dalager mentioned that some of the crew really want to see this product head in that direction. If the production happens to be a huge blazing light and sound show, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra better watch out! Performances have taken place at special events, like the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival / CthulhuCon in Portland, OR. Hopefully, with 2018 in full gear, plans have not been shelved and interest has not waned.

Afterthoughts:

Fandom for H.P. Lovecraft’s works is huge and to turn “Dreams in the Witch-House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera” into a play can be realized with the right investors working with Dalager to bring that concept to reality. “[What’s next is] beyond my capabilities or that of my partner’s … but the dream is definitely there” in an interview with New York/Los Angeles based Music Journalist Daniel Siwek, a regular contributor to XLR8R.

Released last year, an updated version Fevered Dreams, offers comic book content to go with the score. Expanded content accompanies this release and readers can read along and interact with the tale. Also, HPLFilmfest.com revealed Dalager is working on a cinematic adaptation. Actor Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn 1984) is on board and they are actively shopping this product, trying to get a major studio on board. Their dream is still alive and fans waiting for a visualized product will just have to be patient in the meantime. Piracy is not an option. The rat-thing Brown Jenkins will not be amused.

This album is available in Double Vinyl, CD and Digital format. Either can be obtained on Amazon, through the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s website, or on Google Play. Samples can be heard online at Witchhouserocks.com

[1] Conover, Willis., Lovecraft at Last. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1975. 60-62. Print.

[2] Joshi, S.T., H.P. Lovecraft: Nightmare Countries. New York: Metro Books, 2012. 122. Print.

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