US poet, artist and author Clark Ashton SMITH is a familiar name to most fans of horror fiction, as well as a known entity among those with a more than passing interest in poetry. Many of his poems drew a lot of inspiration from common horror themes, and it is a selection of those that was recorded and released in 2017 by specialist label Cadabra Records.
As usual with releases from this label, we are treated to the skills of a narrator whose words is backed up by a score. In this case provided by composer and musician Theologian. His dark, often cold and brooding landscapes tends to be a good fit with the specific kind of productions Cadabra Records release, as is the case also this time around. The narrator in this case is horror literature scholar S. T. Joshi, who also curated the selection of poems included on this production. All in all we are treated to 18 of Smith’s poems here.
In my book, this production strikes me as a divisive one. The reason for this is the choice of narrative style more than anything else, thoe one chosen here not the one that manages to enthrall me all that much.
My impression of Smith as a poet is that he attempted to create poems that sounded poetic and beautiful, the mode and mood of the narration contrasting the darker themes explored. And that the poems by and large would come most to life if narrated in a manner that would create an otherworldly atmosphere, with occasional dark and dramatic flairs to be used for impact. Kind of the narrative version of a Lovecraft novel structure if you like.
What we get here is a completely different take on these poems however. The narration is fairly flat and borderline aggressive in style, with subtle increases and decreases in tone, mood and pace. Coming across as more of a documentary style narration than a poetic one, where the dramatic flairs are delivered with more of an aggressive tint.
Of course, there is no right way nor a wrong way to narrate a poem. It is rather a choice as to how to go about it, and what you want to achieve by following your choice of delivery. For me it didn’t work all that well, for others this may well be a perfect choice to engage the mind, the soul and the heart in the content delivered. But for me this wasn’t the best choice, and left me with a stronger desire to read these poems myself rather than to re-listen to this album.
Theologian’s score is the main positive for me throughout, as he does create fitting and appropriate sound palettes for these poems, creating distinct atmospheres that respond well to the mysterious darkness of the words narrated.
In essence, my impression is that this full length album will be either a hit or a miss, depending very much on how the individual listener desire to hear dark poetry of this kind performed. If you prefer poetry to be read and narrated in a traditional poetic manner, then this album most likely will not appeal all that much. But if you prefer a more down to earth and realistic narration, explored within a context that is supported by a dark, brooding atmospheric scope, getting your hands on one of the few remaining copies of this album from the label may well be a good idea.
My rating: 60/100
A1 The Harlot of the World
A3 Ode to the Abyss
A4 A Dream of Lethe
A5 The Tears of Lilith
A7 From the Crypts of Memory
A8 The Sorcerer Departs
A9 The Touch-Stone
B1 The Litany of the Seven Kisses
B2 To the Daemon
B3 The Nightmare Tarn
B4 Memnon at Midnight
B5 The Muse of Hyperborea
B6 The Memnons of the Night
B7 The Mortuary
B8 The Traveller
B9 Love Malevolent