Lately, in the morning I’ll wake up about four then half doze my way until eight. And the Lovecraftian rock opera Dreams in the Witch House has been rocking me to sleep. So I lie in bed, listening to creepy songs based on the Dreams in the Witch house story.
I was a little on the fence about the album because Dreams in the Witch House is not my favourite story. It drowns in math (which is like holy water to my black little soul) and gets slightly bogged down. It does have a varied cast of characters which is different for a Lovecraftian story since many of his are either a singular narrative or one or two secondary characters.
The Dreams in the Witch House album largely eschews these topics for a much more streamlined narrative. So how are the songs? Let’s look!
The Confession/Arkham Overture
Confession/Overture is mostly spoken word but sets up how the album will go. It’s set up as Walter’s friend, Elwood, going to confession and telling a priest the events of the story. After the speech portion, a very power metal riff kicks in to lead into the next track, Dreams in the Witch House.
Dreams in the Witch House
Dreams in the Witch House is split between several singers. Elwood, Walter, the witch Keziah, and boarders in the Witch House. It sets u the history of the house and Walter’s fascination with it. Keziah comes in near the end, her voice is super young which fits in with the portrayal of her as a seductress type character, although, not quite how the story portrays her, it fits the album’s narrative well.
Higher Fire: Breaking Me Down
Higher Fire portrays Walter’s obsession with the mathematical possibilities of crossing space and time and how far he is willing to go to achieve this with references to selling his soul. It’s interspersed with lyrics from the neighbours. It really does a good job of blending the different narratives and makes it easy to picture Walter pacing his room and yelling down the stairs at his neighbours ceaseless praying.It’s wrapped up with Elwood talking to the priest and a guitar-heavy riff of Walter singing about his obsession breaking him down.
Bridge to the Stars
Bridge to the Stars is set in a classroom and really the only time the mathematical bits are mentioned. This song feels more ‘standard’ Broadway sounding but does not sound out of place. I want to say the title is tongue in cheek but I don’t know enough about music terms to determine whether this is an actual ‘bridge’ or not. Hey, I never claimed to be an expert on music, I just know what I like.
The Nightmare is a swirling song that twists and turns the guitar and drums with each other to really evoke the insane architecture of Walter’s ‘nightmare’ that he’s being dragged into but then becoming intrigued with it to move forward on his own. This is also where we first hear the voice of Brown Jenkin, the human-faced rat from the story. I really like the voices of the singers they chose for the various parts. All except Brown Jenkin. But, as much as I don’t care for it I will admit that it fits the voice of a rat creature.
No Turning Back
No Turning Back is a slower ballad-style that sounds very early nineties hair band (in the best possible ways). Keziah sings to Walter, seducing him further onto the path of madness. It’s guitar-heavy with sensual lyrics.
Signum Crucis is part song, part speech. The other two boarders, de Rocher and Mazuroweicz, sing of a violet light being a sign of evil as they listen to Walter’s footsteps inside, a presence and the light burning de Rocher’s eyes. The guitar picks up near the end to portray the feverish praying and the sight of Brown Jenkin to the other boarders.
Nothing I Can Do
Nothing I Can Do is mostly piano as Walter has disappeared from his room and surveys the alien world that he has crossed the bridge to. A little flute comes in halfway as Keziah begins to sing. I believe that the flute is supposed to represent being near the presence of Azathoth. This would be an excellent song but for Brown Jenkins’ voice. I’m sorry, I keep harping on it but it is just so discordant with the other great voices that it is not very pleasing to the ear. Fortunately, he doesn’t sing too long. It wraps up with Elwood singing about being Walter’s friend and how he failed him. It leads into Legends and Lore with Elwood wondering if the same trap was laid for Keziah.
Legends and Lore
Legends and Lore is a ballad, sung from Keziah Mason’s point of view. I do like that it makes her a bit more sympathetic character rather than an outright evil one as the story does. It should be a good song but I find it utterly boring. I’m not really sure why, it just doesn’t grab me.
The Sleepwalker is a brief violin filled intermission of Walter sleepwalking and pondering his actions and the possible repercussion. It also sounds as though he’s starting to comprehend that his dreams are reality, not just dreams.
Blessed Are the Faithful
Blessed Are the Faithful is a bombastic number with Masureiwicz and de Rocher singing to Walter about Walpurgis Nacht approaching and a child having been stolen. Masureweicz gives Walter a crucifix. Elwood tries to help by inviting Walter to stay with him but fell asleep. There is some light chanting near the end of the music portion to be fully realized in The Crawling Chaos.
The Crawling Chaos
The Crawling Chaos begins with choral chanting of Nyarlathotep. Summoning up Nyarlathotep to sign the black book, which Walter does. The music is dizzying and really calls forth the ‘Chaos’ part of the title.
Nyarlathotep Sings of Azathoth, Crawling Chaos. He has a deep, rich baritone and really conjures up the gravity needed for this to sound terrifying. Walter sings about what’s going on but even with the terror-stricken cries of a child is still in thrall to Keziah and the search for knowledge.
The Sacrifice/No Turning Back (Reprise)
The Sacrifice starts out with a very upbeat tempo, not quite a dance number but I can picture Keziah and Brown Jenkin dancing around Walter. They speak of sacrificing the infant to Azathoth and Walter finally snaps free. He kills Keziah with the crucifix that was given to him and begins the reprise with No Turning Back. I love the clock sounds entwined with Keziah’s breathing that leads into No Turning Back.
Between Reality and Dreaming
Elwood laments the loss of the child and his friend, having lost his faith in God and what is reality.
Madness is My Destiny
Walter wanders the night a wraith, lamenting his lost sanity in the pursuit of higher knowledge.
I like almost all the songs on Dreams in the Witch House. They blend effortlessly into each other and the spoken portions don’t feel as though they were forced into the narrative. It is excellent at painting a soundscape that brings the scenes vividly to life. No mean feat given that it does not have an established visual play or movie to help the creation.
There are a few lyrics that seem a bit forced but I can overlook those in favour of words like Nyarlathotep being naturally introduced into music. My only real issue is the heavy use of religion but it has been awhile since I’ve read the original so maybe someone an tell me if it was heavily used in the story.
However, it also does not feel out of place as Lovecraft was very firmly atheist and there’s a theme of religion being utterly useless in the face of the cosmos and what might be lurking out there.
I would definitely give Dreams in the Witch House a listen if for nothing else than a new take on an older story that hasn’t been touched on as much as some of the more popular Lovecraft works.
Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera was produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society who puts out some great songs based on the Mythos (particularly the Christmas ones) and has done one of the best Call of Cthulhu adaptations.
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.