We need to talk about Howard.
Along with Satan, murder and Vikings, the short fiction of HP Lovecraft is one of the most heavily used – and abused – thematic references in Metal, turning up in the albums of everyone from the kvltest of nocturnal grim panda-faces to Metallica. As you’d expect, Lovecraft’s vision has been treated with varying degrees of respect and authenticity, but Casablanca’s latest concept album takes reinterpreting his legacy to a whole new level of middle-fingers. The stars are right for the Great Old Ones to return (no surprise there) but they’ll meet resistance in the form of The Phantom, the pre-historic proto-human who created Miskatonic University and manifests in the form of a gold-skinned Rock Star Jesus to inspire mankind through songs about fast cars and girls.
The musical background to Casablanca’s gleefully irreverent tale is made of panoramic, hard-rocking Heavy Metal that brings to mind Virgin Steele’s Marriage Of Heaven & Hell mixed with a touch of Graves era Misfits and the kind of whimsical, small-town Americana more associated with early Bon Jovi or even the E Street Band. Not exactly an eldritch maelstrom of writhing tendrils, but it’s sharp and well honed, and the very act of putting lyrics at least ostensibly about HP Lovecraft over music like this seems genuinely iconoclastic. Which wouldn’t count for very much if the song-writing wasn’t there, but Casablanca pull off just the right balance of catchy choruses and driving riffs to make it work.
Perfection can only be obtained by the Old Ones themselves, of course, so a mere mortal Rock band are going to slip up every so often. Miskatonic Graffiti (Despotz) overstays its welcome on several tracks, often missing the opportunity to end the song on a high, and they never quite rock out quite as hard as they should, but on an album as distinctive and rich as this one they seem like minor flaws. Casablanca are very much following their own muse on Miskatonic Graffiti, and it takes them somewhere familiar, but not quite like anywhere their peers have ever gone.