Cadabra Records is the latest to honor the legacy of scary stories told aloud. Be it records like Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghost Stories for Young People, Edgar Allen Poe being read by Basil Rathbone, or the George S. Irving adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, there always seemed to be a wide selection of terrifying audio productions to liven up a dull afternoon.
While it seemed that the tradition of spooky audio tales died out during the last few decades, the rise of podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Limetown have created a demand for involving projects that allow the listener’s mind to run riot as it creates its own horrific imagery from what they’re hearing.
Cadabra’s releases walk a fine line between vintage audio and more modern productions, in that they’re producing classic stories by the likes of authors such as familiar ones H.P. Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as more obscure works from Clark Ashton Smith and Robert W. Chambers. They’re the sort of stories which benefit from being ready aloud, as these tales are very sonorous, with a languid pace which allows the listener to become completely encompassed by the stories and poems, as the music heightens the sense of dread and discomfort.
The selection of releases from the American label has hewed rather closely to a certain formula, and it’s one that works. The authors are paired with readers whose tones are rather complementary. The matter-of-factness of Andrew Leman’s voice very accurately conveys H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, which always seem to begin in a clinical tone, only to ever-so-slowly descend into an acceptance of the madness which they are trying to express to the world.
The real trick to all of these releases, though, is the music. The folks at Cadabra aren’t just throwing library tracks or cheesy keyboards behind the stories they’re presenting: they are bringing on board some of the finest musicians working in horror-inspired music these days. For their 7-inch of “The Hearse Song,” they have Anthony D.P. Mann reading poems and stories over the work of the Slasher Film Festival Strategy, whose Crimson Throne trilogy is the height of moody, atmospheric music which also tells a cinematic story. The pairing of Mann’s almost tongue-in-cheek, archy wry readings with the lush, yet uncomfortable electronic music is a perfect contrast.
Mann has another side to him on The Yellow Sign. The Chambers story of The King in Yellow starts out pleasantly enough: it’s the tale of an artist, drawn to distraction by the unpleasant night watchman at the nearby church, as well as his romance with one of his models. The tenor of the story gradually ratchets up in tension, and Mann’s reading becomes far less light, and increases with passionate fear. Backed as it is by the music of Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, when the record is flipped to its second side, the entirety of the piece will inspire terror even when listened to in the middle of bright and sunny afternoon.
The same occurrence of ratcheting fear can be felt on Fungi From Yoggoth, especially on the last track of each side. Theologian’s music darkens further as the side of the record progresses, and “Nyarlathotep” and “Continuity” both begin after the music from their preceding poems trails off, only to build into the finale for each. The listener will only flip the vinyl with trepidation, fearing what horrors await on the other side.
This is but one ready demonstration that Cadabra is willing to work in complementary sounds, as well as those which contrast. For Lovecraft’s The Picture in the House, Leman’s voice work meets the music of maestro Fabio Frizzi, of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond, as well as more Italian films than you could possibly imagine. It’s wonderful, and the most intimate music Frizzi’s produced in years. It’s so good, in fact, that the instrumental track - minus Leman’s voice - is on the B-side of the LP, so you can listen to it purely as music.
Finally, the physical releases are absolutely gorgeous, with LPs coming in glossy, tip-on gatefold jackets which display wonderful custom artwork, complemented by the color of the vinyl housed inside. The Fungi From Yoggoth LP is pressed on metallic silver, which is nicely set off by the charcoal grey and black of the outside, and contrasted nicely by the terrifyingly vibrant colors of the gatefold within. The Yellow Sign comes pressed on yellow marble, nicely enough, and the colors of the artwork fairly pulse with sharp yellows, oranges, greens, and blues.
They’re also replete with liner notes: the essay on The Yellow Sign by scholar S.T. Yoshi is amazing. It introduces the listener to the work of Robert Chambers, and even if one’s never seen so much as an episode of True Detective’s first season, one will have a solid footing on the author and the court of Carcosa by the time they’re done reading. The LPs of The Yellow Sign and Fungi From Yuggoth come with posters featuring the very frameable art from their respective gatefolds, meaning fans of Cadabra can enjoy the label’s work, even when their records are on the shelf.
The Hearse Song: 7 OF 10 STARS
Fungi From Yoggoth: 7 OF 10 STARS
The Yellow Sign: 9 OF 10 STARS
The Picture in the House: 8 OF 10 STARS