The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets keep the spirit of Lovecraft alive

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 28, 1994

By Steve Newton

Whatever you do, don’t say “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtang” three times. Careless use of that sacred chant—made famous by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft in his stories of the Cthulhu mythos—just might incite the evil wrath of the Elder Gods, the unspeakably horrifying monsters Lovecraft brought to life in his work.

Then again, it could be the cue for those Lovecraft-crazy guys from Chilliwack, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, to hit the stage. The group, founded by vocalist Toren Atkinson and guitarist Warren Banks, has been rocking out to its Lovecraft-inspired tunes for three years now.

“The Lovecraft connection came before the band, actually,” says 23-year-old Banks, whose band took its name from a passage in Lovecraft’s story The Tomb. “We were hangin’ out playing Call of Cthulhu and other role-playing games involving monsters, and all our friends were starting up bands and stuff. So Tory and I decided that we would start our own sort of theoretical band, and it just took off from there.”

So far, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets—which also includes drummer Jordan Pratt and bassist Bob Fustie—has released two tapes, Hurts Like Hell! and Cthulhuriffomania!, recorded at Vancouver’s Deadbeat Studios, and has taken its scary brand of hook-filled hard-core pop to most of Vancouver’s original rock venues. (The band plays the Hungry Eye next Thursday [May 5] and the Starfish Room, as part of the Music West Festival, on May 12.) According to Atkinson, who’s also 23, a rock band’s fixation with things Lovecraftian is not as rare as one might think.

“I was in contact with a fellow down in Oklahoma who did an article for Crypt of Cthulhu magazine in which he was looking at all the Cthulhu bands, and apparently there are bands named after [Lovecraft monsters] Shub-Niggurath, Dagon, and Abhoth. I’m also aware of another band down in Missouri called the King in Yellow, which is a reference to Hastur. So there are a lot of [Lovecraft-influenced] bands out there.”

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets makes its love of horror and sci-fi evident in song titles such as “Screams from R’lyeh”, “One Gilled Girl”, and “Big Robot Dinosaur”, and its stage show emphasizes genre tastes as well.

“We have monsters run onstage,” says Banks, “and we wear costumes based around monsters—or our own twists. Our bass player has a…he’s sort of a… I don’t know how to put it.”

“It’s kind of a Cthulhu-aftermath cleanup outfit,” injects Atkinson. “Disposable coveralls and big helmet with a siren on top with a big flashing light.”

Unlike other horror-heavy acts, TDOTHT doesn’t shower its audience with fake blood during concerts. The protective rain gear you’d normally wear at a gore-filled GWAR or Haunted Garage show is not required at a Darkest of the Hillside Thickets gig.

“We don’t really use blood,” says Banks. “We used it once, when it was left over from one of our videos. We had some of our friends run out and be mutilated onstage, and it made quite a mess. It was pretty sticky, and we got in a bit of trouble for it.”

“I prefer Crazy String over blood anyways,” adds Atkinson. “It shoots a lot farther and it comes off easier.”

The leftover plasma that Banks refers to came from the video shoot for Hurts Like Hell!’s “Worship Me Like a God”, which may or may not have been banned from MuchMusic.

“They refused to air it, so I think that’s banned. Apparently, we stirred up quite a reaction with that video. I mean, we were goofing around when it came to people turning insane and blood being spilt, but a few people deemed it quite satanic and evil. We like H.P. Lovecraft and monsters and stuff, but we always take it with a grain of salt. Apparently, people who don’t really know us don’t know we’re takin’ it that way.”

When the Elder Gods finally rise up from the bowels of the earth to wreak havoc on humanity, what the members of the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have done to help keep Lovecraft’s name alive should spare the young rockers a squishy demise.

“A lot of people who like our music become interested in Lovecraft,” says Atkinson, “and a lot of people who know us first as a Lovecraft band become interested in our music. So it works both ways quite well.”

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