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Reviews - The Shadow Out of Tim
by Demian Katz

Shadow Out of Tim coverThe Shadow Out of Tim
By The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets
15 track audio CD
Released 2007

A music review on a gaming site may seem out of place, but not if you are familiar with The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. This Canadian band has been producing Cthulhu-themed rock music for more than 15 years, and several members are involved in the gaming industry in one way or another. Lead singer Toren Atkinson is also a talented illustrator whose work has showed up in various Wizards of the Coast and Chaosium products, and he is also the co-author, with bandmate Warren Banks, of Green Ronin's Spaceship Zero RPG. To bring it all together, the band even has a 2002 "best of" album, Let Sleeping Gods Lie, which causes special in-game effects if played on shuffle mode during a Call of Cthulhu session.

From the very beginning, the band has excelled at creating straightforward, catchy rock songs with just the right blend of Lovecraftian horror and nerdy lightheartedness, and most of their albums are let down only by the occasional overambitious instrumental or unnecessary filler. As the band has matured, their albums have gained more focus, with their last two releases being concept albums built around a key theme. After their last release, Starship Zero, sent them off into science-fictiony waters, their current album, The Shadow Out of Tim, brings them solidly back to their Lovecraftian roots.

Most of the album is devoted to telling an updated version of Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" in which Tim, a marine biologist, blacks out and loses years of his life; when he tries to learn what happened, people start to die and unspeakable horrors are revealed. This tale is told in 11 tracks, followed by two "footnotes", an "appendix" and a theme reprise for good measure. Every track is solid, with only the apparently helium-inspired "Ride the Flying Polyp" coming close to derailing. The band continues to do what it has always done well, sometimes showing a bit more ambiton than usual, as evidenced by the catchy layered vocals on "Return to Melanesia" and the "Nyarlathotep" track, performed entirely in an extinct language. Lyrically, the album is also quite satisfying, telling its tale successfully and providing a few chuckles along the way; the opening track, "A Marine Biologist," delves into new territory for rock music as it wails about getting published in peer-reviewed journals, and the follow-up track, "Blackout," has the delightful refrain of "I knew a thing or two / until the time / strange outer forces wasted / my tiny mind." It won't necessarily change your life, but there are plenty of rewards for paying attention.

If you've been following the Thickets and haven't picked this one up yet, do yourself a favor - it may be their strongest work yet. If you're a newcomer, this is certainly a good place to start, and you can find some tastes online first if you're unwilling to buy blind. This band is certainly not for everybody, but if you're reading this, there's a good chance that it's for you - this enjoyable confluence of catchy music, obscure references and unabashed geekery is a rare and wonderful thing. As always, I anticipate the next release, reportedly in development at this very moment....

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