Not everyone finds music scary, so please feel free to insert “unsettling” if that’s who you are and how you respond to the universal language. How one experiences music is subjective to many factors, not least of which is whether you play it in the background on an iPhone speaker during the day, or crank your house stereo while lying corpse posed in total darkness. But if you’re intrepid, and searching for that delicious thrill of titillation via creepitude, here are five albums that will make you wish for a flashlight, a bonfire, silver bullets, and an electrified fence to keep out whatever lurks in the darkness.
Just kidding, it’s too late. The monsters are already inside you!
1. Heresie by Univers Zero – This Belgian chamber-prog album from 1979 was long touted as “the darkest recording ever made.” Granted, a lot has happened in music over the last forty years, which makes the unnerving edge this album retains all the more impressive. Imagine a chamber quartet playing a midnight mass with a heavy metal drummer and a weird golem on vocals.
I had heard of this album by reputation, but one evening I finally found the CD in a record shop in Milwaukee. Halfway through my first listen, during a long night drive, I knew instantly that Heresie was one of my favorite albums ever. Start at the beginning with the 25-minute opening track, “La Faulx” to get the full effect, but make sure you don’t skip the 13-minute centerpiece “Jack The Ripper.”
2. Things Viral by Khanate – Guitarist Stephen O’Malley’s other group Sunn 0))) is much more a household name, but he first made his reputation in the ultimate art-doom-core group Burning Witch. When that Seattle unit folded, O’Malley migrated to NYC and formed Khanate from the ashes. His intent was to create bleak, post-metal music that lacked anything resembling hooks or even repetition of any sort.
Vocalist Alan Dubin (ex-Old Lady Driver) sounds like the nightmare offspring of Bon Scott and Grendel’s mother. Listen for his throat-wrenching cry of “red glory!” on album opener “Commuted.” But to these ears, it’s the 20-minute long agoraphobic sonic landscape of “Fields” where the real terror unfolds.
(not available on Spotify. Heroes!)
3. Litanies of Satan by Diamanda Galas – The eight-octave range of vocalist Diamanda Galas is impressive in its own right. But her penchant for dark subject matter such as the infamous “Plague Mass” (an anti-paean to the AIDS virus) has cemented her legacy.
My first encounter with her work was the 1982 two-song debut, The Litanies of Satan (lyrics by Baudelaire). My parents were exceptionally open minded, but when they heard me playing this barnyard of voices (all Galas) in our living room, they could only shake their heads as if I’d finally gone too far. The B-side, “Angry Women With Steak Knives” is a capella, and designed to drive all but the most stalwart listener mad.
4. Cacophony by Rudimentary Peni – This album is not so much a fearful listening experience as it is an ambitious, loving ode to the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft.
Rudimentary Peni were a Crass-affiliated cult UK punk outfit with lyrics devoted to Poe, opium, veganism, and vampires. Their debut album Death Church is arguably the greatest gothic punk album of all time. But it’s their second album Cacophony (1988) where the group graduated to postpunk godhead status. This tapestry of sound lives up to its title, using an array of vocal techniques, textual references, and urban legends about the Old Gentleman to weave an aural dream world in black and white. Song titles include “Nightgaunts,” “Brown Jenkin,” “Sonia,” and “Beyond the Tanarian Hills” just to name a few.
I’ve often referred to Cacophony as “the Troutmask Replica of punk,” but even if you’re not a Captain Beefheart fan, or into post-punk music, any Lovecraftophile would gain something by spending 42 minutes with this album through a good set of headphones.
5. Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath – By today’s standards, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft are not so terrifying. But for decades, they were the gold standard, responsible for many readers’ sleepless nights. Likewise for the literal inventors of heavy metal music, there was a time when the rain, church bells, and opening riff of “Black Sabbath”–the song on Black Sabbath–the album by Black Sabbath–the band inspired fear in nearly everyone who heard it. That genre-defining riff employed the devil’s chord structure (outlawed by the church for hundreds of years) and a bit of inspiration from Holst’s The Planets (specifically the doom-laden “Mars Bringer of War”) to out-heavy everyone who had come prior. The rest of the album includes a song about a wizard, a Lovecraft nod in “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and, depending on whether you get the US or UK edition, either “Wicked World” or “Evil Woman.”
This all time classic was released on Friday the 13th of 1970, and recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. If you haven’t sat through this barnburner, it’s high time to change that.
Nathan Carson is a writer, musician, and Moth StorySlam Champion from Portland, OR. He’s the co-founder and drummer of the international doom metal band Witch Mountain, and the host of the FM radio show Heavy Metal Sewïng Cïrcle on XRAY.FM. His fiction includes the novella Starr Creek, a graphic novel adaptation of Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, and many short stories in various anthologies and magazines.
More information about his various activities can be found at www.nathancarson.rocks