Gritty, shady, harmful and… kind? Darkness has brought on different descriptions from everyone. Especially so for Chelsea Wolfe, who will be darkly skirting her way down to Toronto again this September to play some new material. Whenever the lights go out, it can be a time full of lament or a time to revel in plain sadness.
Yet the darkness exuded out of the five following albums are the sickening kind that a writer like Thomas Harris would enjoy. This list features the likes of Sunn 0))), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Purity Ring, Ben Frost, and, of course the very inspiration for this list, Chelsea Wolfe. I’ll go over the darkness that crushes, hypnotizes, and sometimes even caresses us, examining why we need to be wary of the night’s terrors.
Chelsea Wolfe’s video for “Carrion Flowers” was recently released, renewing an interest in what should not be simply described as dark. Immensely gritty in vision and in sonic scope, Wolfe intrudes into our deepest curiosities to pique a love for the gritty, the bleak, the frightening. With Abyss, her upcoming fourth official release, Wolfe builds up our expectations for how dark her instrumentation can go. And while Halloween is four months away, there has been this captivity with some summer nights that inspires this list of albums with differing shades of darkness.
F♯ A♯ ∞, the debut release from Toronto-based band Godspeed You! Black Emperor kidnaps you on the outskirts of town, taking you down a slow ride through a long, desolate city. With its murky strings you can’t help but feel the presence of ghosts around you, like charred and abandoned cars still burning with their occupants still inside. Part of “East Hastings” was used in the film 28 Days Later, as well as a video showcasing several of cinema’s sinister villains. East Hastings is also a location in Vancouver associated with skid row. At its lightest points, the album conveys the feeling of dimmed lights. At its darkest, it makes you fear what will happen when the kidnapper abruptly stops.
Ben Frost’s By the Throat takes listeners on a dangerous ride through a shaky arctic land, with wildlife constantly foraging for sustenance. The constant loud hum of a snow blower becomes corrupted, hitting you with ferocious snarls, almost resembling those of grizzlies and wolves. If the show Hannibal needed a background track for its unsettling moods, it should look no further than the experimentally ambient combination of piano, horns, and synth involved in this album. Like our inner survivalists in the woods, we’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode, with By the Throat‘s quieter tracks being our hearts’ unsettling beat against the gritty predicaments hidden beyond the snow.
It wouldn’t be a list about dark albums without a black metal record, especially one with the medieval kind of foreboding present within the Sunn 0))) album Black One. This is the musical form of a creepy found footage film. It’s the kind of music you hear when you think of a screwed up creepypasta. Dark drone elements are accompanied by ghastly screams, with guitars tuned incredibly low to create the feeling of hopelessness. If this album were a form of dying, it would be getting ritually sacrificed by a cult in the absolute blackest of nights. And if none of that convinces you, then take into consideration that to convey the screams on the track “Báthory Erzsébet” a contributor to the album had to be kept in a casket.
I should mention that said person was claustrophobic.
But maybe dark doesn’t have to have terrifying instrumentation. The darkness conveyed in Purity Ring’s Shrines is of a different ilk, one that heralds such freaky imagery over a bright and sometimes, dance-inspiring electronic beats. Pictures of the insides of bodies becoming externalized don’t immediately wash over you as the mid-tempo, entertaining rhythms run through your body like dirty water. It’s the kind of dark that modern witches dance over as they curiously cast wormholes, either out of curiosity or to suck the world in. A track like “Obedear,” with its fast-paced, crackling synths is going to greet you to a new world where the sky is falling. The lights in this world are definitely still on, despite some fading off and on, but that doesn’t mean that everything is good.
It only makes sense to include Chelsea Wolfe in this list inspired by her. When I had bought Ἀποκάλυψις (or Apokalypsis), the cashier was irritated by two things: the fact that her scanner was broken and the fact that she would have to decipher what the album was called. Usually I’d be anxious at moments like these, frantically having to explain myself and apologize for making the cashier’s day harder. Yet that time I felt like the gaping void that this album creates in depression and utter chaos justifies the awkward interaction. “Movie Screen,” a track featured on this album is a testament to her skill, as well as my favourite song of hers. With one lyric, a warped rhythm, and her constant wail, she creates the atmosphere of a haunted house. In other tracks, such as “Tracks (Tall Bodies)” and “Friedrichshain”, Wolfe delivers a romantically grotesque kind of imagery, promoting the idea that the world is crooked while love can bend you properly. “Pale on Pale” utilizes low slides and an unsettling chiming to introduce you to a dread akin to the kind you’d feel facing a vampire in the woods.
The final words that grace this album are “What’s happening to me?” It’s appropriate since you went through a list of pretty dark albums. Buy yourself some sweets after that ordeal.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.