godspeed you! black emperor

Darkest Music, A Survey of 5 Dark Albums

by
Justin Burnett.

There’s dark music and then there’s dark music. When dark music is brought up in a conventional setting, it’s safe to assume that albums like Depeche Mode’s “Violator” (1990) or Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” (1994) are on the table. Both albums are fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, and more than a little dark against the anachronistic background of the blithe, #YOLO culture of the post-millennium. But this is not a conventional setting and albums like these are definitely not on the table (although it is not uncommon to see them in a lot of half-assed “Darkest Albums of All Time” lists scattered in handfuls across the Internet). I am here to discuss truly dark music. The albums you will find on this list are so bleak that you can’t “rock out” to them (with, perhaps, a few exceptions, if you radically expand the common definition of “rocking out”). You won’t find yourself tapping your feet or humming along at any point along this dreary little journey. My pet theory, in fact, is that you won’t be able to tolerate even half of this list without having experienced a clinical depression at some point in your life (I’m dead serious about that). If you’re asking yourself why anyone would want to listen to music like this –a fair question, certainly–then these albums probably aren’t for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from reading about them.

I discovered most of these albums myself while in the pits of one period of depression or another. I’ve tried many things to take the searing edge off these downer periods. Two things work (or help, rather) without adverse effects: reading depressing books and listening to depressing music. It’s strange but true–these bleak, existentially horrific albums are like a dark balm that cauterizes gashes in a bleeding soul with a blast of hell-frost. Nevertheless, I don’t want to focus on their pragmatic applications (such a gauche and debased approach to art could not be further from my intents, even if such writing is still accepted in academia as legitimate criticism). Above all, these albums are works of art and will be treated as such here. Before we begin, however, I need to get a few disclaimers out of the way:

I don’t focus primarily on lyrics, as most “Darkest Albums” lists do (if you are interested in dark lyrics, there are a surplus of readily accessible lists out there that include albums by bands like Radiohead and Coldplay based on their lyrical content). My criteria for darkness is a gestalt approach. I consider each album’s pervading atmosphere, which does include lyrical content, but as dynamic element no more separable from the overall effect than would be rhythm or melody. In my opinion, song lyrics are not poetry. They simply can’t be extracted from their musical delivery and considered independently. (more…)