Words About Music
JAKOB ROSS LISTS
I know I’ve never done one of these before, but I’ve always loved making lists, and I figured it’d be fun to start incorporating those into this website. But not your usual “Top 20 Best Albums of the 90s” or whatever type lists you can find on Pitchfork. I’m talking oddly specific lists that will inspire conversation and make you want to check out music you’ve maybe never heard before. I know it’s still a month away, but I’m just preparing your Halloween playlist ahead of time. So, turn your lights on because it’s about to get freaky with the Top 25 Most Terrifying, Uncomfortable, Nightmarish Artists of All Time.
#25: Aphex Twin
Richard D. James, known most commonly as Aphex Twin, is one of the most highly acclaimed electronic artists of all time. He’s known for his ambient recordings as well as his glitchy polyrhythmic recordings that helped spawn the term Intelligent Dance Music, which is a term James of course despises. But when he’s not busy making relaxing music, he’s busy making music that’s creepy as hell. Whether it’s in the form of music videos, soundtracking short films, or putting his face into his own music, Aphex Twin loves to scare us. If you’re looking for something scary in every sense of the word, check out his “Come To Daddy” music video, which features children with RDJ’s face shopped on their heads, as well as some weird monster thing that comes out of a TV to yell at an old woman. If you’re looking for a somewhat humorous video, check out the 10-minute “Windowlicker,” which shows Richard D. James as some sort of breakdancing rich guy who has the power to turn women into him. Which means yes, more people with his face shopped on their heads. Both videos were directed by Chris Cunningham, who also directed the short film “Rubber Johnny,” a highly disturbing little flick that you can catch on YouTube that was soundtracked by, you guessed it, Aphex Twin. As if that’s not weird enough, he also has a song called “Equation” that, when run through spectral analysis, features a picture of his face. So, perhaps Richard D. James is a little bit obsessed with his face, but either way, he’s been creeping us out for a long time. Long enough for us to forget Aphex Twin hasn’t put out a proper release in over 10 years.
Scariest Moments: “Come to Daddy” music video, “Windowlicker” music video, “Rubber Johnny,” spectral analysis face
I know, I know. When people think horrifying bands, Converge isn’t the first thing they think of. Even as a Converge fan, this band doesn’t really scare me. But back when I first heard these guys I was terrified. Although the Massachusetts group have been around for over 20 years, they never really came into their own until releasing the above album, 2001’s “Jane Doe.” This album scared me to pieces when I first got a hold of it. The opening track “Concubine” is a minute of absolute metal-punk mayhem, with Jacob Bannon’s screamed vocals right in my ear. I’d heard punk groups before, but I’d never heard anything quite like Converge. Now Converge are one of my favorite groups and they’re incredibly consistent, and they’ve never quite lost the part of them that could scare first-time listeners. So turn the volume down if you’re new to their music.
Scariest Moments: “Concubine,” basically the entire “Jane Doe” album
#23: Electric Wizard
If you ask me, England’s Electric Wizard is the greatest doom metal band ever, and only because of two records: 1997’s “Come My Fanatics…” and 2000’s “Dopethrone.” What set Electric Wizard apart from Sleep and Kyuss and the wonderfully named Bongzilla is that Electric Wizard were absolutely terrifying to listen to. They were loud, harsh, noisy, guttural, as well as extremely heavy and slow. Electric Wizard basically spat in the face of Sleep’s dragons and Kyuss’ deserts by adding gothic themes to the genre and making it that much more eerie. Couple that with old movie samples, extremely long songs and albums, and just a general sense of nihilism, and you get one of heavy metal’s most horrifying sounding groups to date.
Scariest Moments: The entire “Dopethrone” album but specifically “Funerapolis”
#22: Chelsea Wolfe
Sacramento singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe was born to scare us with her occult-themed experimental folk music. She incorporates very dark themes into her music that are so terrifyingly realistic that it almost seems like she’s a witch herself, which wouldn’t at all surprise me. From her 2010 debut “The Grimme and the Glow” to her brand new album “Pain Is Beauty,” Chelsea continues to mold her music to fit her ever-evolving love for folk, black metal, dark wave, post-punk, and witches. You can look at her album covers, live performances, acoustic tracks, really anything Chelsea has ever done has that aura of creepiness. That feeling that something is quite right. It doesn’t help that Chelsea’s voice is absolutely gorgeous. Listening to her is like listening to a Satanic ritual, but in a really beautiful way.
Scariest Moments: The intro to the album “Apokalypsis” rubs me the wrong way, as does pretty much all her music
#21: Giles Corey
Giles Corey is the solo project of Have A Nice Life member Dan Barrett, and although Have A Nice Life’s combination of industrial, noise, and post-punk is scary in its own right, nothing they have recorded comes close to the absolute terror located within Giles Corey’s music. This album comes with a booklet that is supposed to be read as you listen to the album. Supposedly this booklet includes pictures, stories, and historical tidbits about the real Giles Corey, a man who was killed during the Salem Witch Trials. If that wasn’t enough, last year Dan recorded a record called “Deconstructionist” that is supposed to induce trances, and is not recommend for those susceptible to seizures. He actually recorded an album that requires a doctor’s note for you to even listen to it. The songs are layered in reverb and usually deal with suicide, death, disease of the body and mind, and pretty much any other dark horror you could think of. This is not something you want to listen to in a dark room unless you want the full experience, which may or may not come with nightmares and crying.
Scariest Moments: Songs like “The Haunting Presence,” “I’m Going To Do It,” and “Spectral Bride.” Also the fact that the warning for “Deconstructionist” exists
#20: Death Grips
While Death Grips are a fascinating experimental punk-rap trio to some and unlistenable noise to others, to me they are an incredibly talented band that write about all of our worst nightmares, and even work to make their music sound like our worst nightmares. Rapper Stefan Burnett’s lyrics are some of the most disturbed lyrics I’ve ever had to read to understand, and they’re all a part of this insane, drug-addicted, sex-addicted, reprehensible character that Stefan plays. We are first introduced to MC Ride on the overwhelming song “Beware,” which is a song I can rarely bring myself to listen to just because it’s so overbearingly noisy and repetitive. It’s meant to make listeners want to turn away because they won’t like what they hear. They even take a harmless song like Link Wray’s “Rumble” and turn it into the backing track of a psychosexual thrill-seeker’s anthem. They brought up the noisy electronics for “The Money Store,” but brought up the bass and industrial bare-bones minimalism for the album “No Love Deep Web,” which is extremely primitive sounding and puts Stefan’s lyrics into the forefront for the most part. Songs like “No Love” and “Lock Your Doors” are just like Death Grips saying “well, we warned you.” And they certainly did. But if you’ve made it this far into their music, it’s too late. No turning back. I fear for the future of Death Grips’ music.
Scariest Moments: “I AM THE BEAST I WORSHIP,” The frenzied “MY BACK MY BACK MY BACK” in “Lock Your Doors”
#19: Lightning Bolt
Believe me when I say that Lightning Bolt are not a drum-n-bass duo you want to bump at a party. Ever since the beginning, Lightning Bolt have been playing the most frenzied, frenetic, chaotic music that two people could possibly make. The drums are too fast to even keep up with by tapping your fingers, the vocals are abrasive and indecipherable, and the bass is distorted beyond any sort of melody, rhyme, or reason. But the weirdest part is that it all sounds calculated, like every finger-tap and every bloody snare hit is planned. It doesn’t get much better than the not-so-aptly named “Wonderful Rainbow,” but I would recommend seeing them live (I haven’t done that yet) if you’re looking for the full Lightning Bolt experience. Usually they play on the ground so they’re level with the audience, and they will also wear crazy masks, making the experience that much weirder for fans. This music isn’t for everyone, but it’s surprisingly colorful when it’s not scaring the bejesus out of your parents.
Scariest Moments: “Assassins” followed by “Dracula Mountain” followed by “2 Towers” on the “Wonderful Rainbow” album
#18: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Montreal-based post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor don’t attempt to scare their listeners by making really harsh sounding music. They try to do it by using atmosphere, samples, and imagery. And they do a really really really good job. Their music was even used in the film 28 Days Later, a movie about the end of civilization as we know it. Even the way they release music is mysterious. They reunited in 2010, and then in 2012 a new album showed up out of nowhere, without any sort of press release or announcement. Godspeed’s music is incredibly dark and apocalyptic, while also retaining that uplifting climax that comes with a lot of post-rock music. But honestly, you don’t need to look much further than the first five minutes of their debut album “F# A# ∞” to find a reason to be scared of this band. They’re great at saying a lot without using any actual vocals, and if we’re lucky they’ll be scaring us for many years to come.
Scariest Moments: Narration on “The Dead Flag Blues,” Vocal sample in “Sleep,” buildup in “East Hastings”
Varg Vikernes’ solo career was cut somewhat short in the 90s. Not because he died or had to go to rehab to curb a drug addiction. Varg murdered his former Mayhem bandmate Euronymous. He was sentenced to prison in 1994 for murder as well as the infamous Norwegian church-burnings. The fourth Burzum album, which was recorded in 1993, would be released in 1996. Varg recorded a couple dark ambient albums from prison before deciding to give up on music for a while and focus on his political views, which some would describe as “those of a Nazi sympathizer.” So before even listening to the music of Burzum, we have here an arsonist, murderer, neo-Nazi who spent his time recording abrasive lo-fi black metal albums. He was released from prison in 2009, after which he resumed his Burzum project by releasing more black metal albums and more dark ambient albums while living with his family in France. But don’t think he’s stayed out of trouble since then. He was arrested earlier this year for supposedly plotting a terrorist attack with his wife, who have both since been acquitted due to lack of evidence. Need I even say anything about his music, which does happen to be quite terrifying (especially if you’re unfamiliar with black metal)?
Scariest Moments: Tossup between the time he killed a guy and the time he burned churches down
#16: The Knife
Swedish electronic music duo The Knife are about as far from synthpop as synthpop gets. Sure they started out as a fairly straightforward, yet totally creepy and somewhat anonymous group, but they later morphed into something much bigger. In 2006 the group released their third album “Silent Shout,” which is dark, political, and lyrically insane. With this album came their first tour ever, which just made the music that much creepier. The duo performed wearing masks, which sort of frustrated fans who wanted to know who was behind awesome songs like “Silent Shout” and “One Hit.” After seven years of very little music, the group returned with the 96-minute long(!) “Shaking The Habitual” which is extra-political, visceral, angry, and resulted in one of the most controversial tours in music history. No one on stage actually played any instruments, and some people aren’t even sure that Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, the brother-sister duo behind the music, were even on stage. It was more like performance art over a backing track, and it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever witnessed. The Knife continue to be shrouded in mystery and they rarely give interviews, but their music speaks for itself, whether it’s the cover-friendly “Heartbeats” or the 20-minute long drone “Dreams Waiting To Be Realized.”
Scariest Moments: The lyrics to “Kino,” any song where the vocals are pitch-shifted, the brutal anger of “Full Of Fire”
Back in the early 90s, an incredible and influential band came and went. That band was called Slint, and in 1991 they released their second and final album “Spiderland.” This album in particular was a huge influence on the oncoming math rock and post-rock scenes including groups like Don Caballero, Mogwai, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In 1992 Slint broke up and have since reunited a handful of times for concerts. “Spiderland” also happens to be one of the most disturbing albums of the 90s, with lyrics that range from nearly indecipherable spoken word bits to screamed and shouted fits of rage. All on top of unpredictable time-signature changes and located in a reverb-soaked vacuum of despair, “Spiderland” is harrowing and draining, which is quite a feat considering it is only 40 minutes long.
Scariest Moments: Of all the jagged, angular moments on this difficult record it’s hard to pick one. Though “Breadcrumb Trail” and “Good Morning, Captain” are definite contenders.
Merzbow is the long-running harsh noise project of Japanese musician Masami Akita. Ever since the late 70s, Masami has been creating music that few people would even call music. Most of it is based around different ideas of avant-garde music, including free jazz and musique concrete. He’s also extremely prolific, as well as an author who writes about being a vegan, environmentalism, and BDSM. He started to receive more recognition in the 90s when he signed to Relapse Records for a short period of time and released the death metal inspired album Venereology. He then released what is probably his most well known record Pulse Demon, which is a 70-minute barrage of static and feedback that is extremely difficult to listen to and even more difficult to enjoy. Merzbow’s well known records don’t get much more terrifying than that, but even when he tones it down for an album like Merzbeat he is still recording some terrifying noise. His music isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s probably not for anyone really. But it’s a truly fascinating ongoing experiment in the limits of sound and noise. But I know for a fact I wouldn’t want to listen to any of his music right before I went to bed.
Scariest Moment: His infamous 50 CD compilation called Merzbox. Yes. 50 CDs.
#13: Paysage D’Hiver
Paysage D’Hiver is a one-man black metal project akin to Burzum, except with an added sense of mystery since not much is really known about the man behind the project, Swiss musician Tobias Möckl. What is known is that his music is abrasive, extremely low fidelity, and very atmospheric and ambient. Listening to Paysage D’Hiver, which is French for “landscape of winter,” is like listening to music made by a forest in the middle of December. If the hotel from The Shining could make music, this is the kind of thing it would create. The lyrics are indecipherable, and as far as I know there aren’t many places where you can actually read them, but all the elements are at work here to make these demo-quality albums sound creepily tranquil. In the world outside the Scandinavia-centric scene of black metal it gets much scarier than a few torched churches.
Scariest Moments: The self-titled 2000 demo “basically rediscovered black metal” according to Piero Scaruffi, and I’d be hard pressed to find anything more black than that album.
#12: Sunn O)))
Droning doom metal duo Sunn O))) (just pronounced “Sun”) have been creating their own horrific music for about 15 years, combining the quicksand-thick sludge of Earth with the atmospheric creepiness of Burzum to create a largely rhythmless sound consisting of repeated, lengthy, feedback-soaked drones. Sometimes they include narrations/vocals from Attila Csihar from Mayhem, although he usually only joins the band during live performances. The group create apocalyptic soundscapes that are perhaps best exemplified on their most recent album, 2009’s “Monoliths and Dimensions,” which sounds like traveling through a black hole into an alternate universe. And although I’ve never seen them live, I’ve seen videos and heard stories of their incredibly loud and hypnotic shows that include lots of feedback and lots of fog. Sunn O))) are incredibly disorienting and maybe even boring if you’re not in the right mindset. But they definitely have the potential to tap into your feeble psyche and never leave.
Scariest Moments: The black metal influenced “Black One” album, live performances, the “Monoliths and Dimensions” album
#11: Big Black
During the 80s, punk found itself in an interesting place. Groups like Hüsker Dü and Minutemen were toning it down, Black Flag and Minor Threat were turning it up, and Big Black were scaring the crap out of anyone who dared to listen. While Steve Albini spends his days producing, performing in his band Shellac, and giving grumpy interviews, he was known in the 80s as a member of one of the most dangerous sounding bands of all time. Big Black pretty much took punk and turned it right on its head. The guitars were jagged and mechanical, the drums were programmed into a machine, and the lyrics dealt with murder, rape, arson, child abuse, racism, and misogyny, thus painting lead singer Steve Albini in a not-so-pretty picture. They were only together for 6 years and released 2 studio albums, but they had a severe impact and influence on independent and underground music. Not only was the music incredibly harsh, but their live performances were notoriously insane, with Albini setting off firecrackers onstage, pantomiming child abuse, and telling crass and deliberately offensive jokes to the audience. Also he would tie his guitar strap around his waste which would supposedly make it look like he was plugged into the amp, not the guitar. Needless to say, Big Black didn’t make music for a mainstream audience, and the acidic, sickening tunes are evidence of that.
Scariest Moments: The lyrics to “Jordan, Minnesota,” live performances, the song “Bad Penny”
#10: Scott Walker
For most of Scott Walker’s career, he sang orchestral pop ballads that mirrored the oncoming baroque pop explosion, but his career took an incredibly strange and dark turn in the mid-90s when he released the album “Tilt,” which was the first of Walker’s trilogy of horrifying, vulgar, visceral, experimental records that combine dark ambient, industrial, and Walker’s beautiful baritone that made him such an icon in the 60s. After an 11-year absence from the scene he released the even more terrifying “The Drift” in 2006, which featured samples of a distressed donkey, a disturbing Donald Duck impression, and the usage of a dead pig as a percussion instrument. Not only did the album sound scary, but the lyrical themes ranged from torture and disease to a blend of the 9/11 attacks with a nightmare shared by Elvis Presley and his dead twin brother. Yeah, weird things going on here. His most recent album, 2012’s “Bish Bosch” featured fart noises and harsh noise-backed screams of pain. If Walker is trying to scare us, he did such a good job that I refuse to listen to any of his recent music before sundown.
Scariest Moments: You can seriously pick any moment from his three most recent albums. Serious nightmare fuel.
If you ask me, Neurosis are one of the greatest heavy metal acts of all time. Although they originally started out as a hardcore punk band, they later morphed into an atmospheric sludge band, now referred to as post-metal. Lead singer Scott Kelly sings in a damaged howl while the slow-burning low-tuned riffs of the guitars and rhythmic hell of the bass and drums perform around him. They even released an album with former Swans member Jarboe, which is also a terrifying release. In the world of heavy metal it doesn’t get much more tortured than the 10+ minute acts of terror committed by Neurosis year after year.
Scariest Moments: The consecutive horror trilogy that is “Through Silver In Blood,” “Times of Grace,” and “A Sun That Never Sets,” the collaborative album with Jarboe, live performances
#8: Einstürzende Neubauten
Imagine what Rammstein would sound like if they had to use only keyboards and scrap-metal. That’s basically what Einstürzende Neubauten—which is German for “Collapsing New-Buildings”—sounds like. Back when industrial music was dissonant, atonal noise poetry, Einstürzende were making some great and horrific sounding music, which is only made scarier by the usage of the German language for all the songs. Their music has since evolved, somewhat, to less noisy and more forward-thinking music, but Einstürzende Neubauten continue to make terrifying music.
Scariest Moments: Trying to pronounce their album titles, vocal performances, the “Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.” album
While Sex Pistols and The Ramones were making what is now considered fairly tame and straightforward punk rock music, New York’s Suicide were reinventing the genre before it was even really a genre, specifically with their 1977 self-titled debut. The album is 30 minutes long and fairly simple. Alan Vega provided the vocals while Martin Rev performed all the music using keyboards and synthesizers. The music is repetitive and hard to enjoy the first time around, but it should definitely be apparent later on that this album is really important and extremely disturbing. Especially when you get to the 10-minute “Frankie Teardrop,” which is one of the most notorious songs in history. Alan Vega’s vocal performance sounds like it came straight from hell, especially when he delivers the screams of Frankie’s wife and child, who die at the hands of stressed factory worker Frankie Teardrop. It’s not a song you’ll want to hear more than once, but I think everyone should hear it, just so you can understand what I’m talking about.
Scariest Moments: “Frankie Teardrop,” live performances
#6: Kaoru Abe
Free jazz is another very difficult genre to enjoy sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with music that is just one instrument. One of the most overlooked free jazz innovators is Japanese saxophonist Kaoru Abe, who released a few albums in the 60s and 70s and died at the age of 29 in 1978. Not much information is available about him, but his music truly speaks for itself. He was able to make his saxophone sound absolutely brutal, like a cow being slaughtered. Add that sound to the sense of total spontaneity that comes with free jazz and you get horrifying music for people who like their free jazz with a little more free and a little less jazz.
Scariest Moments: The short, reluctant bits of applause that follow every Kaoru song, “Winter 1972” is essential
Among the many bands in the early 80s “No Wave” scene of New York, the most important, long-lasting, and influential among them was, and is, Swans. Their early work, like “Filth” and “Cop,” was ugly, disturbing, and just completely brutal. They toned down for a while once they added Jarboe to the band, which resulted in some hit-or-miss albums. 1987’s “Children of God” and 1991’s “White Light From The Mouth of Infinity” are both excellent, whereas 1989’s “The Burning World” and 1992’s “Love of Life” are abysmal. Swans are at their best when they avoid the neo-folk influences and keep it creepy, which is why their final album before breaking up, 1996’s “Soundtracks for the Blind,” is one of their best albums. Post-rock, electronica, punk, field recordings, drone, noise, all sorts of avant-garde genres at work here. After a 13-year period of breakup, lead singer Michael Gira reformed the group, minus Jarboe, for 2010’s “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky” and the 2012 magnum opus “The Seer.” The lyrics are tortured, terrifying, and from the mind of a man who’s spent years in mental wards, and their live performances are exercises in achieving new levels of volume and noise to terrify anyone not familiar with their music.
Scariest Moments: Field recordings on “Soundtracks,” pretty much all of “The Seer,” all live performances
#4: Peter Sotos
I know most people who are familiar with Peter Sotos would be hesitant to call him a musician, but hear me out. For 20 years he was a member of influential group Whitehouse, and he’s published numerous novels dealing with sadistic sexual criminals and violent pornography. His most notorious work, though, is a sickening collage of field recordings—”Buyer’s Market”—of interviews and court cases dealing with sexual abuse, rape, sodomy, molestation, and other topics to ruin a party.
Scariest Moments: The time he got arrested for possession of child pornography (he was using it for research), all of “Buyer’s Market,” all his work with Whitehouse
#3: Throbbing Gristle
When most people think industrial music, they think Godflesh or Nine Inch Nails or Ministry, and not the band that started it all. England’s Throbbing Gristle formed in 1975 and terminated their first mission in 1981 after releasing a few albums seen as highly influential in the noisy, dark, disturbing genre of industrial music. It didn’t help that they named their albums things like “20 Jazz Funk Greats.” In 2004, the group reunited for live shows that were also extremely emotional and terrifying, with lead singer Genesis P-Orridge being just generally disturbing. It didn’t really help that the backing tracks were ambient experiments in sound as opposed to anything with any discernible beat.
Scariest Moments: “Hamburger Lady,” live performances, “20 Jazz Funk Greats”
#2: Nurse With Wound
British musician Steve Stapleton has been blurring the lines between ambient, noise, drone, avant-garde, and other difficult-to-listen-to genres since the late 70s, and he doesn’t seem to want to stop making ears bleed and nightmares happen. His songs are usually really intense and include nursery rhymes and bouts of easy-listening music, which just adds to the terror. His 1982 album “Homotopy to Marie,” the first Nurse With Wound album to be recorded by only Stapleton, is extremely unsettling, and uses a lot of tape manipulation and dada influences. Nurse With Wound has worked with Whitehouse, Faust, and Sunn O))) in the past and shows no signs of stopping, although I know I sometimes wish he would.
Scariest Moments: “Homotopy to Marie” is one of the few albums I’ve had to stop listening to. It wasn’t even background noise. It’s hypnotic and eerie and ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
English duo Whitehouse are the pioneers of the noise sub-genre known as power electronics. Power electronics is characterized by the high-pitched, noisy, atonal, rhythmless instrumentation underneath threatening, harsh vocals that spew hateful lyrics. And Whitehouse have been doing this for a long time. Their lyrical content usually dealt with rape, abuse, and other topics that are meant to humiliate and degrade the listener. This is done best on their 2003 album “Bird Seed,” which is actually a decent enough recording that you can actually understand what vocalist William Bennett is saying, which may or may not be a good thing. If you plan on listening to this band, just know that Whitehouse’s music is not enjoyable. You aren’t going to feel good about yourself after listening. Maybe a sense of pride for making it through a full album, but you’ll still feel at least a little bit sickened by the lyrics and disorienting production. This music is extreme for the sake of being extreme, and it’s the soundtrack to nightmares in the darkest pits of hell. So… enjoy.
Scariest Moments: Everything they’ve ever done, but specifically an album hi-fi enough understand the lyrics