10 Songs for the Darkness, Part 2

Here is part 2 of my joint venture with our music guru Drew, enjoy!

* Note the version of "Subway Song" in the video is from a different session than the one that appears on the "Three Imaginary Boys/ Boys Don't Cry" album. As such it is missing a pay-off component,though the tone is much the same*

Tor’s picks

The Cure - "Subway Song"

I was 17, a late comer to The Cure party, but in 1987 I desperate to be a quick study because my girlfriend loved them. I borrowed my friend Jordan’s Boys Don’t Cry record and methodically worked through the first side. “10.15 on a Saturday Night” seemed weird but by "Object "I was starting to find the groove of this odd little band with the imbalanced lead singer. Then came the longest 2 minute song ever. It’s a short narrative about a woman in a tube station after hours who is trying not to get spooked by what she’s hearing behind her. It’s simple, quiet, and it is exactly the kind of creepy fairy tale that Robert Smith was born to tell. My girlfriend and I broke up before too long, but this song remains in my head years later.

Godflesh - "Pure II"

A 22 minute song with only a single word on the lyric sheet? That’ll put most people off of listening just for the chore involved in doing so. To me this is the scariest song ever written because it pulls you through an unending trail of feedback and reverb to the bleakest place in your imagination. The first time I heard it, it evoked in me a vision of sinking into the lonely, freezing waters of the blackest most remote corner of the ocean inside the collapsing hull of a cargo ship. No light, just an all-consuming cold, accompanied by the perverse moaning of giant sheets of twisting iron and the muffled exhalations of the dying souls who float past you in the icy darkness. You likely won’t get that mental picture listening to this on a bus ride to the mall. Turn off the lights in your room, hit play and embrace the dark unknown.

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult - "A Daisy Chain 4 Satan"

After hearing this song my mom said to me,“That scream is unforgettable. It kind of makes me sick to my stomach.” There is almost nothing else to say. The terror of a bad acid trip or the baseness of a life lived from high to high may also be terrifying but this song’s power comes form a sampled scream that drips with authenticity, a scream that belongs to someone who is crying for help when it is too late.

Diamanda Galas- “Let’s not chat about despair

Diamanda Galas casts some long, dark shadows with her music and lyrics. It would be easy to select any number of her songs to be on this list. I chose this one because it horrifies as it scathes the general apathy towards the American AIDS crisis of the late 1980’s. Diamanda’s lyrics are both visceral and thought provoking, painting a troubling portrait of a society that assigns high value to the wrong things and frames it’s profoundly immoral behavior within a spiritual purpose.
Also, despite the specificity of her target this song endures in both its discomforting power and relevance because it decries and documents the way in which we insulate ourselves the suffering of those around us. Galas’ choice to present the material with an evangelical vocal affect and pair it with the whispered title refrain really ratchets up the creepiness of her polemic.

Tor and Drew’s mutual picks

Nine Inch Nails - "Something I Can Never Have"

I really enjoy Nine Inch Nails, but I have always found it a little difficult to take Trent Reznor's emotive graspings seriously, mostly because of the over-the-top, ridiculous video for "Happiness in Slavery." Still, Reznor has hit the right button a few times, and "Something I Can Never Have" is one of those occasions. Not necessarily because the emotion in this song is any more genuine than it is in any other, but because the songcraft employed here is top notch, creating a tune that seems at every interval like it should boil over into rage, but never does. It is that continual pattern of rising and shrinking back that draws the listener to the song, with its disquieting trapping that never exceeds the radius of control.

On an album packed with angst ranging from whiny to screechy this tune stands out partially for its restraint. This roiling lament is imbued with the same brand of power that John Carpenter’s keyboard wielded in the late seventies. Dappled with pitch perfect textures "Something I Can Never Have" still occasionally goes “scraping through my head” 23 after I first heard it.

Black Sabbath - "Black Sabbath"

And truthfully, what else could be here? This song is the granddaddy of them all as far as spook and misty, unrealized fears go. The beauty of this song lies in the incredible juxtaposition of music and lyrics. While Iommi uses tritone to create an all-consuming sense of dread and terror, Ozzy's lyrics are generic, and I don't mean that in the sense that they are commonplace. His lack of specificity about why his character is tormented by death and the devil and hell makes it easy to project our own personal phobias onto the song, making it that much scarier. The tonal terror combines with the story's ambiguity leave a lot of room for interpretation, and therein lies the linchpin that makes "Black Sabbath" perfect for listening to in the dark.

When I first revisited this song after a few years of exploring the various vocal stylings of Black and Death Metal I thought that Ozzy’s voice didn’t lend the right quality to the proceedings. Butler, Ward and Iommi swing such a heavy hammer with their instruments that the Oz felt like a whimpering child cowering atop a giant anvil. Wouldn’t someone like David Vincent be a more appropriate vocal accompaniment for this kind of pummeling? The answer, of course is no. In fact it’s fuck no. Ozzy’s agonized pleading is our inner voice as we see our most horrifying ideas realized. And despite what we may want to believe, none of us, shaken to our core would stand before our most devouring fear as anything other than a helpless, imploring child. This is the sound of doom.