Five Spooky Albums For Your Halloween
Trying to decipher what makes music "scary" is a super grey area. I mean, most music isn't really scary, per se. Most of the time, music meant to be frightening ends up a caricature of itself, something straight out of a Doctor Demento radio show. Remember "Monster Mash"? It doesn't really work out so well. In black metal, we are presented with a lot of people who, uh, "try too hard." Being scary and creating unsettling art is a tough task, but it can still be done. I am reminded of notable expressionist artist Emil Nolde's "The Prophet" woodcut, whose likeness can be seen above. Every once in awhile, someone taps into a place of darkness and really, truly gets it. Seeing as it's Halloween, truly the "spoooookiest" day of the year, let's dig into some of what I feel is "unsettling music." Expect mostly obvious, or maybe not so obvious, picks to come.
Obviously, these are all subjective picks, so be sure to share your favorites in the comments.
Okay, the Black Legions Circle is a source of contention for most. A strange collective of French musicians, most likely teenagers thanks to photos which have slowly surfaced over the years, churning out tape after tape after tape in the early-to-mid '90s. Celebrations of Satan and darkness, penned mostly in a language of their own design (Gloatre). Some of their music just kind of missed the mark (see: Susvourtre. No, not sharing that one here.), but sometimes they really hit the "inhuman music made for disturbed people" nail on the head. I often wonder if the mystique of the Circle added to the unsettling nature of their music, but then I revisit the "Father audio Project" of primary figure Vordb Bathor Ecsed (now Vordb Na R.iidr) and truly revel in the inhuman, abstract black ambiance of its first demo. Hearing this when I was 15 or 16, I actually found myself in the throes of fright, even checking over my shoulder, though my back was against a wall. Now? I might not be scared, but there is a pitch-black, spiritual aspect to this demo which is undeniable.
Pure fucking psychosis. Absolute chaos. Dark Tribe's second album, the only one of its kind in a mostly pagan-styled-metal existence, is mired in explosive, enraged energy. If the sprinting, dash-and-gasp musical approach isn't enough to break a sweat, the endless triple voiced attack will certainly leave you exhausted. I wonder where black metal would be had Dark Tribe continued down this path, but, for now, "In Jeraspunta" is a curious case of sudden, brief punctuated equilibrium. This is one to leave blasting when you hand candy to wayward trick-or-treaters, especially if you don't want any to come back.
I feel like using this one is kind of cheating. The legendary Silencer, who only released a demo (1998) and full-length of the same name (2001), find controversy over fifteen years past their demise. Though the musical element, composed and performed by Andreas "Leere" Casado, largely follows the blueprint laid forth by Bethlehem's early works, to which Casado would fully admit in Dayal Patterson's "Black Metal: The Cult Never Dies Vol. I", Silencer's black-and-white, love-or-hate existence lies solely within its vocal performance. There are many legends surrounding Nattramn's existence, mostly of his own design. We don't know his real name, nor where he actually lives. We only know he has been institutionalized, maybe due to species dysphoria -- the rumors of him cutting off his hands and replacing them with pig trotters are false, though his book of poetry "Grishjärta" (pig's heart) outlines a complete detachment from humanity. Instead of feeling empowered by his condition, however, Nattramn just wants to fucking die, and this self-hatred certainly manifests in his vocal performance. This wailing, gibbering sort of moaning, screeching, crying, and choking truly makes this music hard to listen to. I love it, and have gone as far enough to own the album on all three formats, have framed my poster, and wear a t-shirt with pride, but even I can only take it in small doses.
Okay, another album which isn't necessarily black metal, but, much like Moévöt, exists adjacent to it and carries its spirit. Absolutely bewitching music, the sounds of hexes and creatures in the woods. Some refer to this as darkwave, which, fine, makes sense, but there is a terrifying blackness to Nebelhexë and Nachthexe's gloomy synthesizer and voice incantations. Some are quick to cite their marriages with notable black metal luminaries Samoth and Fenriz, but I feel Aghast's creepy sounds come from a different place of darkness than the castles and snow which fueled Emperor and Darkthrone (as well as deny the notable, chauvinistic sense of discrediting among black metal fans, but I digress). Hexerei Im Zwielicht Der Finsternis, "Witchcraft in the Twilight of Darkness," celebrates the obscured magick from deep within the soul, what drove people to practice black magic in the first place. This is truly possessed, and perfect for the elongated darkness in the days ahead.
I always jokingly described this album as "sounding like skeletons riding horseback," though I guess that also fully described the album cover. Toteslaut definitely suffers from performance issues -- the drums never fully stay "on time," the riffs shift, and the album generally scuttles along -- but that adds to its charm. The clumsiness adds to this slinking, horrific atmosphere which absolutely resembles images of skeletons reassembling and slowly shambling their way toward you, the stiff, terrified victim. Unfortunately, Nåstrond were never able to recreate this sound on future releases, eventually fully moving into ambient territory before breaking up last year, but at least we are left with this testament to black metal's earlier sense of terror and horror.