2016 was a particularly good year for dark music, as these selections are culled from a list many times their size. The albums range across genres, but each have one thing in common: the potential to scare. Most of the scares are subtle, as the masters prefer; but don’t be lulled, because danger awaits. Whether walking in the ruins of a deserted town, recording a room filled with sleepers or reporting the legends of a particularly large dog, these artists have found the chill that rests at the base of the spine.
A big thank you to ACL staffer Nayt Keane for the ax and gramophone cover image!
And now, without further ado, A Closer Listen presents its Top Ten haunted selections of 2016!
Daghraven ~ #1 (Consouling Sounds)
#1 was out of season when it appeared last spring, and is finally coming into its own. The shivers begin with the cover art and continue within. Kinder touches are present in the music, but only to amplify the terror when it arrives. The artist also known as Illuminine has found his darker side.
Deison ~ Any Time Now (manyfeetunder/concrete)
Deison can’t help being dark; it’s in his nature. Any Time Now is a continuation of themes present in prior works: the bubbling, the static, the chains. Detectives describe a crime scene; the killer remains on the loose. Decades into his career, Deison is still chasing demons, and perhaps they are chasing him as well.
Gizeh Records: Dark Peak Series
Only two installments have appeared so far, but it would be unfair to choose between them, so we’ve chosen both. Yes, this list goes up to 11. Æmaeth‘s The Roman and Anders Brørby‘s Nihil kick off the series with bleak tones and black atmospheres, the first desolate and the second despairing. Together, they create a high water mark for this promising offshoot.
Ian Humberstone and David Chatton Barker ~ Black Dog Traditions of England (Folklore Tapes)
One of the year’s most extensive research packages, Black Dog Traditions of England melds history and local lore, presenting the findings in art, music and prose. The topics range from depression to cannibalism, and through it all, the black dog pants, drooling, staring, withholding his bark.
Look to the North ~ You’re A Séance, Old North (AOsmosis)
Less immediately frightening than its peers, this collaboration between Zachary Corsa and David Colohan builds a mood over the course of two side-long, collaged pieces, calling on the presence of ghosts and surviving witnesses, a la the latest season of American Horror Story. If it’s pretty in parts, don’t hold it against the duo: the gingerbread house was pretty too.
Manuel Knapp ~ Azoth (Ventil)
This one’s not subtle: it’s a sledgehammer in place of a rattling chain, an axe instead of a knife. Footsteps, screams, sirens, pounds ~ the evil is already here, and the feedback is so loud that one won’t be able to hear it coming. Perfect for haunted houses that rely on disorientation to cloak the attacking ghouls.
Valerio Tricoli ~ Clonic Earth (PAN)
A sequel of sorts to Miseri Lares, Clonic Earth takes up where that classic set left off: with whispers and rattles, skitters and hums. Gibbering voices and snatches of occult readings decorate the abstract soundscape. A church bell tolls, ineffective. Have the dead come to walk the earth?
Various Artists ~ The Quietened Bunker (A Year in the Country)
Let’s forget haunted houses for a moment ~ how about haunted everything? That’s what we get once we’ve destroyed the world. The Quietened Bunker imagines life after the missiles fall, remembering all those bomb shelters we built during the Cold War. A Geiger counter ticks. The food is inedible. The last man plays the last piano.
Various Artists ~ Spectral Sounds
Not everything here is scary, but many tracks are unnerving ~ especially Jacob Kirkegaard’s “Haus de Metre”, a score for sixteen sleepers, and Raviv Ganchrow’s crunchy “Quarzbrecciakammer”, which is more benign in description than it is in execution. The original project was also an installation: but now that the installation has gone, is the house still haunted?
Scott Walker ~ The Childhood of a Leader OST (4AD)
High on drama and low on gore, The Childhood of a Leader is marked by strong performances and an even stronger score. It’s the story of a child with Hitler-like tendencies who grows into a position of power. Modern corollaries, anyone?