Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Seven Artists/Albums to Help Legitimize Your Gloomy October Soundtrack

Let's face it, our reverence for holidays is spun from the elated mysticism each one harbors so strongly at us as children. Christmas, Halloween, The Fourth Of July all seem to plant their seeds in our beings as impressionable youngsters and then germinate in us as we grow. They all seem to amplify the characteristics of the season they act as the pinnacle of, and for most create fond memories of what it is to be care free and still believe in their indelibly magical characteristics each presents to us before the anchor of science keeps our logical minds from flying so freely. Remember when the moon followed you?

This fondness of pre-adolescent tradition evolves as we grow older; but make no mistake about it - the semi-adult versions of all of these holidays: Mistletoe and eggnog, slutty costume parties at bars, barbecues and keg stands; only became and continue to become because of the experiences and magic - for lack of a better word - that we try to subconsciously recapture from those nostalgic memories of childhood as we fasten our seatbelts for the turbulence of the foreboding and inevitable grown-up years; where those of us who have spat forth larvae are allotted the opportunity to relive our own experiences as little ones through our children's excitement. The moon is simply so large and so far way that it plays on the shape of your eye to create the optical illusion that it is always in your presence.

There are plenty of songs about Summer and America - and a disgusting boiling over of Christmas jingles and Winter Wonderlandy serenades that start to get shoved down your throat as early as October. But those of us who have evolved to appreciate all of the Autumnal season are often shortchanged in the sonic representation of a crepuscular soundtrack that can act as a sort of diegetic sound to the images of a rainy late fall afternoon or evening. And what do we get for the actual holiday of Halloween? The hokey-dokey sounds of 'The Monster Mash', or a generic commercial re-imagining of John Carpenter's Halloween theme - no thanks. And so, in another insomnia-induced fit of frustrated boredom I have compiled a subtle list of selections and artists who do a bit more for the unflinchingly morbid vibe of the Fall season than some cheese-ball musical succubus trying to churn out the first pop-Halloween classic in an effort to live the rest of his days sipping margaritas, beating his Czechoslavakian wife, and collecting royalty checks. Hopefully some of these may tickle your twilight zones enough to open your mind more than it already is. yay.

In no particular order:

It's a hard way to start a list, with a band that got their break being signed to the lead singer of Korn's god-awful Elementree label back in the late 90's, thus being marked with the leprous stamp of being a Nu-Metal band and opening for the likes of Orgy and Videodrone, but let's just get past all that shall we? I really dig Deadsy, mainly because I think they were doing something different and so in-your-face simple that it was a hard thing to soak up for a lot of people, and I have yet to hear another band imitate them or use their formula properly in an effort to exploit the potential of being labeled a pioneer in what could be a really cool new genre. Deadsy is not a Nu-Metal band, and if you really take band images seriously or use it as an excuse to shit all over something before tasting it (which I certainly do) getting over their physical appearance and presentation may be like swallowing that razor-bladed snickers bar first out of the bag. I can be that close minded, so luckily for me I was so impressed with their dark little new-wave 80's serial-killer sound before I ever even saw them that I never paid much attention to their colored suit assignment / elemental goth make-up thing. But I guess in their defense, with this much androgynous synth-laden early 80's pop worship in their music, a little mascara and over-tone may really put a pretty little bow on the total package for listeners who want the whole kit and caboodle, and they never really plastered themselves all over their own album art to really try and exploit it - well, maybe a little bit.

Deadsy is really simple and easy to pick apart, but it fucking works. A sonically may-as-well-be single down-tuned E-string guitar sound laying the floor for a New Order bass guitar to white-guy dance on top of and a very creepy up-in-the-mix keyboard playing the prime melody in most of the songs. The drums sound like they were recorded from a 1986 Casio finger-drum pad complete with hand-clap sample and there is even an occasional robot voice that makes a cameo where appropriate (but really is it ever appropriate?  Ask Styx). Over it all is the Peter Steele possessing Peter Murphy-on-Barbituates crooning of vocalist Elijah Blue.   Remember that scene in Silence Of The Lambs where Buffalo Bill puts his lipstick on, tucks his schlong between his legs and then starts boogying the fuck out to Q Lazzarus' 'Goodbye Horses'? - Deadsy's first album Commencement  kind of feels like the soundtrack to a whole movie of that scene, only a tad more disturbing. I'd cringe too at the thought of somebody trying something like this, taking that already uneasy drug induced androgyny of the seedy 80's new wave underbelly and trying to make it feel even more uneasy - but what makes it rise above eye-rolling "they're trying too hard" cheesiness is the stellar song writing and melodies throughout. Even when it turns into something uplifting and beautiful within itself, it still lingers in a kind of eerie gloom, and I guess that characteristic alone kind of almost makes Commencement more of a goth-album than anything else, despite it's wonderful originality.

From the twisted sludge balladry of songs like "Future Years" and "Flowing Glower", to the danceable synth-laden trippiness of "Mansion World" and "She Likes Big Words", this album covers the gamut of known and unknown 80's new wave influences and drenches them in a neon-colored creepiness. There are a couple of times on Commencement when the music shifts gears from it's own serial killer-transvestite - dark new wave trappings and becomes full on Dark Carnival of Souls rolling through town.

Deadsy only has two albums under their belt, (not to mention an out-of-print limited demo/debut) and a 7 year gap between them at that. And with absolutely dormant activity at the headquarters and a whole bunch of side projects going on one can all but assume the band is done. While Commencement in my bass-ackwards opinion is a landmark of an album in it's own right, the group's second effort Phantasmagore leans more toward mainstream rock than the charming little niche of sonic glow-in-the-dark grave moss that it's predecessor bloated, but is still arguably worth owning for the fantastic 'Better Than You Know' alone. If you've never heard of them and give it a shot I think you'll find that there is no middle ground here, as you either really dig it or I've completely lost all my credibility, not that I had any to begin with - because people would actually have to be reading this to lose that. But if you find the charm that I did and want a little more than two releases be advised that there are an ass-load of fantastic B-sides and covers the band recorded that got released on various compilations or never actually saw an official light of day that are floating around the internet like chunks of space feces in Zero-G. So if any of the aforementioned over-use of the words new-wave, dark, and 80's appeal to you, put down your lipstick, grab your skin-suit and  give Commencement a whirl before you get all coked up and head out to the mandatory work costume party.

Recommended Album: Commencement

6. BODUF SONGS - Hard words and violent imagery whispered through beautifully soft melodies is the summarized modus operandi of the one-man haunted folk project Boduf Songs. Singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet weaves eerie tales of suicide, homicide, isolation, decapitation, and torture from a minimalistic pulpit of acoustic guitars and ambient drone. While the band's early works are a much more traditional one man/one guitar affair, each release is a subtle step forward into something darker, incorporating peppered electronic effects and keyboards, and even an occasional power chord just to get a point across.

The band's latest offering Stench Of Exist has taken so many small steps from the simple beauty of the group's debut Boduf Songs, that it's almost unrecognizable as the same band. But like watching a child grow every day, the artistic change is seamless and logical when you take the journey, and the change barely noticeable when you grow with them. The emotion conveyed behind the monotone hushed vocals of Sweet is impressive within it's limited context, a testament to the lyrical content and melodies that carry the words atop a bed of gloom. The music is a still lake on a cold day, quiet and reflective - with the invisible ravages of nature stirring beneath the surface.

Recommended Album: How Shadows Chase The Balance

5. MATT ELLIOTT - Such epic and grandiose Victorian misery has never sounded so wonderfully ominous than when sung from the wine-stained lips and played from the thorn-pricked fingers of the morosely talented Matt Elliott. The singer/songwriter pens hauntingly self-loathing tales of love and loss, illustrating an atmosphere within the music so literal you'll feel as though your reading a novel rather than listening to a record. Acoustic guitars that are sickly plucked evolve into dark waltzes accompanied with violins and ghostly Theremins, pianos and tubas -  you begin to feel as though you yourself are a spirit within the ballroom. Beautiful and elegant melodies come to an end only to be resurrected as doomy, baroque multi-layered vocal hums. Half dark folk, half cinematic score for a French vampire film - the music and context is deadpan in it's delivery and goes beyond ridiculous right back into genius.

 Every song in this man's catalogue hides textures within itself, and every song takes multiple listens to truly digest and remember. While each record sounds the same as the one before it to an untrained ear, further commitment and open mindedness will reward the listener with the subtle nuances of beauty wrestling with the drunken beast deep within the muck. Elliott's 2012 offering The Broken Man is his most epic and complete work in my opinion. Hauntingly beautiful songs dripping with misery, complete with Funeral Bells in the distance and the occasional chorus of howling wolves from afar, the songs are small in their stature - but magnanimous in their atmosphere.

Recommended Album: The Broken Man

4. Lurker Of Chalice - Black Metal's origins are firmly and proudly rooted in the pagan folklore of Nordic culture. Thusly making any U.S. native Black Metal band very difficult to take seriously for quite some time. It's only been recently that the genre's themes have expanded enough to be able to shed those xenophobic qualities and showcase a more worldly perspective on the style. Jeff Whitehead's one man U.S. Black Metal band Leviathan is arguably the primogenial of these to be respectfully accepted into the cult-like scene. When the woman he loved tragically died as a result of an inoperable brain tumor, Whitehead eviscerated his catharsis into a separate project from Leviathan called Lurker Of Chalice.

From start to finish Lurker Of Chalice is a harrowing descent into the sublevels of human despair. Part whirlwind-like buzzsaw guitar riffing, part droning sludge, part atmospheric avant-garde, all stitched together with the tortured bellows, cries, and demonic groans of a man emotionally torn to pieces in the dark. From the hypnotic speed and dissonance of the more traditional Black Metal 'Piercing Where They Might', To the almost triumphant strumming of 'Vortex Chalice', to the slow wade through the bile duct of an ocean of grief that is 'Minions', Lurker Of Chalice offers such a variety in it's torture that it's different enough to enjoy without owning a single other Black Metal album. The traditional low production level causes all of the instruments to occasionally congeal in all the right places here, creating sonic vortexes of abysmal gates into the psyche, and murky, almost orchestral movements of ugly endurance; such as the middle section of 'Fastened To The Five Points', which likens to Chopin's classic Piano Sonata No 2 "Op. 35: III. Marche fun├Ębre: Lento" aka Funeral March. Lurker Of Chalice's one and only album is both immensely sad, and don't-listen-to-in-the-dark scary.

Recommended Album: Lurker Of Chalice

3. THE CLASSICAL HALLOWEEN COLLECTION: CLASSICAL MUSIC OF DOOM, DREAD, AND ALL THINGS WICKED! - I'm fairly certain you can only find this gem on iTunes, but with 50 amazing songs at $6.99 this is arguably the best deal out there (as far as getting 50 songs for $6.99 goes). These are all the classical classics that you've probably heard hundreds of times around this time of year since you were a sapling but never knew the names of. They are the true-blue soundtracks to the Halloween season, as traditional as Silent Night is to Christmas. If I say 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King', or 'Funeral March of a Marionette' and you can hum the tune, then you know and enjoy it well enough to do yourself the favor of downloading this hidden treasure.

There are as many more familiar songs on here like 'Night On Bald Mountain', 'Danse Macabre', and 'Toccatta and Fugue', as there are off the map movements I'd never previously heard like 'Carnival Of Animals', 'Peer Gynt's Op. 9 Planets', and 'Syrinx'. The collection also respectively stays clear of the more modern film compositions that usually get thrown on generic Halloween compilations, so there is no 'Tubular Bells' or 'Theme From Nightmare On Elm Street'. Though there are a few passable cuts from 'Psycho'(did you see what I did there), and a phenomenal version of the theme from the movie Halloween that includes an additional little string segment on top of the already familiar composition that adds an impressive additional layer to the previously one-dimensional work (sorry John). As is thus far a reoccurring theme on this list, the music walks the line seamlessly between the light and dark, painting a world of fear and wonder around you if you're as vulnerable to atmosphere as I am. This is top notch introspective-appreciation-of-the-season music to throw on whether you're going on a midnight fog walk in late October, or simply sitting on the porch watching the leaves fall into the rays of the sun.

2. TYPE O NEGATIVE - Of all of the music that's out there from all of the generations that have left there fingerprints in the art form, none make me more grateful to exist as a young adult in the prime era of their music than Type O Negative - It makes me believe in predetermination to be alive in the very short window of time that they had been purging sounds. While I consider their entire body of work to be nothing short of phenomenal, I'd have a difficult time defending that same opinion to someone who scoffs at the very notion of it. How do you argue the greatness of a band whose vocalist occasionally rolls his R's in a mock vampiric lingo? Or pens a song titled "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend". It also doesn't help that the most fanatical of Type O fans are often stereotyped as chubby thirty-something Goth chicks who claim to practice Wicca and touch themselves to the chorus of 'Be My Druidess'. Unfortunately anybody that's ever been to a concert or two of the group would find that generality to be alarmingly valid - which also gives reason as to why the heavier, darker, more dirge-induced albums tend to be their least well-received by active listeners, but that's a whole 'nother rant completely (maroons).

Flying the flags I've flown for bands that seize in more extreme venues of sound coming out here and telling you I how much I adore Type O Negative is a bit like telling my asshole jock friends back in highschool that I think I may be in love with Katie Wilshmalski - the black haired, white faced, midnight eye-lined queen of darkness who wore spider-web veils to school and wanted everyone to call her Cruella Darkwidow. I've never tried to push Type O onto anyone because it's not until you immerse yourself enough into their body of work to realize that everything they do is layered in this thin smegma of self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek humor, and without that the band would crumble under the weight of their own depression or flame out in a ridiculous fizzle of complete gayness. So to simply hear it for what it is superficially and not entertain the notion that it does both flaunt it's amazing melodies, strong structures, and originality as well as make fun of itself all in one bombastic psychedelic dirge is to remove yourself from a situation that could better you because you just don't want to put the effort in. Or you just think it sucks, and without that aforementioned shmegma I would too.

Unlike the rest of the majority of music on this list, Type O are a bit more blatant about the motives and inspiration, citing Halloween and it's themes directly multiple times throughout their discography. Personally, I think the band and the season are symbiotic - there is a totalitarity going on there that only amplifies the experience of both if you're as passionate about music as I am. No two albums are the same in either their sound or delivery. From the raw Black Flag meets Black Sabbath hardcore dirge of Slow, Deep and Hard, and the lush and beautifully layered autumnal textures of October Rust, to the sonic anvil sinking into the abyss of World Coming Down, the psychedelic pop-rock of Life Is Killing Me, and the dark dicography-spanning melting-pot jams of the very under-rated Dead Again, TON leave a creepy green trail of original sounds that have never been successfully duplicated, nor ever will. While the styles from album to album may alter, the general sound does not. Distorted guitars and bass play over processed drums and gloomy to grand keyboards that create melodically lush soundscapes or underneath-everything funeral dirges.

Singer/Songwriter Peter Steele baritones his songs of fucking girls, getting fucked by girls, losing loved ones, and hating himself - sometimes channeling Lurch, sometimes channeling Tears For Fears, sometimes channeling the congealed spirit of every Brooklyn cab driver that ever got short-changed a tip. Amongst it all are subtle and not-so-subtle innuendos of Vampirism, Druidism, Lycanthropy, Necromancy, Murder, Suicide, and Drug Abuse all romanticized or mourned over in 5 - 15 minute epics of Pink Floyd meets Black Sabbath meets The Beatles meets The Munsters gothedelic-hard rock bliss. Throw in some Gregorian Chants, rattling chains, pipe organ, and occasional woman screaming as she gets violated by a piece of machinery and these son's of whooors will become your best friends from this Halloween until the one you almost make it to.

Recommended Album: October Rust, World Coming Down, AND Dead Again

1. GNAW THEIR TONGUES - After the trick-or-treaters all go home, the candy is all but gone, and the last Jack-O-Lantern slowly burns itself out and succumbs to the bitter frost of the beckoning winter, we're left with the cold charmless nights of old. The cuteness of things that go bump in the night fades, and the fun that comes with fear when it's all wrapped up and commercialized suddenly fades away. Horror changes it's definition back to the dreadful thing it used to be that you never want to have to face. If all the other bands on this list were movies like Friday The 13th, and Nightmare On Elm Street, Gnaw Their Tongues is the untitled torture-porn snuff film you've only read about that got banned in 194 countries. This is one of those bands I honestly dare you to listen to in the dark. Zero fun, zero melody (though 2010's opus Le Arrivee De La Terne Morte Triomphante bleeds an occasional glimmer of hope from beneath an ocean of bile and excrement), an extreme audio journey into what feels like all-to-real violence, perversion, and ritualistic terror. I actually even once read a critic liken the music (if you can call it that) to seeing something you can never un-see, being 'marked' if you will.

Rumbling horns, thunderous percussion, clattering hardware, shrill strings, scraping metal, and screaming from both the vocalist and the victims paints dimly lit soundproof cellars with metal drains straining gore. This is generally categorized as black metal but Gnaw Their Tongues is really a one-man grandiose sonic experiment in the sounds of vile torture and human suffering - there is very little sonic pleasure to the ears here, but still a curiosity within it all that strokes the same synapses that make you slow down and look when driving past a fatality on the expressway.  With album art as gruesome and disturbing as the sonic massacre within it you'll feel like your name has gone on some government list somewhere after you've ordered it and given it a listen. If you should ever find yourself falsely accused of some grisly crime, an album or two of Gnaw Their Tongues pulled from your library to be used as Exhibit A may in fact seal your fate with any jury, so tread lightly and stay out of trouble. Probably one of the most extreme bands I own, the mood strikes to listen to Gnaw Their Tongues few and far, far between, still sometimes you just want to saw your own arm off without actually sawing your own arm off. Make no mistake, this is a terrifying sonic purging to test the boundries of oneself with - and you've got to respect that, and dig it a little too.

Recommended Album: All The Dread Magnificence of Perversity