Top 40 Darkest Rock Albums Part 1
I guess it’s the unrelenting summer heat and sunshine that’s making me crave some dark music. Or maybe it’s just because I’m a grumpy soul. But there’s something deeply satisfying in a work of tortured genius; they seem to stick with you more than breezy pop fluff.
What defines darkness in music? It’s of course subjective; it could be an oppressive atmosphere, lyrics of anguish or heartbreak, or simply music in a minor key, where dissonance slices through harmony like a switch blade. Or all the above.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with, for my money, the 50 darkest albums in rock which will touch on goth, metal, classic rock and more (FYI I’m not familiar enough with Norwegian Black Metal so that’s not included. Although I did see Marduk live and they creeped me out.)
To give this list diversity, I’m allowing for one artist per entry (which will allow for a tie if they have 2 equally powerful slabs of doom).
If you click on the album’s name (highlighted in blue) that will take you to their iTunes page where you can preview or buy or clicking on the album image will send you over to Amazon. A percentage of sales goes toward the upkeep of this site :-).
40. Maxinquaye (Deluxe Edition) – Tricky (1995)
[amazon_image id=”B000001E7V” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Maxinquaye[/amazon_image]
One of the first “trip-hop” entries here, Tricky’s début album “Maxinquaye” is gloomy goodness. His use of dark electronic textures and novel samples (Smashing Pumpkin’s, Isaac Hayes), makes for great musical melodrama. And having his co-vocalist Martina Topley-Bird give a gender bending twist to Public Enemy’s “Black Steel” is wonderfully subversive. “Overcome” remains the standout track however, with a ghostly power that still holds up.
39. All Is Dream – Mercury Rev(2001)
[amazon_image id=”B00005NP07″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]All Is Dream[/amazon_image]
Mercury Rev were always an unsettling proposition; weird helium styled vocals mixed with strings and other exotic instruments, it just feels off, but in a good way. But “All Is Dream” kicks it up a notch. Songs like “Lincoln’s Eyes” and “Spiders and Flies” sound like dark lullabies, which soothe and disturb in equal measure. (Available on Amazon only)
38. Floating Into the Night – Julee Cruise (1989)
[amazon_image id=”B000002LH4″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Floating Into The Night[/amazon_image]
An eerie take on 1950’s torch songs, Cruise’s ethereal vocals are used to perfect effect on tracks like “Into The Night” and “Falling”, (the latter being the theme song for “Twin Peaks”). Given that this was produced by David Lynch, could it have been anything other than lovely, dark weirdness?
37. Adore – Smashing Pumpkins(1998)
[amazon_image id=”B00LXLQNP6″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ][amazon_image id=”B000TENLGW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Adore[/amazon_image][/amazon_image]
An unappreciated album upon its release, “Adore” has much to offer with repeated listens. Billy Corgan focused most of the material on the death of his Mother. Songs like “For Martha” (her name) and “Behold The Nightmare” have a wonderful dusky beauty. My favorite track is “Shame”, Corgan’s tribute to the late Michael Hutchence, with a distorted piano motif that’s deeply haunting. (Be sure to check out my review of their new album “Oceania”, here.)
36. Selfless – Godflesh(1994)
[amazon_image id=”B000008NK5″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Selfless[/amazon_image]
This is one bleak wrecking ball of industrial awesomeness from start to finish. Justin Broderick’s pummeling riffs, funereal pace and lyrics of isolation won’t let you up for air, especially in standout tracks “Anything is Mine” and “Backboned Angel”
35. Priest = Aura – The Church (1992)
[amazon_image id=”B000002VLR” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Priest = Aura[/amazon_image]
Church albums often have a bittersweet feel; dismal and wistful wrapped up together with a psychedelic bow. Not this time. With the exception of a couple of tunes, this is their darkest work to date, and it’s likely their best album. From the tale of doomed villagers (“Dome”), a creepy tale of a perverse magician (“The Disillusionist“) or unhinged atonal malaise (“Chaos”), “Priest=Aura” is a masterpiece, and criminally ignored upon its release. It’s amazing.
34. Last Rights – Skinny Puppy (1992)
[amazon_image id=”B00005LOQT” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Last Rights[/amazon_image]
This is a band that took me a while to appreciate. They’re pretentious and at times ridiculous, but they’re one of several who helped start the goth/industrial template. To me, “Last Rites” is their best, due to it’s diverse sound, especially on “The Killing Game”, a ballad that is just as queasy and unsettling as their noisiest assaults.
33. Dawnrazor – Fields of the Nephilim (1987)
[amazon_image id=”B000005S3O” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Dawnrazor[/amazon_image]
This is one odd band; a mix of goth and metal with some spaghetti western flair with a ragged vocalist (who sounds in dire need of a lozenge). But if you let this album work its charms on you, you’ll find much to enjoy. Two standout tracks include the dark rocker “Slowkill” and The Evil Dead sampling “Vet For The Insane”. (Not to mention it’s one damn cool album cover).
32. Come On Die Young – Mogwai (1999)
[amazon_image id=”B00000I6EE” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Come on Die Young[/amazon_image]
An album that alternates between instrumental passages and understated vocals, “Come On Die Young” can be quite relaxing, but occasionally takes an abrasive, dissonant turn. “Oh! How The Dogs Stack Up” sounds like the opening titles to a 70’s Hammer Horror film, while “Waltz For Aidan” has one of the most gorgeous melodies you’re ever likely to hear. But the album hinges on a feeling of cinematic dread that leaves you on edge.
31. Time Machines-Coil (1998)
[amazon_image id=”B00000JZT5″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Available on Amazon only[/amazon_image]
This album is darkly hypnotic, with each track based entirely on a single droning note. There’s only 4 songs which range anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes in length. The music was designed to have a hallucinatory trance-like quality. Mission accomplished. (Available on Amazon only)
**2 other dark ambient albums of note include Brian Eno’s seminal “Music For Film” and Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2”.
30.Replicas – Gary Numan & Tubeway Army (1979)
Before Gary Numan hit it big with the synth anthem “Cars” , he was in the band Tubeway Army. “Replicas” is a concept album, inspired by sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick, which deals with humankind being oppressed by androids. All the songs have a great dramatic weight to them, particular the eerie cult classic “Down In The Park”. “Are Friends Electric” is the most well-known track, but my personal favorite is “It Must Have Been Years” where Numan rips out an awesome guitar solo. It’s a dystopian epic from start to finish with great glam/goth hooks. It’s also been hugely influential, inspiring Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl and other alt rock heavyweights.
So that wraps up part 1 of the Darkest Rock Albums! Now check out Part 2.