I’m so sick of hearing and reading the word ‘dark’. I truly wish we’d come up with something new to describe this sort of music without using equally annoying words like grave, witch or (a sure sign of CRAP AHOY!) the dreaded nu. ‘Goth-without-goth’ is too clumsy; ‘advanced goth’ maybe, but that’s a label with too much stigma anyway. For now, DARK is going to have to be an acceptable umbrella term for a collection of music that feeds on the tense, the sinister and the evil. There was plenty of it this year, to be sure: from the shimmering whispers coming out of Tri Angle to the experimental pulse of Galakthorrö. To cover it all would take way more time than I have (really busy with tumblr) but the following is probably the best anyway.
Many of my favorite musicians making the kind of fucked-up, deadly synthpunk that would make Nervous Gender blink twice are from Los Angeles. Something about the West Coast just naturally breeds this sort of band. Tearist and Bestial Mouths are two obvious favorites, the former’s Hissing Veil debut and the latter’s live LP topping our Year’s Best list. B-R-A-N-E-S were also a wonderful new discovery, a post-deathrock boy/girl duo who bring to mind the mid-00s death disco explosion from the Bay Area. If you read my review of Jaws‘ Stress Test, you’d know how impressed I was with his shrieking, clunky electronics, and his violent live shows are an essential piece of the puzzle. Fellow Hundebiss Records alumni Sewn Leather also blew me away with his intense live performances and the equally intense Sikknastafari Slash Crasstafari LP. Parisian Johnny Teardrop made some heavy waves of his own in Berlin at the best dark art-music festival in the world, Drop Dead. If you’ve been craving more punk in your goth, these were unmissable shows.
Bestial Mouths – Small Prey
Sewn Leather – Sikknastafari Slash Crasstafari (Preview)
Speaking of goth, there was quite lot of stuff released this year that was undeniably drenched in that doddering subculture, but given a fresh new vibe with fresh, young faces and a few new ideas. 2011 was the year where every darkly-inclined female singer got compared to Siouxsie at some point, Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe more than most. I wasn’t that impressed with Danilova’s latest effort Conatus, but if anyone deserves such a powerful comparison, it’s Wolfe. Her Apokalypsis LP is certainly one of the most powerful records you’ll hear all year. Designer Drugs‘ Hardcore/Softcore deserves a mention for it’s goth-tinged electro (particularly ‘For All We Know’, ‘Leather Gang’, and ‘Drop Down’, the video for which should be the instructional guide for ‘how to dress goth and not look like a total nerd’) but it’s band member Michael Vincent Patrick’s new project KLOAKS that really shines. If their single ‘Dreams Are Gone’ isn’t already making mopey kids prance through fog-shrouded dancefloors, this world is a corrupt one indeed.
Chelsea Wolfe – Mer
Kloaks – Dreams Are Gone
The Soft Moon put out one of the best post-punk EPs I’ve heard in ages, and even better was they managed to sound not at all like Joy Division. That’s a fairly fucking impressive feat for post-punk bands these days. Equally intriguing was Naked On The Vague‘s Twelve Dark Noons, HTRK‘s Work (work, work) and Tropic Of Cancer‘s The End of All Things, all of which capitalize on that cold, jangly post-Batcave gloom but still manage to keep it sounding fresh. Litanic Mask were another new discovery, creators of my perfect coldwave anthem ‘Leather Mask’, a simple yet beautiful track that makes me ache every time I hear it. On a more apocalyptic note, both Cult of Youth and King Dude managed to kindle a spark in me for the misery ballads of neofolk. I won’t be hitting up the military surplus store anytime soon, but I just might join you at the next Death In June show.
Litanic Mask – Leather Mask
Cult of Youth – New West
Now we move on to the more modern side of sinister sounds. A lot of this stuff is being spawned at the unholy pop vats of Tri Angle, a melting pot of sable sounds with undeniable Top 40 influence. Holy Other‘s gorgeous With U EP was a favorite for many (myself included) but it was Water Borders who blew me away with their debut LP Harbored Mantras. An array of influences ranging from Coil to The Virgin Prunes are given hip-hop production and touches of post-dubstep to create what is possibly the finest goth album in the last 20 years. CREEP steadily released the beautiful, R&B-soaked dark pop singles ‘Days’, ‘You’ and ‘Animals’, along with gorgeous accompanying videos. Modern Witch released more many splits and singles than I can remember, but their remake of their early track ‘In Your Eyes’ stands out as a true future classic.
CREEP – You
Modern Witch – In Your Eyes
White Ring released both the remix-heavy CHAIND VOL. 1 and the excellent ‘Hey Hey My My’ single, while fellow 808ers CRIM3S put me off for a while; the whole ‘band name with number/symbol’ thing is usually another way of saying ‘don’t waste your time listening to this’ but seeing them live was seriously fun, a vibe that’s usually missing from the witchy set. Dudes put the ghetto in gothic. On that note, Dark Sister proved capabley interesting enough to drop the sable thug vibe I love, washing away the stains of Gvcci Hvcci and thereby making the world just a tiny bit better. As for Salem…well, they were Salem. Equal parts annoying and entrancing, they shat out a smattering of forgettable remixes before releasing their latest EP I’m Still In The Night. While it wasn’t kingly by any means, it was proof the trio can still grab our attention when they really want to. Let’s hope 2012 yields more effort and less drags.
CRIM3S – Breed
Salem – Krawl
Galakthorrö is a label that always satisfies my hunger for industrial sounds with none of the god-awful cybershit and terrorcrud that makes the more ‘mainstream’ version of that scene a complete joke to anyone with a post-pubescent mentality. Both Maska Genetik and Haus Arafna put out unique releases, the former even more surprising considering the project was completed some time ago. Even though Strada is made up of old, unreleased material, it’s still some of the best experimental angstpop around. Angels In America‘s Narrow Road To The Interior evoked the ghosts of dusty western roads and melded them with echoes from ancient Throbbing Gristle shows, while Micachu‘s surprising (and vastly overlooked) live album Chopped and Screwed was the very essence of experimental: shattered glass and vaccums combine with the strings and woodwinds of the London Sinfonietta to make a thick, drugged-out experience. On the opposite side of the spectrum, TENSE have continued to make EBM that you can actually feel proud to be a fan of…and if you’ve ever been to an EBM club, you know that’s something not said lightly. Finally, Prurient‘s Bermuda Drain is the best industrial album of the year. Nothing more to say on that; just get it.
Angels In America – Follow Me Out
Prurient – Watch Silently
It’s impossible to do a list of the year’s best dark material without including that most grim of genres: METAL. Fortunately I’ll be steering away from the dire, overly serious bullshit and focusing more on the experimental and the raw. Let’s begin with genre-bending darlings Liturgy, who’ve taken massive amounts of shit from the black metal community for allegedly killing black metal by incorporating other elements. Of course, the only people who ever proclaim the death of any genre are the purists, and who cares what they think. Aesthethica redefines the way we think about black metal, and it’s one of the most trve releases you’ll hear all year. Gnaw Their Tongues latest LP Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus may not be anything new, but it’s everything he does best: shrieks and distortion, grand and filthy symphonics and ridiculous song titles like ‘Bone Dust On Dead Genitals’…all the things I want out of this kind of music. Atriach (post-Antioch Arrow, so PAY ATTENTION!) put out the undeniably epic Forever The End, and Reliq‘s self-titled debut EP is equally entrancing, even if it can never come close to the soul-shattering fury of their live show. It’s California quartet Ash Borer, however, who put out the finest slab of black metal wax this year. Three tracks of sprawling, beautiful doom that stretches on into bleak infinity, it’s simply beautiful in the way that only shrieking angels can be.
Gnaw Their Tongues – Bone Dust On Dead Genitals
Ash Borer – Rest, You Are The Lightning
So that’s your essential primer for all things evil, black, grim, doomy, gloomy, gothy, or just plain dark in 2011. There’s loads more out there, of course; I’m not an encyclopedia, and some stuff I glossed over because it was slightly outside what is blatantly ‘dark’ (Balam Acab, Austra, and Deathface even though that dude’s music is sick as hell), unnecessary (most of the current witch house scene) or just plain shitty (most of what you’d hear amongst the actual goth scene) as well as hip-hop in general just because there’s so much dirty and evil southern stuff that it’s impossible to pick favorites. Hopefully, however, this will give you a few places to start, and a lot to look forward to in 2012. It’s the end of the world, after all, so prepare your soundtrack now.