It's a dilemma all music lovers face: narrowing down a list of your all-time favorite albums. Even restricting myself to just the past year, it's quite a challenge... mainly because it's been a damn fine year for dark, spooky and horror-related music. Not only have some well-known bands rediscovered their mojo or improved on an already strong track record, but I've also discovered dozens of new artists who rock the darker, more obscure corners of the music biz, and many of them belong on this list right alongside their more high-profile peers. I'm also pretty sure you'll be hearing a lot more from them in 2013 and beyond.
Bear in mind a couple of things before diving in: this list is alphabetical, and not necessarily in order of preference (because I always have a shit time trying to settle on my favorite anything); and this list is confined to horror-related or darker-themed music, because that's just how we roll here. So without further ado, let's get down to business... and be sure to add your own personal faves in the comments!
Founded in the '80s by Martin Bowes, this UK-based experimental music outfit specializes in creating subtly chilling soundtracks for films that never existed, so it was only a matter of time before they landed a gig scoring an actual horror film... in this case, the film is G.H.O.S.T, by indie production company Mutantville Productions. But even if there was no film to accompany it, this collection of dark ambient cues stands up on its own as a hair-raising nightmare soundscape best heard with the lights off.
Cattle Decapitation: Monolith of Inhumanity
The notoriety of this album from the gore-metal titans has since been overshadowed by the outrageously perverse music video for the track “Forced Gender Reassignment,” which has been discussed madly across the interwebs as the goriest music video of all time. That's for another debate, but when it comes to the music itself, Monolith represents the band at their absolute creative peak, pushing past their death-grind roots into more diverse songwriting, rapidly changing song structures and mixed vocal and rhythmic styles.
Celldweller: Wish Upon a Blackstar
Always a favorite of mine for his epic, cinematic sound, Celldweller's Klayton took the cyber-rock skills that enhanced countless games and movie trailers and focused it on a collection of tracks that he unveiled in “chapters” over a two-year period before collecting them in a single album this year. An incredible tour followed (check out our review of the live DVD) with Klayton and his label-mate Blue Stahli (aka Bret Autrey) tearing up stages in Tron-style neon trim and digital displays. The album is just as massive in scope – an epic sci-fi/horror movie for your ears.
Dawn of Ashes/Falling Skies: Hollywood Made in Gehenna
When Kristof Bathory and company transitioned from terror EBM into the domain of extreme horror metal, they never forgot their industrial roots. When they began to incorporate those harsh electronics back into the mix in their interim release Farewell to the Flesh, they summoned up a dark energy that perfectly suited their ultra-violent, perverse and disturbing themes. When they joined forces with electro-industrialists Falling Skies for this mini-album, they were truly firing on all thrusters, and the result will strip the flesh from your skull.
Deadites: The Big Scary Monster Hunts at Midnight
One of my surprise finds of the year was this genre-bending combo, who not only claim vast knowledge in the field of monster-hunting, obscure martial arts and secret occult societies, they also bring some hot electro grooves with macabre humor and infectious energy. This EP is the band's first official release, but they've already built a solid rep based on their wild stage shows and the band members' mysterious backstory (as depicted in their own comic book series). The music is equal parts spooky and sexy, thanks to a wide repertoire of instrumental and vocal talents onboard, and it's a slamming good time.
Dracula 3D: Original Soundtrack by Claudio Simonetti
I'm not even gonna get into the movie itself here, because a) I haven't seen it yet; and b) there's enough discussion going on out there about the merits and/or evils of Dario Argento's latest feature. But when it comes to this score by long-time Argento collaborator Simonetti (co-founder of the original Goblin and gothic metallers Daemonia), it's just about the best time I've had with a soundtrack album in years. Sure, it's overflowing with gothic melodrama (theremin, pipe organ, ghostly female vocals, the works), but I happen to have a major sweet tooth for that kind of thing, having been raised on the wild theatrics of Hammer horror films – an obvious influence on Claudio's work.
Figure: Monsters, Volume 3
I first heard about this indie group when they approached FEARnet with their Halloween single “The Corpse Grinders,” and you know I couldn't refuse a title like that. Shortly after enjoying and sharing that gem of a find, I gave the album a spin, and found myself in a blood-spattered playground of horror nostalgia. The mutant brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Josh Gard, Figure's ongoing album series Monsters of Drumstep brings his love of music, monsters and mayhem together in a diverse and irresistible blend of hard EDM and vintage horror soundscapes including “Pounds of Blood” (featuring live drums from Motley Crüe's Tommy Lee), “Michael Myers is Dead” and “The Graveyard.” It's a crushing good time, and I'm ready for the next volume.
Gojira: L'Enfant Sauvage
Huge, dark, destructive... those words can't begin to describe the crushing doom of this French metal band, but when this album exploded out of my speakers, I realized just how well the band's name fits, being the original Japanese handle for Godzilla: this is the musical equivalent of a three hundred-foot-tall, roaring, fire-vomiting colossus capable of leveling entire cities. Fronted by the emotionally powerful voice of Joseph Duplantier, and alternating elements of groove, progressive, death and doom metal, Gojira's first venture under big-time label Roadrunner Records proves they have not compromised their power and skill with experimentation one bit. Their best work since the masterpiece From Mars to Sirius.
Motionless in White: Infamous
It's no surprise that Chris Motionless and his team made their way back onto my year-end list with their latest full-length offering; when it comes to aggressive, shocking horror-inspired metalcore with a running theme of personal and social angst, these cats bring their “A” game every time. For this outing, Chris is also channeling some of the vocal and lyrical elements of Dani Filth and early-era Marilyn Manson in a way that not only fits well into the band's songwriting style, but actually sounds fresher and meaner than Cradle of Filth's The Manticore and Manson's Born Villain (both of which came out this year). Add to that the production wizardry of Tim Skold (KMFDM), and you've got a daring, scary winner on your hands.
Skinny Puppy: Bootlegged, Broke and In Solvent Seas (Live)
Another band who I'm pretty sure will make the best-of list for just about any fan of dark and twisted music, Skinny Puppy have outdone themselves with this collection of live tracks from their 2010/11 European tours, which puts the focus on their classic material dating back to the mid-'80s. While I also have much praise for last year's studio album HandOver, this one is a real treat for any SP fan who craves the psychotic energy of the band's live show, and I've got my fingers crossed that a DVD companion piece is in the works for 2013.
Since it's too damn painful having to whittle down a year's worth of excellent music to just ten entries, and I don't want to use up what's left of the internet, I'm compelled by the dark forces of evil music to list my ten runners-up, all of which are well worth checking out (and you can follow the title links to my review of each):