2010 was one wacky up-and-down year in the horror domain… and definitely a head-scratcher in the world of music. Sadly, music's darker side weathered some losses this year, including metal legend Ronnie James Dio, Type O Negative's Peter Steele, Paul Gray from Slipknot and Peter Christopherson of Coil. But while we miss them and the sinister sounds they could have made, we're actually here to point out some of the good times in the wild and weird world of music during the past twelve moons. Whether it's horror cinema soundscapes, splattery music videos, epic metal masterpieces or gothic power-pop grooves, the year had a little something for all of us late-night listeners. Sure, not everyone's going to agree with these picks, so haters might as well get yer hate on. But for you more civilized types, we've rounded up some sights and sounds from each of these entries in case you missed the first go-round... or if you loved them so much the first time you want to roll 'em again. Come on in and give 2010 one more spin!
Grooviest Horror Movie Score – Resident Evil: Afterlife
We've always been impressed by the range and flexibility of the musical duo Tomandandy (aka Thomas Hadju and Andy Milburn), who have been cranking out really unique material since the early ‘90s. They seem just as comfortable working with a large orchestra, as they did for Alexandre Aja’s sweet 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, as they do with nothing but samples, loops and heavy guitars – which is what they bring to the game for the latest installment in the “Milla-Jovovich-shoots-the-shit-outa-everything” franchise. Kinda ironic, really, given this is the biggest-sounding of all the scores in the series. For our money (not that we have any), it’s also the scariest and balls-out rockingest – even more so than the much-hyped first installment overseen by Marilyn Manson or the previous work by industrial heavyweight Charlie Clouser. There are some great spooky mood pieces mixed in as well, but it’s the heaviness that brings it home, making this the most aggressive RE movie score to date.
Honorable Mention: Best Use of Music in a Horror Film – Parasomnia
Horror fans tend to be divided over William Malone's work... the split really came with Fear Dot Com and a lot of 'em never looked back. But when he made Fair Haired Child for the first season of Masters of Horror, we discovered how subtly and expertly he incorporated classical music into his storytelling. In Parasomnia, Malone's most personal project, music moves even closer to the center of the plot, becoming the focal point of the main character's life: the guy collects obscure '60s garage band singles – including those of Malone's own group, The Plagues. Seriously, how cool is that? When slacker Danny (Dylan Purcell) falls for the angelic Laura (Cherilyn Wilson), who is trapped in a near-perpetual state of sleep, he plays her an emotionally stirring classical piece from Ralph Vaughan Williams, which triggers a life-changing revelation. Toward the film's climax, it's a much more ominous piece of music, “Dance of the Nights” from Romeo and Juliet, that the film's villain – serial-killing hypnotist Byron Volpe (Patrick Kilpatrick) – uses to serenade our star-crossed lovers, with the aid of two kidnapped cellists and a warehouse full of seriously creepy clockwork oddities.
Best Concert Film – Nine Inch Nails: Another Version of the Truth
For me, the reason I hated to see Trent Reznor mothball his band after more than twenty years was because of what NIN represented to me: that band has been such a huge part of my life, and Trent’s songwriting and production style influenced my own creativity in so many ways. Well, it turns out Trent’s innovations in producing, promoting and distributing media have infected legions of other creative people as well – folks with WAY more tech skills than yours truly. For example, the fans who took countless hours of HD footage uploaded to the band’s website in 2009, combined it with even more hours of fan-shot footage, cut together this massive film, and returned it to the world like an animal to the wild – either as a totally free download, or a very affordable DVD or Blu-ray release packed with heaps of extra features. It’s still out there, so be sure to check it out. If you’re into this band, you owe it to yourself, as this represents the total NIN experience. And yes, that guy banging his head all through “Survivalism” still totally owns.
Scariest Music Video – How To Destroy Angels: “The Space In Between”
Speaking of which… after closing up the NIN shop for a while, Reznor didn’t exactly spend his down-time hanging around drinking milkshakes. Well, maybe he did have one or two, I can’t back that up. But my point is, he soon went to work on another project, this time with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross (his co-composer on the excellent score to David Fincher's The Social Network). Named after an early song by Coil (whose co-founder Peter Christopherson, one of Reznor's influences, died last month), the gritty electronic group How To Destroy Angels released a self-titled EP with plans for a full album early next year (though that was delayed after news of Mariqueen's pregnancy), and the best of those six tracks would become the group's debut video. Not much I can say to set up this clip, except... I see dead people. Then they sing. Then they burst into flames. While singing. Damn.
Honorable Mention: Sickest Music Video – Dawn Of Ashes: “Transformation Within Fictional Mutation”
While not get-under-your-skin creepy, this clip deserves credit for just pulling a Carrie and dumping a huge bucket of pig’s blood over your head. Even before undergoing their own transformation from terror EBM to extreme metal, Dawn Of Ashes have always had a dangerous edge to their performance, and this video shows you what they’re capable of with a little budget to back them up – not to mention the makeup FX skills of someone like Robert Kurtzman handling the blood, slime, raw meat, tentacles and Lovecraftian set design. Like I said, totally not subtle... but definitely not boring either. There's so much going on in this video you'll need to cycle through a few times just to sort it all out, but in the end it's really just a celebration of chaos and mayhem – which this band is very good at bringing across. Their album Genocide Chapters is one of the better extreme releases this year, and well worth checking out for fans of horror-themed metal, especially if you're thinking big, production-wise.
Best Pop Album – The Birthday Massacre: Pins and Needles
This Canadian power-pop crew never thought small – it seemed they had a grand plan from the very beginning to create a dark fantasy world for creepy kids to play in, and it just kept expanding with every new project. By the time they were picked up by Metropolis Records, they were already standing tall as goth icons, and now they’re headlining tours and working with the industry’s finest. They deserve it too – their latest studio release is also their heaviest, with fewer frills and more intense chills. The sparkly ‘80s synths are still there, paired with even more aggressive guitar riffs – which sound more punkish and gritty this time around – and vocalist Chibi proves herself equally skilled in the high and low ranges, serving just the right combination of vampish menace and childlike innocence. To demonstrate, here's “In the Dark,” the Nightmare on Elm Street-inspired video for the first Pins and Needles single, co-directed by their guitarist Michael Falcore and Rue Morgue’s Rodrigo Gudiño.
Best Metal Album – Dimmu Borgir: Abrahadabra
For a band that many fans predicted wouldn’t survive the departure of two key members last winter, Norwegian symphonic metallers Dimmu Borgir not only rose from the ashes of that conflagration, but stepped up their game in a major way. Already a polarizing element among the metal community for their departure from old-school black metal conventions, Dimmu stirred up even more controversy when they decided to continue on as a trio, rounding out their sessions with a roster of guest performers and hiring a massive orchestra and choir to accompany every cut on their latest creation Abrahadabra. The result is a diverse collection of wild, baffling, and sometimes breathtaking tracks. It feels like a stylistic continuation of what they began in 2007 with In Sorte Diaboli, but on a much bigger scale. That sound emerges from the icy depths in this video for “Gateways,” featuring guest vocalist Agnete Kjølsrud... who sorta flies off into harpy-land, but it's still a really sweet track overall. Seriously, in the metal realm, they just don't make 'em any epic-er. And yes, I just made that word up, ‘cuz I’m a huge dork. Happy Holidays!
Check back tomorrow for our 10 Best Surprises of 2010.