Gazing Too Long Into The Abyss: A Soundtrack to Nightmares
“What the hell are you listening to?!” is the most common reaction. “That’s creepy, man” is another. I’ve also heard “Sounds like a horror movie where someone is about to get killed.” Understandable. What is it about specific soundscapes that evoke such a visceral reaction? Unfamiliarity? Years of pop culture conditioning about serial killers and post-apocalyptic wastelands? Or, a general curiosity about hearing something that seems like it wasn’t meant to be heard? Why not all of ’em?
Heavy metal and disturbing sounds are inherently linked. The thunderstorm at the beginning of Black Sabbath. The icy, echoed churning that introduces In The Nightside Eclipse. The reverberating scrapes, whispers and far-away rumbles that occupy the backgrounds of countless song breaks and bridges, preparing the listener for a searing guitar solo or the final closing crescendo. With that in mind, here are three artists who embody and fully exploit the haunting side of sound.
Many of you may already be familiar with the murky sound experimentation and sinister atmospheres Lustmord (aka Brian Williams) has been crafting since the early 80s, or more recently you may have seen his name attached to Guillermo del Toro’s series The Strain. Employing deep infrasound frequencies and utilizing field recordings from crypts, sewers, morgues and other naturally unpleasant places, Lustmord’s offerings feel less like they were created by a man with an ear for audible shadow and more like he simply happened to be in the right awful place at the right terrifying time, witnessing a gathering of indescribable forces, coaxing layer upon layer of cold, colorless sound to bleed straight from the rock walls of a forgotten subterranean god’s tomb. Thorough listening is rewarded as Lustmord tracks can shift in tone and intensity from beginning to end, occasionally featuring a few brief moments of somber melody, which doesn’t last long before you’re once again faced with the unending black void indifferent to your mortal plight.
If Lustmord mines his inspiration from the tectonic depths, then HOST (ex-The Amenta) seems capable of wrangling his straight out of an unknown electromagnetic spectrum. Clad in the sketchy static and squelching radio frequencies of an abandoned communications outpost, tracks like Active Resistance paint a picture of a world bleached of life, where our omnipresent digital signal-spewing devices big and small wind down over the course of decades, autonomously playing themselves off the planet to no one in particular, the spaces between their ones and zeroes growing longer by the day. HOST tracks are at once deeply rich and disturbingly lo-fi; certain sounds and drones cut through crystal clear, while others sound like they’re survivors of an over-zealous digital compression designed to eliminate them before they reach human ears.
Taking a slightly different approach, Big China & Little Trouble (no, that’s not a typo) stitch together washes of echoed white noise, musical fragments, analog blips & chirps, effect loops, buzzing feedback and sounds that have been digitally stretched waaay past the point of coherence to create a brutal, musique concrete David Lo Pan: seemingly benign at first (the “little ol’ basket case on wheels” phase), but much more sinister when given time to reach its full potential (the “ten foot tall roadblock” phase). Equal parts Metal Machine Music and experimental film score, a staggering amount of depth and detail is woven into the densely-packed compositions, some of which is outright frightening, some subtle, and some which may not reveal itself even after repeat listens. Don’t let the the track titles taken from the John Carpenter film fool you, these are sounds for a bleak environment.
Got any other suggestions? Share & discuss in the comments. We didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway. Really.