It is perhaps fitting that, despite the warm sunshine of this week, that I’m covering a darker subject on World Goth Day, and thus, this playlist is one for the darkness than the daytime. But then, nightmares aren’t meant to be an enjoyable affair.
Tuesday Ten: 331: The Nightmare I Am
Last week, of course, I was looking at songs about dreams, and this is the unpleasant flipside. One where reality is questioned, nights can last forever, and even going to sleep is a frightening affair. And yes, with it being World Goth Day, of course there are a few goth bands in here.
Also, a few good friends made it into Metro yesterday, talking about today’s events and what it signifies. Read it here.
As usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
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…and I bet many of you, with my well-known distaste for much of Metallica’s output, were not expecting this to feature this week. But it is here for a number of reasons. First off, because it is probably one of the best metal songs about nightmares and fear of the dark (more of which in a bit), and also it was the point where Metallica went from being the next Big Thing in metal to being the Big Thing. Oh, and the imagery it invokes, not to mention the iconic, trippy video – full of confusing cuts, flashes of light in the dark, disturbing visuals – and even use of a centuries-old children’s bedtime prayer (I’m going to come back to the use of folk songs and poems in a future post, by the way), hammers home the point of the song brilliantly. Oh, and those riffs. Even Lars Ulrich’s drumming sounds great.
Fear of the Dark
Fear of the Dark
The last Iron Maiden album before Bruce Dickenson left the band the first time around – and I’d argue the band were rather past their best by this point in 1992, maybe with the exception of this glorious song (That I was part of a massive, entire-crowd sing-a-long to at Damnation 2008, while we were awaiting the delayed-arrival of Carcass onstage). This song, amid the galloping rhythm, anthmic chorus and solo after solo, simply does what it says on the tin – this is the pre-sleep nightmare of the fear of the dark, of what might await you if you close your eyes and sleep. Or, perhaps, as the lyrics suggest, it is the product of an overactive imagination and too many horror films…
Your Best Nightmare
Selected Scenes From the End of the World
After it’s ubiquity for years in goth clubs, it is perhaps a relief to remember that LAM had more than just one song – but perhaps only one subject for songs, that of sex and death. That theme is stretched to its fullest on this earlier single, from the band’s 1992 debut album, one that appears to have been re-issued at least four times. The slightly thin synth strings coil around the lumbering beat, and Sean Brennan’s vocals are entirely preoccupied on a sex nightmare that ends in death, although it appears that the nightmare part only applies to one of the protagonists, and it isn’t him…
No More Nightmares
Rag Doll Blues
Time to return to the lead song from the first of two DWIFH albums that have been Album of the Year on amodelofcontrol.com – the epic darkness of No More Nightmares. As Michael Holloway himself noted with I Die: You Die six years ago, this song has a distinct Coil influence (as much as Skinny Puppy, perhaps), but is also preoccupied with the stories and terrors that keep children awake – and maybe keep adults awake when their memories bring those terrors back into focus. Here, it is those memories that are the root of the terror and nightmare, and perhaps the scariest thing of all here are the freakish vocal samples that come from public domain material of the past. How did TV and radio not scare the bejesus out of kids in the first place?
Almost thirty-eight years to the day (18-May 1980), Ian Curtis took his own life, both prematurely ending and sealing the legend of the darkest of the post-punk bands, and it is hard to escape the thought that much of the output of his band were about the living nightmare of dealing with both epilepsy and depression. You can argue all about which song plumbs the darkest depths, but I’d like to make a case for Dead Souls, where Curtis apparently is haunted by the dead in his nightmares, ones that he can’t or won’t escape from – and the music is suffocatingly powerful around his howls of anguish. Even more extraordinary – after I saw it for the first time at True Faith last summer, where the whole videotaped show was shown apparently for the only time since it was recorded – is this punishing version of it at the Apollo in Manchester supporting Buzzcocks in October 1979, where it opened the set (!).
It is also, of course, one of a long line of post-punk and goth songs whose title comes from a literary classic.
Lament For Lost Dreams
Back when Mind.In.A.Box were still a mysterious, studio-bound project – before their stellar live shows changed everything, frankly – and we were still making sense of the world that the band were creating around their songs, the second album Dreamweb had a perhaps warmer sound than the cold isolation of debut Lost Alone. As the title suggests, dreams form a key part of the story, in fragments of memories and sadness in particular. But this song in particular is about the terror of the character’s dreams, one in which he is forgotten and maybe even didn’t exist, leading to questions of self. That, and this song has a glorious, sunburst of a chorus that explodes out of the ultra-treated vocals and subtle synths of the verses. I see a lot of this band in my immediate listening future – it’s been a while.
The Dark Is Rising
All Is Dream
After their remarkable career resurrection and rebirth on the exceptional Deserter’s Songs – which turns twenty later this year – it seemed that the dreamy elegance of the follow-up might make them stars. It didn’t quite work out like that, but as I found at gigs on their return with The Light In You a couple of years back, they have retained an amazingly dedicated fanbase. Songs like this help to remind exactly why. A swooning five minutes of orchestral-space-rock glory, the maybe hopeful sounding music rather tempered by the fear dreams of Jonathan Donahue, where he fears that the darkness in his dreams – ok, maybe nightmares – is starting to seep into his life, and taking him to places he doesn’t want to go. Nowadays – and for some years – this has been the band’s climatic closer for their live shows, and the stirring, rousing sound seems apt to send us out into the night, doubting our own dreams.
The God Machine were, for their short time active, another extraordinary, intense band who still have a number of us who passionately adore their work over two decades on. Most rhapsodise about Scenes from the Second Storey, but their second and final album One Last Laugh in a Place of Dying is still quite something, even if tinged with (even more) sadness as bassist Jimmy Fernandez died before release, ending the band. So it is perhaps surprising returning to this song to remember that it is a brighter, less dense sounding song that their better known tracks, but Robin Proper-Sheppard’s vocals drag it back into the shadows, with a typically blackened vocal that suggests he will only arrive in someone’s bad dreams, as if they do nothing but haunt them and drag them down with them. If, by the way, you know little about The God Machine – and if you don’t you should rectify that – this article in The Quietus from earlier in the year is an essential read.
The Air Conditioned Nightmare
I wondered when I first saw this song suggested whether it was referring to the Henry Miller memoir of the same name, but a quick peruse of the lyrics suggested otherwise. That said, Mike Patton’s work has never been straightforward, and perhaps none of his projects are quite as weird as Mr Bungle could get. The bizarrely upbeat, stop-start sounds of this song even surprised me, though, as he seems to tell a tale comparing the last days of someone in a Nursing Home to Hell itself, the nightmare here being something akin to real life.
A man who knows a thing or two about real-life nightmares – at least in song – is Tom Waits, the balladeer who has soundtracked the lovelorn, the lost, the drunk for as long as, and beyond, the time I’ve been on this earth. Indeed this song is so gloriously, beauteously bleak that it became the title for an equally desperate film a few years back. The song itself, that closes the album, is little more than a plucked guitar and Waits’ wracked voice, as the character he inhabits here remains trapped in a past like a nightmare, memories invoked by flowers sent from afar, as he continues to run from whatever, unspecified event happens. In amongst the mental scars of Waits’ wonderful tales, this is perhaps the darkest, and saddest, of all.