Hate Your Art: An Interview With Philip LoPresti

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of interviewing the poet, artist, and prose author Philip LoPresti. LoPresti’s work more or less introduced me to the weird and seriously dark world of Dunhams Manor, a press I still rely on for my regular dose of disturbing and experimental art. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting author to kick off the ongoing series of Silent Motorist Media interviews. Without further ado, buy LoPresti’s new self-published book, A Creeping Plague Will Take My Place, check out his art website, and enjoy the ride.


I avoid creating at all costs.

-Philip LoPresti

Me: Obviously, you just self-published A Creeping Plague Will Take My Place, which is your older poetry books plus some new material. Is there anything specific you want to tell your readers about this release?

Philip LoPresti: Originally, I had no plans to do something like A Creeping Plague, but I kept getting asked about my chapbooks after they were out of print, both by people who never got a chance to buy copies and by the people who did, but just wanted to see my work back in print. There was a bit of resistance from me at first because I sort of view those books as not all that good. But once it became a regular thing for people to keep contacting me, I decided that, regardless of my feelings, there are people who are still interested. The photography and new poems that were released with it was a way to give the people who bought the originals a bit more incentive to buy again if they felt inclined to do so.

Me: I remember on my end of the spectrum as a relatively new Dynatox fan how much of a stir your decision to pull those books caused. A lot of people were worried you were quitting the poetry scene for good. Was that ever your intention, or did you know you would return to it?

LoPresti: I think it is always my intention to quit creating, period, but that never works out. When I finish something, be it a poem, story, photograph or painting, I always claim it is my last. Creating really takes it out of me, mainly because I just don’t think I’m that good, and it causes depression from constantly second-guessing everything I do. I seem to be one of the few who doesn’t actually like to [create]. I think it is more of a need to do it than wanting to. I avoid creating at all costs. It is one of the reasons it takes me so long to finish anything.

Me: That’s amazing to me, although I do understand feeling inadequate artistically. You, however, seem to have always found a devoted audience with your work. Is that an outside looking in thing, or does a willing audience simply fail to mitigate the discomforts of creating new stuff?

LoPresti: Whenever someone has nice things to say to me about my work, I really do appreciate it, but it does very little for my self-esteem. For most people, it would boost their confidence, but it does nothing for my ego. I wish it did. No matter how many compliments I get, it can never overpower the self-hatred I have for myself and what I create. I have severe issues with that. The “nothing good can come from me” mentality. It sounds so lame and cliché but it is a thing I deal with every day. Did I even answer your question? Ha ha.

Me: You absolutely did, I think. I partially understand. When people tell me my work is good, I have a hard time believing them. I couldn’t say it torments me though. In your poetry, particularly, I think I get a sense of this deep-rooted vehemence. That’s exactly the element, however, that sets your work apart from other dark poets. I’ve read tons of poets who use violent imagery and shit, but very few of them actually achieve a truly visceral, I’ll say “atmosphere” for lack of better word. This is probably a cliché question, but do you feel like your antagonistic relationship with creation actually makes your work more “real?” I know it’s hard to answer questions like that, but do you feel like some of the animosity is what actually drives your work?

LoPresti: Thank you for the kind words. The fact that you used the word “atmosphere” gives me a bit of a smile, because if there is one thing I actually try to do with my poetry and even my prose, it is to create an atmosphere regardless of whether what it contains makes complete sense to the reader. But, to answer your question, I absolutely think that it is a factor in what drives me to create. a love hate relationship. After all, you can only hate what you love.

Me: The “only love what you hate” was going to be my next point word for word, ha ha. Your focus on “atmospheres” brings me to another question I wanted to ask. Ginsberg wrote in his diaries (I forget of what year) that he didn’t worry about poetry’s formal elements but just wanted to squeeze words into images. Are these “atmospheres” images or more like headspace or emotional states? In other words, how deliberate is your process? Do you start out with a specific image, or just try to fully embody an emotional state?

LoPresti: I think it varies from poem to poem. My second book, I Am Suicide, was very much about an emotional state. A lot of the poems in that book were written in one sitting. Not the entire book, but rather each poem was written in one sitting, and this is still the only time I’ve done that and it is why it has a more raw, rapid-fire delivery. [Because of that, it’s also] the only one of my poetry books where most of the poems are pretty easy to understand what I’m trying to say. In the other books there is more an emphasis on atmosphere and images, and [they] are a bit harder to crack in terms of their meaning.

Me: I Am Suicide is the one I happened to revisit for this interview. These poems definitely have a vicious, incendiary aspect to them, but also manage to feel unrushed in composition. I am actually surprised you wrote these in one sitting. This brings me to another question that might seem a bit off topic, but I’m looking at your oeuvre on Amazon right now and I have to ask: How does it feel to have a book on Amazon selling for 1,710 bucks? Multiple books, actually, above the thousand-dollar range? Ha ha ha.

LoPresti: Ha ha. Are the prices that high now? I think it is ridiculous for someone to honestly think they are going to get that much for those books. I mean, a first edition of a Mark Twain novel wouldn’t sell for that much. Or maybe it would. I wanna know who makes these prices up. I’m inclined to think it is a moron who has never read them, because if they did they’d be throwing them in the trash instead. Sometimes people think because something was limited and now out of print they can get crazy amounts of money for it. But that only works if you’re a well-known writer. Not some shmuck who writes about hating himself and eating his own semen. The prices were another reason I released the collection.

Me: Hopefully the rerelease will squash the price gougers, ha ha. Let’s switch over to your art for a minute. You work in a variety of media. Do you have a preference? You seem to have been pretty consistent in putting out photography, even when you aren’t writing. Is it your favorite?

LoPresti: I don’t know if I favor it more than any other creative medium, but the one thing I love about it more than the others is there is more room for experimenting without the feeling that you’ve wasted time and got nothing done. With writing, for example, you can spend hours trying to write, changing passages, rewriting dialogue, thinking of what comes next and at the end have no workable material. With photography, you can spend hours setting something up, or messing with aperture and shutter speed and still get at least one good shot. Plus, the act of taking photographs is a lot more fun to me. I don’t put pressure on myself as much.

Me: That is definitely a good point. God knows how many hours I have wasted over a canvas only to shove it in some corner of the garage never to see the light of day again. My paintings suck. I’ve always been struck by the settings in your photography. They largely seem unified, at least where you aren’t using models, by a rural landscape. Do you just go on walks out in the country and snap what catches your eye, or do you have a specific scene you set out to capture?

LoPresti: For the rural shots and the grainy blurry shots I do. I usually just go out on walks, often with my iPod, and just fire off shots when something catches my eye. Sometimes I get them from the passenger seat of the car if my girlfriend and I are driving. In the photos I use models for there is often an idea ahead of time. Especially the ones used in the new poetry collection.

Me: The dark, occult, horror theme seems to pervade your photography; your painting, however, is more boldly abstract and vivid. Is there a reason for this disparity of atmosphere? Is painting something that just “feels” different, or do you have a separate set of creative goals you address in your mixed media?

LoPresti: I think it comes down to influence. I think my photography is more influenced by the images in horror films and the atmosphere in horror films, where my paintings are more influenced by other abstract art. But with painting, I don’t really think about it much. I kind of just dive into it. I’ve tried to figure it out myself because I’ve noticed the vast difference.

Me: What are some of your influences? You mentioned horror movies, which ought to come as no surprise to your readers and your Facebook followers. You’ve often been the first person I tag when looking for new horror movies. Your recommendations are always spot on. But what about painters, poets, and prose authors?

LoPresti: Ha. So, so many. I always try to participate in those top 10 lists people do on Facebook, but I can never do it. Too many great artists out there working in all mediums, but off the top of my head: painters: Jean Michel Basquiat, CY Twombly, Jason Craighead, Gunter Ludwig, to name a few. Poets: Jim Carroll, Georges Bataille, Arthur Rimbaud, Anne Sexton, and Prose authors: Tom Piccirilli, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Lee and Joe Lansdale, William Burroughs. I wanna go on and on.

Me: That’s a solid list, there! I love Bataille. He’s a huge influence in my critical essays. They’re actually releasing the letters of the Secret Society of Acephale this month! I’m so excited. Flannery O’Connor is a pleasant surprise! Of all these, McCarthy is probably the one I see the most. Blood Meridian was fucking life changing for me. I can definitely see the aesthetic there. Okay, here is the LoPresti-specific question: what horror movies should we be watching?

LoPresti: Oh, Jesus. That’s a tough one because I wanna list them all. New ones? Older ones?

Me: Let’s just stick with new ones. Ha ha.

LoPresti: Eyes of My Mother, Excision, We Are What We Are, The Strange Colors of Your Body’s Tears, Bone Tomahawk, Brimstone, Der Samurai, Cub, Horsehead, Trash Fire, Mother!

Me: We Are What We Are was awesome. I still haven’t seen Mother!. I’m like the only person on my Facebook page who hasn’t. Ha ha.

LoPresti: Ha ha. So good. The imagery was heaven to me.

Me: I don’t know why I haven’t fucking seen it. I know I’ll like it. I’ve been an Aronofsky fan since Pi. Ha ha. Are there any new projects on the horizon? What’s in the future for LoPresti fans?

LoPresti: I recently finished a short novella called A God of Flies Among Them. I sent it to Jordan Krall as a possible submission for Dunhams Manor, so we’ll see what happens with that as Jordan has a lot going on right now. I’m also putting together another photography book. I don’t know exactly when that will be finished but it is started, and I also started another novella that will most likely be a straight forward horror story.

© 2018 by Silent Motorist Media

Sacred Gardens: A Meditation on Possession in Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist


Possession is a strange concept. Like many of the categorizations we use to piece together what roughly might be called our social existence, possession is marked more by its ambiguities than its certainties. What do we possess? We possess our possessions. But what are those? Merely material things that cost money, that stand at one end of a transaction like the period at the end of a sentence? A mere placeholder for exchange, a trophy for participation in capitalist society, a pause after a civic duty duly discharged?

Perhaps it entails something closer to an aura, a relation within a context of other objects, accumulated for aesthetic or practical use. “It was his coffee and his cup. They shared the newspaper but it was actually, unspokenly, hers” (4). The coffee is his only in contrast to the newspaper (which is hers). Is this possession, then, this magical game of comparison, animating the space between the mute objects of our houses with a thin web of relations? An imperceptible fabric strung between the piano in the corner, the hand-painted cerulean lamp table, the sofa patched with soft, gently outlined squares, the white, porcelain coffee cup on the glass surface of the card table, near the edge furthest away from the stack of unopened bills?

Mine. Hers. Theirs. Our domestic lives are the domain of possessive pronouns. Once, humans believed in the invisible world of demons. They lived in the woods, under the wine-dark seas, filled the inexplicable corners of our lives with the noise of their incalculable powers. We relied on them to account for the unaccountable. They were sentries at the foot of a gate that never closed, guarding entities more mysterious than themselves, preventing the escape of shadows that only began to exist after they had already escaped and hidden behind objects exposed to the sun.

These demons are now in our possessions. They crept into the warmth of our homes after being relinquished of their duties. It is only the things closest to us that we cannot comprehend.

Our difficulties have merely begun. What can we say about those objects of possession which do not throw themselves open to the pure will of the owner? What if they resist domination with a possession of their own, wielding it like a talisman from the spirit world against spirits? A magnetic field repulsing only its own kind, an ancient taboo against the incestual commingling of ownerships?

“The phone was his. The birds were hers, the sparrow pecking at the sunflower seeds. The hair was somebody else’s” (17). Somebody else’s? What is somebody else’s? The bird is hers, but isn’t the bird somebody else’s as well? Is the bird not the bird’s, no less somebody else’s to her than the stray hair she found in her mouth? The hair is Mr. Tuttle’s hair, to be exact, the man who is hiding in her house without her knowledge. Do we own the existence of other existences? Does Lauren Hartke own her birds any more than she owns her husband’s coffee cup or her rent-house in which Mr. Tuttle lives without her knowledge leaving traces of hair, his hair, which find their way, somehow, into Lauren’s mouth the morning before her husband takes his own life?

Don DeLillo’s 2001 novella, The Body Artist, is often described as a depiction of grief. This is true—the novella centers around Lauren Hartke’s peculiar strand of mourning following her husband’s suicide. The Body Artist, however, is also a meditation on possession.

Do possession and grief, another amorphous concept, intersect? Grief is the loss of a possession. When an object enclosed by the web is torn from its place, the pain is indescribable. What is that thin web, then, pressed against the contours of our beloved possessions, if not an immaterial extension of our own nervous system? An object torn from our web leaves a ragged gash in which disconnected tendrils lilt gently in the domesticated breeze of the ceiling fan. Even severed, they dutifully carry their electric impulses to us, their significations of phantom pain.

Lauren responds to the pain of dispossession with an omnivorous consumption of possessions. She possesses Mr. Tuttle, the strange man living inexplicably in her house, who possesses, in turn, her husband’s voice, having overheard his conversations throughout his unannounced visitation. The Body Artist climaxes in an unsettling description of Lauren’s performance as a body artist. She reenacts her relationship with Mr. Tuttle, which is also her relationship to her husband, in a final act of literal possession—she has embodied her possessions, has absorbed them into her organism.


This is our dream, isn’t it? Is this not how we win the possession game? This is how our possessions, exiled demons from the corners of an inarticulate darkness long illuminated by the sunlight of rationality, have re-learned their ancient magic. Our children’s trophies, our collection of DVD’s organized alphabetically along the windowsill in the living room, our framed photographs, collecting dust with the decorative books bound with imitation leather—we arrange them in a circle, inscribing a protected garden in which we anxiously pretend to sleep while the mystery of loss dances just outside of the lamplit halo.

Our bodies inhabit the sacred garden of possessions like a Cartesian ego while our objects are subjugated to the degrading role of the body. We expect them to absorb the brutal shock of living. What we have forgotten, however, is their dark magic. They, like us, were poisoned with loss before birth. Like a child fleeing in terror from an imagined evil into a bear’s cave, we respond to pain by expanding its playground.

Justin A. Burnett

Originally appeared on Lost in the Funhouse, 2017

Daulton Dickey’s Flesh Made World: A Review and Analysis

There’s something deeply unsettling about a weird fiction writer (for lack of an appropriately defined label) who takes his or her own work seriously. Daulton Dickey is one of these writers. Seriousness is certainly not the “norm” around here, and it’s not a bad thing. All the nasty jokes and satirical hilarity is what the lenses of our inverse eclipse glasses are made of, after all. We’d go blind from staring into the black incisions our writing teases into existence otherwise. These incisions are gaps of the unknown, and it’s my conviction that weird fiction’s job is to create them. Allow me to elaborate on this claim, since it is far too vital in my analysis of Dickey’s work to merely mention in passing.

Weird fiction is a post-enlightenment program of reconstruction. The reason that money and rationality can never become gods, despite frequent warnings to the contrary proffered by well-meaning critics of capitalism, is because both elements are essentially quantitative. Only the unknown (and therefore unquantifiable) can become holy, as Adorno points out in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, and the holy, as we no longer require philosophers to point out, is dead.

Weird fiction doesn’t seek to restore the irrationality of God. It does, however, sanctify protected gardens against the rationalist dominion. The post-enlightenment graveyard of quantities is where weird fiction mines the dark matter used to manufacture miniature household inversions of Christ. Weird fiction transcends atheism in favor of a limited polytheism, seeking to restore the paradox of confined infinity best exemplified by the tribal and household gods of antiquity. The dusty remnants blanketing enlightenment’s battlefield contain trace elements of the old magic stolen from nature. This dust is the alchemical writer’s lapis philosophorum: the word radically liberated from denotation by the excesses of rationality.

It is no wonder, then, that the weird fiction frequently lapses into laughter marked by the fear and celebration inherent in holy ecstasy. What experimental writer, having written something visceral, tortured, and genuinely new (a genuine event, in other words, even if only for the writer) hasn’t said to herself, “enough is enough. It’s time for a joke.” This is a deeply human response to the magic of the unknown. To stare into the gap without flinching is something else entirely. And while Daulton Dickey’s 2017 novel Flesh Made World has its subdued moments of humor, its gaze is steady and fearless.

It’s a meditation on grief, an exploration of time, a surrealist depiction of depression, a fictional discourse on consciousness, an enthusiastic affirmation of the unconscious, a suicide letter. Flesh Made World is all of these, but most importantly, it is a fearless probing of the universe dividing all sentient beings, the external mirror image of all gaps we consistently rediscover in language. Dickey handles exactly this intersection between language and perception explicitly, adding a philosophical depth uncommon in contemporary fiction to Flesh Made World’s long list of literary merits.

Sarah and Daulton (yes, there is a metafictional element, which avoids coming across as gimmicky due to its plaintive sincerity), anchored by intensive moments of pain, grope their way through a dark, incomprehensible world in search of an authentic moment of connection. Connections are important in Flesh Made World, since these are what have been irrecoverably lost to the past and revisited with fetishizing intensity. In this way, Flesh Made World is also a touching description of loneliness. As Dickey writes, “Loneliness doesn’t by necessity entail the absence of other people. Sometimes loneliness is derived from missed or failed connections; sometimes loneliness is the product of less-than-ideal means of communicating or interacting with others” (Location 1825).

It is exactly these moments of missed connections that signal the holy gaps in Dickey’s novel. These are the rips in the fabric of Daulton and Sarah’s fluid residence in time, more real and vivid to them than the fading world of phenomenon (if, as Dickey constantly asks us, such a distinction is even tenable). Who, out of those of us who have sensed the vivid being of a vacancy left by death, would fail to grasp the import of Dickey’s “missed or failed” connections? Who, having read the book, would dare say that such vacancies aren’t aptly rendered in Flesh Made World? But they are not merely “rendered.” Dickey doesn’t stop at mimesis but transgresses into the world of ecstatic worship.

This transgression is both Dickey’s strength and the truly experimental aspect of Flesh Made World. While the novel bustles with surrealistic imagery in an admirable homage to his artistic influences, Dickey avoids the failures of other surrealist novels, which is the inability to communicate. The recurring spoon scene shared by grieving Sarah and her departed father is a particularly poignant incident of Dickey’s liberating transgression and bears quoting at length:

Sarah’s sitting in the kitchen now, examining the spoon. In the display case. Her father, sitting on the other side of the table, eyeballs her, then the spoon, as he tears into a New York strip […].
—There was lint.
—Right there. On the corner.
—I’m thinking about building a sturdier case. Maybe putting some glass on it.
—That seems excessive.
—It’s a valuable piece.
—It’s a spoon.
—With Paul Revere’s maker’s mark.
—Are you shitting me?
—It’s worth tens of thousands, he says. —Easily.
—Look it up.
Patina darkens it, gives it an almost marbled-copper coat. It’s old, but otherwise undistinguished. Just a spoon. Nothing fancy or ornate. It seems mass produced, recent, like a piece from one of those “heirloom” sets sold door-to-door in the fifties.
—The mark’s on the back, her father says. —I’m thinking about mounting it so you can see it, maybe include a picture or a brief history, or … (location 72 to 81)

Immediately following this quote, Sarah’s father dissolves back into the surreal world of transformation. The mystery of the spoon is lost until much later in the novel, and even then is never fully consummated. “So, what is in this passage,” you ask, “nothing?” Indeed—exactly nothing, and so much more: a brilliant move! Dickey conscripts the reader’s desire and uses it to force her to face the permanent loss of a moment, without freedom from its reenactment. The reader is trapped in a lost connection.

Mundane moments in Flesh Made World are ecstatic because they mark the gravitational center around which the narrative unfolds. Dickey treats each lost connection with care, fetishizing them into talismans against the primordial violence of the unknown. But like any talisman, they are immune to rationale themselves. They are magic insofar as they are elements of the unknown. They cannot be assimilated into a logical worldview; they carry the darkness inside. When surrealism fails to communicate, it is a failure of fetishization. Dickey’s masterful interplay between surrealist dissolution and mundane, failed connections brilliantly circumvents this failure. It’s no wonder that Dickey chose to write a surrealist novel despite his acknowledgement that surrealism’s “potential is weakest in the written word.” He discovered, after all, an effective method for its salvation.

Of course, readers are free to enjoy Flesh Made World simply as a psychedelic romp if they choose. There’s plenty of exciting imagery in these pages to keep things interesting. Nevertheless, such a reader is certainly missing out. It will come to no surprise that Dickey wrote this during his father’s unexpected death. Only a true experience with grief could inspire such an unlaughing gaze at loss. His descriptions of depression are worthy of David Foster Wallace, and while Wallace embraces humor, he would certainly applaud Dickey’s eschewal of irony. Dickey’s seriousness won’t be music to every palette. But this particular reader believes we could use more writers like Dickey; writers unafraid to examine the things we imagine are best left hidden. Best left hidden until, that is, we realize they have already faded into lost connections.

(Daulton Dickey)

Buy Flesh Made World on Amazon

Works Cited

Dickey, Daulton. Flesh Made World. Rooster Republic Press, 2018.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, Stanford University Press, 2002.

The Darkest Albums Ever Recorded, Part Two

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. I hope you enjoy! Stay tuned for a future part three. What albums do you think belong on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Current 93 Dogs Blood Rising (1984)

Let’s begin with another classic. Dogs Blood Rising, the second release by Current 93, consistently makes appearances on Darkest Albums lists across the strange and mysterious land of the Internet, and certainly not without justification. David Tibet, the eclectic, long-term talent behind Current 93, treats us to a barrage of satanic chants, screeches, groans, and hisses–in essence, this is the soundtrack to a nightmare straight from the stock imagery of a fairly mainstream but inarguably convincing conception of Hell. While Tibet doesn’t appear to dip as deep into the Social Darwinist aspect of Satanism as does his once-upon-a-time collaborator Boyd Rice (see the entry on Non’s God & Beast in my preceding Darkest Albums list), Dogs Blood Rising sounds every bit as evil. The comparison doesn’t die there, of course. Blood Rising is also just as noisy as Non’s God & Beast, and consequently, generates just as much of a listener-hostile environment. This is before Current 93 evolved into an ‘apocalyptic-folk’ band with a cult fan base as they are known today. Current 93 would never develop into anything remotely classifiable as ‘easy listening’ (thanks, in large part, to Tibet’s tone-deaf, yowling vocals, which are certainly an acquired taste and yet entirely absent on Dogs Blood; making this album, strangely, simultaneously one of Current 93’s most difficult and most approachable albums for new listeners–but only for listeners, it must be forewarned, with a radically open musical sensibility and a willingness to venture courageously forward). Yet in Current 93’s later scary-folk fame, the darker elements leaking from their source in Dogs Blood are exquisitely tempered by folk passages, rendering the tendency to noise somehow both more frightening and less overwhelming. Expect no such rescue from Dogs Blood. This is Current 93’s heart of darkness. It is suffocating, unbearable and deeply, awesomely wicked.

Toby Driver In the L.. L.. Library Loft (2005)

I admittedly have a personal vendetta connected with Toby Driver and his work with the black metal, jazz, electronica and otherwise unclassifiable band Kayo Dot. This is that band (everyone has one) that I can’t help but feel doesn’t get the recognition they deserve (a cliche, but a true one). I deliberately kept Driver away from the top of my first list. I didn’t want my fanboy adoration to cloud my judgment. After much deliberation, however, I have no doubt that Driver’s …Library Loft definitely deserves a place here. In fact, Driver will appear on this list twice. Get over it. It is well deserved.

…Library Loft ended up here due to a thoroughly considered thought experiment that went something like this: if I had to pick one song that represented the utmost extreme limit of dark music, which song would I pick? My response would undoubtedly be the fifteen minute, fourteen second long “Kandu vs. Corky (Horrorca)” from …Library Loft (Don’t ask me what the title of the song means. Trust me, I’ve tried to find out. The Kandu are a community of Hindu merchants. Corky is a 1972 movie about a race car mechanic. Even if these were Driver’s references–and they probably aren’t–I have no idea how to fit them together). In an interview with Ultimate Metal, Driver explains that the ellipsis in the title of the album are supposed to indicate fearful stuttering. So imagine yourself in an abandoned, dank library loft with something so terrifying an encounter with it renders you a stuttering, inarticulate lump of semi-insentient tissue. Now listen to “Kandu vs. Corky”“Kandu vs. Corky” and tell me this isn’t exactly how an experience like that would sound. Go ahead. Consider it a dare. I’ll wait.

If you listened to the song, then you know what I’m talking about. The entire album certainly consist of some of the darkest music recorded, but opening with “Kandu vs. Corky” is the masterstroke of Driver’s atmospheric creation. The track begins slowly, but electric tension immediately accumulates between the intermittent rattle of cymbals and the low, feedback guitar drone. Over the expanse of fifteen minutes (Which feels more like five, if you really immerse yourself into the experience. You know what I mean–good headphones, no books, no phone screen, no lights, just you and perhaps a candle and the unfolding inner hellscape), the song reaches a mind-shattering crescendo you wouldn’t have thought possible given “Kandu vs. Corky” fourteen minutes ago. For the remainder of …Library Loft, you are drained, exhausted, not so much physically or even mentally, but existentially. Driver tears open a wound with every intention of poisoning it with a morose, unsettling minimalism that leaves you in an uncertain daze. …Library Loft truly feels like it’s from another world, and not a pretty one.

Khanate Clean Hands Go Foul (2009)

Before we return to the incomprehensible universe of Toby Driver, let’s tackle another classic. As those of you who read the first part of this list may have gathered, I’m on a mission of sorts. Part of the motive behind this list is to correct the grave disservice done to deeply depressed people looking for soul crushing, nocturnal enuresis-inducing sonic torture by authors of ‘darkest albums’ lists who suggest Radiohead and Korn (nothing against Radiohead. I love them, but the darkest music ever? Not even close. And Korn is only disturbing to people 85 and older). Allow me to rectify this problem by suggesting a litmus test of sorts: if a ‘darkest albums’ list doesn’t include Clean Hands Go Foul, then it isn’t worth taking seriously. Not only is Clean Hands a bone-chilling eruption of black fire, but it was recorded by a supergroup of very well-known dark musicians. Consisting of James Plotkin, Alan Dubin (both of the grindcore band OLD, and before that, Regurgitation, not to be confused with Relapse Records’ Regurgitate), Tim Wyskida (of legendary Blind Idiot God fame) and Stephen O’Malley (of Sunn o))), who we’ll meet again later in a possible third installment of this list), there’s no good reason Khanate shouldn’t be in every dark music fanatic’s repertoire.

Although Khanate’s members originate from a diverse array of metal bands, Clean Hands isn’t simply another dose of what you might expect from extreme metal. Wikipedia Wikipedia recklessly classifies Khanate as “doom metal,” which tends to evoke bands like Black Sabbath and Candlemass. Khanate is nothing like them. In true, doomy fashion, Clean Hands is certainly slow. But unlike doom, Khanate’s masterpiece is so slow it seems to inhabit it’s own alternate system of temporality. It’s like doom on a heroin overdose. Identifying rhythms in the syrupy morass of feedback isn’t easy, and it’s an utter waste of time, since such an academic exercise would certainly detract from the experience rather than enhance it. Clean Hands is no less than a highly controlled and expertly executed work of art. Layers envelop layers of heavily distorted feedback, often reaching achingly beautiful moments of harmony before dissolving again into the primordial soup (Anyone who has worked with live amplifier feedback to create music will tell you how difficult it is to control). Alan Dubin’s shrieks punctuate the turmoil like the death agonies of inhuman creatures burning alive in a restless pit of lava. There is no energy here, no forward propulsion forcing the album onward to the finale. In Clean Hands Go Foul, there is only pain. Endless, unendurable pain. It isn’t easy to shake the sensation, after the album ends, that your hands have been irrevocably soiled.

Scott Walker Tilt (1995)

It would be a travesty not to mention Scott Walker while we’re on the subject of litmus tests for ‘darkest albums’ lists. Strong cases could be made for the appearance of any of Walker’s albums after 1995 on this list, including a collaboration in 2014 with above-mentioned Sunn o))). Tilt is almost an arbitrary choice as a representative of Walker’s unsettling later period. Almost.

Scott Walker is something of an anomaly in comparison to other musicians included on this list. While Sonic Youth (who’s album Confusion is Sex topped the first part of this list) and Current 93 began at their darkest, most experimental moments and worked their way into a more commercially viable sound (much more profoundly in the case of Sonic Youth than Current 93), Walker approached the evolution backwards. With Judy and John Maus, Noel Scott Engel (Scott Walker’s birth name, changed at Judy Maus’ suggestion to adopt ‘Walker’–John’s stage name–as a surname to justify the christening of the trio the ‘Walker Brothers’) enjoyed pop-stardom at a level unheard of for most artists on this list. In 1965 and 66, the Walker Brothers topped UK charts at number one for two singles (“Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” respectively). Not long after this burst of success, official membership of the Walker Brother’s fan club swelled, exceeding that of the Beatles (I know, difficult to believe. But check it out. I ain’t lyin’. ) The pressures of stardom, however, were not good to Scott. Between 1969 and 1975, the mechanisms of contractual obligations submerged Walker’s creative process and he entered a period he didn’t “remember […] at all very well,” according to a 2012 interview with Simon Hattenstone at The Guardian. While remaining professionally active, Scott felt he “was acting in bad faith for many years during that time. […] I was trying to hang on. I should have stopped. I should have said, ‘OK, forget it’ and walked away. But I thought if I keep hanging on and making these bloody awful records…”

After his 1984 album, Climate of a Hunter, Scott essentially disappeared from the music scene. When he returned, it was with Tilt, nearly a decade later, and a long way musically from his crooner days with the Walker Brothers. Walker’s voice, still as beautiful and deep as ever, is paired down in Tilt to an unsettling minimalism, accompanied by chilling, distant orchestrations and electronic soundscapes. Tilt is a soundtrack to a nightmare–not a nightmare of Bosch, filled with the restless activity of torture and dismemberment, but one of Samuel Beckett, sparse and lonely, with the slightest hint of bitter, time-weary humor. Simon Hattenstone evokes the comparison to Beckett in his interview, which Walker seems to respond warmly to, citing Kafka in turn. In both Beckett and Kafka, people have been stripped of their superfluities and left agonizingly exposed to their most fundamental, habitual sufferings. But hidden in this vulnerability, as in Tilt, is an uncertain beauty more profound due to its qualifying harshness than mundane enjoyments easily won.

Kayo Dot Choirs of the Eye, 2003

In his highly-recommended book of quirky celebrity interviews, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness, Neil Strauss claims that “[a]rtist is an overused term when it comes to musicians. Most are primarily entertainers, giving the public what it wants. Their motivation is not self-expression but attention and acclaim. If no one were watching, they wouldn’t be making any noise.” If there is any common denominator amongst the musicians featured on this list, aside from their ability to create incredibly dark music, it is that none of them are merely entertainers. I don’t discuss a single album, here, that is fitted for the glare of the pop spotlight. None of these albums can be consumed distractedly, like the bagel you munch on while driving to work. No one cranks up Lustmord at the office. You’ll never hear Non at a house party. These musicians willfully and cheerfully doom their creations to obscurity. These albums are true labors of love. They are works of art.

This isn’t more obviously true for any of these albums than Choirs of the Eye. Kayo Dot, fronted by the above-lauded Toby Driver, is a band comprised of an ever-changing pool of dedicated, meticulous musicians. While Choirs of the Eye is Toby’s first project following the dissolution of the avant-garde metal band Maudlin of the Well, it is vastly matured distillation of the madness often featured in the latter. Melodic, eerie, and oh, so morose, Choirs is a long way from the cut-and-paste genre mashing of its legendary predecessor (nothing against Maudlin of the Well. It’s highly entertaining stuff, albeit more rooted in metal than Kayo Dot, and definitely worth a spin in its own right). Choirs was my personal introduction to extreme calibers of darkness. Not that I was a stranger to dark music–I was a devoted black metal slave at the time (around 2004, a year after the album’s release), fanatic about bands like Emperor and Mayhem. I downloaded the album based on a sterling Amazon review (don’t worry–I’ve purchased over five copies legally since), popped it into my portable disc-player, and went outside to mow my mom’s lawn. Within a few moments of hitting play on the opening track “Marathon,” everything I thought I knew about music changed. “Marathon” begins with a strange guitar and drum crescendo, which falls away to unveil an aching trumpet solo. It takes off again with a searing black metal riff that immediately quietens back down to a haunting melodic passage, complete with low, spoken words. It is, of course, impossible to convey the emotional impact of these shifts that accumulate throughout Choirs, sometimes subtle and always seamless, into a work of profound gloominess. Violins, cellos, bells, synths, clarinets, pianos, tubas, organs, flutes, French horns–it’s all there, nearly an entire orchestra, all manipulated expertly for the most precise accuracy of expression. The composition never feels crowded, even though Choirs is a product of layers and layers of studio tracks. Choirs is a masterpiece of control, diversity and bitterly somber atmosphere.

The Darkest Albums Ever Recorded, Part One

There’s dark music and then there’s dark music. When dark music is brought up in a conventional setting, it’s safe to assume that albums like Depeche Mode’s “Violator” (1990) or Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” (1994) are on the table. Both albums are fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, and more than a little dark against the anachronistic background of the blithe, #YOLO culture of the post-millennium. But this is not a conventional setting and albums like these are definitely not on the table (although it is not uncommon to see them in a lot of half-assed “Darkest Albums of All Time” lists scattered in handfuls across the Internet).

I am here to discuss truly dark music. The albums you will find on this list are so bleak you can’t “rock out” to them (with, perhaps, a few exceptions, if you radically expand the common definition of “rocking out”). You won’t find yourself tapping your feet or humming along at any point along this dreary little journey. My pet theory, in fact, is that you won’t be able to tolerate even half of this list without having experienced a clinical depression at some point in your life (I’m dead serious about that). If you’re asking yourself why anyone would want to listen to music like this –a fair question, certainly–then these albums probably aren’t for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from reading about them.

I discovered most of these albums myself while in the pits of one period of depression or another. I’ve tried many things to take the searing edge off these downer periods. Two things work (or help, rather) without adverse effects: reading depressing books and listening to depressing music. It’s strange but true–these bleak, existentially horrific albums are like a dark balm that cauterizes gashes in a bleeding soul with a blast of hell-frost. Nevertheless, I don’t want to focus on their pragmatic applications (such a gauche and debased approach to art could not be further from my intents, even if such writing is still accepted in academia as legitimate criticism). Above all, these albums are works of art and will be treated as such here. Before we begin, however, I need to get a few disclaimers out of the way:

I don’t focus primarily on lyrics, as most “Darkest Albums” lists do (if you are interested in dark lyrics, there are a surplus of readily accessible lists out there that include albums by bands like Radiohead and Coldplay based on their lyrical content). My criteria for darkness is a gestalt approach. I consider each album’s pervading atmosphere, which does include lyrical content, but as dynamic element no more separable from the overall effect than would be rhythm or melody. In my opinion, song lyrics are not poetry. They simply can’t be extracted from their musical delivery and considered independently.

I exclude several musical genres for the purposes of this list. I don’t discuss so-called “classical” music composers. This is not for a want of darkness, but because this list would soon be overrun by the likes of Penderecki and Shostakovich before we even began. I don’t discuss rap (although there are more than a few seriously dark rap albums out there) to avoid a jarring atmospheric discontinuity in the overwhelmingly slow and ambient-oriented albums largely pervading this list. Nor do I discuss metal, although there are a few albums here that traditionally fall under the black metal classification. When I do include a remotely “metal” album, it’s “metalness” is not the aspect under consideration. These metal albums are barely metal, utilizing distortion to achieve something closer to ambience than anything classically metal in nature.

Sonic Youth Confusion is Sex (1983)


It’s always best to begin a list like this with an indisputable classic. If you start yammering about some esoteric recording by a band nobody has ever heard of first rattle out of the box, people tend to zone out. You’ve heard of Sonic Youth, right? (you are, at least, more likely to have heard of Sonic Youth than any of the other bands on this list. If not, no biggie, I won’t judge you. I’m no snob.) But wait, isn’t Sonic Youth that admittedly off-kilter but poppy-at-core shoegaze band with Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, high on beat poetry, sex and god knows what else? Yes. And no, they aren’t typically noted for darkness (at least not the kind of darkness you’re going to find on this list, the darkest-of-all-darkness). Most people who have actually “heard” Sonic Youth probably know “Kool Thing” or “Dirty Boots” from Goo (1990)–dirty, rough little songs with a palpable edge which could conceivably fit semi-comfortably on a playlist next to tracks from early nineties grunge and alternative rock bands–but this is not the Sonic Youth of Confusion is Sex. Odd guitar tunings, droning feedback and a sheer, volatile listener hostility make this album a painfully frightening experience. What Confusion is Sex achieves that a lot of noisy albums of the early eighties don’t is a sustained atmosphere of pure hair-raising menace. Confusion of Sex comfortably heads this list because it is, to put it simply, fucking scary. It should come as no surprise to anyone that in 1982, a year before Confusion is Sex hit the New York underground music scene, Sonic Youth toured and shared practice space with Swans (a leviathan of a dark band which will certainly be featured on this list as well). Not convinced? I challenge you, then, to listen to Kim alter the line “I’ll take of your dress” to a screaming crescendo of “I’ll shake of your flesh” in “Shaking Hell” without getting chills. It is, to my mind, one of the most unsettling moments in music history.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor F#A# Infinity (1997)

The cars on fire
and there’s no driver at the wheel.
And the sewers are all muddied
with a thousand lonely suicides.
And a dark wind blows.
The government is corrupt
and we’re on so many drugs
with the radio on
and the curtains drawn.
We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death.

[stanza stylization my own based on the passage’s phrasing as spoken on the album]


Thus begins the haunting opening monologue of “The Dead Flag Blues,” the first track of Godspeed’s phenomenally dark magnum opus, F#A# Infinity. “Magnum opus” might be a little bit of a stretch by the consensus of Godspeed fandom. F#A# Infinity may not, in fact, achieve the level of epic grandiosity that Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000) did, which seems to be widely considered their best album (It’s certainly one of the greatest ‘post-rock’ albums ever recorded, as far as I’m concerned). Nevertheless, in the world of dark music, F#A# Infinity is Godspeed’s masterstroke, an absolute classic. Still, compared to many other albums on this list, moments of F#A# Infinity might seem like brisk, conventional rollicks (see, for example, the fast and furious ‘climax’ of “East Hastings,” or the hokey folk skit near the end of “Dead Flag Blues”).
Let me emphasize moments. True, Godspeed is not Godspeed without variety, but F#A# Infinity, taken as a whole, is one of the most gorgeously gloomy albums around, happy moments notwithstanding (which tend, actually, to darken the atmosphere even more, much as a flash of bright light renders a starless night utterly impenetrable). Like most seriously dark albums, F#A# Infinity is preoccupied with evocations of a post-apocalyptic mindscape. Unlike its peers, however, it also populates this dead world with humans–far and few between, perhaps, huddled in groups of threes around the noxious fumes of feeble trash-can fires along interstates emptied of traffic, but people nonetheless. Godspeed’s characteristic employment of spoken word alongside a cosmopolitan folk sensibility separates F#A# Infinity from the pervading genre obsession with misanthropy. More importantly, this tenderness for a declining humanity colors F#A# Infinity with a highly unique voice in the land of shadows. This may be why I can never truly put this album behind me. It was one of my early introductions to dark music and still serves, for those of you who haven’t decided if you are quite neurotic enough to embark on a fanatic obsession with deeply depressing music, as a good marijuana to the harder stuff. If you haven’t heard any of the albums on this list, I strongly encourage you to give this one a spin (please, for the love of god, don’t dive headfirst into Non or Current 93. You almost certainly wouldn’t survive).

Bohren & Der Club of Gore Black Earth (2002)


Black Earth is unique in that it will probably be the only “jazz” album on this list. It also happens to be one of my favorite dark albums of all time. When I find myself driving at night, particularly through some anonymous city-scape, I often put this one in for a spin (if I’m not too tired, that is. The average, sub-sixty beats per minute tempo, slightly slower than the average human heart rate, can put you right under if you are barely hanging on to consciousness to begin with). Why do I do this? Because Black Earth is noir from hell. The classic noir elements in Black Earth lend themselves to urban imagery, but the down-tuned, “from hell” modifier empties the urban of the human element in a truly surreal transposition. The album presents the listener with a city that has died on the vine. Black Earth is an album of unlit alleyways behind stores with broken windows, dark streetlamps dressed in brittle plastic shopping bags, useless crosswalks shadowed in unending night. I could go on, but you get the point. As I’m sure the astute reader has noticed, I put quotation marks around “jazz” in the first sentence. This is because Black Earth isn’t actually jazz. It sounds like jazz, but the atmosphere (thankfully) remains untainted by the visceral energy that improvisation tends to lend to jazz. It’s a jazzy, noir ambient album, or, as the Club of Gore describes it themselves on their website, “doom-ridden jazz music” “Doom-ridden” is certainly spot on–Black Earth sounds like what might result if Khanate or Sunn O))) decided to drop the guitars and pick up keyboards and saxophones. The metal connection isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, since the members of Bohren & Der Club of Gore (Thorsten Benning, Robin Rodenberg, Reiner Henseleit, and Morten Gass) were originally united by an underlying enthusiasm for grind, death, hardcore, and doom metal. I, for one, thank the dark gods that they decided to give us truly dark and beautiful albums like Dark Earth rather than adding to the pile of traditional metal genres.

Lustmord [O T H E R] (2008)


Of course, any self-respecting “Darkest Albums” list is obliged to include something by Lustmord. The trick with Lustmord is merely deciding which album to choose. This difficulty is not a matter of choosing an album to best represent Brian Williams’ musical career as Lustmord. In fact, nearly any of the Lustmord albums will represent the others adequately in their core aspects–they are all mostly ambient, droning and cosmically suffocating (meditate on that oxymoron, “cosmic suffocation,” and you’ll probably end up entering something like the Lustmord headspace after a while). It’s this very similarity that makes the choice difficult–it’s like being asked to pick the rottenest apple out of a basket of equally decomposed apples (while writing this, as a matter of fact, I accidentally discovered that I was playing two Lustmord tracks simultaneously from different albums… and I didn’t even notice for several minutes–point and case). This isn’t to say that each Lustmord album doesn’t have individual merit. Some feature vocals (The Word as Power, 2013) sparser arrangements (Carbon / Core, 2004) or collaborative efforts with other musicians (Stalker, 1995 with Robert Rich). My choice of [O T H E R] is little more than a slight personal preference, tempered by the fact that it also tends to be a fan favorite (any of Lustmord’s albums, in other words, would fit in easily on this list). Somewhere in the vast sprawl of the Internet, I read at some point where someone wrote that “discovering Lustmord can be a mind-blowing experience.” Although I am extremely leery of the general deadening effect of hyperbole when it comes to describing art, I can see what that reviewer is getting at. Brian Williams is less of a composer of individual tracks than a painter of dead landscapes. Listening to Lustmord is certainly a new (if not exactly “mind-blowing”) kind of listening. You tend to fall into his dark, inhuman world and truly have a difficult time waking from it. Lustmord is an immersive experience, best listened to in the dark and with good headphones. While Williams is a more mainstream, uncontroversial personality than some of his compatriots (he collaborated with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan on 10,000 Days andPuscifer’s “V” is for Vagina, assisted on over forty movie soundtracks includingThe Crow and Underworld, identifies as a plain-old atheist rather than as Satanist, neo-Nazi, or member of The Partridge Family Temple–Boyd Rice is the Partridge Family Temple member, just to avoid unnecessary suspense) his work as Lustmord is certainly among the bleakest and darkest on this list.

Non God and Beast (1997)


God and Beast is simply not going to click for everyone, even among fans of generally dark music. Boyd Rice, experimental musician and close friend for Church of Satan founder, Anton Lavey, has produced under the ‘Non’ moniker since the mid-seventies. He’s collaborated with a host of other dark musicians, particularly of the so-called ‘apocalyptic folk’ tradition (Current 93, Death in June, and Sol Invictus). Rice’s devotion to Social Darwinism as articulated in the infamous 1890 book Might is Right by the pseudonymous Ragnar Redbeard (an anti-Semitic, racist diatribe against the weak) might be enough to turn you off before we even mention the music (and Rice certainly, as I’ve already indicated in the introduction, won’t be the last ideologically suspect individual to crop up in this list. What can I say, the darkest of the darkest imaginable music doesn’t tend to attract well-adjusted, morally outstanding individuals). Explicit articulations of Rice’s brutal ideology of domination certainly aren’t excluded from any of Non’s albums (at least not from any of them I’ve listened to. I’m admittedly a long way from making my way through Boyd’s 30-plus item discography as listed on Wikipedia). Check out, for instance, “The Law,” a five-minute, misanthropic chant over a militant, march-like percussion track. Rice repeats in a monotonic moan, “Only the law / of master and slave / only the law / from cradle to grave / only the law / of tooth and claw” …you get the idea. Nevertheless, in its defense, God and Beast isn’t as blatantly… well… ‘preachy’ as Might! (1995) which consists of long readings from that dirty book I mentioned earlier. Ultimately, ideology isn’t what earned God and Beast a place on this list. Wikipedia describes the album as alternating “abrasive soundscapes with passages of tranquility.” Abrasive soundscapes? Absolutely. Passages of tranquility? Um… what? The album is a perpetual tension generating machine. Electronic tape experimentation (Faust, anyone?), repetitive percussion, drones, scratches, screeches, and an altogether horrendous arsenal of angry sounds keeps things hot and heavy in God and Beast. It’s almost ‘just’ noise, but not quite. A dark atmosphere certainly pervades the recording owing to a structural coherence that pure noise generally lacks. There is an open hostility towards the listener (something Rice was infamous for, particularly in live performances) which (naturally) gets a little irritating, but what could be more darker and twisted than an album that tries to hurt its listener? Despite its drawbacks, there is no doubt that there is little God and much Beast in this indispensable dark classic.

Originally published on Litfunhouse.com

© 2017 Justin Burnett