Gloom might be my favorite Pokemon, but it’s also a wryly accurate portrayal of my musical tastes and occasional demeanor. One of my friends mocked me after riding in a car with me as I played a mix CD of favorites: I was repeatedly saying, “Ooooh, I love this song! It’s so depressing!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my giddy happy songs as much as the next guy. I spent a road trip to New York bouncing around in a vehicle with friends as we jammed to “I Want You To Want Me” and “Dancing With Myself,” and I never fail to be filled with happy joy whenever hearing multitudinous pop tunes from the ’80s. It’s not all doom and destruction in my world.
However, those who have known me for years understand that I am very entrenched in introspection and emotional exploration. And what better way to soul-search than by listening to music that investigates some of the saddest, most frightening, and darkest parts of one’s being?
What follows is a potential mix disc of tragedy, mostly full of favorites — some my own, some universally popular with the moody set, some randomly chosen from the sky as they came to mind. I don’t recommend compiling the songs and listening to them on infinite loop. Instead, if you use these dark songs to enhance a dark mood, use them to release instead of further building tension.
Right, that’s a good enough disclaimer to stop me from being party to suicide, correct? On with the pain:
Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
This is pretty much requisite. Almost any Joy Division song could fill this slot, but hey, I went with the obvious. Hell, just listen to Joy Division if you’re depressed, period. No need for mixes. When you’re done lamenting your own horrible life, you can cry for an hour about Ian Curtis killing himself. Such lovely irony in a band’s name, most definitely.
Alice In Chains, “Down In A Hole”
Yeah, we all know what the album Dirt focused on: heroin. And there ain’t nothin’ happy or jolly ’bout heroin. The album is rocking enough to keep one up and hopping, but take this particular song on its own and there’s just not an upbeat moment to be found. The harmonies of Cantrell and Staley only compound the nature of the lyrics. It’s beautiful misery.
God Lives Underwater, “23”
A little-known band that got a tiny bit of MTV play, this cut from their second album showcases the existential crisis that many people hit in their early ’20s. Will you ever find someone to love forever? Will your life ever be what you want it to be? Is there such a thing as finding happiness? Oh, it’s all miserable at age 23. It’s good to have a soundtrack to back you up, too.
I’m always highly appreciative of any artist who breaks from his or her normal repertoire and creates something beautiful, even if it’s just a flash that never is revealed again. That’s what “Cantspeak” is to Danzig; after the disc 4, Mr. Glenn Mightymuscles went back to making his generic horror-rock with shitty production. And here I was all excited about his gloomy tale of contemplating suicide with its lush electronics and orchestration. Ahh well, we like one trick ponies as much as the tried-and-true.
The Cure, “Pictures of You”
It’s another band where half of their catalog could be added to this list, but I went with an obvious choice. With The Cure, they’re either singing about being hopelessly in love or hopelessly without love. It’s all hopeless, anyway, unless we’re talking about “The Lovecats,” but now I’m getting completely off topic. This song is particularly gut-wrenching, particularly when fit with the other songs on Disintegration, but may as well be classified as the quintessential Cure sound, mood, and concept. Oh, love and love lost. Nothing is more heartbreaking.
Anthrax, “Black Lodge”
Taking another path, this extremely dark song was a definite step away from Anthrax’s previous works. A tale of loving someone who has lost their mind (based on a book/short story of which I cannot find the name), it’s even worse in the haunting factor when coupled with its music video. There’s a mesmerizing quality to the song as a whole, showcasing the band when they were at the top of their artistic game, and giving fans a whole new way to view them. It’s adventurous in that regard, but a perfect backdrop among other, more likely bands creating a similar mood. Absolutely striking.
Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon”
There’s a lot of Echo out there, but none so beloved, used, and played as this track. It’s much less specific in lyrical nature than most of the songs on this list, but nonetheless creates the precise mood that one searches for in this vein of music. The lyrics could be about kissing fuzzy kittens, but the composition itself would probably still lead one to think of breaking out the razor blades. It’s very lush and unique in tone, easily recognizable, and incomparable.
Dream Theater, “Space-Dye Vest”
What’s a list from me without DT? There aren’t a lot of depressive, mopey dirges among their repertoire but this one more than fills the niche. A story of love and betrayal, proclaiming, “I’ll never be open again,” it’s a vindication for those who close themselves off from the world after being wronged. With a very dark piano riff and haunting samples, it completes the mood very precisely.
Depeche Mode, “Waiting For the Night”
I’ve got my own reasons for choosing this one, mostly the atmosphere and my ability to play it on repeat for an hour at a time without being fazed. It’s definitely mood music. Nobody will mistake you for being a happy, jolly soul if this one is blaring from your speakers. There’s simply nothing uplifting about it, although strangely not overly depressive. It’s just a song about comfort in darkness. Some of us just plain like it that way.
Phil Collins, “In The Air Tonight”
I love working Phil Collins into any piece I do, quite honestly. But apart from that, even the man’s serious detractors will credit him with creating quite the masterpiece in this song. Yeah, it’s about death (edit: as the urban legend says anyway), hence why it fits here. And yeah, it’s spooky and moody as hell, which is why it gets another rub. But the main reason why Phil’s creation will always be on my list of favorite depressing songs is because it can bring down a whole bar if you throw it on the jukebox. Try it sometime, it’s magical.
Metallica, “Fade To Black”
Even the die-hardest of metalheads in the ’80s had their tome of self-destruction. Although technically anti-suicide, thousands of black t-shirt clad high school kids scrawled the doom and gloom lyrics to this epic on notebooks as Sally Cheerleader continued to snub them. It was a nice excuse to let out a smidgen of pain and heartache inbetween the bad boy headbanging and posturing, too. It remains one of the few songs out there that metal fans can cry over without being seen as a big wuss.
The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”
Morrissey, on the other hand, will always be a big wuss. Nearly every Smiths song sounds like he’s going to burst into tears at any time. But this track has a bit more mood than their tight and wry pop would typically carry, lending far more atmosphere to create a package more appealing to the masses. It’s the Smiths song that most Smiths-haters like; comparatively, it’s also one where they can enjoy Morrissey’s soul-wrenching without enduring that which was so soul-wrenchingly Morrissey.
My Dying Bride, “The Isis Script”
From my second favorite album of theirs — I’m one of the only crazy people in this world who thinks 34.788%… Complete is their greatest work ever — this is yet another one of those bands where you could choose a good half of their catalog and come up with something completely gut-wrenching and miserable. This one wins, however, because the riff is so beautiful that it cannot be ignored, and well, the lyrics are just plain those of giving up and folding in to anguish. Ahhh, how cheerful they are in merry old England. Hooray for rainy climates, they make for the best mood music.
The Church, “Under the Milky Way”
This is another one of those songs where the atmosphere was just so perfect that the lyrics never really mattered, although they’re not happy fluffy bunnies to say the least. And The Church is another band where many of their songs could fit into this list, but this being their most well-known and probably their best makes it a shoo-in.
Lillian Axe, “Ghost of Winter”
Ho ho ho, a hair band? Sure. This isn’t your typical hair band ballad though, not in the least. Back in the days when anything dark and moody in hard rock was usually along the lines of, “girl don’t leave,” this track explores depression and near psychosis without any dressing up. “I can’t distinguish reality from dream/Ghost of winter, won’t you hear my silent scream?” is one of those pinnacles which was overlooked in the years when Aqua Net ruled the airwaves. Just because it’s out of favor doesn’t mean it can’t mesh here.
Tool, “Forty-Six & 2”
The entirety of Tool is moody, yes. Much of it is violent, much more of it is intellectual. But “Forty-Six & 2” simply does not have one lighthearted moment throughout, with the addition of a bizarre musical backdrop that doesn’t easily lend it to any sort of happy smiles. The amusing part is that it’s actually an optimistic song, in its own twisted way. Then again, there’s nothing untwisted about being in a bad brain state. It takes chaos to sort out chaos, yes.
The Gathering, “Shrink”
Short song, but not short on the pain. In fact, the lyrics are probably a quicker read than any explanation of such. But the tumult crooned by the lovely Ms. van Giersbergen with little more than a minimalist backdrop is just enough to absolutely shred the last vestiges of hope from one’s heart. What’s even better is a live version with Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia joining in for a duet. Oh, beautiful lovelorn voices; it just doesn’t get much more gutwrenching than that.
Nine Inch Nails, “Something I Can Never Have”
Wait, did you think I was going to say “Hurt”? Yeah, that would be the obvious, but like most oldschool fans of the band, I would rather poke my eardrums out than ever hear “Hurt” again. Besides, the angst within “Something” is much more tangible, and in the end, it’s much more personal and less violent (for the most part, anyway). It’s an introverted sort of pain where the other is looking to lash out. This is the song for sadness; “Hurt” is the song for bitterness.
…and there could be many more, but really, this is enough darkness for one day. That doesn’t mean Radiohead, Sisters of Mercy, Stabbing Westward, or early Pearl Jam don’t deserve an individual nod here and there, but you know where to look if you need more black in your soul.
The question remains, why do those of us in crisis listen to this music rather than throwing on something that might cheer us up? Why don’t we just “get happy”? Why don’t we venture out in the daylight and prance around in fields of daisies whenever we get a little down? Maybe it’s because we discover a lot about ourselves when we’re at our least pride-ridden, and maybe it’s because we’re some sort of masochists. Regardless, it’s nice to have the comfort that we, being those of unsound mind, are not the only ones who have ever felt the terrible feelings that we’re going through. And that’s a comfort that we’re glad all of the above artists have shared with us.
Now, off to weep and wallow.
From a god to God save me,