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2020: The Soundtrack to Our Apocalypse

Tuesday, December 29, 2020 | Reviews


In a bleak and unprecedented year, dark cultural offerings spoke to us in a different way. No matter the medium, it seemed, the motifs, subtexts and revelations of outsider art often became entangled in our efforts to process the primordial horrors and man-worsened challenges of our topsy-turvy, uncertain pandemic lives. The following three composers instinctively understood that sometimes there are no words, and delivered atmospheric sonic masterworks that reflected our fears while shoring up our resolve.


Back in the early ’90s, HEADBANGERS BALL host Riki Rachtman liked to implore his late-night audience, at the end of every episode, to “keep one foot in the gutter, one fist in the gold.” It’s a beautiful maxim that transcends any single art form or medium—and few embody its potential and spirit than Timothy Fife, a boundary-pushing musician and composer whose scores for such grindy genre fare as THE STREETS RUN RED, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BLOODMANIA, THE DISCO EXORCIST, HONKY HOLOCAUST, FRANKENSTEIN’S HUNGRY DEAD and many other films deftly balance the ribald and the resplendent, the indecent and the incandescent, the outré and the sublime. Imagine the sonic love child of Fabio Frizzi and Tangerine Dream midwifed by Chuck Cirino’s CHOPPING MALL soundtrack, and you’ll be in the neighborhood.

A few years back, Fife dropped a stellar debut solo album, BLACK CARBON, and this year he scaled even greater heights with his gorgeously actualized, reality-refracting tour de force, TRANSCOMMUNICATION. This brilliant ode to “parallel dimensions…best suited for seances rituals or esoteric ceremonies” is a window torn into the fabric of the dark cinematic soundscape through which the future is seen. Come on through; Fife has such sights to show you.


2. Charnel Oubliette: II

that which is dead has always been dead
for in death there is no end, there is no beginning
there is only the consumptive darkness

So warns the scrap of digital text accompanying Charnel Oubliette’s latest towering paean to closing tombs, dimming lights and unearthly figures awaiting us in the growing shadows. Produced by the mysterious Keeper in what is described as the “bleak corner of the Avra Collective,” II is not an experience for the faint of heart. This is true brooding, funereal, straight-up “gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you” material. And yet the primal, immersive nature of the journey is ultimately positive–even strangely life-reaffirming. Oubliette takes you to hell, yes, but only so when the chords shift to a sort of triumphant melancholia, the rise into the empyrean is that much more satisfying.

“Funeral for the Immortal”:

3. Rainy Days for Ghosts: I KNOW NOW, THAT I WILL NEVER BE OK

The sleek, sexy, harrowing brainchild of well-known horror journo Jerry Smith, Rainy Days for Ghosts manages to cover a wide expanse of sonic and emotional tones while maintaining a distinct identity. However, this EP in particular openly and rather affectingly speaks to our pandemic reality through bright, slithering earworm salvos such as “Intro to Solitude,” “Despair and Grief,” “2020 (Into the Void)” and the title track. It’s a mesmerizing collection that is inspiring and heartening while also acknowledging, in a not-at-all-subtle way, the darkness and damage these songs are designed to guide us through.

“2020 (Into the Void)”:

Cover designed by Mondo illustrator Jessica Seamans