Thinking about what I would consider to the be the 10 bleakest albums ever was an interesting topic to ponder. While I think that bleakness extends beyond the realms of metal and its subgenres, there are obviously lots of amazing albums within it that could easily fill this list. So, with that in mind I decided to stay within metal for this particular piece.
My Dying Bride – Turn Loose The Swans (1993)
Beautiful, romantic, misery and death. This is an all time classic – maybe My Dying Bride’s defining album. Ultimately, if you don’t know this album you should. Summed up best by the lyrics to the track Black God: “Thy every look and every grace. So charm whenever I view thee, 'Til death overtake me in the chase. Still will my hopes pursue thee. Then when my tedious hours have passed, Be this my last blessing given. Low at thy feet to breathe my last. And die in sight of heaven”.
Esoteric – The Pernicious Enigma (1997)
This is a two-hour, double album of some of the most inaccessible music in Esoteric’s entire career. So hard to penetrate, so evil and so sharply bleak that its almost a task to play it in one sitting, such is the overwhelming nature of it. A total head wrecker. Really hard going. Follow the spiral downwards. Only for the brave few.
Silencer – Death - Pierce Me (2001)
Very much a cult classic in the Depressive Black Metal end of the world. A totally unique sounding album with one of the most ‘out there’ vocal deliveries you are ever likely to hear. There is a pain and a sense of anguish that runs throughout this record, that is genuine and almost manic in its presence. Seemingly the singer of this band was institutionalised after this album was made, and the band never did anything else. Definitely and album worth checking out.
Xasthur – To Violate The Oblivious (2004)
Xasthur is one of those artists that just personifies darkness, introversion and bleakness. When you hear a Xasthur song, even in his latter-day acoustic period, it’s so recognisably him. He has this way of formatting chords and creating progressions that nobody else can do. Its strangely melodic and atonal, and eerie at the same time. It’s a unique combination of elements that means the music can only be from Xasthur.
This album was the one that grabbed my attention at the time, and to this day the track Screaming At Forgotten Fears remains his finest song for me. Xasthur has such a breadth of albums and material that it’s a daunting task to start afresh with it., but if you are feeling in the kind of emotional space, then this is a great place to start.
Tyranny – Bleak Vistae (2004)
When I first heard this album, it was one of the most crushing and genuinely bleak pieces of music I head ever encountered. It has a sound that is almost like a freezing cold, raging sea, crashing angrily against the rocks and whose spray off daggers the faces of people stood upon the shore. It's cold, sprawling, and dark album that is in interesting window into the psyche of its creators.
The band did one other full length after this but then did very little until a few years ago when they released an album called Aeons in Tectonic Interment, which must also go down as one of the most extreme albums ever. A totally immersive, super bleak and introverted album that is equal point amazing, and yet has absolutely no discernible riffs at all. Quite an achievement.
Evoken – Antithesis Of Light (2005)
Probably my favourite album of theirs in a broadly brilliant discography. The artwork and the production of this one really set a scene. Its cold but punchy and its engaging but also nihilistic. While the band has always made excellent albums, this one is where all the elements came together in the right way for me. The melodies, the leads, the emotion in the writing that contrasts with this powerful but visceral negativity is really fantastic. It’s strange to be uplifted by things so negative, but this is one of those records that does that for me.
Warning – Watching From A Distance (2006)
One of the greatest trad doom metal albums of all time. Very much coming from a bleak ‘in the emotional sense of the word’ perspective on this album. A look into the mind of a love stricken individual, who’s heart is pouring out of his body and into these songs. A lost love, a broken heart, regret, a soul in turmoil and a life ruined. All of this is being put out there and laid bare. A very honest and powerful moment in music. Main songwriter Patrick Walker went on to make other great albums with follow on project 40 Watt Sun, but for me, this is the one. A classic.
Nortt – Galgenfrist (2007)
I picked this album because it was the one that first introduced me to a full length by the band, following his spilt with Xasthur a few years earlier. Equally, any of his other albums could be considered in this list. Possibly one of the best examples of Depressive Blackened Doom Metal out there. Skeletal, gnarly sounding minimalism resides within this band. One of those albums that makes you believe that it’s not just a gimmick for this artist, and he’s actually on the edge of sanity somewhere.
Colosseum – Chapter 3: Parasomnia (2011)
A really powerful and expansive Death/Doom album that captured my attention many years ago. A great mix of truly crushing, evil sounding doom mixed with emotive, uplifting vocal and melodic elements. A true raiser of the goosebumps album. I consider the track Dilapidation & Death to be one of the finest moments of all time in this style. A truly bleak album that ends a fantastic, and very consistent trilogy of records by this now defunct Finnish band. It is so bleak in fact that the vocalist/guitarist Juhani Palomäki sadly took his own life before this album was officially released in 2011.
Atavist – III: Absolution (2020)
As well as listening to this kind of music, I have also had cause to make some of it over the years. Outside of the albums I’ve made with Winterfylleth, I’ve always been into Death/Doom and Ambient music, and anyone who’s followed my output will know that I was making heavy and bleak music with Atavist in the early 2000’s. After a lengthy hiatus we have gotten the line up from the second album, II: Ruined, back together to make a new album, III: Absolution.
To me, this album is a soundtrack through the depths of human emotion. From losing everything, mourning loss, realizing your own mind, right through to finding your way again. Ultimately finding absolution at the end of that journey. There is no joy here, only relief at the end of an arduous voyage.