The 5 most extreme albums I’ve ever listened to.
As a lover of noisy music, I have come across a few hair raising records in my time. But there have been a handful that have freaked me out enough to make me feel ashamed of admitting I enjoy them.
Now there are people out there who listen to more extreme music than I do, and may dispute this list. I can assure you, this is all a matter of opinion but if you’re prepared to battle it out for most intense music lover, I’m willing. To further clarify, this is not a list of the heaviest music either. Anyway, without further ado for anyone who’s interested, let’s plunge into the depths of the sickest musical depravity to assault my ear holes.
5. BIG BLACK: ‘The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape’, 1987
Before Steve Albini hurt our ears with his own hellish brand of recording engineering, turning up the noise for bands like the Pixies and Nirvana, Albini fronted his own band in 1980s Chicago, whose sonic assault dwarfed even the demented efforts of said bands.
Big Black were three young men with guitars and a drum machine. The industrial din they created on this compilation CD, consisting of one album and two EPs, is so brutal it resembles black metal in places, complete with Steve’s sneering yelps.
While Big Black are not as heavy as other extreme music masters, they surely beat most through sheer nihilism. My favourite track, ‘Kerosene’, is a typical example: a 6 minute relentless epic of a man so bored he contemplates setting himself on fire.
4. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: ‘Junkyard’, 1982
Another figurehead of the musical macabre, Nick Cave, cut his chops wailing nightmarish, surreal lyrics for the appropriately titled post punk outfit the Birthday Party.
The rumours surrounding this band are legendary: drugs, car theft. You name it. Such madness is reflected in their work, especially on my fave track ‘Dead Joe’, which has an unhealthy obsession with car crashes. This song, along with the rest of the album, is a violent cocktail of jazz, shredding guitar, growling bass and Cave crooning and shrieking about death and other things you’re not sure about but scare the hell out of you.
I think the scary thing about this album is that the band like to do away with any certain song structure, so the songs are mostly crazed, unpredictable noise. Yet there is arguably fun in this decadent madness, if you like this sort of thing.
3. METZ: ‘Metz’, 2012
As you’ve noticed, most of the albums in this article are from the 80s. When I was younger, I used to bemoan the modern state of music, complaining that it will never again achieve the sonic daring that artists of that glorious decade had: until I heard these guys.
I was excited from one review of Metz, comparing them to Nirvana and Public Image Ltd, two other favourite creators of extreme albums. But when I got my hands on a CD, I was surprisingly disappointed. None of the band’s songs really stuck out compared to the works of the other bands you’ll read here. Nevertheless, what the album lacks in memorable songs, it makes up for in noise.
You can make comparisons with Big Black: an industrial, sparse approach to musicianship with shouting vocals barely heard over the din. But Metz are scarier. Much scarier. At least with Big Black you can sometimes hear what they’re angry about and their songs have rhythm. Metz have set out purely to assault your hearing for no credible reason, and its good to hear music still being produced like that.
2. NAPALM DEATH: ‘Scum’, 1987
Admittedly, my journey into the world of grindcore has only scratched the surface. I know there are a lot scarier bands of the genre out there, but as I’m not a massive fan of grind anyway, I don’t feel inclined to check them out right now. Nevertheless, I still find it fun to listen to, even if it’s the musical equivalent of being beaten around the head, and I marvel at the musical daring going into it. 28 tracks over just half an hour of the most brutal, angry music you could hope to listen to. The vocals, the guitars and drums are all played for sheer relentlessness rather than musicianship. However, the fact the notoriously short songs (‘You Suffer’ is just over a second long) are played just for intensity does get boring by the end. Nevertheless, if you actually look up the lyrics that are being unintelligibly growled at you, you’ll find some of the most directly political lyrics in metal.
1. THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS: ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, 1987
For a while now, this still ranks as the weirdest record I’ve ever listened to. It’s as if a bunch of people sat down one day and decided to make the most insane record anyone could make. I mean, imagine recommending the titles of the band and album alone to someone.
I think it’s worth a listen for anyone, whether they enjoy fucked up music or not, just to witness the depths of sanity music can sink to. There are some good heavy riffs you can rock to, even a parody of Black Sabbath’s ‘Sweet Leaf’ in the epic opening track ‘Sweat Loaf’, and ‘Human Cannonball’ is the one track which can be classed as a standard punk song. The rest of the album makes no sense at all. There are sounds and remixes of sounds which you just can’t place. This album will have you soiling your pants either out of laughter or terror.
As an example, allow me to describe the closing track: ‘22 going on 23’, which I think sums up the nightmarish hell of this album nicely. Doom-laden guitar and drums with storm effects and mooing noises are played over a recording of a phone-in on a radio station, where a woman confesses how much her life is ruined due to an incident of sexual assault.
Even if this track seriously pushes the boundaries of good taste and decency, I still enjoy the song. I can still rock to it. It’s my favourite off the record. Why? I’m really not sure. Why do I like any of these records if they’re so unpleasant to listen to? Maybe I just like music that pushes acceptable boundaries of the form, or reflects the dark side of human nature. Or maybe I’m just sick. I still think this music has a place. We can’t just have nice music all the time. It would get boring, surely?