10 Songs With Surprise Twists At The End
Rock like M. Night Shyamalan with these 10 tracks that aren't quite what they seem…
There's no such thing as the good old days. Corporations and politicians will sell you the idea that things were simpler, sweeter, and more innocent in the time before cell phones, as though the 1950s wasn't a war-paranoid era of repression and hideous primary colours. And one of the tools that's always used to push this concept is the soundtrack of that bygone era, with nostalgic puritans pointing out how music used to be all about having a good time at the hop with your sweetheart of some such bullshit. But we know better – even before rock was invented, musicians were always sinners and psychos, finding inspiration in the forms of bad living and emotional breakdowns.
Thankfully, not all of your grandfather's favourite music is lost to the rose-tinted glasses of the good ol' days. The past decade as seen the rise of several blasphemous artists celebrating these outdated musical modes, and this time around leaning hard on the sinister underpinnings that historians have long sought to wipe out. If anything, these new musicians are doing the work that those unrealistic optimists have failed at over and over; by revealing just how dark and Satanic classic genres like swing and country could be, these modern-day blasphemers are drawing in skeptical listeners who would've never tuned in otherwise.
Here are nine artists breathing evil new life into genres that many have long considered dead…
Most people don’t associate a song like Earth Angel with worshipping at the altar of Lucifer, but Los Angeles’ Twin Temple are all about mixing entrenched gothic satanism with the swaying, sultry rhythms of the early '50s. On their album Twin Temple Bring You Their Signature Sound… Satanic Doo-Wop!, the band sing about sex, death, and the Devil over songs that could soundtrack two lovebirds sharing a milkshake. “To us, rock‘n’roll has always been about pushing back against oppressive social norms, tearing down the old guard, and hailing innovation and self-expression,” say the duo. “That’s why it’s called the Devil’s Music. It should be dangerous; it should challenge the status quo. This is also a key idea within Satanic philosophy.”
At the same time, Twin Temple aren’t simply adopting doo-wop in Satan’s name – they’re diehard fans, who see the genre’s history as full of rock'n'roll rebellion. “When Frankie Lymon danced with a white woman on live TV, defying the racist segregation laws of the era, and causing a scandalous cancellation of [the TV show The Big Beat]; this to us is inherently Satanic… and very rock'n'roll too! And as Satanic witches, it seemed only natural to follow our will in using our favourite era of music to express ourselves, whether talking about our personal practice of sex magick, self-empowerment, or the occult. And we love the vintage recording techniques of the past. Perfect, autotuned vocals to us are really boring. Records of the golden era of rock'n'roll capture the true human sound in all its gloriously perfect imperfection. For us Twin Temple is all about expressing our true selves on our own terms.”
There’s a sweaty, ugly, pentecostal darkness out in the sprawl of America, and Those Poor Bastards want to sing you a song about it. The haunted gospel duo from Madison, Wisconsin, play the kind of bleak junkyard anthems to the wickedness in us all and the futility of struggling that most metal bands could only dream of. “I guess we see the bitter humour in the absolute hopelessness and terror of life, and some bands seem to miss that cruel joke,” says Lonesome Wyatt, one half of the cursed duo.
“I think the power and existential horror of old country music comes from the fact that it’s told from the perspective of the outsider and loser. Failures are always way more interesting than ‘successful’ people and through them we're able to see the darkest and truest corners of life. The most mighty gospel music combines the dread of country with the spiritual fear brought about by a vengeful and cruel God. To think that we're not only stuck on this awful planet to pitifully struggle and die, but there’s also a vicious omnipotent being watching and waiting to send our souls to eternal torment is pretty frightening.”
When asked if there are any of his own songs that even give him the creeps, Lonesome Wyatt says, "There are quite a few that make me shudder and shake my head, but that’s just because I’m so ashamed.”
Funk music possesses a low-lying sense of ritual menace that Staten Island, New York’s the Budos Band have tapped into. The band’s looming horns and jangling electric guitar exude an ominousness and volcanic volatility that make the listener feel as though they’re a mutton chopped cop in a car chase with Lovecraftian cultists in 1973.
Describing the formation of their unique sound, baritone sax player Jared Tankel says, “We took the classic Afrobeat sound and initially added the gritty funk of The Meters and the deep soul of The Impressions. We then introduced Ethiopian Jazz to the mix. It's always been an evolution of sound of what we are digging at the moment. We aren't tied too tightly to one particular wrote genre, yet we know how to stick to being the Budos.”
But while some might be a little skeptical of a band making funk music that feels as hot to the touch as heavy metal, for the Budos Band, it’s a natural unification of two awesome influences. “That's our taste in music,” says Jared. “We've always loved heavy rock. If you listen to Black Sabbath, you realise that rhythm section is fucking soulful. It's just a matter of integrating that into the Budos so it makes sense. We aren't trying to be a Thin Lizzy cover band, but we love putting the pedal the metal and dousing ourselves in black magic wizardry.”
Imagine playing chess with Mark Twain's ghost over Southern Comfort and lemonade, and you’ll have some idea of how Paducah, Kentucky, blues rock act The Legendary Shack Shakers sound. Fronted by the inimitable J.D. Wilkes, the band's music focuses on how the cares, worries, and drama of everyday life can beat you down, until there’s nothing left to do but have a drink and die. At the same time, their sound still has a knee-bouncing energy that makes even their shuffling dirges catchy as hell.
J.D. describes the Shack Shakers' music as “Southern gothic” and “ADHD-abilly”, and considers himself one in a long line of artists playing genres from before the advent of rock who are devotees to the dark side. “Paganini was supposedly a demon-possessed badass,” he says. “‘Extreme entertainment’-wise… those old ‘play till dawn’ barn dances got pretty bawdy by the time all the moonshine got drunk up. And just about any pre-war/Delta Blues guy had to have been pretty wild too, not to mention hell-on-the-strings or on that New Orleans whorehouse piano. Otherwise, Cab Calloway springs to mind; moonwalking in the glow of a hot Harlem spotlight, all while the horns go blaring and the crowd goes wild.”
It’s good to remember that for every country song about being a good ol’ boy rolling around in your pick-up truck, there’s one about killing your wife. Carrying on that long tradition is professed “murder folk” musician Danny Kiranos, aka Amigo The Devil, whose dulcet murder ballads and serial killer-obsessed barn burners have earned him a fanbase of diehards who know every foul word of his songs.
“Abner Jay has a great quote about folk music in one of his rambles,” begins Danny. “He says, 'Folk songs tell true stories, but terrible stories – 'cause folk are terrible.' To me, that’s what gives it the ability to be more sinister. Reality is always more terrifying than fantasy, an easy example being how people react to gore/violence in movies versus reality. We’re able to disassociate from one which is where a lot of the dark elements of heavier music come from, a fantasy world. This doesn’t dismiss the talent or importance of the story, it’s just easier to cope with and accept concepts that were purposely written to live in that realm rather than be told situations that live in reality. It’s almost like a shocking documentary vs. a horror movie. The purpose of one was to create something terrifying while the other is to explore and dissect it.”
In Danny’s mind, there is one major misconception about country music: “That it belongs to one type of person. Just because one sub-sect of country doesn’t appeal to you, maybe it’s '90s radio country you hate, doesn’t mean there isn’t another world within country that you’d enjoy and maybe even benefit from. It’s like someone hearing grind, hating it and deciding they don’t like metal based on that experience without exploring any other types of it.”
Don’t be fooled by the genre tag 'evil swing' – LA’s Marquis & The Rhythm Howlers don’t sound like the either the big band numbers of the Rat Pack or the polished Coop Devil Girls-style music of the late ‘90s. Instead, the band return to the genre’s sleazy roots, playing the kind of cigarette-sodden alley music that feels like a grubby prayers to a wheezing god.
“Swing is dance music, physically or figuratively,” says guitarist and vocalist Marquis W. Howell. “Dancing is a Terpsichorian ceremony, a great communal gyration. Some tie the name to the past, hitching it up to vintage clothes and complicated curls. We take the anachronisms out of it. Old songs, new songs, originals, or otherwise, we play not to the memory but rather to the mystery.
“Put on some records,” he continues. “Try Cab Calloway's 1931 record of St. James Infirmary Blues or Charlie Johnson's The Boy In The Boat. Maybe Bessie Smith's Blue Spirit Blues or Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Bump' The Paradise Joy Boys' Cemetery Sal, Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man, and countless others. There is music everywhere, and everywhen, that stirs up shadowy notions, that conjures up spectres of the past alongside tomorrow's demons.”
As the frontwoman of Richmond, Virginia-based doom crew Windhand, Dorthia Cottrell provides mournful vocals for crushing Sabbathian metal dirges. But in her solo career, Dorthia takes a more delicate, if no less sinister, approach to her music. Her 2015 self-titled debut is a ghostly country record full of echoing steel guitars and haunting tales of confusion and woe, all in Dorthia’s signature pleading, heartbroken sigh.
"I really like the storytelling aspect in country and folk music," she says. "The songs are more vocal and lyric driven so they tend to feel more personal and intimate, like you're letting someone really know something true about yourself."
On the surface, songs like Oak Grove and Orphan Bird are just pretty country tunes, but the constant atmosphere of downtrodden exhaustion and hip-swinging decadence present in every track has a sort of downhome apocalypticism to it. And yet, in Dorthia's mind, the darkness in her music is wholly cathartic. "I know that a lot of people say all my songs are very sad so maybe I'm very sad, but I think writing depressing music is like lancing a wound," she describes. "When I play sad songs it makes me happy. When I am feeling really low I like to listen to the saddest songs I can find and it helps me process my own feelings so I can not feel that way anymore."
It’s one thing to write a song about your favourite horror movie, it’s another to write a breathtaking original score to it that you then play live during screenings. But Austin, Texas, collective the Invincible Czars do just that, crafting a performing bizarre, haunting scores for silent films like Nosferatu and The Phantom Of The Opera for the flagship Alamo Drafthouse theatre. “I was a big fan of their silent film series and took the opportunity really seriously,” explains guitarist Josh Robbins. “Though I loved the bands that had done it before us, a lot of them were just playing their usual rock sets or doing free improv with the silent movies as a backdrop.
“Instead of showcasing ourselves, we wanted to enhance the narratives and emotions on screen with tasteful music that appealed to modern day audiences but wasn't too anachronistic,” he says of the band trying to find their own approach to scoring some of history’s most important and terrifying cinematic masterpieces. “We served the films and audiences loved it. So we just kept doing more silent movie scores and branching out to other cities. Eventually it eclipsed our rock shows and we decided to make silent film accompaniment our main focus.”
Metal fans might know Henry Derek Elis as the snarling vocalist of California’s Act Of Defiance. But to hear his solo work, you’d think he was a drifter with a guitar begging for a room and eyeing your daughter. The spooky, ethereal country jams on 2018’s The Devil Is My Friend are full of jangling guitars, trundling percussion, and vocals that suggest the singer has lived some portion of his life in a swamp.
In Henry’s estimation, country is just as much an expression of the ills of world as metal. “I think there’s something very sinister there, yet extraordinarily unique as well,” he says. “‘Roots’ music in general: folk, country and even blues can come from a dark place. A lot of the early traditional folk, bluegrass and gospel songs were really songs of struggle. Coal miner tunes, protest songs, music from the Great Depression etc. There’s something otherworldly about those recordings too. There’s pain and hope in their voices. You can hear that it’s all too real, in a way that most genres cover up with studio tricks and overdubs.
“Then of course, there’s classic country artists like Hank Williams,” he continues. “He was channeling the blues and tapped into the darker side of things, which of course spilled over into his personal life. The same could be said for George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. The greats have always been fearless in that way. I think that’s why you have all of these great sub-genres of country music nowadays. People admire that kind of artistry. Country has always been more than cute lyrics and rhinestone suits."
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