10 Darkest Rock Music Masterpieces

Hear some of the bleakest and most brilliant songs rock music has to offer.

Funkadelic Maggot Brain

At what point did rock music embrace the darkness? It's an intriguing question. Folk music, of course, has long recorded both the joys and the sadness of life, the triumphs and the tragedies, but it's arguably not until we reach the 1960s, when the scope of popular music expanded thanks to far-reaching artists and bands such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles, that the first of rock's bleak masterpieces slouched forth from the shadows.

What was behind this? A disillusionment with politics, perhaps. The Cold War, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, rising civil unrest in both the UK and USA - these elements, together with the vital ingredient of LSD, all seem likely contributing factors.

This should not be taken as meaning that foreboding thoughts and outputs of bleak creative expression did not exist until this point. The worlds of literature and art had long sought to embrace, and thereby understand, the darker side of human thought and existence. It simply took popular music longer to catch up.

Given that rock music, as we know it, didn't really exist until the 1950s, it should be no surprise that it took some time for more nuanced works to emerge. When they did, however, rock once again proved itself one of the most potent and direct forms of communication. The ten songs listed below represent some of the best, bleakest music ever cut into vinyl.

10. Beautiful Child - Swans

Never noted for their accessibility or their optimism, New York band Swans, who formed in the early '80s, managed the enviable accomplishment of earning a loyal fan base over their 15-year life-span, despite (or perhaps because of) their ever-changing sound. With a new Swans album, the only thing you could be sure of is that it would, at the very least, be interesting and earnest.

Beautiful Child comes from their fifth studio release, 1987s Children Of God. Built upon an unsettling, uneven rhythm which sits somewhere between a funeral procession and grand opera, Beautiful Child contains more jagged edges than a smashed bottle. Singer Michael Gira declaims like some desperate evangelist from a deranged cult as the song strides forward with the terrifying inevitability of a Viking longship heading towards an unguarded settlement.

As with every track presented here, you can't deny the craft and vision behind Beautiful Child. Swans, as ever, tackle the song with complete commitment and belief. Are those gunshots or firecrackers at the beginning of this track?


Chris Wheatley is a journalist and writer from Oxford, UK. He has too many records, too many guitars and not enough cats.