Drain me
February 11, 2006 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Harrowing music. What musical works have left you exhausted and physically drained?

Not because you dance like a fool to them, but because they're so harrowing and relentlessly powerful. For instance: when played loud, Diamanda Galás' Litanies Of Satan is thoroughly exhausting, as is Swans' Cop, and much of Fushitsusha and The Flying Luttenbachers' back catalogue. But I'm not just after noise - Merzbow, for instance, leaves me feeling invigourated and cleansed, not tired and beat up. So - what was the last thing that left you feeling like you'd just been to hell and back? I'm in the mood for a sonic fight, and I need some new recommendations.
posted by nylon to Media & Arts (72 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man, Diamanda Galas. That takes me back.

Most of the Ramones' catalogue can get my heart racing, and leave me breathless - particularly Blitzkrieg Bop and Rockaway Beach. At the other end of the spectrum, Julia Migenes' performance of Les Tringles des sistres tintaient from Carmen is lushly sexual, another one that lifts me out of my body.
posted by kalimac at 6:32 PM on February 11, 2006

ISIS, Converge, Karajan's "Thus Spake Zarathustra", Lightning Bolt (preferably live.)
posted by gwint at 6:52 PM on February 11, 2006

All of Placebo's Without You I'm Nothing has that effect on me, although I'm not sure how much of that is personal experience and association. Still an amazing album.
posted by terpsichoria at 7:01 PM on February 11, 2006

The "Dona nobis pacem" that concludes Bach's Mass in B Minor (aka in H Moll). Try to find a recording of a really big choir that does it majestically -- and not too fast, either.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:04 PM on February 11, 2006

John Zorn's Naked City fits the bill well, I'd say. It's an extremely hard record listen to passively. It has some of the most jarring musical moments I may have ever heard.

I was once listening to this record with a friend, and for whatever reason I added up the total length of time we'd been listening to it. We were both certain we'd heard at least 45 minutes of music, but in fact it had been on for under 20 minutes. And that was before the "vocal" tracks show up, which really defy description.

Despite the more shocking musical moments, it's not a novelty record or anything. These are some extremely accomplished musicians, and the playing is top notch.
posted by mragreeable at 7:04 PM on February 11, 2006

Obvious choice: Bernard Herrmann, longtime Hitchcock collaborator. Among his scores: Psycho, Vertigo, and Taxi Driver.
posted by rob511 at 7:19 PM on February 11, 2006

Neutral Milk Hotel In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. I'm always exhausted from crying so hard, seriously. I saw a drunk guy at a house party in Iowa City playing air guitar to Communist Daughter and I wanted to punch him in the neck.
posted by symbebekos at 7:38 PM on February 11, 2006

In an Autumn Garden (MP3, 15 MB) by Toru Takemitsu is a modern classical piece written for traditional Japanese instruments. It's very slow-paced compared to the examples you've given, but the contrast of sparseness and intensity, the repetition and lack of structure, and sometimes the sheer bizareness of the unfamiliar instrument sounds make it a difficult, haunting experience.
posted by chrismear at 7:41 PM on February 11, 2006

The Star Wars music, when watching the rerelease.

Shatner's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Truly draining.
posted by Aknaton at 7:51 PM on February 11, 2006

Heavy low-frequency drone-metal like Earth and Sun 0))) is physically exhausting. See also Khanate.
posted by Falconetti at 7:53 PM on February 11, 2006

Uncle Meat. Frank Zappa is food for the mind, the soul is gravy on the meat.

Another fave is the B side of Todd Rundgren's "Initiation", the track called "A Treatise On Cosmic Fire". Trippy, intensely unique.

Both pieces are timeless, tireless experimentations that are musical jigsaw puzzles, dense with texture and a wide range of sonic colors and flavors.

And juicy guitars. Yummy.
posted by dbiedny at 7:58 PM on February 11, 2006

I find Trapeze Swinger by Iron and Wine to be especially heartbreaking, but that could just be me.

Also seconding: anything by Neutral Milk Hotel is amazing.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:02 PM on February 11, 2006

I can think of only one recording that has ever made me frightened, and that is physically difficult to make it all the way through: Isolrubin BK's Crash Injury Trauma. Very much on the noisy side, it features repeated crash sounds, oscillators that veeeery slowly rise in pitch, and grinding background noise that gets under your skin and stays there. The first track alone is thoroughly draining. Probably hard to find; contact me if you need a copy.

Another CD that is quite draining when listened to in toto is Towering Inferno's Kaddish (review). Not as brutal as Swans or even Merzbow, but captivating and harsh in its own way, both musically and w/r/t its subject matter.

You might also want to give a try to some of Glenn Branca's guitar symphonies, particularly Symphony #6, "Devil choirs at the gates of heaven."

See also Rudolph Grey, "Mask of Light." Thoroughly unlistenable guitar skronk.

And there's always the Whitehouse catalog, which I find draining mostly because they insist on incorporating high-frequency white noise that is right at the pain threshold.

But seriously, track down that Isolrubin BK cd. It'll keep you up at night.
posted by googly at 8:03 PM on February 11, 2006

Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana", when I was in a chorus that performed it. I was in the front row of the alto section, standing directly behind the percussionist. At various points, he left off walloping the tympani in favor of banging a claw hammer on a car wheel perched on a steel chair, with great enthusiasm. After the dress rehearsal I had to go home and take a shower and an aspirin.
posted by Quietgal at 8:04 PM on February 11, 2006

I second In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I've actually had to walk away from it for a little while because it was (and still is) a little too much for me. The best album I've heard in as long as I can remember.

An album that always takes my breath away is the soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi. I know many people don't think it's even music, but few albums touch me like that album does. Of course, it's even better if you watch the movie.
posted by tcobretti at 8:08 PM on February 11, 2006

Arvo Pärt's Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten.
posted by holgate at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

The 150 Murderous Passions by Nurse With Wound

My Skin Covers My Body by The Happy Flowers

Winnipeg is a Frozen Shithole by Venetian Snares
posted by RoseovSharon at 8:36 PM on February 11, 2006

If you go into a piece of music with expectations, will it "work" for you?

Anyway, I first listened to Tricky's Pre-Millenium Tension on headphones, and it made me paranoid and claustraphobic. Reaching the end was like coming up for air. It hasn't had such a strong effect since then, though.
posted by Leon at 8:46 PM on February 11, 2006

The Wall.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 8:46 PM on February 11, 2006

Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, written in the late sixteenth century. It's a motet in forty parts, generally performed by forty people split into eight choirs. The scale is completely overwhelming.
posted by cacophony at 9:01 PM on February 11, 2006

Lots of free jazz fits the bill; Archie Shepp's 60s work does it for me, as does the Art Ensemble of Chicago and some of the looser-but-still-unbelievably-intense work of 70s-era Frank Lowe, especially the 1975 album The Flam, which challenges me to a mental fight every time I hear it. Try "Be-Bo-Bo-Be" for starters.
posted by mediareport at 9:01 PM on February 11, 2006

Brighter Death Now - Innerwar.
posted by neckro23 at 9:14 PM on February 11, 2006

Most works by Bela Bartok. The symphonic equivalent of having a giant rock rolled onto your chest. You can't fight Bartok, man. Just walk away.

Some of Coil's work: The hellraiser soundtrack, the plastic spider experiment.

Shinjuku Thief's Witch Trilogy.
posted by boo_radley at 9:22 PM on February 11, 2006

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings. Famous for being the final sequence music from Platoon.

Pink Floyd, The Wall. No, really. ;-)

Massive Attack, Mezzanine.
posted by frogan at 9:32 PM on February 11, 2006

I'm hesitating to suggest this even now, but Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet has freaked me out on a couple of occasions.
posted by Gilbert at 9:46 PM on February 11, 2006

Response by poster: Some good suggestions here so far, thanks all. Some of these I have already, some I don't, so I'll be checking those out. And I'm ashamed to say I'd never even heard of Frank Lowe.

I've, uh, 'acquired' the Isolrubin BK, googly, and it's a barrel of laughs so far! I'm partway through track 2 as I write. A woman has just described suffering 36 broken bones, and now someone's cutting through the wreckage with a powersaw. Heh. It kind of reminds me a bit of Non - the only piece of music that's ever made me feel genuinely ill is Deletion, a track from his Might! album. Ugh.

Keep 'em coming! I'm thirsty for more.
posted by nylon at 9:58 PM on February 11, 2006

Great question. I second Lightning Bolt (suggest Wonderful Rainbow) and Venetian Snares (for hardcore go straight to Making Orange Things), though anything by either artist will fit the bill.


Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replic, some of the most intricate, non-passive, confounding music you can find.

Acid Mothers Temple, maybe Electric Heavyland.

Musica Transonica - Introducting Musica Transonica, it's heavy.

Joy Division is the most soul-cleaving music.

Any Steve Albini group may do it for you - Rapeman, Big Black or Shellac. Irresistable rhythm.

Another John Zorn project, Painkiller, sounds like it would fit the bill also. Less playful than Naked City.

Alec Empire - The Destroyer, may tickle your fancy
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:07 PM on February 11, 2006

Anger, by Ryuichi Sakomoto.
posted by geekhorde at 10:21 PM on February 11, 2006

A lot of submissions here I've never heard of, so methinks I'm spending snowed in blizzard day looking these up. Keep them coming.. here's my 2 pence

Gary Lucas- Skeleton at the Feast

TooL- Aenima

Miles Davis- Pangea

Last Exit- Iron Path

Metallica- Master Of Puppets

and anything by
Dj Shadow

and on the opposite end of the spectrum I always have a smile, sing along to, can't not listen to the whole album when it comes up on shuffle on the ipod and I end up cancelling shuffle mode and play air trumpets as well as air flamenco guitar to it. And I do that dance Snoopy did , kind of, well in my head at least
Love- Forever Changes
posted by stavx at 10:24 PM on February 11, 2006

Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music
John Zorn: Kristallnacht

Also, try listening to Jordan, Minnesota by Big Black. It's short, but try listening to it more than once. I could handle it better when I was younger…
posted by al_fresco at 10:26 PM on February 11, 2006

If you think Floyd's The Wall is intense, go take a listen to The Final Cut. Listen to the whole thing straight through. The most beautiful and heartbreaking love letter to the human race ever written. If I had the power I'd make it required listening for every leader of every nation at least once a week.
posted by any major dude at 10:29 PM on February 11, 2006

Henryk Gorecki's Symphony #3 (aka Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) gets me every single time and I've listened to it scores and scores of times. Absolutely stunning.
posted by almostcool at 10:31 PM on February 11, 2006

Aphex Twin's Ventolin is fairly stressful to listen to. Available for preview at bleep.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:50 PM on February 11, 2006

Mars Volta's De-loused at the Comatorium would qualify, IMO.
posted by knave at 10:52 PM on February 11, 2006

Happy Flowers! Yay! That was what I would put on for the "its time for you people to leave my house" music.

"I'm gonna eat ice cream 'til I rot in hell!"

I hadn't thought about that in years.


Meshuggah, Nothing

Dillinger Escape Plan, Calculating Infinity, Miss Machine
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:50 PM on February 11, 2006

One time I put on A Silver Mt. Zion's He has left us alone but shafts of light sometimes grace the corners of our rooms as I went to bed, and I ended up just laying in bed terrified. It was great, but it really required some previous element of exhaustion and falling asleep.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:35 AM on February 12, 2006

I second Khanate. Along with the whole drone-metal thing, the funeral doom sub-genre is worth checking out- Thergothon, Skepticism, Pantheist, and various others.

Current 93 is often quite harrowing, depending on the album. For what you're looking for, I'd recommend the early, apocalyptic soundscape ones like Nature Unveiled and Dog's Blood Rising, the three albums that make up the Inmost Light trilogy(The Long Shadows Fall, All the Pretty Little Horses, and The Starres are Sadly Marching Home), which are harrowing in a more subtle and spooky way, and the collaborations with Thomas Ligotti, in particular I Have A Special Plan for This World. That one is kind of a surreal story/poem being read over eerie music/noise, with a very unsettling ending.

Probably the most harrowing music I've ever heard is an album called Syuuka, by a very obscure Japanese band called Onna-Kodomo. It's quite different from what you might expect, though- it's a very soft, slow, minimalist album, with pretty, ethereal female vocals. I remember one review saying that it made Low sound like speed metal, which is true, and in fact might be an understatement. This may not sound like a recipe for harrowing music at all, and yet I found it to be downright scary.
For me, listening to it evokes images of being in a moonlit bamboo forest, surrounded by mournful ghosts. It sounds so eerie, sad, and otherworldly, in fact, that I've only been able to listen to it all the way through once. It may not be quite what you're after, and I suspect I had an idiosyncratically strong reaction to it, but it's kind of the yin to the yang of things like Khanate, and equally intense and frightening in its own way.
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:51 AM on February 12, 2006

A Silver Mount Zion often leaves me exhausted, particularly the first album ["He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Still Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Room."] It's not terrifying, but it generally comes across as so unutterably sad that I find myself emotionally exhausted and even physically drained. Devestating. Really, it's generally the emotional impact that does me in - I'm fine listening to Khanate or Earth or Sunn O))) or Skepticism or Merzbow or Whitehouse or the Swans or whatnot, but... Current 93 manages to hit me this way as well [I've been verily obsessed with them of late.] The demo by Forty Days Longing and some stuff by Avernus are fairly hard-hitting, if you can stomach metal. Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Hrsta [both part of the same collective Silver Mount Zion comes from] often hit a gorgeously depressing note as well. Set Fire to Flames has the excruciatingly spare feel of ASMZ, but their music doesn't have the carefully orchestrated feel of the latter.
posted by ubersturm at 1:56 AM on February 12, 2006

Given the artists you already mentioned, I woul guess you are alredy familiar wiht autechre. If not i would say pick up ep7, and walk your way fowards from there (the older stuff is much more calm). The opening few notes of ep7 still send a shiver down my spine.
posted by scodger at 2:13 AM on February 12, 2006

Otomo Yoshihide
posted by misozaki at 2:20 AM on February 12, 2006

Keith Rowe and John Tilbury - Duos for Doris (erstwhile records).

posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:17 AM on February 12, 2006

Adema's "Co-dependant" and anything from Seether
posted by rinkjustice at 4:47 AM on February 12, 2006

Tilt by Scott Walker.

The Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy by Magma, listened to all the way through.
posted by Grangousier at 6:25 AM on February 12, 2006

Schubert's Winterreise, performed by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. I can listen to it only about once a year.
posted by KRS at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2006

Gorecki's Already it is Dusk.
posted by sophie at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2006

The Birthday Party Live 1981-82. Their cover of 'Funhouse' will rip your scalp off.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:38 AM on February 12, 2006

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2006

Mirella Freni has said several times that in Simon Boccanegra's final concertato you can hear Verdi's tears. I dare you not to cry when you listen to that.

then, off the top of my head, Kathleen Ferrier singing Du Bist die Ruh, the way Caballé as Butterfly hits "Tutti i fior", Ilva Ligabue's -- that forgotten divina -- heartbreaking "Madre pietosa Vergine" in La Forza del Destino, Callas' "Oh! s'io potessi", Tebaldi's Umile Ancella
posted by matteo at 9:46 AM on February 12, 2006

Mahler's 6th Symphony. Featuring the three hammer blows of fate.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2006

I second Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which I heard in its entirety only a couple weeks ago. My girlfriend, who is wise and better understands how a sunny Friday afternoon ought to be spent, politely suggested that I turn it off.

Really, this is harder for me than I thought it would be. I don't think I particularly enjoy that sort of experience anymore. Maybe:

Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers
The Swans, Body to Body, Job to Job

There are some free jazz recordings by the likes of Joseph Jarman, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, etc. that get under my skin in a way that I find pleasing, though I'm not sure that I would necessarily describe the feeling as 'harrowing.'

After your soul's been sucked out by the many recordings listed on this page, I'd suggest giving Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club a try. Again, it's not harrowing in any sense of the word but it is certainly affecting; that Sam Cooke record has gotta be the most joyful live record ever.
posted by cobra libre at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2006

Anything by Bruckner. Jebus, his symphonies go on forbloodyever. I've only ever played one--his saving grace is that he was a composer who wrote some good meaty parts for violists--and I think I slept for a week afterwards.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2006

Bright Sheng's H'un (Lacerations).

Any Mahler symphony.

George Crumb's Black Angels.

O'Malley's Bar from Nick Cave's Murder Ballads and also From Her to Eternity, The Mercy Seat... come to think of it Nick Cave's pretty harrowing in general (at least before he got saved or whatever).

Support Our Troops OH! from Xiu Xiu's Fabulous Muscles.

That's enough for now.
posted by speicus at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2006

OK, it's not enough.

Jandek is pretty exhausting if you're into that kind of thing.

Iannis Xenakis will challenge you.

I'm stopping now. I mean it.
posted by speicus at 2:12 PM on February 12, 2006

Tonight's The Night - Neil Young
Darkness At The Edge Of Town - Bruce Springsteen
posted by jonmc at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2006

Throbbing Gristle's First Annual Report.
posted by Rash at 2:59 PM on February 12, 2006

Automatic for the People by REM still has the capacity to make me cry.
OK Computer by Radiohead makes me cry and want to slit my wrists.
Both albums in their entirety leave me emotionally exhausted.
posted by msali at 3:01 PM on February 12, 2006

Almost anything by Muslimgauze. For some reason, his work just leaves me feeling drained and punched in the gut.
posted by mykescipark at 4:25 PM on February 12, 2006

I'm basically rehashing a comment I made here, but: When David Heard by Eric Whitacre. This is based off a biblical passage where David laments the death of his son, Absalom. I have no idea what it's like to lose a child, but I think Whitacre succeeded at pouring that grief into the music. To quote one listener: "I am not generally an emotional person. I have never cried at a movie, I could probably count the times I've cried since I was 8 on my fingers...I heard When David Heard and I was taken away. I felt like I was in a dreamworld. The intense sorrow in the piece is staggering. I broke down and cried like a baby."

The recording on Whitacre's Complete A'cappella Works was conducted by a director who lost a son in a car accident several years before.
posted by weston at 4:26 PM on February 12, 2006

Also recommending A Silver Mt. Zion and in particular Yanqui U.X.O. by Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

The soundtrack to The Sweet Hereafter features a lot of very desolate-sounding tracks interspersed with a few songs fronted by Sarah Polley, including a cover of The Tragically Hip's Courage. That's a powerful combination. And a powerful movie.

I'm amazed no one has mentioned PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love yet. That album puts me through the wringer every time. I can only listen to it every couple of months.

I also submit the track "This Place Is A Prison" from The Postal Service's Give Up.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2006

Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. Turnage's Blood on the Floor. Schoenberg's Ewartung and Pierrot Lunaire. Berg's Violin Concerto and Lulu. Strauss' Four Last Songs.
posted by cbrody at 7:53 PM on February 12, 2006

"The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by the Pogues always leaves me weeping and despondent no matter how many times I hear it.

Jon Mitchell: Ventolin is my favorite piece of music that I'm afraid to listen to on headphones due to fear of further irreversable hearing damage. :)
posted by murphy slaw at 11:24 PM on February 12, 2006

Neutral Milk Hotel In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. I'm always exhausted from crying so hard, seriously.

I second In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I've actually had to walk away from it for a little while because it was (and still is) a little too much for me. The best album I've heard in as long as I can remember.

Thirded. It makes me really happy that two people have already said this.

Besides that: My Bloody Valentine - Loveless, for the sheer density and weight of it.

Beethoven's 9th Symphony (the 4th movement most of all) for unadulterated joy.

Schoenberg's A Survivor From Warsaw for a tragic, harrowing, frightening musical experience. Really, a lot of the works from the 2nd Viennese school (Schoenberg, Webern, Berg) could probably fit your criteria.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:20 AM on February 13, 2006

Response by poster: Here's what I'm going to do, for anyone that's interested - take a few days to accumulate as many of these tip-offs as I can that I don't already have, and report back on my findings. If I still have the will to live. Most of the rock-based ones I already have or know about, but the classical stuff is all new to me. Thanks again for the contributions!
posted by nylon at 1:55 PM on February 13, 2006

I downloaded In The Aeroplane Over The Sea after all the recommendations.. and OH MY GOD. So beautiful!

Thank you all so much for that little nugget of joy. It's been playing non-stop. I love AskMe.
posted by educatedslacker at 3:36 PM on February 13, 2006

and OH MY GOD. So beautiful!

Good! I was afraid you were going to say that you downloaded it and can't see what all the fuss is about. I've certainly gotten that reaction many times, although I can't really understand it at all.

NMH's first album, On Avery Island, is great in its own right, although it lacks the unity and clarity of theme present in In the Aeroplane and so I think it doesn't hit as hard or cohere as well in the end. But some of the individual songs are really excellent, as good as on Aeroplane.

I've been meaning for a long time to craft a nice FPP on Neutral Milk Hotel. Some day soon...
posted by ludwig_van at 3:45 PM on February 13, 2006

I've been meaning for a long time to craft a nice FPP on Neutral Milk Hotel. Some day soon...

I'll definitely be waiting for that one. If I can ever stop listening to In The Aeroplane..., I'll give On Avery Island a quick listen to hear the difference.
posted by educatedslacker at 4:53 PM on February 13, 2006

George Crumb's "Black Angels"
God- "Anatomy of an Addiction"
Anything by Borbetomagus
posted by Eothele at 9:58 PM on February 13, 2006

Another vote for Aeroplane. I still have to give props to megnut for recommending it on her blog; I bought it the next day, and from the first track I was all What the fuck is this? By the end I was stunned; I think I just sat there for about 15 minutes.

I've had similar (perhaps more personal) reactions to:
Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2
Arcade Fire, Funeral (if you like NMH)
in the day, Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

At a slightly less draining level:
Damien Rice, O
Jeff Buckley, Grace
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine [bootleg]
Dresden Dolls, A is for Accident
Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
The National, Alligator
The Kills, No Wow (if you like PJ Harvey)

It's hard to have completely escaped most of these, of course. I think I'm going to skip going for singles here, though, except perhaps for "Lovers' Spit" (Broken Social Scene, Bee Hives version, with Feist), "Maps", and Eels "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)".
posted by dhartung at 10:59 PM on February 13, 2006

Jeff Buckley Live in Chicago. Besides the unfathomable power of his performance, it's all the more tragic because we know how his story ends. Contains a goosebump-inducing rendition of "Grace", and this "Hallelujah" is a lamentation sorrowful enough to bring anyone to tears.
posted by edverb at 11:11 PM on February 13, 2006

Mahler's 2nd.
posted by Ohdemah at 11:32 PM on February 13, 2006

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