Has Unlit awakened from a long deep sleep? Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?

The murmuring voices are explaining that the current time somehow is two years ago. I know that my sleepy head was ever so delicately placed upon a black percale pillow case when I thought I heard the tiniest of sounds. Was it homing pigeons high atop a roof in London? A distant car alarm? Finally realizing it was my phone I reached for the device and discovered it was full of messages. You, over there, wanted to rendezvous for a coffee and a heart felt conversation. A few of you were inquiring about the death of my parents and my general well being. But most of you were simply wondering when a year-end best-of list would be posted. Hmm. I do remember writing one, but was it ever finished? Could I have simply forgotten to press the little publish button?

There was, after all, a great deal of commotion at the time. There was complicated grief, and there was confusion. Then someone offered me a full-time gig, a non-profit do gooder sort of job, one where people needed something, needed help with a major life problem. It seems I signed on for the financial compensation and then so many things fell off the proverbial plate. Where did they go? And now, dear reader, is this future or is this past? Looking at my calendar it says it’s Unlit’s first anniversary, March 1, 2021. It’s dark outside and I raise a glass and propose a toast – “To late night, dark and moody music magic,” I say proudly. Glasses begin clinking as I light a few candles and prepare to tell you of the most remarkable recordings of 2021, sharing only those most favorite releases that occupied my abysmal and unfortunately white AirPods all year.

The following 30 albums were, as always, meticulously hand picked for your late night listening enjoyment. To qualify for Unlit’s best of list each release needed to contain at least 7 tracks. Music in other languages once again had the unfair advantage of never being fully understood, and thus couldn’t fall into lyrical contempt. Unlit has historically shared our best of list on March 1st to allow time to really sit with all the music and know these selections to be true. So without any further ado, thank you, dear artists (and distributors), for making 2021 the longest and dreamiest year ever. Here are Unlit’s Best Dark Albums of 2021.

30. Underwater Sleep Orchestra: The Night and Other Sunken Dreams – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Cryo Chamber • Sweden / USA

Two favorite dark ambient artists joined forces, Sweden’s Pär Boström of Cities Last Broadcast and America’s Bruce Moallem of God Body Disconnect. Together they hone hushed hymns for lost dreamers and others who appreciate an undersea solemnity previously only heard in dreams. Presented as two dreams, a nightmarish trip within blurry worlds, and a nostalgic journey through the real and unreal, all of the sounds within were processed through VHS tape for extra sunken effect.

29. Denuit: Black Sun – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • France

Black Sun, the dark electronic poetic debut album from Lis Araignée and Ivi Topp, is best placed upon your turntable after dark. Over his nebulous synths we hear her cold vocals conjuring a night-wave potion inspired by cyberpunk aesthetics, the shadowiest of sorrows, and the dark poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Denuit couldn’t help diving into their grief as well after the loss of dear loved ones – and then, of course, a global pandemic arrived to make everything worse.

28. Marble Slave: Fan Fiction – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • Paris, France

While Marble Slave may be keeping his personal identity under wraps, his confessional dark wave electropop songs are incredibly revealing. He spins stories of late-night gay sexual hookups, the navigation of BDSM encounters, and the emotional torture of looking for love in the digital dystopia. The results are refreshingly real. It did, however, take me forever to realize a black-gloved hand graces the cover, over something beige. Cover art could be better.

27. FARGUE: Ruines, Irradiées – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Cavsas • Switzerland / Finland

Fargue (French meaning “to accuse/burden”) is a Swiss/Finnish duo featuring multi-instrumentalists Samuel Vaney and Eeli Helin. These two coined the term drone-rock, sharing a passion for drone, post-rock, and other forms of experimental music. Ruines, Irradiées (Irradiated ruins) is all of the above. Written and recorded during the pandemic these tracks were crafted together, yet alone in their respective corners of the world. The Lynchian results are a letter to those who have disappeared at the bottom of the water, always at peace.

26. The Cold Field: Hollows – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cold Transmission • Australia

The Cold Field may hail from Adelaide, a city known for milder wetter winters, but with Ian Messenger on vocals, guitars, synths, and drum programming, and Heath Newberry on the bass, temperatures begin to drop rapidly. This coldwave post-punk duo’s sophomore release certainly had me looking for my mittens. Kirsten Solury of the Bleeding Black Hearts Revue agrees, telling us that Hollows is a “banger from start to finish.”

25. Beyond The Ghost: The Last Resort – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cryo Chamber • Lille, France

It’s late at night in the future and you find yourself in Berlin. The Last Resort is a hidden place where time plays out differently and everything in life slows down. Is it the spacetime continuum or the opiates? A few brave and lonely souls gather together to drink the night away to the woeful tunes of the house band, and between sets a broken alert system in the streets can still be heard, reminding us that the end is near. Pierre Laplace has done it again.

24. Ohne Nomen: Night Flower – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cold Transmission • Italy

Fra ‘Ange Noir’ Marlat and Philippe Marlat, founders of the Italian darkwave band Marlat, have conjured up a new witch wave / electro wave project with a manifesto of embroiling their new sound with the occult and magic. Shadowy lyrics are juxtaposed with sweet-sounding vocals and set to dance floor beats making for a bewitching first album that will take you into the night, where, the artists tell us, we will encounter all of the creatures that live in the darkness.

23. Death Loves Veronica: Chemical – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cold Transmission • Texas, USA

Veronica Stich composed and performed music for several years with post-punk and deathrock acts. Her solo project here goes the route of modular and analog synthesizers and utilizes experimental methods to create a testament to deep festering emotional wounds that is incredibly smart, bleakly sorrowful, and oh so darkly electronic. While Chemical could benefit from a little editing, the dozen tracks are nearly all gems collectively making this a real winner.

22. Old Tower: Grim Alchemy – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Hospital • Netherlands

Old Tower’s alchemic trilogy concludes with a cauldron frothing in full force. From lo-fi dungeon explorations to medieval astral projections, Grim Alchemy offers a wide variety of sinister sounds and solemn stories for nightly inner explorations – or journeys into the vast unlit unknown. The Specter, our artist’s only known moniker, presents something spell-binding with the blood of a dragon, ghosts from the woods, and a dash of the ashes of souls.

21. Glaring: Nebula – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Peripheral Minimal • Bremen, Germany

Anna Nin penned all of the songs on her latest album – and then she performed, recorded, and mixed them on her own. Her spacey creations have a dark chilly shoegazey quality to them that makes them oh so dreamy. While I do wish the tracks had better endings at times, I have found these songs to be a most perfect late-night road trip soundtrack lost deep in the Mojave desert under skies chock-full of stars. Nebula is her best work to date.

20. Vexagon: Love is Surrender – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • Los Angeles, USA

Briar Moth, who records music under the name Vexagon, clearly loves the television series Twin Peaks as much as I do. Not only is Love is Surrender based on that world with numerous references to Laura Palmer’s story throughout the album, they even cover “Just You” – a somewhat cringe-worthy moment from the series. Even if you’re not familiar with the show, the cold synth stylings and vocal deliveries here are everything, a definite talent to keep your eye on.

19. Leigh Ivin and Inga Liljeström: Of Stars and Stones – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • Australia / UK

In the midst of a global pandemic and while located in opposite hemispheres on this planet, Leigh Ivan and Inga Liljeström somehow managed to create a most memorable record that’s as haunting as it is beautiful. A darkly delicate folk experience that veers into experimental, from the river to the mountain to the mouth of a wolf, Of Stars and Stones is minimal, mysterious, and mesmerizing.

18. Mala Herba: Demonologia – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Aufnahme + Wiedergabe • Vienna, Austria

Mala Herba is the synth witchcraft project of Zosia Holubowska in Vienna. With otherworldly vocals, pounding beats, and unexpected sound arrangements, her demonology studies here travel new ground for a unique dark wave collection. While the arrangements may even sound simple at times, what she is up to is incredibly complex, so much so I fell under the album’s spell the moment I heard it. Perhaps you will too, dear reader. Give it a listen.

17. Nox Novacula: Ascension – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Manic Depression • Seattle, Washington, USA

Emanating from a pallid, meager cemetery called Seattle, Nox Novacula has been busy spreading their gothic death rock gospel and now we witness their ascension as they raise the dead to new heights. The favorite goth rock band of Will Mohwaas, he said this one “offered even more variance in the aisle of gravestones… Beautiful, chilling, potent, grinding music with vocals that are at once as demanding and chill as Death’s finger pointing at your demise.”

16. Access to Arasaka: L A K E S – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • Rochester, New York, USA

Rob Lloy is something of a sound genius. He started off as a DJ and the most recent leg of his journey takes us to the L A K E S, deep dark pools of electronic experimental cyberpunk glitch water. It’s as if he’s off in a world all his own. Ews Nsj noted that his music “places me in off-limits areas well past warning signs and electrified barriers. Feels like a soundtrack to a film I wanna see. A highly recommended trip, especially with headphones.”

15. Madmoizel: Blue – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • France

Classically trained, Madmoizel draws upon many different influences from post-punk to new-wave to neo-classical. Her vocal prowess and powerful machine-driven beats transform some of these synth tracks into irresistible dance floor encounters, while others are blue and colder than ice. From profundity to lightness, Blue is the process and we’re lucky she’s sharing hers. Since 2010 she’s toured underground, goth & queer stages and remains unclassifiable, yet identifiable.

14. Osi and the Jupiter: Stave – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Eisenwald • Kent, Ohio, USA

Osi and the Jupiter have been a favorite for some time and Stave once again steps away from ancient explorations to take us deep into the dark woods of America’s Appalachia – a region known for tradition, wilderness, and poverty. With the exception of noted guests all music & lyrics were written and performed by the very talented Sean Kratz. He creates unlit atmospheric pools that seep into my little black heart and pagan soul every time.

13: L’Avenir: Shadow & Reflection – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Einz Swei Acht • Baltimore, Maryland, USA

L’Avenir is the cold synth project of veteran electronic musician and sound artist Jason Sloan. Known throughout the space and ambient music scenes for his contemplative electronic soundscape work for over two decades; Sloan founded L’Avenir in 2011 to explore his long-time love of dark synth and minimal wave music created purely from analog and vintage equipment. Shadow & Reflection is icy synth 80’s goth minimalism at its finest.

12. Sonsombre: Revival – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cleopatra Virginia, USA

Sonsombre returned to take us to church, but maybe not church exactly, or at least not the kind of church your grandmother went to, unless of course your grandmother worshipped demons or Satan or something, then perhaps that kind of church. Brandon Pybus, Charlotte Lantern, and Dave Butry delivered us with haunting visuals, sharp songwriting and an album chock full of goth rock classics you’ll be humming in the shower for days.

11. Kaelan Mikla: Undir K​ö​ldum Nor​ð​urlj​ó​sum – Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Artoffact • Reykjavik, Iceland

Though a fan of their earlier work, Undir K​ö​ldum Nor​ð​urlj​ó​sum (Under the cold Northern lights) is totally next level. Beautifully ethereal with melodic synths, it’s as if you can hear her sing inside giant Icelandic drifts of snow blown by winds as old as time. Mathis sea told us, “This album is the sound of winter and witchcraft. The first song Svort Augu is unearthly beautiful and the rest of the album follows suit. An incredible album from start to finish.”

10. Male Tears: Trauma Club – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Starfield • California, USA

As someone who qualifies for trauma club membership, I was excited to listen to the latest from Male Tears and it’s pretty much perfection. Every track is a late-night dressed-in-black dark-disco dance floor filler. Goth italo met a little dark Hi-NRG and hooked up with darkwave to produce a most unexpected favorite of 2021. Frank Shark and James Edward bring us sad songs with a beat and Trash_Queen88 reminds us, “You can cry to it and you can dance to it.”

9. Diavol Strâin: Elegia del Olvideo, Elegio del Horror – Links: Bandcamp / Instagram / Young & Cold • Chile

There are albums you like immediately, and then there are those that continually surprise and delight as they worm their way into your brain. Diavol Strâin’s latest just kept getting better listen after listen. Their name, which translates to Foreign Devil in Romanian, is as smart as Ignacia Strâin and Lau M are here cleverly mixing Classic 80’s darkwave sounds with 90’s Riot Grrrl punk elements to bring us an elegy of both oblivion and horror.

8. Odonis Odonis: Spectrums – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Felte • Toronto, Ontario, Canada

80s goth and darkwave melodicism with an industrial strength intensity, Odonis Odonis’ fourth album Spectrums reveals the dualities of their sound in a striking new light. Dean Tzenos and Denholm Whale have proven themselves to be a dynamic duo on their own, and as Gary Labusch said, “I love the dark vibe and atmospheric sounds and heavy industrial beats, definitely one of my favourite albums.” Seeing them live at Zebulon cemented this in the top ten this year too.

7. Фактор Давления (Factor Pressure) – Место без памяти (Mesto Bez Pamyati) – Links: Bandcamp / VK / Sierpien • Russia

I do not remember how I discovered Фактор Давления, but high in Russia’s most northern lands, in the icy White Sea port city of Arсhangelsk, there is an extremely obscure depressive cold wave post-punk band that could easily be called Russia’s Joy Division. Nobody who has heard them would argue the title either. I don’t know much about the band or the album, I only know I listened to Место без памяти on endless repeat many times this past year.

6. Dead Melodies: Fabled Machines of Old – Links: Bandcamp / Instagram / Cryo Chamber • UK

Sometimes less can be so much more. Fabled Machines of Old is a dark ambient gem of candlelit uneasiness and quiet late-night acoustics long after our civilization has gone. Tom Moore’s latest may have been played more than anything else this year, aurally telling tales of those fabled great machines of old that did so much and ultimately failed us. Yet another great empire and its comforts a distant memory.

5. Grey Gallows: Garden of Lies – . Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cold Transmission • Greece

In the Garden of Lies Konstantin and Dionisis of Grey Gallows have planted their finest work to date. The band from Greece experimented with their sound creating darker and more melancholic musical landscapes without ever deviating from their wider gothic sound. Utilizing the common ground of the pain of human existence as seen through love, life, and death to craft these tracks, their latest showcases brilliant growth. Full Unlit Review.

4. Undinyx: Undinyx – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram • Hamburg, Germany

Perhaps you know Laura Mueller from her post-punk shoegaze band Grundeis (worthy of investigation), but her truly supreme solo project has proven far more intoxicating. Undinyx mixed equal doses of Cocteau Twins, Cranes, and Love is Colder Than Death in a blender and poured us a 1990s flavor of ethereal familiarity, an exquisite elixir of haunting vocals set to stormy night soundtracks. A brilliant debut from start to finish.

3. Black Tape For a Blue Girl: The Cleft Serpent – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Projekt • Portland, Oregon, USA

The only thing worse than a bad romance is a doomed one that’s been karmically repeating itself lifetime after lifetime after lifetime. Black Tape founder Sam Rosenthal’s 13th album in thirty years heartbreakingly captures the inevitable pain that comes with fate. Merging neoclassical, gothic, and dark ambient elements like the seasoned pro he is, this cohesive album feels almost improvisational, but don’t be surprised if the impeccable intimacy inspires tears. I, myself, have shed many.

2. Plastique Noir: Iskuros – Links: Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Wave • Fortaleza, Brazil

It had been six years since the Brazilian darkwave goth rockers released their last album and “Iskuros” when translated from the Greek ἰσχυρός (“brave”, “strong”), was titled semi-conceptually. After 15 years in Brazil’s underground scene, the band has proven to be unbreakable, yet the word is also a false cognate that suggests the idea of darkness, placing the band back in the dark aesthetic from which they were born. The results are magnificent.

1. All My Faith Lost: Untitled – Links: Website / Bandcamp / Apple / Spotify / Instagram / Cyclic Law • Italy

The long-awaited comeback of dark music veterans All My Faith Lost proved most definitely worth the wait. The Italian band returned a decade later to gift the world a heartbreaking album of incredible restraint, an instant classic that dominated Unlit’s airwaves all year. Viola Roccagli, Federico Salvador, Angelo Roccagli & Fabio Polo have woven together gothic textures, neoclassical threadings, and dark ambient colors with acoustic neofolk nostalgia to create a masterpiece of delicate sorrow I couldn’t get enough of it. Unlit’s Album of the Year. Full Unlit review.

That’s Unlit’s Best Dark Albums of 2021 list and each of these albums made post-pandemic life livable. We now return you to the future presently in progress. If you discovered something you particularly love we always love to hear about it. And if you love all of these selections, well, we should be friends. Stay tuned for 2022, dear reader. A time warp or something could have it arriving even sooner than you think.

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