The Horror!

Although I made this playlist the day before Halloween ’08, I listen to it all the time. Even in April.

“Main Title and First Victim” – John Williams, Jaws (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
Overused past the point of cliché, but crank this shit up at night in a dark, remote location, and you’ll rediscover its power. Do this in a dark, remote swimming pool, and you’ll probably die.

“Black Angels: I. Departure” – Kronos Quartet, Black Angels
By far the least traditionally “musical” item on the list, this sounds like a trillion bigger-than-you-care-to-imagine bats scuttling all at once against the ceiling in some colossal echo chamber of a cave. Running time: 5 min 24 sec.

“Theme from Halloween” – Buckethead
I ripped this audio snippet off of a YouTube video showing the apparently superhuman Buckethead playing both parts of this theme at the same time. Scary in both senses.

“Musica Ricercata for Piano: II. Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale” – Fredrik Ullén, Ligeti: Complete Piano Music, Volume 2 and “Masked Ball (1999 Extended Mix)” – Jocelyn Pook, Flood
Both of these tracks appear in Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s final movie (that we know of), the one with Cruise and Kidman and scenes that look like color-treated, gussied-up outtakes from The Shining. I detested this movie the first time I saw it; then I watched it again for reasons I can only guess at, and I went, “Oh, I get it now.” I think these two tracks are part of why I got it (and have now seen it 10-12 times). The former is a lonely smattering of piano notes that crops up occasionally in the film to signal bad things, man; the latter features a cello and assorted instruments underneath a priest reciting a Romanian liturgy – played backwards. Really fucking creepy, as is the orgy scene it accompanies.

“Come to Daddy” – Aphex Twin, Come to Daddy EP
The song itself is shocking enough, but the video is way, way worse (or, you know, better). Run away from the TV, Pepperpot!

“The Three Shadows Part 1” – Bauhaus, The Sky’s Gone Out
This track succeeds the same way “Masked Ball” does: as some seriously effective atmospherics. While his bandmates play chiming minor-key intervals, Peter Murphy wordlessly rumbles near the bottom of his Marianas-Trench register, a sound that gets maddeningly louder as the song drones on. I once played this at full volume while driving rural backroads alone late at night. It worked.

“Sympathy for the Devil” – Laibach, Sympathy for the Devil
Oh, thank you, Laibach, for making some of the funniest sounds in the history of human hearing (ever heard their version of the Beatles’ “Get Back”? Better not have a full bladder!). This track sure ain’t “scary,” but the stoopid synths and Teutonic phrasing definitely help set the list’s mood.

“Blue You” – The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
This song is a dark beauty on a three-disc collection full of beauty, and when the singer groans “The dead in their graves / And the gods in their caves” – well, it’s still technically a love song, I guess, but yikes.

“Goliath and the Vampires” – Monster Magnet, Powertrip
Dave Wyndorf’s deal with Satan apparently requires him to put at least one maelstrom of an instrumental on every Magnet album (check out “Ego, the Living Planet” on Dopes to Infinity), but this one outdoes itself and the pattern: the song’s grinding, echoing, always-building guitar and 1000-and-counting-damned-souls-a-screaming backdrop sound like the score for Dante’s Inferno: The IMAX Experience. Terribly unsettling.

“Sweet Dreams” – Probot, Probot
King Diamond, lead vocals.

“665 / Beyond the Wheel” – Soundgarden, Ultramega OK
Been listening to this for 20 years, and I still have no idea what they’re doing in “665”; it sounds back-masked, but who knows? Regardless, the keen/rumble/keen of Chris Cornell’s voice on both pieces is chilling.

“Black Wings” – Tom Waits, Bone Machine
As Waits songs go, this one’s pretty straight: a somber Tex-Mex shuffle with lovely guitar flourishes and a spoken-word narrative instead of Tom’s – ahem – “singing.” That narrative, though, is a doozy about a mysterious stranger who might have wings beneath his coat (would be a first-rate movie, in the right hands). And when Tom intones, in that low and disgusting whisper, “Well, they stopped trying to hold him / With mortar, stone, and chain / He broke out of every prison / When the boots mount the staircase / And the door’s flung back open / He’s not there for he is risen / He’s not there……for he has risen!”…… (shudders)

“Halloween (Album)” – Sonic Youth, Bad Moon Rising
A thematic pick. It’s not really scary per se, but there’s something about the way the song lurches ahead and the way Kim emotes that’s always given me the willies. Mudhoney’s version is damn good too.

“L’alba Dei Morti Venti” – Goblin, Zombi – Dawn of the Dead (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
Let us return now to yesteryear, back to a time when zombies were slow but persistent*, just like this track. It’s sort of plodding and silly – especially the spiraling synthesizer squiggles – but if you can get in the right frame of mind (like I can), it’s fun anyway.

“Black Sabbath” – Black Sabbath, Symptom of the Universe
A sentimental and thematic pick, but a badass song all the same.

“The Exorcist (Theme from Tubular Bells)” – 101 Strings Orchestra, Halloween
This was probably pretty, originally. Not no more. Now it just sounds like a harbinger of all the insanity to come. Thanks a lot, Regan.

“The Omen” – 101 Strings Orchestra, Halloween
Baboons! Rottweilers! Devil spawn! Gregory Peck!

“Symphony No. 6: Fifth Movement” – Glenn Branca, Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs At the Gates of Heaven)
Jesus H. This is otherworldly, terrifying music in any setting, but turned up loud in the dark it becomes physically unpleasant. And I mean that in a good way.

“The Murder Mystery” – The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
Probably the musical equivalent of a migraine, or of schizophrenia. Or even a schizophrenia-induced migraine (but not migraine-induced schizophrenia – that’s John Mayer). I’m sure Lou Reed is nice and all, but I really think you’d have to be a psychopath to put something like this together and have it work so damn well.

*If you’ve never seen 28 Days Later…, oh fucking hell go see it right now. Perfect in so many ways, particularly the “D’oh!” moment all viewers probably get when they wonder, “Why didn’t I think of Fast Zombies™?” (The sequel is also awesome.)


  1. Excellent stuff. I love scary noises, so I'm gonna have to check some of that stuff out.

    A few I'd add... "D.O.A." by Bloodrock - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzUpVyOdXek My cousins used to play this whenever they wanted to get rid of me when I was four years old, because I absolutely couldn't handle it. It's still disturbing as hell. I mean, lyrics like "I try to move my arm and there's no feeling/ And when I look I see there's nothing there" and "The sheets are red and moist where I'm lying/ God in Heaven, teach me how to die" are just uber-morbid. How this thing was ever a top 40 hit, I'll never know.

    Atomic Rooster - "Death Walks Behind You". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26JgBMtOaYc I'm glad my cousins didn't have that one when I was little. I'd probably still be in therapy just from that discordant piano opening... (I also used to run screaming from the room when the theme from "Dark Shadows" came on).

    Acid Bath - "Scream of the Butterfly" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHDfzWwPnGA Just about any song from any band Dax Riggs is involved with is creepy, but given the disturbo lyrics of this song, combined with his voice (which one critic described as "the voice of that thing that used to lurk in the corner of your room when you cried in your crib") it gets super-eerie.

    16 Horsepower - "Black Soul Choir" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO9My5_H6dg Again, just about anything these guys did is highly creepy, but this is a good example. It's hard to believe I actually like a band that plays Christian Appalachian music on banjo and accordian, but, make something creepy enough and I'm there. And when you get lyrics as evocative as "What you doin', girl, up atop my roof? / Creepin' 'cross them shingles / You 'bout scared me half to death/ What's your name, Ruthie Lingle?" I shudder and I don't know why.

    Anything Diamanda Galas sings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzWVWY5QUzg I heard she sometimes does her "Plague Mass" album in theaters that have been shut down to total darkness. I think that would be totally unbearable. This woman's voice is a bio-weapon that kills by fear!

    Anything by Abruptum. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKQ4v3IRbCw I think these guys are silly and almost unlistenable, as is any "ambient black metal," but they do creep me out a bit, 'cuz clowns are scary. The story goes that they sit around the studio torturing each other and recording their screams of agony. I know one album of theirs I bought came with a shiny new (real) razor blade enclosed so you could join in at home. I didn't, and am happy not to have gotten the "full effect."

    Speaking of King Diamond, it's hard to encapsulate how scary Mercyful Fate was when it first came out. I bought both "Don't Break The Oath" and "Melissa" on vinyl and that was some really freaky stuff. Not only was it blatantly Satanic (and they were serious about it) and had those weird vocals, there was other inexplicable stuff about the album, like the way guitarist Hank Sherman was always in the shadows and you could never see his face. So was King Diamond half the time. Mystique!

    Oh, and I *had* to dig up "Get Back" by Laibach. :D I love YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9w6SEtkeug Wow, they really make that song sound like a *threat,* don't they? I thought I was gonna have an aneurysm for a minute...

  2. Great post! I'd like to add a couple of favorites as well...
    Giacinto Scelsi, whose composition for strings + choir took a very dissonant turn during and after his mental breakdown, and Bela Bartok, particularly for the creepy string quartet pieces used by Kubrick in The Shining... Walter/Wendy Carlos' Beethoven pieces from A Clockwork Orange are also kinda disturbing, but more for the requisite film playback that goes on in my head when I hear em...