There are hundreds of songs that are truly terrifying, and hundreds of tunes about monsters, but the overlapping section of the Venn diagram between the two is surprisingly small. Nine Inch Nails and Slayer will creep you out with their graphic tales of horror, but “Werewolves of London” and “Monster Mash” aren’t likely to keep you up at night. So with Halloween coming up, we found 10 tracks that take on the fictional devils, vampires, ghosts and other horror staples, and set them to music in a way that’s legitimately disturbing. Take a listen to our spooky selections below.
Radiohead, “We Suck Young Blood”
Thom Yorke once described this Hail to the Thief cut as a “slave ship tune.” It’s meant to be a critique on Hollywood’s treatment of young people, its vampiric overtones, nearly dissonant rhythms, and Yorke’s strained moans of lines like “Are you strung up by the wrists?” make it one of Radiohead‘s true chillers.
Eels, “Fresh Blood”
This single comes from Eels’ album Hombre Lobo, the Spanish translation of werewolf. Supposedly, it was inspired by him seeing his massive beard in the mirror and thinking he resembled the lupine monster, and frontman E takes the concept to its full extent here, casting himself as a nocturnal predator out for some sanguine satisfaction, complete with curdling howls.
Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”
It takes nearly three minutes of guitar squalls, minimalist drum tapping and a hypnotic bass line before Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy’s menacing lyrics about Count Dracula (and the titular actor who played him in the 1931 cinema classic) make their unsettling introduction. The group’s first single, released in 1979, remains a goth-rock milestone thanks to its bare-bones darkness.
Misfits, “Wolfs Blood”
Glenn Danzig might not seem as intimidating today, what with the photos of him out and about buying cat food, but as the muscular leader of the Misfits, flanked by bassist Jerry Only and his brother, guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, he was one of the first punk stars with an image based on horror and sci-fi. Here, Danzig screams like a raving asylum patient about turning into a werewolf — and depending on what lyrics sites you believe, he may or may not also sing about murdering a baby.
Sopor Æternus & the Ensemble of Shadows, “Children of the Corn”
Yeah, the movie adaptation of the Stephen King story kind of sucked, but this track from the German musical collective makes up for the cheesy scares. It comes from the third EP in their A Triptychon of GHOSTS trilogy. Set to sparse goth-folk instrumentation, singer Anna-Varney Cantodea recites such cheerful lines as “Alas reality is such a crippled whore/ All mortal things are sick and rotten to the core.”
Celtic Frost, “Danse Macabre”
Beginning in France as an artistic allegory of how all creatures ultimately end up dead, “Danse Macabre” translates to “Dance of Death,” and often features the undead or the Grim Reaper/Black Angel himself guiding people to their ultimate fate. In 1984, Swiss metal band Celtic Frost released their debut album Morbid Tales with an instrumental song of the same title, contrasting triangle hits with heavy gasps.To be fair, though, it’s not as scary as the LP’s lead track, “Into the Crypts of Rays,” based on the true story of a French lord who murdered at least 40 children in the 15th century.
The eponymous first song on the metal pioneers’ eponymous first album, “Black Sabbath” is allegedly a retelling of the time when bassist Geezer Butler awoke to see a dark ghost standing at the foot of his bed. Tony Iommi’s archetypal metal chords and Ozzy’s plaintive wails about Satan on this 1969 song established the quartet as the model of devil music.
Mastodon, “Circle of the Cysquatch”
What’s a cysquatch, you ask? According to Mastodon drummer Bränn Dailor, it’s “a one-eyed Sasquatch that can see into the future,” that plays a role in the band’s third album, Blood Mountain. You’ll feel your sanity slipping from the get-go of the track, and then it’ll seem like you’ve truly descended into madness once the mechanized voice of the titular character intones “Eyes all around you/ Enter the labyrinth.”
Throbbing Gristle, Devil’s Gateway
If you should ever have the need to experience true fear, try walking along a dark, empty street listening to this live instrumental cut from the legendary British industrial outfit. The feedback screeches alone could easily be mistaken for human screams.
Ruth White, “Flowers of Evil: Litanies of Satan”
A pioneer in the world of electronic music, White released this track in 1969. It’s an English translation of Charles Baudelaire’s controversial “Les Litanies de Satan” poem. The deadpan reading of Baudelaire’s ode to the devil takes on a more sinister vibe thanks to the ambient sounds and chants, and then shifts to a demented funhouse vibe. Avant garde performer Diamanda Galás also released her own version in 1982, and it’s so unhinged yet rhythmic that you could believe she’s really possessed by one of Satan’s servants.