Let’s face it, Halloween playlists can be awful. “Monster Mash”, “Ghostbusters”, theme tunes from dated horror flicks… hell, even “Thriller” has become tainted. As a tasteful alternative, here lies a less conventional collection of frightening contemporary songs. Tracks that are fantastic in their own right, but flourish in an ambience of horror. More treats than tricks, I promise.
“Come to Daddy” // Aphex Twin
“Come to Daddy” is just one of Aphex Twin’s creepy internet sensations, and though it may not be the most terrifying, it’s undoubtedly my favourite. As Richard James expresses his desire to take your soul, a sinister, distorted bassline runs through at an ominous pace, flaunting imagery of a low-budget slasher flick. Luckily for us, Chris Cunningham elaborates on this imagery with his extremely disturbing music video. In daylight, you’ll probably laugh it off, but in a darker setting it’s likely to scare the living shit out of you. It’s one of the best drum and bass tracks in the entire Aphex Twin catalogue—James himself describes it as a ‘crappy death metal jingle.’ Fair enough.
“Cryptorchid” // Marilyn Manson
Yes, Marilyn Manson is an obvious choice—but for good reason. After all, Manson is one of the highest profile Satanist’s in popular culture, with numerous religious groups protesting against his uncompromising anti-Christian stance. Manson’s remarkable 1996 album Antichrist Superstar was a deep examination of the Nietzschean Übermensch, telling the twisted tale of a misunderstood worm who gradually develops into the Antichrist. On “Cryptorchild”, the worm explores his darker side to discover his true purpose of inducing doom. The instrumental features a twisted drum beat and numerous grotesque voices and vibrations. It’s one of Manson’s spookiest tracks, and is arranged in a surprisingly measured manner. The video is slightly less subtle.
“Gyroscope” // Boards of Canada
Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada are typically known for their lush soundscapes that evoke nostalgia and relaxation, but they’re also prone to showing the occasional instance of unfettered creepiness. Inspired by a dream involving number stations, “Gyroscope” opens with a mangled, monster-like percussion loop that hacks away at your senses, as an assortment of eerie sounds swirl around in the atmosphere. The track continues to mutilate for its duration, lulling listeners into an uncomfortable hypnotic state. The obscure stereo imaging is agitating, yet beautiful. It’s one of BoC’s finest, darkest hours, and the fact it’s featured in the 2012 horror film Sinister is a further testament to its horrifying nature.
“Guillotine” // Death Grips
Five albums in and “Guillotine” remains Death Grips’ scariest song. MC Ride’s menacing delivery is probably enough to set the faint-hearted over the edge, but it’s the looming bass synth that causes the uncomfortable, nauseating sense of claustrophobia. As some sort of twisted climax, a high-pitched synth pierces your brain like an electric shock. It’s severely intimidating in its hideous, simplistic beauty. Ride sounds like a genuine psychopath at the best of times, but he sounds particularly deranged here. He has that warm aura of amenity, which he shares with the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Think of him as the modern day Michael Myers. Just less stabby.
“Rabbit in Your Headlights” // UNKLE
“Rabbit In Your Headlights” is a stunning highlight from UNKLE’s debut album Psyence Fiction, with paranoid lyrics sung by Thom Yorke set against a bleak jazz background. Whilst the song wasn’t necessarily a commercial success, it has become recognised for its mysterious music video. Directed by Jonathon Glazer, the man responsible for 2013’s Under The Skin, it shows a seemingly confused man walking through a busy car tunnel. He repeatedly gets run down by vehicles, but gets back on his feet and continues his journey, all the while muttering intelligible words. At the songs climax, the man stands in a crucifix-like position and stands unmoved to the car that strikes him. The religious symbolism is glaring, and the entire experience is deeply haunting.
“Kim” // Eminem
Marshall Mathers was once a very angry man. In what is likely his most controversial song, Eminem acts out a violent fantasy that ultimately ends in him killing his ex-wife. It shouldn’t be taken at face value of course, but nonetheless, the rage is genuine and derived from pure emotion. My initial listen was one of the most unsettling experiences of my childhood (I have grown to understand why my parents saw fit to remove The Marshall Mathers LP from my CD collection), and I imagine it left a striking mark on many more of Em’s younger listeners. The savage imagery in the lyrics are pushed way beyond the norm in hip-hop, edging towards the gruesome nature of slasher films. Incredibly, Mathers actually played the song to Kim before the album was released. Dr. Dre conceded that, ‘if I was her, I would have ran when I heard that shit.’ Honestly, some people just have no sense of humour…
“Psalm 69” // Ministry
Cheesy Antichrist metal is always a winner. If you aren’t already familiar with them, Ministry are a remarkably mediocre outfit who somehow managed to influence today’s finest industrial metal artists. After the reading of a small biblical passage, “Psalm 69” charges into a satanic soundscape of chugging riffs, stomping drums, and dramatic choir chants. It’s genuinely stirring. But once Ministry up the tempo, Al Jourgensen alters the tone by delivering some rather striking metaphors: ‘He wants you to suck off the holy ghost, and swallow the sins of man.’ He feels the need to expand further on the imagery: ‘He’ll fill you up with the Devil’s cock, and he’ll cum in the name of the Lord.’ Probably not suitable for children.
“Obligatory Cadence” // Flying Lotus
You can always count on FlyLo to deliver the most luscious Halloween jam imaginable. Though his previous works had always possessed something of a supernatural quality, 2014’s You’re Dead! was the first to truly hone in on his darker twist of jazz fusion—it was, after all, a concept album about death, taking the listener on a journey through the afterlife. His colourful perception of the afterlife is vibrant, ghostly, and gorgeous, with a compelling trace of the unknown. “Obligatory Cadence” is one of the finest examples of this unique blend, a surreal soundscape of mysterious melodies and peculiar production techniques that sends your head spinning, as you feel yourself travelling through different dimensions. Good, spooky vibes.
“Happiness in Slavery” // Nine Inch Nails
“Happiness in Slavery” is industrial metal at its deafening best, but those who don’t share the same admiration for coordinated anarchy often find it a ghastly racket. The opening howl of ‘slave screams’ alone is enough to make you jump out of your skin, but it’s the pounding percussion that truly beats you into submission. It’s a petrifying experience initially, but after a few listens it becomes one of the darkest, most brutal and disturbing dance songs ever written. We’ve since learnt that Trent Reznor has quite the knack for that fusion. In truth, the entirety of this particular NiN era could be placed on the list, but “Slavery” has the advantage of a seriously distressing video, thus it triumphs. Also, it’s the loudest. Probably.
“We Suck Young Blood” // Radiohead
This curious Radiohead track is as ghoulish as the title suggests. Creeping, zombie-like handclaps set a strikingly gloomy tone, accompanied by eerie vocals and a piano progression that sounds like it’s being played by the devil himself. The atmosphere is utterly chilling, and the gradual development is magnificent, evoking some glaringly conspicuous imagery. Tension is retained in an unnervingly restrained manner until, eventually, all hell lets loose – the horde of undead have found their prey, and prepare to pounce. Yes, “We Suck Young Blood” is essentially Radiohead’s soundtrack to Night of The Living Dead. It’s a curious entry in the bands discography, but an optimal option for Halloween.
“Mutant Standard” // Oneohtrix Point Never
It’s difficult to explain what exactly it is about Oneohtrix Point Never that makes his music so enjoyable. It’s often very ridiculous, amalgamating an absurd amount of different arrangements, but remains strangely compelling. On “Mutant Standard”, Daniel Lopatin reaches dazzling levels of disorientation. The rhythms are restless, the progressions are seemingly perpetual, and the melodies evoke a variety of emotions. How one person manages to create something as perplexingly poignant as this is, in itself, rather supernatural. One minute you feel fidgety, nervous, and invariably on edge, the next you feel as though you’re travelling through hyperspace. It flows like dynamic dialogue. I wonder, is this how Aliens communicate?
“Half Day Closing” // Portishead
Since the very beginning, Portishead have always possessed the ability to carefully tread the line between mysterious and sexy. They do occasionally venture to one side, and when it occurs, Portishead fully commit. “Glory Box” is one side, whilst “Half Day Closing” is on the other. Nothing about it seems right: the bass slides with an awkward swagger, the drums are restricted to one side of the stereo field, and the vocals sound like they were recorded deep underwater. In fact, are we absolutely certain Beth Gibbons wasn’t possessed during the recording? Either that or Emily Rose makes an appearance during the songs frightening climax. The anguish is overwhelming and deeply affecting in one way or another. Furthermore, if you listen closely on headphones, you can hear a male voice quietly counting in your right ear. You know, incase you weren’t unsettled enough.
And finally… This, by One of The Goonies