What are the scariest rock songs of all time? Here are my 10 picks just in time for Halloween.

I’m not a fan of Halloween, but I do like a good scare from things like movies, novels, and even music. Here are my picks in no particular order for the scariest when it comes to emotional impact.

1. The Doors, The End

The whole thing reeks of danger, subversive thoughts, and a general sense of evil. When Jim Morrison, after describing the killer walking down the hall and then threatening his father, the shriek that comes with the unspoken promise of (sexual?) violence against his mother always freaks me out.

Find it: The Doors self-titled debut album.

2. Bauhaus, Bella Lugosi’s Dead

Much of modern Goth history begins here with Bauhaus nine-minutes-plus debut single from 1979. Sparse and jittery thanks to copious use of reverb, you actually believe that the bats have left the bell tower and are headed for you.

Find it: Make sure you get the original single on Beggars Banquet. That’s the definitive version.

3. Joy Division, Transmission (Peel Session version)

Any number of Joy Division songs could be on this list, but the madness in Ian Curtis’ voice (“….And we DAAAAAAANNNNNNNNCCCCCE!”) captured in this off-the-floor recording for the BBC’s John Peel sounds both brilliant and disturbing, especially late at night.

Find it: On any number of Joy Division or Peel Sessions compilations.

4. Nine Inch Nails, Something I Can Never Have

There’s not a scrap of percussion in the most atmospheric track from Pretty Hate Machine. just an uber-ominous keyboard accompaniment to Trent Reznor’s anguish: “Everywhere I look you’re all I see/Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be.”

Find It: All versions of Pretty Hate Machine

5. Korn, Freak on a Leash

Scariest moment: When Jonathan David sounds like he’s either (a) speaking in tongues or (b) having a seizure. Officially, the lyrics are “Da boom na da noom na namena” repeated eleven times. Academics have called this “nonsense-gibberish” in which Davis channels some kind of serious inner pain.

Find it: Korn’s Follow the Leader album from 1999.

6. Dead Can Dance, Host of Seraphim

This about as Goth as you can get without actually time-travelling back to the 15th century. Lisa Gerrard’s wails over the majestic keyboards and booming orchestral rhythms are not for the faint of heart.

Find it: DCD’s 1988 album, The Serpent’s Egg.

7. Tool, Schism

Narrowing it down to just one Tool song was tough, but I had to go with “Schism” because of the powerful/creepy structure (the song changes metre 47 times in less than seven minutes) and the evil sound Justin Chancellor coaxed out of his bass. Fun fact: This song actually made it all the way to #61 on Billboard’s singles chart.

Find it: Tool’s 2001 album, Lateralus.

8. The Birthday Party, Release the Bats

Nick Cave needs to be on this list. I might have gone with “Red Right Hand” (aka the theme from Peaky Blinders) or “Where the Wild Roses Grow” (in which he duets with Kylie Minogue; her character is murdered), but since this is Halloween, we gotta invoke bats. Always with the bats.

Find it: The Birthday Party’s debut single.

9. Pink Floyd, Careful with That Axe Eugene

Originally written for an Italian film called Zabriskie Point, the only vocals on this track are the song’s title followed by Roger Waters’s screaming. (Oh, and there are some weird David Gilmour vocalizations in there, too.)

10. Suicide, Frankie Teardrop

Here’s a challenge. Listen to Alan Vega’s story of Frankie on headphones in the dark in the middle of the night while alone in the house. If you make it through all ten minutes and haven’t soiled yourself, seek therapy. Now.

Find it: Don’t. Just leave it alone.

Honorable mentions: Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath”; Throbbing Gristle, “Hamburger Lady”; Sonic Youth, “Death Valley ’69”

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

6 thoughts on “What are the scariest rock songs of all time? Here are my 10 picks just in time for Halloween.

  • October 31, 2019 at 9:41 am
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    Thank you for this list! Made for an excellent soundtrack to this mornings’ work!

    Reply
  • October 31, 2019 at 9:42 am
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    What about Enter Sandman, Metallica! (Love the obscure Careful…Eugene inclusion…)

    Reply
  • October 31, 2019 at 12:20 pm
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    DOA by Bloodrock should be on the list, even if just for the band name and song title. An unnerving depiction of a plane crash from a victim’s viewpoint.

    Reply
  • October 31, 2019 at 3:46 pm
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    “Joan Crawford” by Blue Oyster Cult.

    Reply
  • October 31, 2019 at 10:36 pm
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    Anything by Diamanda Galas is like the soundtrack to an Argento film. The whole of Portishead’s 2nd album, which should have been the soundtrack to Eraserhead

    Reply
  • November 1, 2019 at 3:07 am
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    Have you been listening to The Best Show? The Frankie Teardrop Challenge?

    Reply

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