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”