Horror punk: 19 songs you need to know
Since its inception, punk rock has always been influenced by horror culture. Some of this is due to the fact that, to your average square, most punks looked like some sort of mad science experiment gone wrong. More so, the outsider nature of monsters and the trashy power of horror appealed to punks, who were bored by the longwinded psychedelicisms of the ’60s and ’70s and just wanted to see some sex, gore, and festering zombies.
It wasn’t until the late ’70s and early ’80s, though, that musicians raised on midnight movies and inspired by artists like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins began merging to two worlds together. Today, horror punk is its own well-established genre, founded single-handedly by The Misfits and exerting its influence across the entire counterculture, from tattoos to tiki mugs.
We’ve put together a genre-spanning list of 19 songs every self-respecting creature of the night should know. Read, if you dare…
The Cramps – Human Fly (1978)
Before ‘horror-punk’ was even truly a thing, there was the garage rock of Sacramento’s The Cramps. But one can hear the genre’s fertile grave dirt on Human Fly, the opener of their first 12” EP Gravest Hits. The song’s sci-fi themes are translated through outcast anxiety, all of which drowns in Poison Ivy Rorschach’s buzzing guitar tone. The result feels misanthropic and oddly sticky in a manner that fans of both outlaw culture and Vincent Price immediately flocked to.
The Misfits – Last Caress (1980)
‘I got something to say: I killed a baby today, and it doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s dead.’
With these words, The Misfits established themselves as everything creepier than everything else, and coined horror punk’s unholy and everlasting legacy. Last Caress is a rallying cry for all those looking to freak out their friends and parents that still makes idiots grimace in revulsion to this very day. Meanwhile, Glenn Danzig crooning about wanting one last caress from Death Herself helped establish the band as nihilistic fiends rather than simply shock rockers. Best opening lines ever.
Bauhaus – In The Flat Field (1980)
Sure, Bauhaus will always be remembered as the greatest goth band ever, but their early material shows how much that genre began as an offshoot of punk. In The Flat Field is less of the stark, shadowy stuff the band will be forever remembered for, instead reeling with a kind of high-voltage agitation. Peter Murphy’s keening of, “Find me out this labyrinth place” makes one think of the dreamy urban angst of films like The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and Kafka. Sometimes, horror is less about the monster and more about the scream.
Christian Death – Spiritual Cramp (1982)
Just like grindcore would later appeal to punk’s crusty side, Christian Death’s searing, guitar-driven goth-rock drew punks in with its nihilistic glamour. Spiritual Cramp, a song from the band’s debut and their only album featuring the late Rozz Williams, is a street-level anthem for all those obsessed with the great beyond while stuck in the scabby, perverse landscape of this world. Lyrics like “Walking on water in a sea of incest” and “Crosses burn your temples on Slaughter Avenue” cast traditional narrative aside in exchange for a stream-of-consciousness barrage of the sacred and profane.
45 Grave – Party Time (1983)
Horror junkies need no introduction to Party Time; the track is prominently featured in Dan O’Bannon’s infamous 1984 punk rock zombie epic The Return Of The Living Dead, making the song synonymous with the film. In truth, LA’s 45 Grave were more death rock than horror punk, with a vicious edge that some traditional horror fans might find a little hardcore outside of the movie. Still, the track remains a crowd-pleaser at any heavy metal vomit party, and has its raucous chorus firmly cemented in horror film lore.
Samhain – Mother Of Mercy (1986)
Between the Misfits and his solo career, Glenn Danzig fronted Samhain, an icy death rock act that left the movie theater and embraced the dark heart of horror and Halloween. Mother Of Mercy, from the band’s infamous Samhain III: November Coming Fire, is a rare moment of goth and hardcore perfectly overlapping; Danzig’s arcane lyrics and Pete “Damian” Marshal’s heaving riffs feel as street-level as they do sepulchral and esoteric. Proof that going dark doesn’t always mean slapping on eyeliner and ruffles.
Groovie Ghoulies – Do The Bat (1989)
A little surf, a little rockabilly, and a lot of Ramones-ish garage-punk — Groovie Ghoulies hit a sweet spot that not only influenced horror punk, but all of pop-punk and alternative. Do The Bat is one of the Sacramento quartet’s earliest tracks, a mid-paced dance number about turning your sweetheart into a vampire. Though the band remained distinctly underground until their dissolution in 2007, their cheap-thrills approach to an otherwise gruesome genre helped endear daylit listeners to speeding at night.
The Mummies – The House On The Hill (1992)
San Bruno, California’s The Mummies were one of those ragtag bands who existed in a cloud of compilation albums and splits rather than a proper discography. But their brand of sharp-at-the-edges garage rock got solid traction in the ‘90s underground. The House On The Hill is them at their most spooktacular, trading their usual switchblade sneer for some straight-up haunted house keyboards. A fun, weird band with a significant impact on horror punk even as they creep around the genre’s outskirts.
Mephiskapheles – Doomsday (1994)
’90s ska-punk always flirted with horror in a tiki-bar man’s‑ruin kind of way, but NYC’s Mephiskapheles took their love of fez-wearing demons relatively seriously. Doomsday is the band’s joyous celebration of the end of the world, with lyrics about feathered specters and hearing the police outside your door. The track perfectly encapsulates the art of dudes like Coop and the Pizz, adding healthy doses of Rat Fink mania to otherwise jaunty music. Tick tock! Tick tock!
The Misfits – Dig Up Her Bones (1997)
When Jerry Only and Doyle Von Frankenstein resurrected the Misfits sans Danzig in the late ’90s, some old-school punks cried sell-out. But, simply put, it is impossible to fuck with Dig Up Her Bones, a track that walks that fine line the Misfits drew in the first place. Clandestine but catchy, full of both horror tropes and honest yearning, the song became an anthem for all those fans born a little too late for the band’s first incarnation, but who appreciated their new lush production, metallic overtones, and ultra-spooky demeanor. This song alone is a monument that the Misfits’s era with Michale Graves cannot be ignored.
AFI – Totalimmortal (1999)
California’s AFI made their names in the hardcore scene before going full goth in the early 2000s, but with 1999’s All Hallows EP, they briefly fell smack-dab between the two genres with Misfitsian ease. Totalimmortal is an awesome combination of the band’s two distinct sides; though forceful and hard-hitting, it’s also full of goth whisperings and ‘whoa’s that would make Christopher Lee raise his chalice and nod sagely. By 2000’s The Art Of Drowning, the band were living in bat country.
Electric Frankenstein – Annie’s Grave (2001)
Ooooh yeah! The title track of Electric Frankenstein’s 2001 album, known by many for being featured on the soundtrack Tony Hawk’s Underground, roars like flames from a tailpipe, telling the tale of a long-lost lady of ill repute who’s back for her second act. The track’s overdriven guitars and badass sensibilities are indicative of the New Jersey quartet’s broad success; their relentless touring and no-frills speed demon sound helped revitalize garage rock in the U.S., as well as in Japan and Sweden. While not entirely obsessed with slashers and skeletons, Electric Frankenstein’s imagery and attitude on tracks like this make them vital listening for Satan’s slaves.
Murderdolls – Graverobbing USA (2002)
Originally just the side-project of Slipknot’s Joey Jordison, gore-glam punk crew Murderdolls quick amassed a following for their straightforward sleaze-and-schlock. While some of the album’s other tracks err on the side of cock rock or nu-metal, Graverobbing USA is a celebration of horror-punk’s creature-feature tone and hook-heavy catchiness. Though the title might suggest dire death metal subject matter, the lyrics – snarled by a then-obscure singer named Wednesday 13 – are pure Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Nekromantix – Who Killed The Cheerleader? (2002)
Purists will be quick to note that Nekromantix are a psychobilly band, not punk. But the former genre owes enough to the latter, and the two have become so accepting of one another, that to make the distinction feels like splitting hairs. And though it’s full of stand-up bass rattle and Presleyan guitars, Who Killed The Cheerleader? is a punk number at heart. Between its twisted horror themes, its offensive chorus (yikes), and the howls and catcalls that fill its lunatic outro, the song exudes a no-fucks attitude that guys like Roy Orbison channeled behind the scenes. An awesome party song for just the worst kind of people.
BALZAC – Day the Earth Caught Fire (2003)
Few countries get the overkill of horror-punk like Japan, and BALZAC will always be that nation’s best-known entry into the spookshow arms race. The band’s most anthemic screams and crashes come out on Day The Earth Caught Fire, an unabashed Misfits tribute that rides the center lane between creepy and crushing. The band’s tone didn’t go unnoticed, making them a favorite tourmate of the New Jersery horror businessmen in the early 2000s. Kampai, Dracula.
Blitzkid – Mary And The Storm (2006)
In the mid-2000s, West Virginia quartet Blitzkid held the horror punk torch higher than most, in part due to their entwining of goth’s stretching shadow and pop-punk’s teenage humanity. On Mary And The Storm, the band take a break from their usual punishing speed with a Shirley Jackson-ish love song, asking the titular protagonist to come and watch a building tempest. What the track lacks in ferocity, it makes up for in sweetness, reminding the listener that the earliest pieces of gothic art weren’t just about death, but also love.
The Creepshow – Zombies Ate Her Brain (2006)
The cross-pollenation between horror-punk and psychobilly has always been audible, but in the new millennium the two genres are often indiscernible. Canadian quintet The Creepshow throw a knife right in the middle of the genre’s many intertwined influences with this deluge of catchy rhythms, gang vocals, and dramatic keyboards. Zombies Ate Her Brain is a delicious track whose pop gloss only adds to the shiver-inducing vibe the band so adore. As both punk and classic horror become respected pieces of the cultural consciousness, it’s good to see bands still making them strange coffin-fellows.
Calabrese – The Dead Don’t Rise (2012)
Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Arizona trio Calabrese – comprised of the three Calabrese brothers – have kept the Misfits dream alive with their infectious riffs and moaned ‘whoa’s. The Dead Don’t Rise from 2012’s Dayglo Necros shows how they further channel the boys from Bayonne by not going slavishly overboard with their horror references. Rather than just harp on specific movie villains, the band writes lyrics that could vaguely relate to the trials of any rocker trying to survive a life in leather. On the other hand, it could be about vampires in hell, so thankfully they never stray too far from the grindhouse.
Creeper – Black Rain (2017)
Not only are Southampton’s Creeper keeping horror punk alive, they’re showing the generational cycle of the genre. Just as AFI paid homage to the Misfits, so do Will Gould and co. carry on Davey Havok’s legacy with their hyper-romantic goth punk. Black Rain (and its accompanying video) are drenched in the clerical trappings of classic Hammer Horror, but sing straight from the stake-skewered heart of the everyday nocturnal rocker. Evil never dies.
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