The Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad dies, aged 41
Trevor Strnad, vocalist of melodic death metal legends The Black Dahlia Murder, has sadly passed away.
To celebrate the greatest night of the year, here are 20 tracks about Halloween proper.
Plenty of punk and metal songs are Halloween-appropriate – both genres revel in not just horror and morbid subject matters, but also that Addams Family-ish enjoyment of outsider status and freaking out the squares. But when it comes to writing songs specifically about the day, very few bands have written incredibly memorable tracks. It's hard to lock down that exact giddy, autumnal atmosphere that only Halloween provides, and pen a track that's both as spooky and celebratory as the day itself.
But a handful of bands and artists have answered the call with flying colors. Whether with ambient soundtracks to trick-or-treating or raucous anthems to the Druidic celebration of Samhain, these songs pay worthy tribute to the holiest day of the year for all creeps, weirdos, and monsters. This Halloween, we offer you the 20 best of them, ranked by how well they distill the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve. Enjoy – and always check your candy.
All year round, the music of Cleveland horror-thrash quartet Vanik channels the last day of October. But on this nearly-13-minute track, the band take a break from their usual speed and fury and perform the kind of eerie soundscape one might hear in the background of a haunted attraction. This creaking, groaning score echoes all those old Halloween sound FX records that were once so popular, full of spectral laughter and howling wind. Old-school, just in a different way than you’d expect.
In classic fashion, North Carolina goth metal duo Bloody Hammers don’t take Halloween lightly. The band’s seasonal hit uses a classic, almost Victorian approach, when the holiday was used to play divination games and communicate with the dead via rune-casting and seances. That vintage vibe is a refreshing one against the sugar-sticky modern interpretation of All Hallows’ Eve, and the band’s trundling beat and growling guitars only further cement an atmosphere of obscurity and fear that sometimes feels lost in the endless party of today's Halloween. Not for the casual listener, necessarily, but if you own more than five black candles, this will be your new favorite song.
Read this: The Underground Sounds Of America: Bloody Hammers
What’s Halloween without some psychobilly? Nekromantix’s tribute to the greatest night of the year is all about the trappings of the season, from grinning pumpkins to classic horror flicks. Of course, the band being more horror-savvy than most, they had to include references to once-popular genre accessories like Norman Bates action figures and the like. But most importantly, the song is pure fun, celebrating the good times of October rather than the horrors of Halloween night. The perfect seasonal rock song for the little ones that won't make them feel pandered to.
No matter how colorful the cocktails, Halloween will always be about the kids at the end of the day. Eerie country star Lonesome Wyatt honors that on Halloween Is Here, a children’s album that is marrow-deep in its spookiness while still kid-friendly. The title-track is a fun singalong song that could get a 2nd Grade classroom riled up, until it busts out lyrics like, 'The scarecrow eats the owl.' When he croons, 'A perfect night for creeps like me,' you can’t help but feel that simple solidarity with him over the one night a year when you can be the monster you are inside.
In true goth fashion, Siouxsie Sioux treats All Hallows’ Eve more as a religious celebration than a retail one. The Banshees’s autumnal hit has her wearing her memories like a shroud, using the year’s demise to recall those departed and look at the looming grave of her future. At the same time, Halloween is still an upbeat song, and its energy and buoyance make for a perfect goth dance tune, even if it’s more about spinning around a bonfire than a school gym. Halloween should always have a bit of night and shadow about it, and one would be hard-pressed to find a band who embodies those values more than this one.
Read this: FAQ: Goth
For a hot second, Rob Zombie was the head of Geffen imprint Zombie A-Go-Go Records, which he used to put out some of the late-’90s most exciting horror-surf records. One of the imprint’s best releases was the Halloween Hootenany sampler, on which Rob performs a duet with Van Nuys surf rock crew The Ghastly Ones. His lyrics are traditionally stream-of-consciousness, but go well with the beach-friendly backing clatter, providing a Munsters-ish vibe that few other rock stars could even hope to summon. Go, man, go!
Most of the time, Mastodon’s rollicking stoner metal might seem a little colorful for October Country – but this track from 2014’s Once More ’Round The Sun proves that they’ve got what it takes. The band’s whipping speed and airy vocals sound like the wind blowing through a store-bought cape and go down as easy as bite-sized candy. More so, Mastodon channel that childish, high-flying excitement that the holiday instills in you as a child. An unexpected but welcome entry from progressive metal’s lords of misrule.
The Duke Of Spook writing a Halloween song is like Santa writing a Christmas carol, and thankfully the result is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Halloween 13-13 is a big, fun, hands-in-the-air holiday anthem, honoring 'the dead on holiday' with a finger-snapping rhythm and giant woah-full choruses. What the song lacks in the folk traditions of Samhain, it makes up for in complete dedication to the latex-covered cavity-inducing top-hatted spirit of the season. Sometimes, you’ve just got to put on a rubber mask and dance like you’ll be dead by dawn.
Seemingly the whole point of Danzig’s post-Misfits hardcore act Samhain was to strip any schlock or silliness from his horror themes and present them as earnestly as possible. November’s Fire is Halloween seen without a hint of irony, a stark celebration of the death of summer and the peak of fall with all the stone-faced reverence of the Druids. The band’s frosty guitar tone, coupled with Glenn’s almost pained cries of 'Samhain grim!' give the track a religious ecstasy that would be right at home dancing naked around a massive blaze in the woods. It can’t all be costumes and candy.
Though best known for their overdriven goth-industrial rock, Killing Joke’s 2012 Halloween song is actual one of the more sweet and serene on this list. On All Hallows’ Eve seems to revel in the lifting of the veil between life and death, sanity and madness, as a way of making us dark souls feel a little less alone. The track still has a pounding beat behind it, but the melodies laid over it leap and shimmer in celebration of the day. In that way, it’s a touching song that sounds like the backing music to a parade of masked children dancing through a cemetery.
Linus Van Pelt, eat your heart out. Pumpkin Time, the madcap revival song by New Jersey circus punks World/Inferno Friendship Society, is an evangelical evocation of the Great Pumpkin, the mysterious spirit of Halloween from Charles Schultz's Peanuts. The track's old-school vibe and rambunctious pace feel like a perfect fit for the Charlie Brown pantheon. The band also know a thing or two about throwing a good Halloween party – World/Inferno’s yearly Hallowmass show is an east coast tradition that any masked reveler should find themselves swallowed by at least once.
The video for Helloween’s big seasonal hit suggests that the German band have a basic idea of this American holiday, but they don’t quite get it. That said, the song itself has a deep understanding of the Halloween's core values, from the opening chant of, 'Masquerade! Masquerade!' to vocalist Michael Kiske’s shouts of, 'Trick or treat, they have the choice.' The Charlie Brown shout-out later on only solidifies that the band have a handle on their holiday lore, and understand that underlying thrill that runs through the streets come the end of October.
Oddly enough, this 1985 Sonic Youth track might be the creepiest song on this list, if not the spookiest. The New York City noise rock outfit don’t sing about ghosts and bats; instead, Kim Gordon moans about a seductive presence with 'big dark eyes' edging slowly toward her and evoking strange, diabolical feelings. That stream-of-consciousness sense of otherworldly menace dwells in Halloween’s soul, underneath the masks and decorations. Kim has said that the song was inspired by a Black Flag house show, which makes some sort of sense – Henry Rollins was always a big Misfits head, and would be a good candidate for Lucifer in the flesh.
No metal band does Halloween like Detroit stoner crew Acid Witch, whose swampy riffs and haunted-house synths are perfectly in touch with the holiday’s wayward spirit. Taking its name from the poster of the 1973 Christopher Lee film The Satanic Rites Of Dracula, Sabbath Of The Undead is a grinding, oozing tribute to the necromantic superstitions of October 31 that have become Halloween tradition. 'Disguise yourself as a corpse to ward off the evil dead,' warns frontman Slasher Dave, adding, 'Horror is the only means to keep the wraiths at bay.' Right the fuck on, man.
If heavy metal had a Pumpkin King, it would undoubtedly be King Diamond, whose theatrical take on satanism makes his whole life a Halloween party. That’s just how this song from His Majesty’s 1986 solo debut Fatal Portrait begins: 'Every night to me is Halloween!' He goes on to shriek, 'Halloween, not just a dream,' letting the world know that he’s the one human being for whom the holiday’s whole MO is a way of life. Of course, it’s the vocalist’s singing style that makes this one truly perfect for All Hallows’ Eve, his echoing falsetto like the scream of the most vengeful ghost in the most haunted house imaginable.
Read this: King Diamond: "If there is a Hell and I go there, who cares? I've faced it already"
A Shrine To Madness is the most brutal track on this list, but it's also arguably the most poetic. The Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad paints a picture of Halloween that’s both menacing as hell and demonically celebratory, channeling a sense of creepy excitement with lines like, 'The chill of the autumn is stirring in me,' before screaming about it being a night 'when the masks of mockery shall disguise our wicked crimes'. The song is an anthem to those who live for both Halloween’s boisterous party and its deep-set loyalty to the powers of darkness.
Though the opening song of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has been covered by various rock artists since its release, nothing holds a candle to Danny Elfman’s original. Equal parts Broadway overture and jaunty goth anthem, This Is Halloween is an elaborate earworm that one ends up humming throughout the entirety of October after hearing it. But the hilarity and cartoonish overkill running through the song also feel in touch with the heart of the day, giving spooky kids a view into a world they could swear they've lived in.
Throughout their career, Type O Negative have referenced Halloween plenty, most notably in Black No. 1 and Creepy Green Light. But All Hallows’ Eve faces the holiday head-on with a waltzing rhythm and howled chorus that do the night justice. Peter Steele even runs some of Halloween’s more traditional trappings through Type O’s depressive gaze, moaning about how 'pumpkins grin in their despair' and using All Saints’ Day to hail 'Saint Lucifer'. Unsurprising that Type O would do justice to what is basically Type O Negative Day.
Synthwave may be a booming musical subculture these days, but we should never forget that the song that started it all was a theme for the scariest day of the year. Director and composer John Carpenter’s mixture of stomping rhythms, ominous minor chords, and tip-toeing piano added an element to his 1978 game-changing slasher movie that none of its many imitators were ever able to fully grasp. The song, like the film, forever altered the atmosphere of the holiday, touching on not the spookiness of the monsters people are pretending to be, but the dark mind of those beneath the costume. Over 40 years later, and you still can’t kill the Boogeyman.
Halloween isn’t just hair-raising fun or frightening evil – it’s both and all, a shifting specter of death that looks different every year. The Misfits understand that with Halloween, their punk rock paean in honor of the ultimate day of horror business. Glenn Danzig howls about pumpkin faces and little dead wandering the streets, but he also sings about razor blades in candy apples and dead cats dangling from flagpoles, combining the fun traditions of childhood with the chilling sights and stories that came with them.
Most important, though, is the line, 'This day, anything goes' – a reminder that no matter how old you are or how seriously you take All Hallows’ Eve, it’s a night when the rules are off and anything that can happen will. For rock fans, who love R-rated attitude but often long for the honest emotions of youth, this song is a reminder of everything we felt, and feel, about the one night of the long year when chaos reigns. We remember Halloween.
Trevor Strnad, vocalist of melodic death metal legends The Black Dahlia Murder, has sadly passed away.
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