13 kickass horror soundtracks to amplify your Halloween
Sick and tired of Thriller? Sink your fangs into this collection of hard rock anthems and killer riffs from some of your favourite gore flicks…
Rob Zombie was a seasoned pro well before he struck out alone as a solo artist. Formed in 1985, his earlier, New York-based project White Zombie were conceived as a noise-rock collective, but went on to deliver some of the greatest truly heavy tracks of the 1990s in bangers like Thunder Kiss ‘65, More Human Than Human and Black Sunshine. He dropped his first “solo” effort – Hands Of Death (Burn Baby Burn), written and performed alongside Alice Cooper – in 1996, but it was only with the arrival of Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales Of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside The Spookshow International that Rob truly solidified his identity as the demonic ringmaster leading a circus of gore-soaked electro-industrial and horror-obsessed hi-jinks.
Indeed, nowadays Rob Zombie is probably better known to the wider pop culture populace as the grotty cinematic auteur behind grindhouse revival movies like House Of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, 3 From Hell, 2007’s Halloween remake and its impressively gruesome 2009 sequel, but he’s still managed to produce a further six LPs of high-quality heaviness in the two-and-a-bit decades since striking out alone.
Critics will invariably point to Zombie’s almost-unwavering adherence to the floor-filling formula as his greatest weakness, but – just like the scuzzy midnight movies with which he’s so in love – that’s the whole point of the exercise. So, although a fair few of the tracks on this Top 20 are stylistically interchangeable, they’re no less satisfying when stacked on a pulse-quickening playlist. Turns out that cavorting with the dead really can feel hellishly alive…
Although the “sequel” to Rob Zombie’s seminal 1998 solo debut Hellbilly Deluxe didn’t come close to reaching the heights of that earlier masterpiece, it’s hard to deny that there were a few stone-cold bangers in there. Named after Larry Buchanan’s schlocky 1968 TV movie, the album’s fourth track packs some serious stomp as Rob declares ‘Mars needs women / Angry red women’ over industrial riffs sculpted from solid concrete. The album version adds a twangy two-minute intro, with John 5’s acoustic guitar and Tommy Clufetos’ bongos layering up the oddness, but even without out it, Mars Needs Women hits hard enough to blow a new crater into the distant red planet.
‘This is the story of a one-eyed wolf / Called the honey of superdoom,’ sings Rob with unhinged relish on the lead single to 2016’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. ‘She rode her five legged beast / In a mirrored bikini that came right out of the womb.’ Combining psychobilly weirdness and passages of chest-crushing heaviosity, Well, Everybody’s Fucking In A U.F.O. sounds at times like Ministry at their druggiest and at others quite unlike anyone else. Spitting couplets as crude as ‘But all they had was jizz on the walls / And bones of a mangled priest’ and hamming it up in the gleefully smutty Danielle Lovett-produced video, Mr. Z is clearly having the time of his life here.
Deploying one of the most outrageous innuendos in hard rock history, this sample-heavy cut from the soundtrack to Rob’s feature film debut House Of 1000 Corpses comes on with impeccable, effortless cool. Dripping with sex and the sense of its own outrageousness, the marriage of that swaggering main riff and fist-pumping chorus feels like a dark, alternate universe version of the sort-of populist rock with which Muse would springboard into stadia over the decade that followed. As Rob cranks the sleaze, however, and asks, ‘One, two, three, who should I kill?’, it’s clear he’s happier when inhabiting far murkier spaces.
Returning after five years away, 2021’s The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy found Rob Zombie on experimental, often downright playful form. 18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks And A One-Way Ticket On The Ghost Train, for instance, was a bonkers exercise in acid-soaked Americana, while Boom-Boom-Boom adorned its moody, atmospheric soundscape with lyrics as audacious as, ‘Boom-boom-boom / The witch is in the room / Boom-boom-boom / She's sliding up the broom.’ Lead single The Triumph Of King Freak (A Crypt Of Preservation And Superstition) is probably the most coherent offering on there, despite shoehorning moments of Bollywood-style exoticism and wibbly-wobbly hip-hop in alongside its gargantuan main riff.
Tagged on as the previously-unreleased single for 2003 compilation LP Past, Present & Future, Two-Lane Blacktop comes on like the uncharacteristically straightforward, three-minute hard rock banger custom-tooled for winding the windows down and hitting the open road. Because this is Rob Zombie we’re talking about, it’s also a tribute to Monte Hellman’s cult 1971 road movie of the same name, which plays out like a far grittier version of The Fast & The Furious. The song’s best enjoyed with all baggage kicked to the kerb, however, as a pedal-to-the-metal soundtrack for burning up asphalt as we catapult into the setting sun.
Reportedly produced with the working title Creature Core, the ninth track on Hellbilly Deluxe feels like a prototypical example of the world-beating Rob Zombie formula as he forged his path as a solo artist. A riff designed to be stepped along to in your heaviest New Rocks? Check. Weirdo sound effects embedded hypnotically into the mix? Check. Lyrics that would work acceptably as a horror movie script? Oh hell yes. With Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee banging the drums and Rob himself on snarling form, however, Meet The Creeper still manages to jump out from the pack.
There’s a lot going on in the fifth track from Rob Zombie’s second solo album, The Sinister Urge. The main composition experiments with shrill, avant-garde sounds that feel like a deliberate departure from the slamming style of his previous album. There are some odd nu-metal flourishes, too, with a few flippy-floppy turntables and Rob gamely attempting a little Jonathan Davis-style scatting. Then we have a cameo appearance by The Prince Of Darkness himself: Ozzy bleedin’ Osbourne. Somehow it all comes together in an intoxicatingly esoteric cocktail of alt. edginess and classic metal high theatrics, with the contrast between Rob’s throaty snarl and Ozzy’s more nasal delivery striking particularly on point.
For many fans, 2013’s Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor was was the moment that Rob spiralled off into a black hole of wilful, loose-slung weirdness from which he has yet to return. On face of it, the nonsensical narrative and relatively rascally tone of lead single Dead City Radio And The New Gods Of Supertown would support that hypothesis. The track’s subliminal indictment of the state of modern rock radio and sense of elder-statesman easygoing have made it an enduring favourite in the years since, though. Plus, we got that cracking monochrome music video featuring Rob’s mates, the sword wielding bellydancer, the breakdancing skeleton and that headbanging rubber chicken.
Another likely ode to drag racing, the second single from The Sinister Urge somehow manages to make its mid-paced munch feel like it’s struggling to stay between the highway lines at high speed. ‘Hey, do ya love me, I'm untouchable darkness?’ Rob asks in a barely-veiled love letter to the open road. ‘A dirty black river to get you through this… Get into my world all American dream!’ Recorded in the direct wake of Metallica’s first S&M experiment, the more orchestral flourishes do feel occasionally awkwardly tacked on, but there are ultimately no stop signs to disrupt this joyously high-octane aural assault. Strap in!
Although unrelated to Rob’s identically-titled 2012 supernatural horror movie, the 11th and final track from Educated Horses unfolds with genuinely oppressive atmospherics, stomach-lurching dread and real big-screen scope. Reckoning on Salem, Massachusetts’ infamous 17th century witch trials, Rob counterbalances his lurid aesthetic with a sense of understated outrage for those women executed on maliciously false pretences: ‘Do you think they suffered / Up on Gallows Hill?’ Despite never being released as a single, nor setting the charts alight, the Zombie Live version of Lords Of Salem was nominated for a Best Hard Rock Performance GRAMMY in 2009. Credit where you can get it, we guess…
When asked where the gooey title to the second single from Hellbilly Deluxe 2 came from in interviews at the time, Rob Zombie would reminisce on how his friend (and legendary Ramones guitarist) Johnny Ramone described his own band’s music as “bubblegum… sick bubblegum”. From deliciously nihilistic opening sample (‘Hey, we all know how we're gonna die, baby / We're gonna crash and burn, burn, burn, burn, burn’) to gob-flecked attitude and relatively stripped-back main composition, there is a punkish energy here that matches up. Rousing proof that Rob can still ‘tear it up – push it down’ without resorting to ghoulish bells and whistles.
Two years before he was allowed to drop his cinematic debut of the same name (it having been completed in 2000 but held up due to controversial subject matter), Rob delivered this six-and-a-half minute classic (the nine-and-a-half minute album version features an interlude and “secret track” Unholy Three) to round out The Sinister Urge. Featuring audio samples from Don Edmonds’ 1975 exploitation classic Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS, and plumbing into new levels of sonic creepiness, this is the sound of Rob really toying with cinematic convergences of sex and violence, suffocating claustrophobia and grainy widescreen scope. Unlike the aforementioned Lords Of Salem, this dovetailed nicely with its celluloid counterpart, a perfect accompaniment to the absurdly heinous antics of Captain Spaulding and Mother Firefly.
CHUG-A-CHUG-A-CHUG-A-CHUG! Much like Meet The Creeper, the sixth (sixth sixth) track from Hellbilly Deluxe gets too easily lost in the album’s relentless, all-action assault of pumping industrial and graveyard sleaze. Really piling on the heaviness while featuring some of the record’s most effectively insidious samples (“Don’t lie to yourself; it gave you pleasure…”) and inspired electronic flourishes, it’s anything but deserving of album track obscurity, and more than capable of speaking compellingly for itself: ‘Violator! Desecrator! Demonoid Phenomenon! Get it out! Get it on!’ Just try not to leave too much blood on the dancefloor…
A gleaming, high-impact pop-metal masterclass, the Sinister Urge’s slamming lead single felt like a promise that there’d be absolutely no slacking after Hellbilly Deluxe’s world-beating success. “Prometo solemnemente defender el bien y luchar contra la injusticia y la maldad,” promises the Spanish-language intro on the album version, lifted from legendary luchador Mil Máscaras’ performance in the 1966 Mexican movie bearing his name: “I solemnly promise to defend good and fight against injustice and evil!" To the contrary, there is a defiant iniquitousness here, as Rob ruminates on the disconnection that came with his quickly-acquired success, before concluding it’s better to embrace the madness than to flee from it: ‘Where do I run / What have I done? / I feel so good, I feel so numb, yeah!’
Based on Anthony Burgess’ notorious 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, The Sinister Urge’s third single tempers Rob Zombie’s trademark bombast with elements of retro pop-rock and an even higher level of Hollywood sheen. The titular “red, red kroovy” is a reference to the fictional “Nadsat” word for blood in the novel, “Horrorshow” is the term for good and "Durango Number 95" is the name of the protagonists’ car, while Rob’s music video heavily references Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cinematic adaptation. A whole generation of fans will also surely know the tune as WWE wrestler Edge’s entrance theme, with the massive ‘NEVER GONNA STOP ME, NEVER GONNA STOP!’ hook perfectly fitting the OTT world of sports entertainment.
‘I am shadow, I am tomorrow / I am a hero with a buggy whip / I am so hazardous / My name is Lazarus / I am a pirate on a / Devil ship.’ If the latter-stage of Rob Zombie’s career has perhaps too often been waylaid by curious experimentalism, the opening track of 2013’s Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is its glorious sweet spot, boasting a lurching horror movie aesthetic that feels slower, sludgier, and a few degrees removed from the singer’s stock formula, while measuring its more out-there flourishes for maximum unsettling effect. The squealing solo that opens its final third sounds like a creature screeching for its life, up against a bludgeoning riff with murder on its mind. Brilliant.
"Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead?" Opening with that iconic line from 1971 Italian horror Lady Frankenstein, and featuring direct references to Wes Craven’s 1972 video nasty Last House On The Left, 1971 erotic chiller Daughters Of Darkness, 1965 Vincent Price vehicle Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine and its 1966 sequel Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs, the fourth track and second single from Hellbilly Deluxe might just be the most horror-centric in his whole catalogue. Combining slinking sexiness, drawling Southern Gothic and even some exotic Eastern motifs, it is also one of the most hypnotically irresistible in modern hard rock.
Even amongst Rob Zombie’s pitch black oeuvre, Superbeast stands apart: a grizzled, thrashing composition running off primal energy that simply will not be contained. Cautioning listeners against summoning the mythical man/animal of the title (who will seek bloody revenge for having his rest interrupted), the narrative is classic Rob Zombie B-movie nonsense, but it’s the perfect platform for his menacing/enticing tone, while that iconic hook – ‘Down in the cool air, I can see’ – so effectively encapsulates the sense of having your spine chilled right as your desire is heating up. Amongst those perfectly attuned sonic textures, the track also features work from Nine Inch Nails multi-instrumentalist Charlie Clouser, who was originally onboard to produce the whole LP but had to drop off due to conflicting obligations.
Clocking in at 175 seconds and wasting not a single one of them, Scum Of The Earth was originally featured on the outrageously brilliant Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack before being recycled as an advance single for The Sinister Urge with good reason. White-knuckle riffs. Neck-wrecking rhythms. A chorus that grabs you like demonic possession. The colourfully fatalistic lyrics (‘Run and kill / Destroy the will / A hero that doesn't exist… Smoking gun / Well I am the one / A bullet hole / In your fist’) mightn’t be heavy on narrative substance, but they work perfectly with the looping, stripped-down structure. By the time the weird, wailing female vocals drop in on the final chorus, you’ll probably be too punch-drunk to truly pay heed.
It might’ve been one of the last songs completed for Hellbilly Deluxe, but the first single Rob Zombie released since striking out alone as a solo artist is still the prototype to which all others aspire. Taking the sinister swagger that had served him so well as the frontman of White Zombie, welding on elements of thumping industrial and pulsating electronica, then revving the whole thing well past the redline (the title is a reference to Grandpa Munster’s racer DRAG-U-LA from cult ’60s TV show The Munsters), there’s just so much momentum on show here that it’s impossible not to be levelled – even more than two decades further down the track. With its iconic opening sample (“Superstition, fear and jealousy”) lifted from Christopher Lee’s performance in classic horror The City Of The Dead, the video for Dragula was also something of a coming-out for Zombie as a film maker, capturing the imaginations of metal and movie fans around the globe. An immortal banger.
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