The best time of year is upon us and it is time to celebrate all things spooky.
Watching horror films and putting up macabre decorations is a good start to getting into that Halloween spirit, but we find it’s just as important to have a spooky soundtrack to boot. So until Hallow’s Eve graces us on the 31st of October Transistor will be bringing the spook in early with the 12 days of Halloween.
Each day we’ll be updating this piece to post some of the darkest and eeriest sounds that have been committed to music from a variety of different genres and styles but all with the same shared goal: to create music that unsettles the listener, explores the occult and in general, conjures the Halloween spirit into the listener. – liam toner (@tonerliam)
Day 12 – Static Age by The Misfits
At the end of the day, it’s night. But also, at the end of the day there’s only one band you need to listen to on Halloween and that’s the Misfits. Misfits were a punk band formed 1977 in New Jersey and would become internationally loved as a cult band thanks to marrying of punk music with horror themes. Early in their career, their dedication to horror would have them arrested for grave-robbing after a gig. Although over the years The Misfits would go through a plethora of members with several good albums under the belt there best album would be 1996’s Static Age. Although released in 1996 Static Age should have been their debut as it was recorded in 1978 but no labels wanted to put it out which is such a missed opportunity as Static Age stands as one of the greatest punk albums of all time.
There are many reasons to why this album stands out as their best and one of those reasons is consistency. Listening to the album is such a thrill as were giving anthem after anthem with probably only Theme for a Jackal being a missable track. As the album features the bands early material they’re still wearing their influences on their sleeves but unlike other punk bands of the time Misfits influences added up to a very interesting sound. Many of the compositions (all by vocalist Danzig) take riff and chord progressions from rock and roll, rockabilly and doo-wop and mixed with Danzig’s vocal’s sounding like a gritty mish-mash between Jim Morrison and Elvis make for a potent combination. The icing on the cake for the band is, of course, the morbid, b-movie inspired lyrics.
The track Hybrid Moments which is essentially a punked up 50s song with a twist shows the band at their most infectious with hooks-a-plenty and a song that is just emanating raw energy throughout the tracks brief length.
Another fan favourite would be Last Caress. This song stands out as one of the most Ramones sounding songs the band has done but it’s Danzig’s vocal work on the track that makes the track so exciting. Although the lyrical approach of the track was apparently to be as edgy as possible it’s the juxtaposition between abhorrent lyrical themes mixed with high energy poppy punk that makes this track downright amazing. It’s hard to listen to the vocal break near the end where Danzig bellows out the track title without getting chills down your spine.
Day 11 – Christian Death’s Only Theatre of Pain
In the late 70s/early 80s goth rock music would be pioneered in England with bands such as Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy but across the pond a similar sound would be developing under the moniker Deathrock, where Californian band Christian Death would influence and inspire the whole scene thanks to their debut album Only Theatre of Pain.
Whereas the UK goth scene favoured low baritone singing to create moods, vocalist Rozz Williams’ vocal style would be much more whining and manic and at times Williams would create tortured soundscapes by layering his pained moans. While the modus operandi of the group would be anti-Christianity, lyrics would also allude to graveyards, Satan and necrophilia amongst other antagonistic topics which creates a lot of chilling imagery in the band’s work. The other thing that made the band really special was the guitar work from Rikk Agnew. Agnew originally played with punk band The Adolescents but the approach he had to guitar in Christian Death would perhaps be his most powerful. Making use of guitar effects regularly Agnew would create all sorts of haunting atmospheres with weird lead lines, solos and guitar manipulations. His unique style is particularly good on the track Spiritual Cramp a song based around a punkish dirge with a completely eerie and strange solo.
Following from Spiritual Cramp comes Christian Death’s most renown song Romeo’s Distress. The song has a morbid pop sensibility to it that makes the track totally infectious but still retains an evil spooky quality that makes it essential listening for the Halloween period.
Day 10 – Obscure and Forgotten Horror Rock of the 60s
There was a weird time in the early to mid-60s where (mostly) American rock and roll bands decided to make songs about monsters, horror clichés and in general, Halloween flavoured topics. A lot of the examples of these songs were made by small bands that only ever released singles here and there. Fortunately, in today’s day and age, we have Youtube, a platform for all of these forgotten gems. This spooky phenomenon was very scattered and doesn’t seem to originate from anything or anywhere in particular and as such a lot of these types of songs vary in style. In this playlist we have for you today you’ll get a blend of surf rock, rockabilly, blues, garage and rock and roll all related by their ghoulish themes.
Day 9 – Drei Lieder op. 25 by Anton Webern
Anton Webern was an Austrian composer that in the first half of the 20th century would become known for his unsettling and avant-garde compositions. Webern was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and would take a lot from his teachings, but Webern would become most known for his use with the serialism technique. Serialism, as created by Schoenberg, is a guideline for creating atonal melodies. It is done by taking all 12 notes in an octave and arranging them in random orders without repeating any notes.
This means that the melody will never find a tonal centre as all notes are used equally. Drei Lieder op. 25 is made for two instruments: piano and female voice. Both the voice and the piano make use of the serialism technique and in doing so create a skin-crawling and creepy piece that would be the last thing you’d want to hear when exploring a graveyard at night.
Day 8 – Funeral Parade by Part 1
Part 1 are a bit of a strange band. They came out of the UK’s late 70s/early 80s Anarcho-Punk scene, home to such overtly political bands such as Crass, Flux of Pink Indians and Conflict. Part 1 would be regulars to the Wapping Autonomy Centre (also known as The Anarchy Centre) where many of these bands spent their time and put on charity gigs. Despite all this, the band’s sound would be separated from all of their peers’ thanks to its macabre subject matter and ghostly sound.
The band never managed to get too much recorded in their short run but their EP Funeral Parade is a mostly forgotten goth-punk banger. The songs are held together by hypnotic post-punk basslines and at times the bass is the key melodic element. Throughout a great deal of the EP the guitars (soaked in chorus/flange effects) just scream with feedback like banshees; in fact, feedback is used fantastically as a compositional element throughout the EP and is what creates such an eerie vibe throughout. Reading the tracklist gives us an early indication of what type of sound the band is creating with tracks such as Graveyard Song, Ghost, and Salem. One of the only things that might be recognized as Anarcho Punk is the vocals, a gravelly bite which keeps the tracks aggressive and punky making the bands spooky tone sound downright evil.
Day 7 – King Night by Salem
Salem are an American group whose debut album King Night, released in 2010, would gather a lot of attention for being a pioneering album in the Witch House genre. Their sound would blend chopped and screwed samples, trap style beats, ethereal operatic vocal samples with synth-laden instrumentals. This blend of sounds creates very dense soundscapes expertly blending between darkness and pop sensibility that would make the album one of the most interesting releases of that year.
Although other artists in this style would go much deeper into the occult themes and imagery it’s fair to say that this album would be a starting point and level of excellence that witch house artists would aspire to reach. King Night most importantly has an overall spooky and arcane vibe yet in a very modern way that makes it ideal for this time of year.
Day 6 – Memphis Rap
Memphis in the 90s was home to one of rap music’s spookiest subgenres – Memphis Rap. The groups that would come to define the style favoured dark instrumentals, 808 drum kits and fast double time and triplet flows (Memphis Raps influence on modern trap music is understated but huge). Groups would regularly sample horror movie scores and a great deal of the music was laced with a chilling, ominous atmosphere.
Many Memphis groups struggled to get much recognition and as such acts quite often relied on a D.I.Y. ethic in order to put out mixtapes. This led to many of the classic releases of the time being lo-fi in nature. However, this lo-fi quality at times added an extra depth to the music and adding to the mystery.
Three 6 Mafia
Of all the Memphis groups Three 6 Mafia would become the most commercially successful in the scene thanks to their debut album Mystic Stylez. Boosted by higher production value and by radio play of the track Da Summa Three 6 Mafia would become the face of the Memphis rap sound and would help inspire many artists for years to come.
The instrumentals on Mystic Stylez are rife with creepy atmosphere with most of the group contributing to production. DJ Paul brings a special flare to some of keyboard and synth lines due to his background as church organ player.
The title track of the album is the best representation of the groups unique sound and Lord Infamous’ triplet flow verse would make Migos blush.
“Mystic Styles of the ancient mutilations
Torture chambers filled with corpses in my basement”
Tommy Wright III
Although never quite attaining the success of Three 6 Mafia, Tommy Wright III was, to many, just as significant as the former. Wright would also heavily flirt with satanic themes, lyrics about murder as well as with the rapid-fire flows and eerie beats that Three 6 would use. On the cover for his Ashes 2 Ashes Dust 2 Dust mixtape Tommy can be seen standing in a graveyard with a shovel in his hand as if he’d been out graverobbing and stopped for a quick photo. His track Gangsta Forever is a strong representation of his talents as a rapper and the instrumental is nothing short of spooky.
Criminal Mafia never came anywhere close to the level of modest success that the two previous artists but their Crucifixion mixtape stands out particularly for its totally lo-fi sound. The grainy and dusty sound quality of the tape gives it a very mysterious aesthetic. The songs all sound ancient as if this was a tape that was discovered in the dark woods with nobody knowing it’s origin.
Day 5 – Monster Mash by Bobby Pickett
When it comes to Halloween music there’s nothing that’s quite as iconic as Monster Mash. The song is your generic 50s doo-wop dance song but with a totally campy Halloween twist. The lyrics tell a story from a mad scientist’s perspective (Dr. Frankenstein’s most likely) of a monster he created coming to life and dancing “The Monster Mash” a dance that would become a fad amongst all your classic horror monster tropes such as zombies, ghouls, and vampires. The Monster Mash even made Dracula himself jealous as it usurped his dance craze the Transylvania Twist. The production takes the song just a little further with added B-movie horror sound effects spread throughout the track.
There’s nothing deep or ground-breaking about this track but Monster Mash is undeniably just a lot of fun and to this day is still considered by many THE Halloween song.
Day 4 – Bauhaus
Bauhaus are forever remembered as the forefathers of the goth rock genre. Forming in the late 70s alongside the rise of post-punk, Bauhaus would take the sounds emerging at the time and push them into much darker more theatrical realms. Vocalist Peter Murphy’s voice (a sinister baritone) would be mimicked by a huge number of bands following in their footsteps.
The band would release four albums over their initial short career but their debut In the Flat Field would stand out as their best with songs such as Dark Entries being a standout track with its high energy minimalist riff, smutty lyrics and the great backing vocal chant in the second chorus.
Bauhaus are one of those bands who are known for starting out at their peak and deteriorating in quality as they progressed. It’s easy to see why people think this when you take into account their very first single Bela Lugosi’s Dead. The track is an almost 10-minute-long masterpiece.
It starts with the clicking of percussion that is manipulated with delay effects to create bizarre and eerie sounds and then is joined by the bass guitar. The bass plays a very simple creeping bassline that varies subtlety while the guitar slowly starts to join the mix. The song consists of this unsettling instrumental until 2:50 when Murphy’s vocals finally kick in and hen they do it’s completely worth the wait. His baritone voice sings of Bela Lugosi the Hungarian actor whose performance in the 1931 adaption of Dracula would become legendary, particularly for giving birth to the stereotypical accent that Dracula would forever be associated with.
This track is a true goth rock anthem and is probably one of the best songs ever written around vampiric themes. Perfect for Halloween.
Day 3 – Dracula’s Music Cabinet by The Vampires of Dartmoore
It’s hard to find much information about this strange band other than they were a German band blending elements of jazz, blues, surf rock and psychedelia and their album Dracula’s Music Cabinet would be there only known release. Despite this, the band would be remembered in some circles as a cult band of freaks who created a soundtrack to a non-existing horror film and would stand out as one of rock music’s best forgotten, spooky gems.
You won’t find this album on youtube but Spotify and Apple music listeners should be able to hear it in all its glory.
Day 2 – T.S.O.L.
T.S.O.L seemingly started as a standard American Hardcore band in the late 70s but their magnum opus would prove to be 1981s Dance With Me. Some found their transition from straight punk into more gothic/deathrock material jarring, but the early blooming of deathrock on this album would make this record standout above a lot of the other hardcore releases at the time.
Tracks such as Code Blue would have vocalist Jack Grisham sing about no longer trying to get off with the girls at school, but instead, Grisham now fantasises about Necrophilia and breaking into the mortuary to enact his morbid fantasies. Silent Scream with its dark post-punk stylings featured lyrics stating, “I’m the cobwebbed stairs, the ancient bones…I’m the demon cowering in the corner”.
The title track Dance With Me stands out as a perfect closing track. The bridge section of the song breaks down into a single note pulsing bass line backed up by chorus drenched minor chords from the guitar. This builds into a climax where the songs main lyrical theme returns:
“Dance with me my dear
On a floor of bones and skulls
The music is our master
The devil controls our souls”
Despite half of the album’s songs not quite embracing the spooky vibe of some of the standout tracks on here it’s quite easy to see why Dance With Me can be considered a horror punk classic and an album perfect for Halloween. We’ll leave you with this quote from vocalist Jack Grisham.
“Yeah, we dug up some graves, but we dug up graves even before the first record. All that crap, like breaking into mortuaries – we’d done that before. Look at the first TSOL record, it thanks to the church PA – we’d been busting into churches and desecrating the altars. We’d steal the PA and spraypaint the altars.”
Day 1 – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins originally planned on becoming an opera singer, but when that didn’t work out for him he began to sing for blues bands. However, he took a lot of opera’s theatricality into his stage presence which would have him donning crazy stage clothes and macabre props.
His stage performances along with his wild roaring vocal style on the track I Put a Spell on You would have him considered the father of ‘shock rock’ and he would inspire countless artists from Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson. These days, I Put a Spell on You is considered a Halloween anthem and has been covered by countless artists.
Now that you’ve got enough music to soundtrack the day, fling your costumes on and go hit up the graveyard and, most of all, Happy Halloween!