December 28, 2010

Ten Most Inspirational Horror Songs

While running this morning (in the snow and cold), I took great comfort in the music from my MP3-player while the snow cracked under my sneakers and I avoided another icy patch. Around the 7 km mark I got inspired to build this list. Some songs just cry out 'horror' and I use them frequently to draw from while writing. But even without writing the lyrics, the use of musical instruments, the chords or the changing of the 'tembre', just sets off a stream of horrific images in your mind. The feeling we're going for here is weird and, as the Germans say, 'Unheimlich'; a sense of dread.

1) Murder in the Red Barn - Tom Waits - Or pretty much the entire album of Bone Machine (1993). Songs like 'In the Colloseum' and 'November' with its lyrics and singing saw are simply haunting. But the lyrics in 'Murder in the Red Barn' conjure up an abandoned farmhouse, a shed with a bloody axe and inadvertently a whole village of weird strangers. Especially the line 'There is always some killing you got to do around the farm' is wonderful and does it every time. My short story collection 'Beneath Dark Waters' was basically written with this song in mind.

2) Mama - My Chemical Romance - Once called punk-rock, nowadays better known as 'emo', the entire 'Black Parade' album (2007) has some wonderfully horrific songs, the likes of which we're used to from Alice Cooper or Ozzy. But 'Mama' is the best. It has a rich tapestry of musical changes, ranging from a musical box, an accordeon and heavy guitar licks. The demented lyrics of an ex-soldier remind us of Metallica's 'One'.

3) Nothing's Free - Alice Cooper - Once again taken from an excellent album 'The Last Temptation' (1994) which tells the story of a young boy Steven tempted by an illustrious showman who tries to bend moral truth and dogmas in the hope of gaining the boys young soul. The album was originally published together with a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. Watch out for the excellent line 'The saints all raise from the graves in the ground'. Only because of that this deserves a spot here.

4) Fear of the Dark - Iron Maiden - From the first time hearing this, it became an instant horror classic. Although the music might a bit dated (1980's!), the lyrics to fear for of the dark or the one that really keeps this one alive. I have yet to hear a better description of fear than written by Bruce Dickinson. The delicacy is in the simplicity and the mundane, very recognizable situations like 'You find it odd and look again, because you're sure that's someone's there'.

5) In the Broad Daylight - Gabriel Rios - From the scary singing kids (also, check out the kids dressed in skeleton suits in the clip), to the weird 'Jupp-jupp'-sample in the beginning and the piercing piano playing, this is probably one of the most beautifully unsettling song of recent years. The lyrics are confusing and the clip is filmed so close that it brings with it a sense of claustrophobia. The fact that the song is called 'In the broad daylight' somehow doesn't do anything to lift the sense of dread in this one. Look it up and enjoy.

6) Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz - The clips of this animated band are always a bit horrific (the dancing zombie gorilla, hands thrusting out of graves, long shadows), but with the manic voice of Damon Albarn and the rap of Del the Funky Homosapien complement each other perfectly in this description of a sort of Hyde-like alter ego that comes out when 'you're too crazy'. The wonderfully whispered 'no squealing, remember that it's all in your head' is the dot on the i. From the 2001 album Gorillaz.

7) Put your Lights On - Everlast ft. Carlos Santana - Besides being a beautifully executed song in Everlast's usual beaten but hopeful style, conjures up some darker images as well. Not in the last place, because of the 'there's monster hiding under my bed' and 'there's angel whispering in my ear, saying I got nothing to fear', but also because of Santana's wonderful smoldering guitar. Great tune to run to, as well.

8) Misery - Green Day - A whole village of weirdos and criminals (called Misery) that all end up dead or arrested in various states and cities around the USA. Green Day proves with this one that they can be more creative than just kick-ass punk-rock songs. It reads like the synopsis of a crime or horror novel. Especially the Amsterdam drug dealer that ends up 'bludgeoned with a baseball bat' is a show-stopper. The accordeon is a nice addition to the rest of the musical ensemble (horns, a banjo) and the scream in the background is something you only hear after listening to it more than once. From the 1998 album 'Warning'.

9) Aqualung - Jethro Tull - 'Sitting on the park bench, eye-ing little girls with bad intent'. Jethro Tull has really created a classic horror figure with the tramp Aqualung (named after his horrible cough) that hasn't diminished with age (the Aqualung album was released in 1973). Although the rest of the album has more to do with the eternal question of the nature of God, the song that bears the albums name is the one that sparks into life a whole host of horrific moments like when 'Do you still remember December's foggy freeze, when the ice that clings onto your beard was screaming agony?' and 'the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.' Listen to it while reading some H.P. Lovecraft. You'll understand.

10) Freaks - Live - One band that has a surprising number of horror-related songs for a alternative rock band, is Live. Before Secret Samadhi (1997) came out that seemed to be build around warm darkness, there was 'The Dam at Otter's Creek'. But 'Freaks' combines the darkest moments from Henry Miller's books with a good dose of Hollywood horror ('you little f*cker'). And the clip that heralds back the milk from 'A Clockwork Orange' was the cream on the cake. And we find out how evil Ed Kowalcyk could really look.

5 Other songs that didn't quite make it, but made a good effort.
1) Enter Sandman - Metallica
2) The Black Rider - Tom Waits
3) Elected - Alice Cooper
4) Voodoo Lady - Live
5) Fugazi - Marillion

Hope it got you in the mood. Some of these songs are so well-known they are almost public property already, other are more obscure (or just old), but I'm sure you can find them when you go looking for them.


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