The Sounds of Horror
Music can move us in ways that nothing else can. The combinations of instrumental tones and vocalizations can literally change lives and the course of history. In horror, a film is truly only as good as its soundtrack. From the synthesizer stylings of the late Johan Johansson that have helped make Mandy a VOD classic to the impressive discography of John Carpenter, music is essential to creating the atmosphere and ambiance of a scary movie. In horror culture, music that features performers, topics, and styles attached to the genre can bring hours of enjoyment and fright. Let’s take a look at some truly unique horror music and where you can find it.
I’m focusing on a few very specific performers/groups because I just don’t have the sort of space we need here to list them all.
One of the newest of the performers on this list, Jess-O-Lantern is easily one of the more versatile and talented musicians I’ve had a chance to listen to in the last couple of years. Her mostly acoustic albums Rest In Pumpkins and Bare Bones don’t do justice to the overall versatility of her style. With titles ranging from hardcore punk rock to coffee shop folk it’s hard to listen to her and not feel energized and entertained. I was fortunate enough to catch her live during Dragon Con in Atlanta and it was enough to make me want to get both of her albums.
Her songs all have a common focus, horror movies. And we’re not talking the modern splatter punk, found footage stuff that gets teenagers excited every summer. She’s got a deep and abiding love for the classics which is evident in songs like Dear Norman and Monster’s Lullaby. She also has an incredible grasp of the English language and folklore with songs about the Jersey Devil and some absolutely poetic verse. If you haven’t had a chance to hear her sing, check out the link below. You can thank me later.
The Wolves of Chernobyl
Appalachian folk rock like you’d expect from Mumford and Sons or The Decemberists but with a definite post apocalyptic feel and lyrical storytelling. That’s what you can expect from The Wolves of Chernobyl. The band is an assemblage of vocalists and acoustic musicians who play the music I grew up on living in Middle Tennessee but with a distinctly modern flavor that sets them well apart from the pack of mainstream musicians. Their album Eschatologies is a mouthful to pronounce but a joy to listen to. Starting with The Dragon of Round Rock, a story about a war hero turned recluse the album paints a picture both modern and darkly futuristic.
Not truly “horror” in their overall style or performance, their music could easily be the soundtrack to any number of post apocalyptic and dark fantasy stories ready for the screen. The music rolls in waves of hopefulness and despair and is a very emotional and real. This Terrible It, arguably my favorite from this debut album, is in itself a complete story that sets the imagination aflame and deserves a listen. I’m hoping that The Wolves of Chernobyl will soon be a common name as my teenage son has also discovered their music and is sharing it with his friends. Powerful and poetic, you should give it a try.
I can’t write about horror and music without mentioning a personal favorite of so many of us in the horror community. Voltaire is the Prince of Gothness with his dark cabaret stylings and his eccentric, energetic performances. He’s been a fixture in the music and horror/goth/macabre communities for more than twenty years and has provided songs for soundtracks to some incredible shows and films, most notably The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. But despite his time with Cartoon Network, he’s most definitely not a kiddie act.
Songs like Hell in a Handbasket and Zombie Prostitute are raucous, raunchy, and creepy. He also does some truly emotional storytelling with songs like Blue Eyed Matador and The Devil and Mr. Jones. You’ll also find a slew of songs about pirates, sea monsters, and science fiction including the entire album BiTrekual. Voltaire’s much more than a musician and his latest project is a series on YouTube called Gothic Homemaking.
We also have an entirely new branch of theater that has become hugely popular over the last thirty years or so of musical horror theater. As you’ve probably read a time or two, I go every year to see the Radical Arts Theater Company perform Evil Dead: The Musical. But it doesn’t just stop with the blood fueled mayhem of Deadites performing Candarian showtunes. Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, Heathers, and Reanimator just to name a few. Repo: The Genetic Opera and Devil’s Carnival have even brought rock opera into the lives of horror fans courtesy of the talented Terrance Zdunich.
Music is life on planet earth. Every culture, every period in history, and every place where humans gather and thrive welcomes new sounds and traditions into our shared experience as a people. Music bridges the gap between languages, between divisions, and can be one of the most powerful forces that the arts has gifted humanity. Check out these incredible horror related acts and performers and always be willing to stop and listen to something that could move your soul.
We’ll be sharing a very special playlist next month that’ll have something for every scaremaker. Until then, keep making music and making that scary.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.