It’s Halloween week, so who better than the death-metal, horror-movie honcho John Serba himself to round up a decad of creepy cool tunes for the ghoulish holiday.
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Metal, film soundtracks, metal, murder ballads, metal, metal, metal and more metal. This is where my head is as a heavy consumer of music, whether it’s Halloween or not. So my trick-or-treat playlist isn’t too far from my Christmas playlist, or my summer playlist, or my Sweetest Day playlist, because King Diamond is sweeter than a thousand sacks of candy corn and fun-size Snickers.
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Of course, metal isn’t all that scary, unless you’re flimsy of constitution.
But neither is Halloween, really. It’s mostly a lot of silly masks and posturing. Halloween, I mean. Not metal. Metal is dead serious. Just ask the guys who paint themselves to look like decomposed wraiths and screech like the raggedy brakes on your ’87 Camaro. Those guys never smile, or eat candy. They spend their days in moldy dungeons, catching and eating rats, sleeping in pine boxes and writing poetry about things that smell really, really bad. But I digress. Some of these tracks stir up terror and dread, and some of it does so with an elbow in your ribs.
Either way, it’s just another day in my listening dungeon. I hope you enjoy it, but honestly, I kinda hope you don’t.
1. Goblin, “Suspiria” – This is one of the most iconic horror-film soundtracks ever composed, all witchy-whispered vocals, jangling bouzouki, throbbing tabla and layer upon layer of weirdo synths, tinkling and whooshing and chiming in a most spellbinding fashion. I close my eyes while listening to this, and my mind’s eye conjures the primary colors filmmaker Dario Argento used as a visual palette — kelly greens, bright yellows and, of course, the vibrant red of heavily corn-syruped blood. If a more eerie piece has ever been written, I haven’t heard it.
2. King Diamond, “Halloween” – In metal, nobody sells the corny, batty jack-o-lantern vibe and gets away with it, unless you’re the King. Here, he shrieks and cackles like the brilliant masturbating falsetto maniac he is, wailing o’ertop the best riff guitarist Andy LaRocque ever wrote — and yes, that’s saying a lot. I know this track is right smack on the nose. Subtle, it’s not. But nothing about King Diamond is subtle. I mean, look at him. Listen to him. The guy is living, breathing, walking hyperbole. This is ’80s metal at one of its hysterically overwrought pinnacles. Love it. Live it. Carve King Diamond’s evil-KISS painted face into your pumpkin and baffle the neighbors. Eat 17 fun-size Snickers and go to bed with indigestion. It’s like an ancient scene. You know just what I mean.
3. Witchery, “The Reaper” – The innate corniness of Halloween is the primary reason Slayer doesn’t occupy a spot on this playlist. That’s because Halloween is more about dressing up and pretending to be scary than being actually scary, and if any band is actually scary, it’s Slayer, he said, almost but not quite with a straight face. Anyway, the righteous Slayer pastiche that is Witchery’s “The Reaper” better fits the criteria. Witchery refuses to take itself seriously (“The reaper/Is comin’ to getcha!” rasps ghoul-painted vocalist Toxine), unless you’re guitarist Richard Corpse composing three slashing riffs and arranging them into two minutes and 20 seconds of maximum carnage. That’s dead serious. This track inspires such urgent headbanging, the kids will whiplash their plastic Paw Patrol masks clean off, kicking up a thrashing frenzy ‘til they puke up their peanut butter cups.
4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand” – Cave summons existential dread in the form of a human figure, a man with the title thing, and he tempts and lures you, and makes you feel small and insignificant. Maybe he’s Greed. Maybe he’s the Devil. Maybe he’s Death. Maybe he’s all of the above. The arrangement has the trappings of noir — dramatic organs, rumbling tympani, chiming bells, a skittering beat that sidles up next to you and sits down uncomfortably close before you know it. But it’s a horror story at heart, with a boogeyman central figure as terrifying as the unknown itself, delivered with the uberdramatic sturm-und-drang that’s so distinctly Nick.
5. Type O Negative, “Black No. 1” – No, not the edited version you heard on the radio in 1993 — the full, stoopidly indulgent, ingeniously turgid 11-minute album version, because it goes deep, deep, deep into the nite (sic), and so perfectly sums up the absurd aesthetic of Type O Negative. The song is main Type O guy Peter Steele’s obsessive ode to the dyed-hair goth girl he loves, with tongue firmly in cheek and other appendages firmly elsewhere, no doubt. Anyway. Steele namedrops Halloween itself, croons “Loving you was like loving the dead” with a straight face and embeds hooting owls and howling wolves into the gloomy atmosphere of this meandering, amazing, moronic, brilliant, laughable, breathtakingly dreadful, endearing endurance test of a song.
6. Venom, “Witching Hour” – The delinquent racket Venom kicks up is the soundtrack to 14-year-olds leaping out of the shrubbery and ambushing little kids to steal their candy. “Witching Hour” is the sound of you egging that dink Coach Keener’s F-150 and TP’ing the trees in your girlfriend’s yard. It’s the music you hear in your head while stealing shitty beer from the garage refrigerator and sneaking out to get drunk in the woods while you listen to heavy metal tapes on your boombox with your buddies.
7. Mayhem, “Freezing Moon” (from “Live in Leipzig”) – No black metal band conjures a necrotic, moldy-crypt vibe like The One True Mayhem. “Freezing Moon” is the most exquisitely disgusting, lichen-draped, mustard-gassed, putridly macabre composition that Mayhem founder/guitarist Euronymous ever discharged from his befouled brain matter — before he was stabbed to death by his rival, Burzum band leader Varg Vikernes, of course. So listening to it now feels even more like some terrifying wraithlike thing emanating from beyond the grave. I choose the version from “Live at Leipzig” because the recording is as raw as fresh road rash and almost as pleasant, and it features the inhuman wretching of vocalist Dead, before he killed himself with a shotgun.
8. Pestilence, “Echoes of Death” – For this playlist, I winnowed among nearly every track on “Consuming Impulse,” Pestilence’s classic slab of deathly thrashing savagery, because they’re all so wonderfully horrifying next to that pleasant album cover, festooned with some poor guy’s wide-eyed face being devoured by ants. Neat! “Echoes of Death” is as winning a track as any, being a collection of ferocious, dextrous riffs assembled to sever spinal cords and carve out pancreases and disembowel bowels, and all that fun stuff. Working in its favor is a recurring eerie horror-movie synth seeping into the arrangement like an odorless toxic gas, and vocalist Martin Van Drunen’s hoary rasp, which is the sound of a larynx being filleted, salted and blackened over an open fire. Most death metal is an overwrought caricature of comix and slasher flix, but what Pestilence does here is perfect in its blend of technical necromancy and outright barbarism.
9. Overkill, “Nice Day… for a Funeral” – Here’s an in-the-moment rumination on death that gives you the sinking sensation of being in a pine box staring up from six feet down just before the first shovelful of earth hits you. No goofy imagery here folks, just a morose reflection on mortality draped atop a marching mid-tempo riff, which merges with a mournful bridge of harmonizing guitars moaning a sorrowful melody which, to my ear, soundtracks your sighing final breaths as loved ones weep. “Never thought I’d come to this,” wails singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth as the winch lowers you deeper and deeper into nothingness. That’s the thing about Dad Thrash legends Overkill — Blitz’s lyrics frequently boast a reflective complexion that transcends his heavily Marlboro’d screech-and-cackle and the bat-winged skull mascot (his name is Chaly, thank you) adorning the band’s album sleeves. “Nice Day… for a Funeral” is an ingenious bit of evolutionary thrash metal, albeit one exuding a hoary whiff of Black Sabbath ether acting as a reminder that we’re all terribly, horribly mortal.
10. Neko Case, “Deep Red Bells” – “It always has to come to this,” Neko Case sings beautifully on this dread-soaked true-crime murder ballad that haunts like the ethereal shimmer of fate in the rearview. She mixes evocative imagery (“No speckled fawns raise round your bones”) with echoey, hanging doom chords dissipating into darkness, the shuffling beat personifying death’s mortal merchant as a cruel, smiling predator stalking the tragically young. It’s a wolf-and-doe tale of woe, haunted by real ghosts, people. Real ghosts.
LOCAL SPINS’ ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN SPOTIFY PLAYLIST BY JOHN SERBA
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC