10 Scary Songs for Halloween

Like, actually scary

faver ray 615.jpg

A shot from Fever Ray's "If I Had a Heart" video.

It's one thing to make a Halloween-ish song—"Monster Mash," "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah," "Bark at the Moon"—and another to make a knot-in-the-gut, don't-wanna-be-alone-after-hearing-it, scary song. And with good reason. Horror, after all, doesn't play well in clubs or on the radio. But it's Halloween. Might as well listen to tunes that creep you out.

What makes a scary song scary? In some ways, it's not all that different from at the movies. Set the tone with pulse-raising atmospherics: the drone that runs through Fever Ray's "If I Had a Heart" unnerves on a primal level—it's like a sonic embodiment of impenetrable, menacing darkness. Shock with sudden moves, a la the shrieking synth and stuttering singing that cuts into the spoken-word intro to Kate Bush's "Waking the Witch." Most important, though, is creating individual moments of horror. Thom Yorke screaming his head off in "Climbing Up the Walls"; the sinister and jolting guitar riff powering Grinderman's "Heathen Child"; the chants of "BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD" that close out Liars' "Broken Witch"—these are musical equivilants of "Heeeeere's Johnny!" And then, of course, there are the lyrics, which can vary from typical Halloween fair—witches are popular—to more real-world horrors like war, apocalypse, and Eminem's favorite, domestic violence. An artist like Johnny Cash can deliver a pretty potent sense of dread with words alone.

I've selected a couple scary songs that came to mind; they're in the Grooveshark playlist to the right. Of course, individual results will vary, and there's a not-so-visible line between camp and creepiness. There are many, many more songs to be included. Entire genres of music, like horrorcore rap (which arguably includes the Eminem and Earl Sweatshirt tracks included in our playlist), psychobilly, and extreme metal, exist largely to induce nightmares. If you've got a favorite, let us know.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

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