At their core, every rock band wants to be at least a little scary. Fear is the oldest, most primal emotion any human being knows, passed down from our caveman ancestors who watched in horror as a saber-toothed sloth bit Oog’s fuckin’ head off. To elicit fear in another human being is to possess some level of psychological power, and so many musicians have strived to be scary — and some have even succeeded.
But scary is one thing — spooky is whole different vermin altogether. Spookiness is all about reveling in the fun of fear, laughing in face of Death before buying him a fruity drink. And while tomorrow’s high holiday should always be full of scares, the majority of us love it for the spook, the hilarious, cobweb-coated fun of darkness and evil. And while some bands have succeeded in being scary, it is a distinct honor to create an album that is truly spooky.
In honor of Halloween, here are the 31 spookiest albums to ever haunt your eardrums…
31. Bloody Hammers, The Summoning (2019)
Though better known for their languid goth side, North Carolina duo Bloody Hammers upped the headbanging on last year’s The Summoning, and the result is fantastic. Full of momentum but managing to hold onto its cape and top hat, the album is a black-and-purple carnival ride on the boardwalk of Night’s Plutonian Shore. “Now The Screaming Starts,” “Fire In The Dark,” and the otherworldly “From Beyond The Grave” are the kinds of tracks that make you want to transfer full-time to playing an organ in the Paris sewers. Oh, the horror!
30. Calabrese, The Traveling Vampire Show (2007)
The rip-roaring power-punk of Arizona’s Calabrese might feel a little overjuiced for some horror fans, but the fraternal three-piece manage to combine the best parts of AFI and the Misfits and serve it up in a funeral shroud. The Traveling Vampire Show features the band going all-in on everyone’s favorite creatures of the night, from the smirking “Vampires Don’t Exist” (“It was only a kiss! It was only a kiss!”) to the gothed-out “The Young Princes of Darkness.” This is the kind of record that makes you want to trade your cape for a leather jacket and draining groupies left and right.
29. Slasher Dave, Tomb of Horror (2014)
Acid Witch frontman Slasher Dave is better known to some for his prolific synthwave and soundtrack work, and in 2014 he fuckin’ nailed it with Tomb of Horror. Dripping with old-school paranoia, grand Italian majesty, and just the right amount of haunted-house sound-effect influences, Dave’s second solo effort is the ultimate soundtrack to the zombie movie in your head. While the tracks may not be excellent standalone songs to bump in your car, an album like this exists to be listened to front to back anyway. A record that’ll make you worry you’re actually resurrecting the dead by playing it.
28. Carpathian Forest, Strange Old Brew (2000)
Black metal’s warlust often results in it being too obsessed with the Devil for Devil’s Night, but on their second full-length album, Norway’s Carpathian Forest really locked down the vast, nocturnal vibe of the genre. There’s still plenty of chainsaw thrash to be found on this album, but tracks like “Thanatology” and “Cloak of Midnight” at a menacing hugeness to kit that reminds one less of a Panzer tank and more of a haunted castle lying in ruins. For those who believe black metal ist krieg, this one might not do it; for those of us here for the swishing of capes and satanic rituals in the woods, this is what it’s all about.
27. Mortician, Zombie Apocalypse EP (1998)
Usually spookiness and gore are at odds with each other around Halloween, but NYDM legends Mortician have always distilled the eerie atmosphere behind cinema’s gory side via a deft use of movie samples. On their Zombie Apocalypse EP, the band temper their usual nonstop sonic assault with gooey mid-paced riffs which hit at the dark heart of horror. Songs like “Devoured Alive,” “Slaughterhouse,” and the lead-footed title track are the perfect soundtrack to watching the streets fill with maniacs and undead at the end of October. Rated X for sex and gore.
26. Carach Angren, Dance and Laugh Among the Rotten (2017)
Some bands write about old European horror as though some Christopher Lee movie they’ve seen; Dutch symphonic black metallers Carach Angren sound like they were there hauling plague bodies. On 2017’s Dance and Laugh Among The Rotten, these castle-haunters trade any pretense of sound cool or edgy for an utter commitment to sounding like an old woodcut from a witch-hunting manual. Bar-slappers like like “Blood Queen” and “In De Naam Van De Duivel” keep things drunken and unpredictable, while the looming “Songs for the Dead” is like the classic Danse Macabre set to music. Comforting to know a band like this is out there, somewhere, in the night.
25. Triptykon, Melana Chasmata (2014)
With the first album by Triptykon, the current project of Celtic Frost frontman Tom G. Warrior, things tended in a black metal direction; but with the band’s sophomore release, Melana Chasmata, an injection of stygian doom transformed the band’s music into something far more frightening. Eerie but punishing, huge but personal, Melana shows off the blackest side of the blasphemer’s soul, with songs like “Boleskine House,” “Aurorae,” and the bone-chilling “Demon Pact” showing off the cold, clammy reality of standing outside God’s grace. The perfect soundtrack for H.R. Giger’s haunted house.
24. Tribulation, The Children of the Night (2015)
So many bands write songs about vampires; Tribulation are one of the few whose music sounds like it was made by vampires. The Children of the Night is a beautiful mixture of goth rock and classic heavy metal, resulting in a record one feels they should blast from a rooftop during a ritual to Nyx. At the same time, these Swedes never get too bogged down in a bunch of harpsichord and waltzes — this is the nosferatu at their most vital and occult, the band’s galloping rhythms and snarling vocals evoking sun-killing rituals from old books. An impressive and necessary addition to every goth’s playlists.
23. Ghoul, Splatterthrash (2006)
Spooky thrash: sounds unlikely, but Ghoul make it, and it fucking rules. Splatterthrash is the album on which the band refined their bouncing combination of speed and gore metal, doubling down on the bands Creepsylvanian origin story so as to fill the record with cannibalism, gravestones, and mysterious disappearances. Mid-paced numbers like “Gutbucket Blues” and “Life of the Living Dead” provide a groovy undead stomp, while “Bury the Hatchet” and the title track are whirlwinds of blood-drenched hilarity. Don’t be an idiot — be a numbskull.
22. Those Poor Bastards, The Plague (2008)
Haunted gospel duo Those Poor Bastards make a lot of spooky fuckin’ music, but with The Plague they added a haunting madness to their sound that makes the blood run cold. While a few of the tracks hereon possess the band’s rye-drunk rabidity, it’s the slower, more introspective songs that make this record both so satisfying and so frightening. “Sick and Alone,” “Black Lightning,” and “I Cannot Escape The Darkness” are the kinds of songs that will make one worried to listen to this record alone. The songs you sing on a country road alone at night, to let the people you’re following know that it’s time.
21. Tom Waits, Blood Money (2002)
No one would ever say Tom Waits plays metal, or even rock and roll, yet his warped-wood cast-iron alley music has a filthy, antique darkness to it. Bloody Money is in part made up of song that Waits wrote for a musical version of Woyzeck, one of the most depressing and psychologically damning plays ever written, and Tom’s galumphing misanthropy perfectly embodies playwright George Buchner’s tale of woe and betrayal. Tracks like “Starving In The Belly of a Whale” drip with misery and confusion, while even slower tracks like “Coney Island Baby” sound like what would be playing in the background as someone shoved you off a cliff. Some albums express an artist’s demons, but this one is wall-to-wall ghosts.
20. Electric Wizard, Witchcult Today (2007)
British weed-worshippers Electric Wizard sometimes like to take things in a dirtbag nihilist direction, but on Witchcult Today they seem bound to represent the ur-horror of the ‘70s. With songs about joining a coven, H. P. Lovecraft, BDSM, and Dracula sucking the blood of high people, this record isn’t afraid to embrace the groovy side of the night. At the same time, the album’s production is smoother and dreamier than that of albums like Dopethrone, making this one a psychedelic vision of Satan rather than a snarling free-for-all. So high, so dead!
19. Wednesday 13, Condolences (2017)
Between his tenure in the Murderdolls and his solo career, Wednesday 13 has a blood-soaked pedigree no one can deny. But on 2017’s Condolences, the Duke of Spook hit a unique chord that took him to the next level. Whether it was the grinding riffs of tracks like “Blood Sick” and “You Breathe, I Kill,” the mischievous central melody of “What The Night Brings,” or the epic punch of the record’s title track, this album locks down Wednesday’s vibe in a way that his previous records, though rad, haven’t quite hit. Proof that sometimes it takes countless thrusts of the knife before you can find the heart.
18. Samhain, November-Coming-Fire (1986)
While Danzig’s post-Misfits act Samhain were vehemently hardcore, Glen just couldn’t keep away from his favorite holiday. November Coming Fire is a stark and grim-faced celebration of the year’s demise, complete with a metallic, occult retooling of the classic Misfits track “Halloween.” And yet the jangling distortion and harsh vocals on this record add to its shadow rather than sap from it, with the band’s complete committal to Halloween’s dark(er) side lending the day a Druidic gravity. We all want our time in Hell.
17. Goblin, Suspiria (1977)
Whether or not Dario Argento’s moody horror masterpiece Suspiria would be the genre classic we all love without Goblin’s central theme is questionable. Like John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, the trilling, primal synths of the Italian prog band’s “Suspiria” are inherently tied to the movie itself, and remains one of the pillars of the modern synthwave and retrowave movements. That’s not to say the other tracks on the album aren’t deeply unnerving — “Markos” and “Sighs” are both exercises in paranoid terror — but let’s be honest, none of them compare to the interdimensional journey of that opening track. Time to turn on some green lights.
16. Slayer, South of Heaven (1988)
Normally on the more crimson, flaming side of the thrash spectrum, Slayer aren’t known for their spookiness. But with ‘88’s South of Heaven, metal’s most evil band decided to take the tempo down a notch, and as a result wrote a record that looms and haunts as much as it rages. The title track, zombie paean “Live Undead,” and closing doom epic “Spill The Blood” take listeners on eerie tours of the echoing halls of the band’s normally-explosive Hell. Meanwhile, the closing monologue of “Mandatory Suicide” and the Nazi grunt remorse tale of “Behind the Crooked Cross” maintain the psychological horror that made this band scarier than your average blare.
15. Hexentanz, Necrocrafte (2004)
Necrocrafte is the kind of album the protagonist of a horror film later wishes they’d never played. Recorded by various dark ambient artists as a period soundtrack to an old-world witches’ sabbath, the record uses instruments, including bone percussion. The result is something extraordinary, an expression of organic satanism that is devoid of pretense and makes one feel that they’re sitting on an ash pile in the woods outside of Salem, communing with a goat wearing a crown of fire. Fans of The Witch, meet your new favorite album.
14. Mercyful Fate, Melissa (1983)
Though acrobatic in its guitar work, Mercyful Fate’s debut album introduced legions of fans to the idea that even high-flying metal could be darkly theatrical. Like a Ray Bradbury story being electrocuted, Melissa is packed with classic tales of horror — satanic assassins, witches’ covens, ancient Egyptian curses, demons being called forth on Halloween. All of this is of course topped off with King Diamond’s falsetto wail and pained moan, making the Danish vocalist sound like some an opera prima’s wraith captured in a cage of delicious riffs. All of which is to say that for a heavy metal costume party, no other album is needed.
13. Sisters of Mercy, Floodland (1987)
As we mentioned in the intro, spookiness involves a certain level of self-awareness — it’s easy to be dark or scary while taking things very seriously, but spooky means you can laugh at yourself. But with Floodland, goth institutions Sisters of Mercy manage to come out the other side, going so utterly stony and ironyless with their shadowy sound that it becomes spooky as a result. Tracks like “Lucretia My Reflection” and “This Corrosion” aren’t necessarily fun, but they’re so involved in their absolute inkiness that they become appropriate for a Halloween party. So few smiles that is’ kind of awesome.
12. Nekromantix, Return of the Loving Dead (2002)
Psychobilly’s a wide-ranging genre, but no one has ever captured its schlocky essence quite like Nekromantix did on Return of the Loving Dead. On this rip-roaring record, the Danish trio undulate from fetish-themed blasphemy and teenage butchery to light-hearted celebrations of Halloween at the drop of a hat. This total dedication to the fun side of darkness and doom has made this record a seasonal landmark even for those who’d never rock the pompadour (the track “Trick or Treat” was even featured in the new Adam Sandler movie Hubie Halloween). When the stand-up coffin bass starts going, you really can’t do any better.
11. Ghost, Meliora (2016)
Say what you want about occult metal celebrities Ghost — they bring the spook. On 2016’s Meliora, the band went hard in the facepaint, channeling a ‘70s rock vibe that tied into the golden days of velvet-lined dark rock. From the singing-saw wail at the beginning of “Spirit” to the undead chugs of “Mummy Dust” to the draped and opining tone of “Deus In Absentia,” the Swedish clergymen enjoy an Alice Cooperian pomp and circumstance, hailing the children of the night with ample theatricality. Not just a clever name.
10) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads (1996)
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, and Nick Cave wrote an album about all the terrible things people do to one another in them. Murder Ballads is a series of goth folk tunes which use actual murder ballads–songs about actual slayings that have become cultural milestones through the US and Europe–as their inspiration. Sometimes jaunty, others deeply melancholy, the tracks on this record take the listener on a somber tour of all the ways in which humans can terminate one another, from the mounting dread of the piano-driven “Song of Joy” to the marshland fairy tale of “Where the Wild Roses Grow” to the madcap tavern-burner of “The Curse of Millhaven.” A beautiful record about unspeakable horror.
9) Cradle of Filth, Midian (2000)
Picking one Cradle of Filth album that’s spookier than the others is tough, but one spin of 2000’s Midian earns it the funeral crown. While the band’s other albums go big and vicious with their vampiric themes, this record is all quill-script and lightning flashes, embracing the bizarre chaos of Lovecraft as well as the forlorn lost souls of M. R. James. A track like “Her Ghost In The Fog” gushes atmosphere, and tells the kind of story one craves to hear by hearth or flashlight. A deliciously breakneck tour of the labyrinth. Behold Drac-ness triumphant.
8) Acid Witch, Evil Sound Screamers (2017)
No band captures heavy metal Halloween like Detroit’s Acid Witch. But while their first two studio albums are death-doom classics loaded with stoner-death power, it was with Evil Sound Screamers that they seemed to embrace the cheese and become spookier than they ever have before. Adding haunted house sound effects and layers upon layers of snickering background vocals, Slasher Dave & Co. made the kind of throwback metal record that one would expect to appear in a satanic panic PSA from 1985, complete with tracks about horror flicks (“Cheap Gore”), cautionary tales (“Hard Rock Halloween”), and even the designer who invented Halloween imagery and decorations as we know it (“Mr. Beistle”). We only wish we went as hard on October 31st as these guys do.
7) Roky Erickson and the Aliens, The Evil One (1981)
What classic rock magus Roky Erickson doesn’t have in heaviness on The Evil One, he makes up for with pained, grating atmosphere. Songs like “Night of the Vampire,” “Stand for the Fire Demon,” and “If You Have Ghosts” possess a strung-out darkness in their razor-edge punk guitar, something between Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones, and Coven. That Erickson’s mental illness and haunting vision turned towards drive-in cinema during the early ‘80s is a beautiful coincidence, and one to which countless death rockers, goths, and psychobillies owe their livelihoods. A single album in which are the seeds to a million hanging trees.
6) Rob Zombie, Hellbilly Deluxe (1998)
In the late ‘90s, both horror and metal had been taken over by polished teens trying to be models — and then, in a deluge of pentagrams and jock-jam riffs, Hellbilly Deluxe saved the decade for the creeps and weirdos. Celebrating old-school chills and loud, gross metal chugs via his unique brand of monster rock, Rob Zombie brought back the idea that you could worship Basil Gogos, listen to music about driving a hot rod to Hell, and still get laid. As such, the album remains an important milestone for the spooky kids, a fun-loving celebration of the genre’s creepy side while still kicking up a cloud of shredded porno mags and weed ash. Meet the creeper.
5) The Misfits, Walk Among Us (1982)
With Walk Among Us, the Misfits introduced an important concept for both rock and horror culture: the punk as monster. With their spiked jackets, skeleton shirts, and ultra-widows peaks, these four dudes from Jersey were like bad guys in a midnight movie all their own. Meanwhile, tracks like “I Turned Into A Martian,” “Skulls,” and “Braineaters” brought all the singalong whoas while never getting too caught up in punk rock’s self-importance. This is a band that appears onstage in a cloud of smoke and either ruins the high school Halloween part or sends its attendees away wrapped in black fishnet and howling for more.
4) Type O Negative, Bloody Kisses (1993)
October Rust may have the goth club hit, and World Coming Down may have the song about Halloween, but no Type O Negative album goes as hard in the total goth overload as Bloody Kisses. Between the song about wanting to smash Jesus (“Christian Woman”), the organ-driven doom track about committing suicide to join your lost love (“Bloody Kisses”), or the goth empowerment anthem with a French spoken-word bridge (“Blood & Fire”), this album is totally dedicated to its spooky side. Of course, this is all wrapped together by “Black No. 1,” a massive, throbbing anthem dedicated to those girls who live and die for the month of October. Lily Munster ain’t got nothing on you.
3) King Diamond, Abigail (1987)
What makes Abigail so unbelievably spooky is its complete lack of irony. This album does not try to get gritty and psychological, or couch its story in the real world — it’s a Victorian ghost story complete with a dead girl, an old house, and a rattling coach pulled by black steeds. At the center of it all is heavy metal Halloween’s ultimate ghost, King Diamond, shrieking in his inimitable falsetto and filling the whole world with Halloween dread. Other artists can worry about frightening people with the real world — King Diamond lives in the haunted house we all wander in our dreams.
2) John Carpenter, Halloween OST(1978)
Rarely does a piece of music sum up a character, a film, and a holiday like the central theme to John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween. Between the piano’s tiptoeing skeleton feet, the swelling sunsets of synth behind them, and the racing-pulse beat to which it all moves, this is the sound of something terribly evil opening its black eyes on the one night a year it has free rein. If this weren’t enough, the keening stings behind “Laurei’s Theme” and the panicked speed of Michael’s stalking music round out this incredible soundtrack. The birth of synthwave, and, for many fans, of Halloween as we know it.
1) Alice Cooper, Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Creepy classic rock opus or sweeping soundtrack to a murder dream? Why not both! With his first album as a solo artist, Alice Cooper took things bigger and weirder than he ever could in his band, losing some of the sleazy drag-queen edge but gaining a netherworld’s worth of darkness. Welcome To My Nightmare is the full Halloween party, including tracks about spiders conquering the world (“The Black Widow”) to little kids taking over the government (“Department of Youth”) to some good old-fashioned necrophilia (“Cold Ethyl”). Between these anthems, songs like “Only Women Bleed” and the tragic story of Alice’s perpetual protagonist Stephen lend a dose of real-life trauma among all the costumes and candy. Sweat and laugh and scream here.