Nothing brings out the metalhead in everyone like Halloween. The spookiest of holidays suddenly makes every Chad and Karen a dabbler in the occult, and covers innocent suburban lawns with gore-drenched zombies and web-suffocated spider victims. Meanwhile, actual metal fans are for one month a year surrounded by all the skulls and demons they could ever ask for — and, for once, other people genuinely want to know what they’re listening to. Halloween is the only holiday where metal isn’t just accepted, it’s appropriate.
But what songs are necessary seasonal listening? Metal is so inundated with darkness and witchcraft that locking down exactly which bands and songs to blast can be tough. So in honor of your favorite season in the whole year, we put together this list of metal tracks that October isn’t the same without. These songs will take any All Hallows playlist from spooky scary skeletons to death walking terror in no time.
Here are your 13 necessary evils for this Halloween season…
King Diamond, “Halloween” (Fatal Portrait, 1986)
The standard for all heavy metal Halloween tracks. King Diamond lives his whole life like All Hallows Eve, which is why it’s no surprise that he penned the most rollicking metal tribute to the night in music history. “Halloween” not only proclaims the power of all things dark and spectral, but it also does so via ripping ‘80s metal, packed with all the solos and slicing riffs one wants from a retro monster movie VHS. The perfect soundtrack to throwing your claw in the air and calling up night’s armies.
Opeth, “Demon of the Fall” (My Arms, Your Hearse, 1998)
What Opeth bring to the Halloween party, oddly yet appropriately enough, is the foliage. “Demon of the Fall” is the sound of swirling death in the form of the autumn, and as such fills the listener’s mind with a whirlwind of brittle yellow and red leaves. One can imagine themselves swept up in a gale of dying nature to both the track’s diabolical opening and emotional second half. Remember, every tree bursting with color in the fall is actually screaming out its death knell.
Ghost, “Square Hammer” (Popestar EP, 2016)
Honestly, Ghost’s entire career feels like a costume party — the outfits, the satanic art, the rotating personas — and that all comes to a head in “Square Hammer.” The track is a sonic festival, the sound of a crowd losing themselves in dance even as they’re dressed like votaries of darkness. That the song’s massive hook references the Devil — not Satan, not Lucifer, but the Devil, Halloween’s ultimate horned-and-hooved patron — only jacks up the black magic found here. Death is a party — join in!
Clutch, “Drink to the Dead” (Pure Rock Fury, 2001)
At the end of the day, Halloween is a day when we frolic to honor the dearly departed. No band gets at the holiday’s pagan roots like Clutch, whose 2001 album-closer “Drink to the Dead” understands the shadowy wooden heart of this feast of fools. The track’s tipsy swaying and exciting-yet-melancholy lyrics sum up the reason for the season, that much-needed revelry people need as the fall sends a deathly chill down their spines. If you’re going to make it through the demise of all things, why not do it dressed up as asses, drunk to the nines?
Type O Negative, “Black No.1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” (Bloody Kisses, 1993)
With Type O Negative and Halloween, t’s a hard choice between “Black No. 1” and “All Hallows Eve” off of 1997’s World Coming Down. But the former wins not only because it’s a bigger hit single, but also because of the attitude it takes regarding the holiday. “Black No. 1” is inherently silly and fun, laughing at its goth-girl heroine even as it champions her spooky way of life. As such, it’s a perfect track for the day of darkness that should never be taken too seriously. If you can’t laugh while some dude sings about fucking the dead, then maybe you should just stay home.
The Black Dahlia Murder, “A Shrine to Madness” (Ritual, 2011)
On the one hand, “A Shrine to Madness” is as brutal as any Black Dahlia Murder song, which is to say that it’s a total brain-shredder. And yet there’s an extra dose of mischief in the band’s tribute to Halloween (and Detroit’s less-spooky-more-scary tradition of Devil’s Night). This song features a cavorting swing that seems to embody the mixture of evil and mischief that is at the heart of the track’s subject. One can imagine a ring of witches dancing around a burning priest to this chorus, their faces lit by pumpkin light.
Wednesday 13, “What The Night Brings” (Condolences, 2017)
While one could argue that most of Wednesday 13’s music belongs on every Halloween playlist, “What The Night Brings” is easily his most necessary spookshow. The track’s opening guitar wail has that old-school singing-saw wail to it that makes on imagine ghosts spinning forlornly around a ballroom. Not only that, but Wednesday also takes a moment to focus not on one aspect of horror, but on the night itself and its myriad of ghoulish possibilities. Sure, Halloween is full of vampires, zombies, and all your favorite monsters — but the dark of the night encompasses them all.
Acid Witch, “October 31st” (Witchtanic Hellucinations, 2008)
Ah, Samhain-worshipping stoner metal with sleazy overtones — the stuff dirtbag Halloweens are made of. If any track by Detroit horror metallers Acid Witch deserves to be on your Halloween playlist, it’s without a doubt “October 31st” off of the band’s oozing debut. The song grinds like hell, wails with moments of spectral evil, and brings a beautiful pothead edge which makes one feel like the unwitting leather-clad victims in an ‘80s monster movie. Remember, kids, there are few things quite as wonderful as being high as hell in a monster mask.
Rob Zombie, “Dragula” (Hellbilly Deluxe, 1998)
Sure, “Dragula” is a little predictable when it comes to Halloween metal. Then again, maybe that’s the point: everyone knows “Dragula.” Even if some of the folks at your party aren’t really metalheads, they can get down to this Rob Zombie classic. Its marching rhythm and big sexy groove also make it a metal song to which you can shake your costume-clad ass. You’ll thank us later when you’re grinding up against someone in a Sexy Mailman costume.
Cradle of Filth, “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids” (Cruelty and the Beast, 1998)
You can’t celebrate All Hallow’s Eve without vampires, and no song explodes into a cloud of bats like “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids.” Cradle of Filth plunge in deep with both fangs on this track — the epic cathedral synths that have made them famous and the devilish cape-billowing riffs that metalheads have always loved them for. That the song is about one of history’s (allegedly) horrific blood-bathers only adds an after-dark vibe to this children’s holiday. Go on, invite them in, see what happens!
Alice Cooper, “The Black Widow” (Welcome To My Nightmare, 1975)
Nothing says Halloween like spiders, and the Coop is metal’s king of eight-legged supremacy. Many forget “The Black Widow” off of Alice’s first solo effort Welcome To My Nightmare, which might be due to twisted lyrics like, “The virgins and the children he’s deflowered…” But the track is a proto-metal rager that stands up to any Sabbath tune, and brings the malevolent celebration with its hands-in-the-air chorus. Plus, how can anyone argue with a Vincent Price intro? A song that’ll creep you out hard if you stop headbanging to listen to it.
Take Over And Destroy, “Endless Night” (Endless Night, 2013)
If there is a Great Pumpkin, this is the song that will make him rise from the patch. Arizona’s Take Over and Destroy struck horror-metal gold with 2013’s Endless Night, and the title track is a perfect distillation of just what they did so right. The song is a concussive summoning ritual for all things that feel from the daylight, a stygian call to the Draculean effort of dousing the sun. This one is an underground classic that puts goosebumps on the creeping flesh of those who worship 10/31 all year round.
Helloween, “Halloween” (Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 1, 1987)
One has to give Helloween credit — for a band from a country that doesn’t really celebrate Halloween, they do a good job of locking down the day’s creepiness and enthusiasm. Sure, the chant of “Masquerade!” and the video’s leotard-clad dancers show a European-style confusion concerning the harvest-time celebration. But these guys none the less summon an epic darkness here that obviously grasps the great morbid spectacle of the thinning of the vale. Like a German candy in your pumpkin bucket — odd and unexpected, but still fucking delicious.
Words by Chris Krovatin