Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Week: Scariest Music of All Time

If you're planning a Halloween party, there's no shortage of scary movies to watch – it's pretty easy to find at least 10 horror movies with the word "Halloween" in the actual title of the movie – but finding scary music is tricky. What kind of music could possibly be as scary as a horror movie?

It's Not What It Looks Like
Ever since Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper hit it big in the 1970s, there have been hundreds of metal, goth and emo bands willing to dress up in "scary" costumes to look like they're part of the scene. You know, the traditional "scary metal" look: wild hair, everything in black, chains . . . how could it not be scary?

'Ozzy on tour in Japan' by Jennifer, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 - follow link for details.
Ozzy Osbourne, Godfather of Scary Metal.
Forty years later, this sort of look just isn't scary at all, anymore – and neither is the music. In the 1970s, church groups were terrified about the "satanic powers" of bands like KISS – but these days, who's afraid of a little hard rock?

There's only one "scary"-looking band that might be worth a fright, and that's The Horrors. Although they're a pretty obvious choice – look at their name! – they're also one of the better British bands of the past few years, and their last couple of albums were great fun. But either way, they're probably not exactly horrifying . . . so who is?

I'm here to help. Give these tunes a whirl:

Come To Daddy — Aphex Twin
The music is very, very unsettling, but the real kicker is the video – directed by the great Chris Cunningham, and widely regarded as one of the scariest music videos of all time. Be warned: if you come across this one on Rage at 3am, you may have trouble sleeping afterwards.

'97 Bonnie & Clyde — Eminem, Tori Amos
The original Eminem version, with its disturbing lyrics and "googoo-gaga" toddler noises (sampled from his own baby daughter!), is creepy enough. But Tori Amos's interpretation – from her covers album, Strange Little Girls – is really frightening. While Eminem's skittish rant sounds like a sarcastic slasher film, Amos's intimate whispers create an In Cold Blood–style true-crime horror. Seriously, be warned: this song is not for the faint of heart. (Or the easily offended.)

And from the same Tori Amos album, her almost-unrecognisable cover of Slayer's death metal epic "Raining Blood" is pretty interesting, too . . .

So if you look around, there are plenty of scary songs in unexpected places. But if you want to hear something really scary, there's one musician who stands above the rest:

Why Does His Voice Sound Like That? BECAUSE HE EATS YOUR BONES
'Tom Waits' by Theplatypus, public domain image - follow link for details.
That's right – Tom Waits. He began his career as bluesy, Bukowski-esque balladeer, but with 1983's Swordfishtrombones his music took a turn for the seriously bizarre. Haunted 1880s gypsy accordions, skeleton-rib xylophones, electric guitars tuned to breaking point, some instruments so obscure that they may not actually exist – from one song to the next, Waits's music ticks every box marked "creepy" and several marked "awesome".

The most intense and terrifying instrument of all is his voice, which often sounds like he's been gargling battery acid. But his vocals are surprisingly versatile; one moment he's genuinely tender and forlorn, and the next he's crawling inside your ears to eat your brain. If you want to hear a sound that will make you fear for your life, Tom Waits's voice is a great start.

What's the scariest music you know?
Happy Halloween!

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