Music is the perfect format for telling a horror story—it’s short and evocative, and because it is audio, it is accessible to people who don’t have the ability to focus on a movie. For the sake of this list, I am not including soundtracks from horror movies, even though I love the Halloween theme, or cover songs that are only creepy when the new artist records them in a different genre than the original artist. In no particular order, here are songs which stand alone as their own works of horror:
“A Little Piece of Heaven” by Avenged Sevenfold
This eight minute long orchestral masterpiece is a departure from Avenged Sevenfold’s initial screamo style and later thrash metal sound. Evoking an ambience of Danny Elfman, this song tells the story of a man murdering his girlfriend and engaging in necrophilia, all from his perspective. The animated music video visualizes the story, complete with blood and brass instruments.
“bury a friend” by Billie Eilish
As if hearing a sample of Billie Eilish getting her teeth drilled isn’t scary enough, the song is “written from the perspective of a monster under your bed” and the music video is inspired by “The Babadook” and “American Horror Story.” The lyrics are a series of jumbled, interrelated and repeating thoughts that mimic the pattern of sleep, or, rather, a nightmare.
“The Ring” by Figure
Figure is an absolute legend who keeps releasing albums in his “Monsters of Drumstep” series — volume 12 came out this year, just in time for Halloween. He samples sounds from horror movies, mixing dissonance and an alternation between high and low pitches to unsettle the listener. I’m partial to his first album because of the nostalgia. It had simple concepts, like vampires and aliens, but as he created more and more songs and never reused ideas, the monsters he depicted became more niche. “The Ring” emulates the psychological aspect of the eponymous movie by beginning with an unresolved arpeggio that is also an ostinato, building up tension before the bass drop.
“Walking on Air” by Kerli
This song repeats the word “creepy,” sometimes multiple times per sentence, to create an atmosphere with descriptive imagery that evokes a particular mood. The verses, which are written in the third person, are played in a minor key, while the uplifting chorus is written in the second person and played in a major key. There is a melodic percussive instrument that serves as the backbeat of the verses — it sounds like a music box, adding to the weird-children vibe. This is the stuff of dark fantasy, between the surrealist lyrics and the overall Tim Burton-esque aesthetic.
“Me, Myself, and Hyde” by Ice Nine Kills
Ice Nine Kills, like Figure, is a giant in the horror music industry. They have recently delved into creating works based on horror movies, though they have produced works based on books and original stories. “Me, Myself, and Hyde” is probably the best song from “Every Trick in the Book,” an album known for its ekphrastic works about horror literature, ranging from classics to V.C. Andrews. It is the best execution of style to tell a story: the chorus, from Dr. Jekyll’s perspective, is consonant, harmonious and beautiful while the verses and bridge, from Mr. Hyde’s perspective, are a chaotic mix of screaming vocals and heavy guitar.
“Piggie Pie” by Insane Clown Posse
No list of horror music would be complete without the jugallos who pioneered the entire subgenre of rap, Insane Clown Posse. “Piggie Pie” is a splatterpunk retelling of “The Three Little Pigs.” The narrators, portrayed by band members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, are serial killers who murder each pig, one by one. Like the types of houses each pig lives in, each pig meets a violent end in a different way.