When I started this project, I wrote the names of every piece of media that I wanted to write about in a notebook, and labeled them 1 to 31, for the 31 days of Hallowe’en. The idea was that every day I’d open the book, see that day’s prompt, and be off to the races. I figured it would be a walk in the park: how hard could it be to follow prompts?
I was cheating on the list by day 2. Turns out the real creeping dread is trying to follow a strict, set schedule.
By day 3, I was filling the margins with dozens of other bits of media, things I thought might fit the mold and might be able to expand into articles. Some of the pieces that came out of those notes are the ones I’m happiest with – Oxenfree, Orfanato and The Haunted Mansion, to name three. The system more or less worked.
Still, it turned out the cutting room floor was far, far larger than the official list itself. Like, twice its size. The majority of media I didn’t find time to write about turned out to be music that I thought fit the Hallowe’en season – in tone or subject-matter – but that meat on their bones to be full-length posts on their own.
That gave me an idea.
So for the night before Hallowe’en, here’s another list. It’s 31 spooky, October-appropriate albums, either from the notebook or off the top of my head. Each one is something I feel fits the season, or might enhance your own, apartment-stuck Hallowe’en festivities.
Help me clear the backlog – and have Spotify open.
These are gonna go quick.
The Misfits – Collection II
That feature image up top is the same one I found, transfixed at about the age of 13, at my local record store. I didn’t know who the Misfits were back then, but I knew they were a big, big deal because I’d seen that cartoon skull on the patch on the back of my high school’s resident punk. Turns out that punk was right. If you’ve somehow never been introduced to Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only’s particular brand of crooning over-the-top screaming-fast Horror Punk, now’s the time.
…And if you have, you’ll know Collection II is a hodge-pog of demos, rarities and outtakes that probably never should have been an album to begin with. There are 20 tracks here, spread over a scant 31 minutes. The Wikipedia article points out the controversy of five of the Walk Among Us tracks having been recorded by a post-Misfits Glenn Danzig with his new band, but who cares: messy, fast and confusing is Misfits at their best either way. Look for the iconic “Halloween” and its bizarre chant-along brother “Halloween II” at the halfway point, and picture me blasting this out of the windows of my room, every single October of highs school.
I love Collection II because it’s a mess, not in spite of it. The perfect Hallowe’en soundtrack – and just look at that cover art.
The Unspeakable Horror of… Isaac Rother &the Phantoms
Isaac Rother and his Phantoms opened for Guitar Wolf at the Cobalt, back before the whole world went to hell. They held their own opening for the greatest rock and roll show on earth, and that should be all you need to know.
Supremely fun 60’s psychedelic throwback, from a band with a dedicated go-go dancer and a cover of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” that must be heard to be believed. Shades of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins round out one of the most surprising, enjoyable live shows I’ve seen in years.
Opeth – Ghost Reveries
Blackwater Park is the classic, that much is certain. Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree stepped in as producer and worked wonders, exaggerating Opeth’s heaviest tendencies by emphasizing their melodic work.
Deliverance and Damnation followed – each showcasing one half of Opeth’s sound – but Ghost Reveries was their next major statement. It’s a restless, haunted-house of a metal record that refuses easy classification. Choruses are rare and surprises abound, from breakneck tonal breaks to shifting, 10+ minute suites that phase from movement to movement like the wandering, lost characters in the songs themselves. If you have any affection for death metal, progressive medal or grand conjurations, Ghost Reveries will haunt you.
What other band would hold hold a grand conjuration in the Orpheum?
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Dimmu Borgir ceased to be a proper black metal act ages ago, and they’re better for it. That’s my Black Metal card revoked, but it’s true. Eonian, their latest, has shades of hard rock, symphonic metal(!), Sisters of Mercy(?!) and much more. Dimmu Borgir mastered the art of awe long ago. Now, armed with a full orchestra, a full choir and a renewed sense of creative freedom, Eonian bursts through dimensions like no one you’ve ever heard.
For an album about collapsing universes and shadow Gods, it’s way more fun than it has any right to be. Play Bloodborne to it for the full effect.
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
Little Rock’s Pallbearer have been an exceptional Doom Metal act for years. Now on their fourth album (released today!), they branch out further than ever before – there’s Doom here, but hard rock too, prog rock, and a genuine sense of joy. I won’t ruin the surprises, but Pallbearer get better and better with every release. For fans of amplifiers, distortion, and the shifting miasma between worlds.
A lush, foggy delight.
Ataraxia – The Unexplained
Ataraxia is Mort Garson, the New Brunswick synthesizer god and composer of tv show themes, film scores, a Wizard of Oz satire called Wizard of Iz, an album under the name Lucifer, and an album designed to be enjoyed by plants. He was a genuinely bizarre synth pioneer and a ruthlessly experimental electronic musician. 1975’s Ataraxia captures a sliver of his obsession with the unknown, this time focused on magic, in its many forms.
Listeners will recognize “Deja Vu” as the dang Adventure Zone theme, but there are many more bizarre, fascinating corners to explore in “The Unexplained”. Perfect for late nights staring up at the stars.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads
Sixty-five victims meet their end on Nick Cave’s most famous work, a collection of (fictional) murder ballads, spanning the range from cursed town (“Crow Jane”), to cursed man (the inimitable “Stagger Lee”) to cursed love (“Where the Wild Roses Go”, featuring Kylie Minogue). Nick Cave tells his stories, as always, with grim determination and a novelist’s eye for detail. There are no happy endings here, but there really don’t need to be.
Murder Ballads is Cave’s most accessible by virtue of the outrageousness of its subject matter: if you’d like to hear a haunted man with a voice of gold sing tales of woe, you can’t do any better that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Horrorpops – Bring It On!
Don’t worry, I won’t forget about Psychobilly.
Horrorpops broke out on Hell Yeah!, but Bring It On is where Patricia Day found her stride. With her partner Kim Nekroman of Nekromantix trading his coffin-bass in for telecaster, Day rips through tales of revenge, crooked cops and lost love. She’s a hell of a bass player with a distinct, high-pitched wail. Her Horrorpops are possessed with unstoppable pop momentum and a relentless sense of fun. Whether they go psychobilly, surf rock or love song, the Horrorpops shine.
Strictly for your spooky dance parties, this month and next.
Nekromantix – Brought Back To Life (Again)
Much of Psychobilly’s popularity, past and present, can be placed squarely on Kim Nekroman and his Nekromantix. With his hand-made coffin standup bass (made from a real child-size coffin!), Kim leads a shifting line up of heavily tattooed rockabilly traditionalists around the globe to this day. Their best-loved (and balanced) album is their third, 1992’s Brought Back To Life – later rereleased in not-potato quality for 2005, just in time to be completely formative to a young me. Not all of their material has aged great, but Nekromantix will forever be a piece of Psychobilly history.
On Brought Back To Life, as on every Nekromantix release, the band knows what they do, and do it well. What they do best is adapt 70’s and 80’s slashers for ripping-fast, goofy rockabilly tune with exactly zero brains. But who needs brains when you can play bass like that?
Expect nothing more or less than a goofy Horror extravaganza, and enjoy.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi
I’ve never heard anything like Mestarin Kynsi outside of horror movies and nightmares. If you’re a fan of extreme metal and you’d like to hear something genuinely new, you owe it to yourself to give Mestarin Kynsi a try. Oranssi Pazuzu were already an extreme band, but by incorporating acoustic, electronic and industrial elements into their sound they open up whole new sonic portals. There’s noise and terror here, but beauty too.
Many albums depict Cosmic Horror: Mestarin Kynsi feels like it actually is.
For fans of music that is utterly unpredictable and definitely haunted. A brilliant and fascinating ritual in album form.
Rezz – Mass Manipulation
Rezz is fantastic. This entry was a toss-up between Mass Manipulation and her first EP, Something Wrong Here, but you really can’t go wrong with either. She makes a kind of stomping, wobbling techno with a sonic palette of ghostly saws, plinking synthesizers and driving bass. Her music isn’t complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Rezz picks a vibe and nails it: her stuff is moody, fun, and consistent enough that you can let it spin on repeat for hours. I picked Mass Manipulation because I needed album art for the list, but really you should give it all a look – and pray that she drops another Hallowe’en mix tomorrow (and that Spotify doesn’t take it down this time).
Objectively perfect for a Hallowe’en party. Try “Premonition”.
Jim Guthrie – Below OST
I’ll admit it: I’ve never played Below. I actually picked it up on sale yesterday. That said, I’ve been a fan of Jim Guthrie ever since I downloaded his score for Indie Game: The Movie a million years ago. Guthrie has an ear for soundscapes: on Indie Game that meant shimmering, fidgety electronica that matched that film’s indie-studio roots. On Below he swerves deep below the earth with acoustic guitars, ringing bells, jagged synths and undulating drones that echo into the depths. It’s gorgeous, but rarely comforting.
It’s saying something that I’ve never played this game, but I’ll happily throw on all three one-hour collections of its soundtracks. Jim Guthrie is a remarkable composer – let him score your next DnD session, maybe.
Cristobal Tapia de Veer – The Girl With All The Gifts
Cristobal Tapie de Veer’s outstanding score for Girl With All The Gifts is best described as ‘deeply unnerving’. Making extensive use of synthesizers, drones and incomprehensible, chanting vocaloid hums, he paints a future that is as inhospitable as it is strange. The Girl With All The Gifts would be nowhere near as powerful and frightening as it is without his score – now it can freak you out at home, too.
If awe is the combination of fear and beauty, de Veer nails both.
Kim Petras – TURN OFF THE LIGHT
Kim Petras is fantastic, TURN OFF THE LIGHT is an absolute Hallowe’en-themed seasonal-classic rager, and I just really, really wish Dr. Luke didn’t have writing credits on every single one of these songs.
Do what you will with this information. I’ll be waiting excitedly to enjoy Kim Petras without the added baggage..
The Mountain Goats – Goths
Goths is not an album of Goth music, nor is it – as I had assumed from the cover and title – some kind of parody. No, Goths is John Darnielle’s hour-long tribute to the romance and excess of the Goth lifestyle in the 80’s, and to everyone who woke up one day wondering where the years went. It’s a study on the heartbreak of loneliness, the total narcissism of youth, and the strange optimism that comes with stepping forward into a new life.
As sobering a portrait of humanity as you’ll find, Goths is one of my favourite albums of all time. And not just because I’m a big goth myself.
King Dude – Songs of Flesh and Blood – The Key of Light
When I saw King Dude play the Fox theatre up here in Vancouver, he was smoking a cigarette on stage. There were only about thirty of us in the room, so he could see the girl on her phone clearly. He growled down:
“Hey! On your phone! Are you cool? Cause I hate cool people.”
Like the rest of King Dude’s act, it’s easy to imagine another singer inhabiting the same Satanic country-singer act with tongue firmly in cheek. While King Dude certainly has a sense of humour, there’s nothing goofy about his act. When he sings a love song to the devil, he means exactly what he’s saying – the humour lives outside the character. With a voice and a sound that recall Johnny Cash and Nick Cave in equal measure, Songs of Flesh and Blood is the last time he’d make Country music proper.
If you find yourself craving more, be sure to check out his work with Chelsea Wolfe.