10 genuinely scary albums guaranteed to put the dread into Halloween

King Diamond Halloween image
(Image credit: Metal Blade)

As you may have noticed, it’s that time of year when children dress up like zombies and terrify their elderly neighbours out of sheer, unhinged lust for sugary delights. And quite right too. Halloween means spookiness, monsters and mad-eyed terror, and all of those things require a suitably distressing soundtrack. Heavy music, as one might expect, always provides on these occasions, but it’s not just the bewitched and otherworldly tales of King Diamond that will send the weak of constitution shrieking into the night with underwear full of bad juju. Instead, here are 10 albums – including one by King Diamond, because we’re not fucking stupid – with the insidious power to have you a) nervously checking the wardrobe for heavily armed intruders, and b) frantically rummaging around in your own skull for evidence of impending insanity. From coruscating, freeform jazz fusion to nihilistic, gutter-level hardcore, these will either chill your bones or plunge you into a devastating existential funk. Or both. Either way, crank these up when you’re bobbing for razor-stuffed apples, eh?

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1. King Diamond - The Puppet Master (Massacre, 2003)

Obvious but obligatory, King Diamond is the undisputed king of horror in heavy metal. We could probably point to any of his studio albums as fine examples of spine-wrenching storytelling, and all of them have narrative moments that are as hideous and haunting as anything in horror literature or cinema. Just about edging it in the scary stakes is this late-period classic from Denmark’s lord of darkness, wherein the lead character’s eyeballs are scooped out with a scalpel and placed into the head of a puppet, imprisoning his soul forever. The album itself is killer, obviously. But if you don’t like, you know, eye stuff, look away now. Ha ha.

2. Necrophagia - Holocausto De La Morte (Red Stream, 1998)

Nobody loved or understood horror better than the late, great Killjoy de Sade. Necrophagia never received the credit they deserved for nurturing extreme metal’s relationship with horror during his lifetime, but every one of the band’s records is full of gruesome, offal-soaked brilliance. Thanks in part to its sick and sludgy production, and then guitarist Philip Anselmo’s mutant riffs, Holocausto De La Morte sounded utterly at odds with most extreme metal at the end of the 90s and still evokes the deranged grubbiness of the ‘video nasty’ era, but with nasty occult undercurrents and some of the most unhinged vocals ever recorded. Trick and treat, then.

3. Swans – Holy Money (K.422, 1986)

If you want a guaranteed good time, definitely don’t listen to Holy Money. Swans already had a reputation for making music designed to eviscerate and obliterate: 1982’s Cop was a particularly gruelling barrage of ugly, atonal noise, and the band’s live shows famously took the idea of sweaty catharsis to a whole new level of intensity. But by expanding their musical vision just enough to let a little bruised humanity leak through, Swans became even more terrifying. With songs like devastating opening mantra A Hanging and the excruciating, freeform crawl of Another You, Holy Money is as oppressive and unsettling as it gets.

4. Throbbing Gristle - The Second Annual Report (Industrial, 1977)

A band with subversion coursing through every vein and pore, Throbbing Gristle were hellbent on scaring the shit out of people from the start. The industrial pioneers’ debut album was released as punk rock peaked, but punk never shattered norms with quite this much venom and fearlessness. The Second Annual Report sets out to disturb and achieves its goals with ease, particularly during Slug Bait: a gruesome saga of murder, infanticide and mutilation that will still leave listeners wanting a hot shower. Play the album loud at your Halloween party and… oh dear, they’ve all fucked off home. Sorry.

Throbbing Gristle promo pic

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty)

5. Axis Of Perdition – Urfe (Code666, 2009)

Consistently the UK’s most joyously weird band since the late 90s, An Axis Of Perdition (as they are currently known) have made some of the most disturbing albums of all time. Urfe is both a literary and sonic revelation and a masterpiece of supernatural horror. Narrated by Dog Soldiers/Doomsday actor Leslie Simpson, The story of Urfe (“Just one despairing voice among the multitude of lost souls in the doomed nowhere town of Locus Eyrie”) is surreal, hallucinatory and twisted; its musical backdrop, which harnesses everything from scabrous industrial and dark ambient to the widescreen sweep of cult movie soundtracks, is somehow even more discombobulating. Do have nightmares.

6. Merzbow -Venereology (Release, 1994)

As much as we all enjoy being scared by monsters, ghouls and be-masked maniacs of all kinds, the truth is that real horror lies beyond the realm of sanity. Fans of extreme, abstract noise will be more than familiar with Venereology – the first of Merzbow’s albums to forge connections with the extreme metal underground. But if you have never had the, erm, pleasure… well, just whack this on at maximum volume, preferably on headphones, and see how you feel by the end of it. The wall between mild discomfort and a howling, eyeball-bursting psychotic episode is very thin, folks. Of course, some would argue that Merzbow’s music has meditative properties. But those people are mad.

7. Cold As Life - Born To Land Hard (+/-, 1998)

Hardcore has often been at its most powerful when plunged into darkness. Few bands have ever evoked the horrors of modern life with the precision and crazed intensity of Cold As Life. Formed in Detroit in the late 80s, the band’s lyrical stance was remorselessly bleak, reflecting the harsh reality of lives lived amid drugs, poverty, depression, corruption and violence. Coupled with music that snarled, spat and eschewed cliché in favour of a rich strain of thuggish spite, Born To Land Hard sounds more like a direct threat to the listener’s safety than any kind of artistic endeavour. Put simply, you can hear the desperation and it’s horrible. Vocalist Jeff Gunnells was sent to prison in 2013 for armed robbery, which suggests that not all acts of catharsis end happily.

8. God - The Anatomy Of Addiction (Big Cat, 1994)

Infamous in the early 90s for clearing out 80% of unwary live audiences within the first 10 minutes of their gigs, this multi-personnel, twin-drummed and sax-fronted UK noise/groove collective were proving themselves Swans' heirs as the world's heaviest band. Turning urban paranoia into an hallucinogenic experience of 360° time-warping terror decades before the likes of Imperial Triumphant came onto the scene, The Anatomy Of Addiction was a disorientating and brutalising sensurround. Full of tension-ratcheting repetition, and an overwhelming sense of succumbing to information overload, it feels more relevant with every passing year. Just as their spiritual peers, Godflesh (God frontman Kevin Martin formed Techno-Animal with Godflesh's Justin Broadrick, who plays guitar here), had a huge impact on nu metal, so  the abject horror marshalled by God's rhythm section churned up musical DNA that clearly found it's way way to Korn, while the enflamed chant of album opener, On All Fours, was channelled with remarkable fidelity by Watain on the track Outlaw from 2013's The Wild Hunt album. Considering what a terrifying and daunting proposition God were, it's quite the turnaround that Kevin Martin has since found widespread acclaim with his dancehall/grime project The Bug. But for all the devastating anger he's unleashed now, this is where the true, mind-obliterating horror truly lies.

9. Univers Zero – Heresie (Cuneiform, 1979)

Ostensibly a progressive rock band, Belgium’s Univers Zero make music that gleefully defies description. Initially affiliated with the cliché-scorning Rock In Opposition movement, they unleashed Heresie in 1979, revealing a far darker and more disturbing approach to music. Part drone symphony, part atmospheric assault, it begins with the chilling discord of La Faulx (The Scythe): 25 minutes of woozy, disorientating noise, eccentric art rock detours and wonky orchestral bombast. The closing two tracks are less perverse but equally eerie, as Univers Zero dig deeper into their own shadowy sonic world. Herein lies madness and horror, that’s for sure.

10. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)

Jazz snobs were always getting their knickers in a twist about whatever Miles Davis was up to that week. The legendary trumpeter’s early 70s recordings were particularly controversial, as the former hard bop icon turned to rock’n’roll, funk and the revolutionary potential of volume as new vehicles for his endless creativity. The result was records like seminal masterwork Bitches Brew (1971) and subsequent live set Live-Evil. Both wild and amorphous eruptions of deeply psychedelic malevolence, they bear little resemblance to standard notions of jazz and frequently sound like the genre’s violent and poison-hearted obliteration. None less smooth.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.