From Black Sabbath to Slipknot, sinister sounds and dark aesthetics have combined to produce a thrillingly horrifying impact on listeners. But these bands are invariably just nice, regular guys with an ear for a spooky riff or an eye for a creepy costume. This is a list of the artists that go beyond that surface level, the genuinely worrisome freaks whose mission seemingly involves actively soiled pants. If you’re not conviced, try listening in the dark through headphones.
Before Yamatsuka Eye formed Japan’s much-loved avant noise institution Boredoms in 1986, he was pushing the envelope of extremity in Hantarash. Apart from his intimidating physical spasms, his alarming stage antics included chopping a dead cat in half with a machete and driving a bulldozer onstage through the back wall.
The wayward madness/genius of these pioneering Aussie extremists could never be compromised; this wasn’t your standard blasphemous posturing, this was a gang of deeply antisocial drunken eccentrics with genuine mental problems and pathological transgressive urges, who lived in dungeons, whose gigs were usually cancelled after injuries sustained fighting or smashing up buses.
All murder-obsessed power-electronics has an impulse to horrify, but Sutcliffe Jugend took the biscuit with their ten-hour 1982 box set We Spit On Their Graves, with each side named after a Yorkshire Ripper victim. A breathtakingly out-of-order exercise in proto-trolling that still provokes anger, terror, nausea and headaches after 35 years.
Purveyors of typical sludgy black death/doom from Las Vegas, Goatlord always had some indefinably sick and wrong undercurrent to them that went beyond extreme late 80s demo titles like Unholy Black Slut and Sodomize The Goat. Then in 2015, founding guitarist Joe Frankulin killed his neighbour, then abducted and murdered her 8-year-old son.
Standing for Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy, the Pennsylvanian sound cult, led by the mysterious No One, record in abandoned mental hospitals, bang human bones against crypt doors, even conducted “black noise necromancy” on the tombstone of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, whose ex-bandmate Hellhammer lends his percussive terrorism to TOMB’s latest recording.
Any attempt to crawl inside the fragmenting mind of Jack Nicholson’s haunted psychopath from The Shining is likely to sound pretty horrifying. But when it’s done with the thorough, obsessive atmospheric detail of The Caretaker’s chilling debut, it’ll shit you up a treat.
Chaotically-recorded, animalistic occult thrash from an anonymous UK band whose 1987 debut sleeve featured the title Devils Meat scrawled in blood across a little girl’s forehead. Their true identities and agendas were a mystery, except that they were bringing Satan back into metal with an ambitiously deranged kitchen-sink sound “Recorded in the Pit of Doom”.
Even if the convicted murderer, church burner and right wing extremist ’Count Grishnackh’ wasn’t black metal’s most notorious figure, the stark, eerie sounds he recorded from 1991-93 would still qualify Burzum for horrifying status. The approach was total, Varg Vikernes always searching for the worst equipment, and underscoring the scene’s isolationist, outsider elitism by playing everything himself.
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Beyond the Halloween fancy-dress aesthetic, these shadowy Italian occult trailblazers had some genuinely dark, unknowable magick going on, especially from 1977-84. Frontman Steve Sylvester belonged to Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, while guitarist Paul Chain remains a law unto himself, reputedly joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses to atone for a life of sin.
A typically full-blooded, OTT Australian attempt to make black/death metal sound genuinely weird, insane and frightening again, after decades of cliche, compromise and commercial accessibility. Portal retain a crucial anonymity that compounds their unnerving mystique, clad in executioners’ suits and hoods based on 1920s silent horror movies.
Gnaw Their Tongues
The sour spot between black metal, death industrial and dark ambient tends to produce the most white-knuckle, sleepless-night, cold-sweat musical endeavours; none hit that spot more powerfully than this obsessively misanthropic Dutch project. It’s all the work of one troubled man, Mories, who has disturbingly masterminded 40 releases in 10 years.
Monument’s sole, crazed 1971 LP - recorded drunk in a single night - had sleeve notes describing their sound as “Haunting, eerie, mystical, even at times a little frightening to those outside the shadowy half-world of the occult” and boasted that the singer had founded “a thriving witches coven in Essex”. Their spooky organ-driven psych still exudes mad, orgiastic authenticity.
Most savvy extreme metalheads will agree, the most genuinely horrifying sounds in music have emerged from this woman’s mouth. Debuting in 1982 with the alarming Litanies Of Satan, and subsequently focusing obsessively on the AIDS theme with a three-album concept trilogy and live Plague Mass, she continues pushing the envelope of petrifying avant garde voice projection into her 60s.