18 of the darkest, most terrifying prog rock songs ever made

Kate Bush, Phil Collins, John Carpenter, Geddy Lee and Matt Bellamy at various live shows
(Image credit: Getty Images)

So October 31 is once again upon us. Halloween. The night when we usher in the darker half of the year and remember the dead. When ghouls, ghosts and other creatures of the night are said to walk among us.

Those of us in the know are all aware that prog can hold its own in the dark, sombre and morbid stakes. So we've dug out a few of our favourite prog tunes from the grim side of the track to curate a list of the darkest, most disturbing prog songs ever.

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

Only the opening theme from Mike Oldfield's groundbreaking debut album was used as what is now regarded as the main title of the classic 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin, having canned Lalo Schifrin's original score, was looking for something with "a childhood feel", like Brahms' Lullaby. Visiting the office of Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun, he picked up some what label vinyl, one of which was Tubular Bells, which the label weren't considering releasing. The minute he heard the intro Friedkin knew he had his music, and Oldfield's album went on to sell over 15 million copies.

Kate Bush - Hammer Horror

The title may reference the legendary UK production company famous for its garishly coloured horror films of the 60s and 70s, but Hammer Horror is actually inspired by the actor James Cagney portraying horror film actor Lon Chaney in The Man of A Thousand Faces, in which he's playing The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

Given that it's an album comprised of ghost stories, how could we not start with Steven Wilson's title track to his 2013 album? A song about an old man nearing the end of his life, haunted by images of his dead sister and a raven, that just refuses to sing for him.

Magenta - Bela

Magenta's 2020 album, Masters Of Illusion, was Robert reed's homage to the horror films that he loved as a child, and still does to this day. Opening track Bela is inspired by Dracula actor Bela Lugosi.

Arena - One Last Au Revoir

Arena's 2011 album The Seventh Degree Of Separation was a concept album about a man witnessing his own death and funeral. Jolly stuff, eh? The song was also nominated for a Prog Award, no less.

Van der Graaf Generator - A Plague Of Lighthousekeepers

From 1971's Pawn Hearts, this side-long song depicts a lighthouse keeper tormented by seeing people die in the sea that surrounds him. Not exactly Jollity Farm...

Genesis - The Lamia

From the band's epic 1975 album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, The Lamia takes its title from the mythological woman who becomes a child-eating monster when her own children are murdered. Zeus also deprived her of sleep, so her anguish was constant. Nice.

Dream Theater - A Nightmare To Remember

From Dream Theater's 2009 album Black Clouds & Silver Linings, the last to feature drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy until his return this year, this epic opening track was written by guitarist John Petrucci abut a childhood car accident.

Nightwish - Scaretale

From Nightwish's 2011 concept album Imaginaerum, the original title for the song was Haunted Mansion Ride, given the song is an homage to the Disney ride of the same name, and references the ride's song Grim Grinning Ghosts. It's a sing all about children's nightmares. Enter Sandman, anyone?

Goblin - Profondo Rosso

From the soundtrack to Dario Argento's legendary 1975 giallo movie, for which, having failed to get Pink Floyd to write the soundtrack, Argento turned to Italian prog rockers Goblin, whose score helped put them, and Argento, on the map.

Shubb-Niggaruth - La Ballade de Lenore

This French zeuhl band are named after one of Lovecraft's deities from Cthulu. If that's not scary enough, listen to this eerie nine minutes of haunting vocal-led music intro that dissolves into sonic dissonance.

The Enid - Something Wicked This Way Comes

Any song that takes its title from Ray Bradbury's creepy 1962 novel deserves to be on any Halloween list. The Enid's 1982 album, released against a Cold War backdrop, was their first to feature vocals.

Black Widow - Come To The Sabbat

Acid folk, folk horror and prog combine on this, Black Widow's best-known song from their 1970 album Sacrifice, all haunting themes of Satanism and the occult. "Come to the Sabbat, Satan's there..." indeed.

Comus - Drip Drip

Acid folk proggers Comus were quite terrifying. None more so than on their 1971 debut First Utterance and this tale of harrowing violence.

King Crimson - Epitaph

Although ostensibly a ballad, this emotive track from the band's 1969 In The Court Of The Crimson King debut, featuring the despairing vocal from Greg Lake, encapsulates the harrowing fears of the time of nuclear war.

Rush - Witch Hunt 

This eerie sounding track from Moving Pictures became part of Rush's Fear series of songs, that also includes The Weapon from Signals, The Enemy Within from Grace Under Pressure and Freeze from Vapor Trails.

John Carpenter - Halloween

This had to be in there, right? How could we have a Halloween playlist without the prog-loving horror master John Carpenter's original theme music for the movie Halloween itself. Stay safe out there, folks.

Muse - You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween

Featuring a fun video which throws up all manner of horror film tropes ( see how many you can spot), this cut from Muse's most recent The Will Of The People album features sinister organ music, a blistering guitar break from Matt Bellamy and a suitably 80s synth driven melody. 

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.