The 20 greatest horror movie themed metal anthems

(Image credit: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images/Future)

Metal and horror have always gone hand in hand, from its earliest days of satanic siren Jinx Dawson's Coven and the legendary Black Sabbath to Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Venom and Electric Wizard. Even our sub genre names evoke the mighty beast: Death metal? Black metal? You can't get any more horrifying than that! 

So, in the spirit of the spooky season we've compiled a ghoulish list of incredible metal tracks that have been directly inspired by the darkest corners of the silver screen. 

20. Soulfly - Cannibal Holocaust

Inspired by Italian director Ruggero Deodato’s notorious 1980 movie about a documentary film crew who encounter a distinctly hangry Amazonian tribe (and naturally end up as journalistic tapas), this heads-down ripper from Soulfly’s 2013 album does a damn good job of mirroring the cult classic’s over-the-top levels of violence and horror. 

Few films have come close to generating such outrage as Cannibal Holocaust: upon its release, Ruggero was actually arrested on obscenity charges and was accused of having made a snuff movie, so grimly realistic were his celluloid efforts. He was later cleared of the charges, but the film’s notoriety was assured. If you’ve not seen it, you need to.

CHOICE LYRIC: “Impaled bodies, impaled souls / Treacherous the unknown / Skinned alive and left to die / Inner fear comes to life”

19. Witchfinder General - Witchfinder General

Starring Vincent Price as 17th-century theocratic psychopath Matthew Hopkins, Michael Reeves’ 1968 folk-horror classic Witchfinder General had a significant impact on metal, but it started here, on this galloping anthem by Stourbridge’s NWOBHM heavy-hitters. 

Death Penalty’s controversial sleeve – depicting topless model Joanne Latham tormented by Puritans in a country churchyard – devotedly evoked the film’s bucolic sadism, but they had to be quick to shoot it, as the vicar hadn’t given them permission. The lyrics must have been written even quicker; Vincent Price would never have said “If you try me, even deny me, I’ll beat you, you’re a pratt.”

CHOICE LYRIC: “If your girl is tight he’ll take a bite / Say witch with evil mange / So if you’ve hope, let’s grab a rope / And watch that bastard hang”

18. Iron Maiden - The Wicker Man

Few horror movies are as reliably unsettling as Robin Hardy’s distinctly English but deeply sinister 1973 masterpiece. When Sgt. Neil Howie investigates a girl’s disappearance on the remote Hebridean island, he finds his Christian values challenged by what seems to be a pagan cult. 

In the unlikely event that you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t end well for the policeman. Sorry. Iron Maiden’s anthemic paean to the movie doesn’t delve deep into the plot, but it does capture the mad-eyed intensity of its unforgettable ending. Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!

CHOICE LYRIC: “Your tongue has frozen now you’ve got something to say / The piper at the gates of dawn is calling you his way”

17. Mortician - Chainsaw Dismemberment 

“On the afternoon of August 18 1973, five young people in a Volkswagen van ran out of
gas on a farm road in South Texas. Four of them were never seen again…”

Pinching the ominous opening monologue from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, New Yorkers Mortician really didn’t mess about in their tribute to the oft-overlooked sequel to Tobe Hooper’s game-changing horror classic. 

Ninety seconds of pulverising deathgrind follow, leaving you with the exact same feeling of face-numbing dread and disgust as a family day out with Leatherface et al. For a band who have made a career out of horror love-ins, this blast of noise ranks as one of their finest moments. 

CHOICE LYRIC: “Cannibals, return to kill / Meet your death, sawed in two / Body parts, strewn about / Cut-off legs, severed heads / Rotting flesh, macabre death”

16. Cathedral - Night Of The Seagulls

“Gaz [Jennings], Lee [Dorrian] and I had just watched Night Of The Seagulls together at my apartment,” recalls bassist Scott Carlson, co-creator of this horror-doom exemplar.

“That is pretty much what inspired the lumbering opening riff.” Homaging the 1975 instalment of Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s cult Blind Dead series, Cathedral perfectly captured the slo-mo terror of eyeless Knights Templar riding from the sea.

“I love the film, I think it’s the most atmospheric and tightly assembled of the series. The shots of the Templars riding on the beach are incredible!” Scott enthuses, adding: “I love the song. It’s simple, to the point and dead heavy.”

CHOICE LYRIC: “The ritual you face / You shall no after / Your blood we drink for eternity / Flesh unto the crabs we leave / And feed your heart unto Aquarian Master” 

15. Everygrey - Nosferatu

With its wandering melodies and creepy ivory tinkling, the emotional Swedes’ homage to the iconic silent film of the same name is soaked in atmosphere and gothic grandeur, a dose of Tom Englund’s reflective personal lyricism heartily thrown into the mix. 

If some of the movies in this list are too extreme for your tastes, then the 1922 German masterpiece – an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s genre-defining Dracula novel – should provide you with a decidedly different chill, with its unsettling portrayal of Count Orlok as he makes his way from his Transylvanian crypt to an unprepared German town.

CHOICE LYRIC: “Where ever you’ll go I’ll be / Where ever you’ll be I’ll find you / I am despair / I am the cries of the abandoned child / The pain of the battered beast / The screams of the soul you keep / I am Nosferatu” 

14. Iced Earth - Wolf

Jon Schaffer’s Horror Show concept dated back to a 1986 demo tape (when the band were still called Purgatory), but the idea was brought to fruition 16 years later. Of all the album’s movie-themed songs, this face-ripping opener is the most powerful, musically and lyrically; rapid-fire staccato tech-thrash brings us into the fragmenting mind of Larry Talbot, Universal’s most mundanely named Classic Monster. 

It’s a succinct retelling of 1941’s The Wolf Man, where Lon Chaney Jr gave a memorable portrayal of a good man forcibly stricken with murderous evil, and Matt Barlow’s imploring vocals admirably reflect poor Larry’s inner turmoil. 

CHOICE LYRIC: “Now comes the rampage, a killing spree / Hunting his loved ones
comes instinctively / Oh no, it’s maddening / A shape-shifting demon of pure lunacy!”

13. Aborted - The Lament Configuration

The kings of Belgian death metal could have filled this entire piece themselves, such is their penchant for horror-indebted, gory mayhem. That said, this slice from 1999 debut full-length The Purity Of Perversion, inspired by the puzzlebox at the heart of the Hellraiser series, is a particularly delectable slab of guttural majesty. 

Furious, buzzsaw guitars clash over pummelling blastbeats as frontman Sven ‘Svencho’ de Caluwé takes us on a lyrical journey that reads like something from a murder biopsy. We can only assume Pinhead and the gang would have heartily approved of such filth.

CHOICE LYRIC: “His rancid stinking spunk, sparkling in the moonlight / Torn apart by hooks, cerebral lobes are emerging / From the cavities, convulsive regurgitations / Of decomposed entrails

12. Municipal Waste - The Thing

John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror classic The Thing – a masterclass in slow-release tension and mounting fear in an Antarctic base besieged by a ruthless alien shape-shifter – is 109 minutes long, yet these Virginian thrash revivalists dispatched the whole plot in 1:53 of breathless, breakneck crossover. 

“I don’t like the current state of horror,” pondered Municipal Waste's Ryan Waste in 2012. “Older movies had silence where you could use your imagination to think about what’s happening.” The Thing certainly embodied that creeping, atmospheric suspense, but it’s amusing to hear Municipal Waste complain something’s too fast and noisy.

CHOICE LYRIC: “Half the crew’s dead, more to go / Somehow it’s got to stop / And now MacReady’s getting pissed off / Now there’s nothing left to do / Discovering who’s human is what this final test will prove”

11. The Black Dahlia Murder - Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn

An astute follower of both death metal and horror’s impactful subject matter, Trevor Strnad’s most grisly creation is this hideously catchy ode to one of the most infamous scenes in Sam Raimi’s gruesome splatter fest, The Evil Dead

Favouring familiar source material rather than his usual obscure references, the singer’s intention to create a macabre visual image of character Cheryl’s attack is achieved from the hideous title alone. And, as Trevor reasons today: “Every cool death metal band in history has an Evil Dead song – Deicide, Death, Embalmer… we just wanted to join the pack!”

CHOICE LYRIC: “Murderous orgy in full bloom / Her screams they cut the fog this night / On sheer terror the seedlings thrive / Raped in hatred by vines of thorn / Behold the wrath of the Necronomicon”

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.