It's that time of year again - the nights are drawing in, there's a chill in the air and the fancy dress shops are running out of Freddy gloves and fake blood so you know Halloween is just around the corner. In anticipation of the same old playlists being trotted out for the umpteenth time I've taken it upon myself to knock up a selection of alternative anthems for the annual celebration of all that is dark and spooky - I've nothing against 'Thriller', 'Ghostbusters' and anything involving Alice Cooper but for the sake of variety I thought I'd offer some different choices for the soundtrack to the debauchery of all Hallow's Eve. So why not light a candle, pour yourself a nice tall glass of virgin's blood and crank up these devilish delights to mark the moment?
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970)
A bit of a classic to kick off with from the guys who were the first to marry heavy rock with the lurid imagery of classic horror flicks and invent heavy metal as we know it in the process. Sabbath's début LP opens with this shit-yer-pants scary signature tune that the band apparently penned after bassist Geezer Butler convinced himself that he'd inadvertently summoned Satan to his Birmingham bedsit through an evening's dabbling in the occult and inspired them to write a song about it (Geezer later admitted it was probably the drugs talking). Ozzy's wretched howls combine with guitarist Tony Iommi's devilish tritones and the rhythm section's lurching thunderstorm to form a genuinely terrifying cocktail that would lay down a marker for dark, occult rock for years to come. Ozzy may be a reality TV acid casualty these days but back in the early 70s he was heading up arguably the most important band in metal and anyone who's dabbled in heavy rock since then owes these dudes a debt of gratitude.
The Misfits - Dig up her bones (1997)
No Halloween playlist would be complete without The Misfits, the horrorpunk sceneleaders having basically devoted their entire career to writing the musical equivalent of B-movie horror schlock. They originally emerged during the punk explosion of the late 1970s but 'Dig up her bones' comes from their 1990s revival following a 15 year absence during which original vocalist Glen Danzig went on to form the similarly spooky Samhaim and later Danzig - his replacement was velvet-throated crooner Michael Graves, a marked improvement in my book and the two records he laid down with them as Misfits mark 2 are pretty essential Halloween listening. They split again in the early 2000s but have since reformed AGAIN which would probably make the original members about as old as the zombies and ghouls they sing about. At least it'll mean less time in the make-up room before they hit the stage.
Salem - King Night (2010)
Hipsters back in 2010 were getting all gooey about 'Witch House', supposedly the next big thing in alternative dance music - it didn't really amount to much more than a cluster of reclusive tech-heads making a series of tweaked-out rave tunes augmented with chamber music, horror samples and the kind of nosebleed synth noises that made you want to jump out of the window. There were a couple of decent records in the mix though and Salem's 'King Night' LP is well worth a listen if you're partial to this sort of high-pitched brainrape - as if the audio isn't disconcerting enough, some kind soul out there has put together a series of similarly gnarly clips from horror films and nature documentaries to soundtrack the sheer hell coming out of the speakers. If you end up in therapy after listening to this then don't say I didn't warn you.
Gorerotted - Can't fit her limbs in the fridge (2003)
We all love a good old bit of senseless violence don't we? OK, perhaps just me then. Amiable cockney splatterfiends Gorerotted developed the perfect soundtrack to grizzly video nasties in the early noughties with their relentless gore metal onslaught and the marvellous 'Can't fit her limbs in the fridge' chronicles not only the heady pleasures of bloodthirsty violence but also the logistical complications inherent in such a pastime. Their marvellously titled parent album 'Only Tools and Corpses' contains many more jaunty tales of murder, mischief and throttling people with their own intestines, although the casual observer will probably pick up on the fact that the whole thing isn't intended to be taken entirely seriously. The band have cleaned up their act since then and morphed into the slightly more amenable crust punk band The Rotted but I for one will always prefer their cheeky beginnings as the most disgusting band in metal.
Gravediggaz - Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide (1994)
Lurid subject matter and hip-hop have always been a fairly reliable combination and it was only a matter of time before rappers started mixing horror into their music. Gravediggaz were a relatively short-lived 'horrorcore' rap outfit comprised of Wu Tang mastermind RZA plus a few other luminaries from the mid 90s rap scene - whilst early Wu Tang Clan material was heavily inspired by martial arts flicks, Gravediggaz based their lyrics on gory horror movies and 'Nowhere to run' was the breakthrough hit from their corking début 'Niggamortis' back in '94. Their career was relatively short-lived (literally in the case of founding member Poetic who died from cancer in 2001) but they do have the dubious distinction of having unwittingly spawned a series of witless imitators in the shape of Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid and the legions of face-painted knuckleheads who flock to 'Gathering of the Juggalos' every year in the States. Great.
Theme to 'Groovie Goolies' (1970)
Like most 80s kids I was raised on a steady diet of cartoons and one of my favourites back in the day was the oft-overlooked hippy-era horror show 'Groovy Goolies', an off the wall series in the vein of old skool Scooby Doo but with a heavier focus on vampires, monsters and ghosts along with various references to late 60s pop culture that pretty much passed me by at the time. However the show's crowning moment was surely its Monkees-esque theme music which reduced me and my next door neighbour Robert to fits of giggles every time we heard it thanks to the unintentional double entendres in the lyrics (I'm fairly sure the word 'Goolies' did not have quite the same resonance in late 60s America as it did in late 80s England). I should have grown out of finding this sort of thing funny by now but I will admit to succumbing to a bout of schoolboy sniggers when I found this tune online. 'Groovie Goolies' indeed! Hur hur hur.
King Diamond - The 7th day of July 1777 (1987)
There'll always be room for a bit of King Diamond in my house at Halloween. King first rose to fame as the theatrical shrieker for Danish metal trailblazers Mercyful Fate in the early 1980s and laid down a couple of stonking LPs before going solo in the mid 80s and devoting his career to making story albums much along the same lines as the paperback horror fiction pedalled by Dean Koontz and Steven King at the time. Each record came with a new horror narrative that ran through all the songs over a soundtrack of some great twiddly 80s metal augmented by King's evil shrieks and cackles. 'The 7th day of July 1777' is the centrepiece to 'Abigail', probably his spookiest long player of all and details the curse passed on through generations of residents in a haunted house that provides the story's backdrop - I'm not gonna lie to you, this stuff shits me up pretty bad and I dare you to take in this album or the follow-up 'Them' in the wee small hours without nervously looking at the shadows on the wall.
Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost (1994)
Let's mellow things out a little bit with a woman's touch - Kristin Hersh was half of US indie babe-off Throwing Muses back in the late 80s and early 90s but she decided to go solo on that ass in 1994 with the killer 'Hips and Maker's LP, from which 'Your Ghost' was the first single. Stripped back to acoustic guitar, cello and echoic vocals, this sounds like it was recorded in one of those old American houses with oak floors and very little furniture - stark stuff indeed but devilishly intoxicating all the same. Throw in a vocal cameo from REM's Michael Stipe and you've got a potential crossover hit on your hands, although the dark vibe of the track probably prevented it from tapping into the mainstream and it remains a hidden gem from her post-Muses solo period.
Backstreet Boys - Everybody (Backstreet's Back) (1997)
The last thing you'd expect on a Halloween playlist would be anything by Persil-washed teeny pop dorks the Backstreet Boys but I thought this deserved a mention due to the impressive 'Thriller'-esque promo video that depicts the boys marooned in a haunted house overnight with some fairly outlandish consequences. I suppose one of the benefits of being in a shitty boyband is that your record company is generally prepared to splash the cash on some decent looking videos to make you look cool and so the neutrals among us were treated to the visual delight of seeing the band morph into werewolves, mummies and vampires over a soundtrack of Max Martin synth belches and lacklustre rapping. My mate Tristan's band did a pretty good metal cover of this tune back in the day, retooling it in a style more suited to nights like Halloween.
Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark (live 2001)
And to finish off with, how's about a spot of May-dun to send us on our way? Having shared a stage with an eight foot zombie for the last thirty years, the boys surely merit their place on any Halloween playlist and lyrical mastermind Steve Harris has plucked liberally from horror films and novels over the years crafting numerous metal anthems for the band to bust out to ravenous audiences. 'Fear of the Dark' is one of their classic eight minute jobs, spooking it up to begin with before letting rip for a full-blown arena metal anthem - this live cut was filmed during their gargantuan 'Rock in Rio' set back in 2001 just after Bruce rejoined the band and provided them with a much needed shot in the arm after several years treading water. If the subject matter of the song doesn't scare you then try imagining what it must have been like down the front of that crowd surrounded by half naked Brazilian men about to go batshit crazy when the main riff kicks in.