Horror as a Music Genre

By: Kim Batchelor

I usually have a soundtrack to my homework that is quiet enough to keep from distracting me from what I am reading or writing. Recently thought I realized that for this class I have to be really careful about what I put on while I’m reading our horror texts. How I discovered this was by letting my iTunes play on shuffle and forgetting that I owned this song.

I challenge you to listen to this song “Skin” without thinking about the scene in Black Hole that involves a similar skin shedding scene.

This got me thinking about music and the genre of horror. Was it only the overlap of topics that makes this song unsettling for me or was it something intrinsic about the song? Clearly, the music used in a movie can affect the horror in it. But I became interested in the idea that, when you look on iTunes, there should be a genre entitled “Horror.”

The first music that came to mind when I thought about artists who reside in the horror genre were groups like Evanescence that are clearly Gothic. Anyone who has ever heard their style of music will most likely agree with me when I describe it as slightly creepy and fairly haunting. But what makes a song elicit this response? This led me to a Google search of “Unsettling music” which proved surprisingly lucrative. I’ve picked a few that really, really freaked me out and I’m going to attempt to explain just what about them is so creepy by using one as an example.

The song is “I Know Where You Sleep” by Emilie Autumn. Listen to it here. The video is especially creepy because it uses clips from the Marble Hornets series we watched.

For me, video aside, this song is unsettling for many reasons. One of them is the changes in tempo. It keeps you on your toes and does not follow the traditional patterns of music. It get’s faster and faster and louder and louder but there is no loud finale that is expected. There is instead a whisper, and one that tells the listeners that someone is watching them sleep. The first time I heard this song I had earbuds in and it made it more personal. I feel like the person was whispering in my ear, in my bedroom where I actually do sleep. That is another reason this song is creepy. It addresses the listener. Like how we have talked about in class, with Marble Hornets and the Dionaea House, things are scarier when it seems like we are able to fall victim to the horror ourselves. This song skips the middle man and takes the threat right to us and makes us lock our windows.

Though different songs use different techniques to play up their horror. Those two seem to, for me, be the most effective at unnerving the listener. I’d be curious to hear what songs freak you guys out and why you think they do so. Here are some that I’ve found:

30kft by Assemblage 23
Beheaded by The Offspring
Come to Daddy By Apex Twin (Warning. The music video for this song is nightmare fuel.)

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9 thoughts on “Horror as a Music Genre

  1. The lyrics of the songs you mentioned are definitely creepy. I also totally agree that Evanescence pops in my mind when I think of a horror genre of music because they’ve always had a haunting feeling to them. One song that I remember used to always kind of freak me out when it come on shuffle was October Is Eternal by Of Montreal. It’s just instrumental, which I think plays into it being creepy for me. There are no creepy, disturbing lyrics, just eerie music and some kind of chanting about halfway through. It’s giving me goosebumps listening to it right now.

  2. Wow, the first song you mentioned was the creepiest song I have ever heard. It did make me think of Black Hole and I all I could picture was the artist peeling his own skin off and saving it. The lyrics were very detailed, and made me very nauseous. I’ve never really considered music as a genre of horror until now. I haven’t come upon any horrifying songs, but I think that now that is something I might notice in the future. I am definitely going to listen to the songs you posted. You have really peaked my interest, so thank you.

  3. That song was definitely very creepy; although I am pretty sure that if you had no prompted us to think of the scene from Black Hole, I would have never made the connection. I know horror movies are 100% scarier because of the background music. I have not had much exposure to horrifying music but I will definitely look into the song you mentioned.

  4. I’m curious as to how much of the music is soundtrack music, and how much is of the horror genre. Are the music styles pretty similar, or do they radically differ? One song that comes to mind for me in reading this post is a song on the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes second movie soundtrack. I made a playlist for the album specifically so I could deleted one of the songs that has music one of the characters in the movie plays during a particularly harrowing scene that just makes cringe every time I hear it.

  5. The lyrics are definitely creepy and I do believe that music plays a large role in horror, and that it can even be its own genre. This definitely made me think of the song that plays on the movie Insidious, called “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” and the song. “My First Lover” in the movie the The Strangers, just because usually in both movies when those songs played, horrific things were happening. I get afraid every time I hear both songs.

  6. This post not only reminds me of creepy songs I’ve heard, but also stories about “horrifying music” that compels people to do horrible things. I cannot find the exactly story I’m thinking of right now, but I know that there were people (possibly teenagers?) that tried to blame an act of murder they committed on being possessed by a song (I believe it was one by Marilyn Manson). Do you think that scary music really has the power to change or possess the human mind?

  7. The first thought when I read your title was the opening sequence to the television show “Are you afraid of the dark?”, which gave me many sleepless nights as a child. For me, I think it is particularly creepy when horror music contains sounds of seemingly normal things: a door creek, a swing set, a moving chain-link fence. Horror music is different than regular music because you don’t listen to it for what it is, you listen to it for an ambiance. The more real the world in the music, the more real the horror.

  8. When I was reading this post instantly the song Mad World came into my head by Gary Jules. It’s such a catchy piano riff, and the guy has a great voice, but he delivers the song in such a chilling way, and the lyrics just add to the overall creepiness. Throw in the fact that the song is feature in numerous horror films and trailers for games, shows, and movies and you can see why the creepy image has been painted in my head. The songs you presented however are exactly what you described them as, unsettling, a genre all their own. I’m not sure if Mad World could fall into such a category but it most certainly is the song I get the creeps from.

  9. For me, music is an ambiance. When I am studying and listening to music, the words float in the background and the sounds overcome me. I personally don’t think that horror is created in the words, but in the sounds. Music is so emotionally manipulative in movies. I’m not gunna say it makes me cry during movies, but it may make me cry during movies. In horror movies, the music creates anticipation, and then the horror ensues.

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