Halloween Music by Genre

Different musical styling have different a dialect that are more effective than others at conveying certain messages, and lyrics follow from that.  Halloween music springs from several genres, whereas others (e.g., polka, country music) yield almost no Halloween-worthy material.

Psychobilly and Surf

The primary criticism of this genre (though rarely acknowledged by fans) is that most of the bands really do sound alike.  It's almost as though this is too new a style to have diversified.  It's more a style still than a genre.

Musical elements: Lots of heavy guitars borrowing licks from their rockabilly roots.  A lot of the guitarists tend toward similar instrumentation as their forebearers as well, often playing Gretsch guitars or single-coil-equipped solid bodies.

Lyrical content: Campy humor built around science fiction and horror themes and references to older movies, particularly B-movies more-so than the accepted classics.

Example bands:
The Cramps
The Nekromantix
The HorrorPops
The Creepshow
The Phantom Rockers
The Ghastly Ones
The Meteors

Noteable songs:
Sadly, there aren't a lot of break-out hits.  Like punk, this is a genre that really hasn't had much airplay or mainstream exposure.

Horror Punk

This sub-genre is sort of a cross between the lyrical fixations of psychobilly bands and the musical stylings of punk.  Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_punk

Musical elements: There is some overlap with psychobilly, but mostly it's solid, heavy rock (nothing flashy) that doesn't quite push into the territory of metal.  Good songs played fast.

Lyrical content: Many artists have a similar aesthetic, especially in their lyrical fixation with B-movies, both sci-fi and horror.

Example bands:
The Misfits/Danzig

Noteable songs:
Misfits - Halloween
Ramones - Pet Sematary

Goth Rock

A diverse set of groups fall under this heading.  The defining trait seems to be that they aren't afraid to slow down and get moody.  Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_rock

Musical elements: Often a dreamy feel.  Not a lot of reliance on distortion.  Guitars have some effects on them such as chorus and delay, but they are more likely to play drones than riffs.  They are not afraid to use synths, as keyboards feature prominently to give a cohesive atmosphere.

Lyrical content: Varies by band, but there is a morbid, bleak fixation on darkness.  However, the focus is usually on emotions, not the supernatural.

Example bands:
The Cure
The Damned
Depeche Mode
Gary Numan
Joy Division
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Sisters of Mercy
Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gothic_rock_bands

Noteable songs:
The Cure - Lullaby
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Spellbound
Sisters of Mercy - This Corrosion

Heavy Metal

Heavy metal broke out from mainstream rock music in the '70s and it has matured beside it every since, so there are many sub-genres with different stylings and musical focus, many of which still qualify as Halloween music.

Musical elements: Distorted guitars, often bottom notes (or even extra-low notes via 7-string guitars/5-string basses).  This isn't unique to metal, of course; jazz guitarists originated the 7-string guitar, but the emphasis on the low end of the register is a trademark of metal.

Lyrical content: Plenty of fixation on death (by nearly every means imaginable) and all manner of mythology.  Everything from Christian imagery of hell to Ragnarok from Norse legends.

Example bands:
Alice Cooper
Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne
Judas Priest
White Zombie/Rob Zombie

Noteable songs:
AC/DC - Hells Bells
Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare
Alice Cooper - Feed My Frankenstein
Alice Cooper - No More Mr. Nice Guy
Ozzy Osbourne - Bark at the Moon
Rob Zombie - Dragula
Van Halen - Running with the Devil


Metals descendants sometimes chose to force new paths altogether rather than simply evolving existing metal conventions.

Musical elements: This is a broad category that encompasses a lot of musical cousins rather than direct descendants.  The central element is that the intensity of metal is still present, though not the musical stylings (e.g., scales/modes).  So there are still distorted guitars and heavy percussion, and even many of the atmospheric approaches.

Lyrical content: Again, all over the place, depending on the group in question.  There is generally a bit of the death obsession.

Example bands:
The Fuzztones
Marilyn Manson
Nine Inch Nails (NIN)
Sisters of Mercy (thought they're often classified as goth rockers as well)
Wednesday 13
Zombie Girl

Noteable songs:
Marilyn Manson - This Is Halloween
Ministry - Every Day Is Halloween
Sisters of Mercy - This Corrosion


This genre dates from novelty songs in the '50s and '60s through to movie songs from recent years (although I regret that I can't think of a memorable hit to include since my childhood).

Musical elements: It depends on which genres a given song draws from (e.g., rockabilly, dance), but there are often sound effects and spooky instrumentation (e.g., a theremin) somewhere in the mix.

Lyrical content: Almost invariably campy.  There are no serious scares.  Instead, superstition is treated as the joke it is.  We all know ghosts aren't real, and so we're going to have a laugh at being scared by them.

Example bands:
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (she has recorded several original songs as well as compiling classics)
Zacheriey (several albums of original songs)

Noteable songs:
Bobby 'Boris' Pickett & The Crypt Kickers - Monster Mash
Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy
Golden Earring - Twilight Zone
Jumpin' Gene Simmons - Haunted House
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Nightmare Before Christmas - This is Halloween
Oingo Boingo - Weird Science
Ray Parker Jr. - Ghostbusters
Rockwell - Somebody's Watching Me
Rocky Horror Picture Show - The Time Warp
Screaming Jay Hawkins - I Put A Spell On You
Sheb Wooley - Flying Purple People Eater
Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
Zacherle - Dinner with Drac


Although many stand-alone orchestral works have been composed, the compositions best remembered by the majority of the public are those that have appeared in films, often composed directly for the films themselves.

Musical elements: Dissonant chords (e.g., minor and tritones, of course) with droning notes.  Add an intensity and sense of urgency, and you have the winning combination for your horror movie.

Lyrical content: Most pieces forego lyrics (even if vocals appear), but not all.

Noteable classical pieces:
Bach - Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor
Carl Orff - Carmina Burana (O Fortuna)
Frédéric Chopin - Funeral March
Grieg - In The Hall Of The Mountain King (see also Trent Reznor's version from The Social Network)
Mussorgsky - Rimsky-Korsakov - A Night on Bald Mountain

Noteable pieces from tv and films:
Exorcist - Mike Oldfield - "Tubular Bells"
Halloween - John Carpenter
Psycho - Bernard Herrmann
The Omen - "Ava Santina"
Neil Norman and His Cosmic Orchestra - The Twilight Zone
The Munsters - Jack Marshall

Noteable composers:
There are many avant garde composers out there as well as whole soundtracks, but George Crumb and Gyorgi Ligeti are two whose works are worth checking out.


Copyright 2012 the Ale[x]orcist.