It probably goes without saying that metal music and horror movies have always had a close relationship. From the day when Boris Karloff’s Black Sabbath opened at a Birmingham cinema across the road from local band Earth’s practice room, the two genres have been inextricably linked.
As the years have progressed they’ve evolved in tandem with each other. In metal’s earliest days the slightly campy, gothic horror of Hammer Studios and Mario Bava dominated cinema, and bands like Sabbath and Judas Priest reflected this (Think ‘The Ripper’). As the ’70s turned into the ’80s slasher and splatter movies upped the ante in terms of ghoulish visual thrills, at the same time thrash and early death metal was emerging to give metal a kick up the arse. This extremity escalation continued until you get to the cartoonish gore insanity of both Cannibal Corpse and Peter Jackson’s Braindead.
It’s been a two-way street as well, with metal bands contributing to movie soundtracks over the years, from the brilliance of Goblin’s Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria scores to the truly frightful spectre of Dokken’s ‘Dream Warriors’ from Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (don’t listen to it, the chorus will be stuck in your head for days). As a teenager I vividly remember scamming my way into Freddy Vs Jason at the cinema purely on the basis of its metalcore/nu-metal soundtrack (‘When Darkness Falls’ by Killswitch Engage still bangs by the way). In 2021, things show no sign of abating with the recent Halloween Kills sporting a track from kitsch Swedish horror rockers Ghost.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone with an eye on the cultural landscape of the last 50 years. Both metal and horror tend to suffer at the hands of the critics, often dismissed as crass, unsophisticated or even unhealthy, yet both also tend to punch above their weight commercially speaking. This I suspect is down to the other thing they have in common, their dedicated fanbases. Both exist outside the mainstream; both are instinctively DIY (there are as many horror zines out there as there are metal ones) and both are unafraid to embrace the inherent silliness that comes with both genres.
In tribute to this, and of course to Halloween, we’ve compiled our top 5 horror-infused metal albums of all time.
King Diamond – The Puppet Master
Obviously, you couldn’t write this list without mentioning the unholy master of metal horror, King Diamond. But rather than add to the endless pages written about his ’80s imperial phase I thought I’d recommend an underappreciated gem from his later catalogue. The Puppet Master was the first of the King’s albums I picked up as a teenager and boasts a truly creepy concept, telling the story of a demonic puppet master who creates his undead marionettes using the bodies of his murder victims. Featuring hooky choruses and some fantastic euro-metal riffing this is a late-stage highlight from the campy master of the dark arts.
Necrophagia – The Divine Art of Torture
These underrated Ohio-based horror fiends were one of the earliest death metal bands to release an album, with Season Of The Dead beating Death’s Scream Bloody Gore to the shelves by about a year. Led by the one-man slasher encyclopaedia Frank “Killjoy” Pucci, the band’s career is pot-marked with long periods of inactivity, but also features several landmark releases. 2003’s The Divine Art of Torture was arguably the band’s most brutal effort. Taking inspiration from the obscure Brazilian horror movies of Coffin Joe, this is down and dirty death metal with scuzzy, Venom-inspired riffs and punkish blastbeats. Killjoy’s unfortunate passing in 2018 marked the end of the band, but their gory legacy lives on in every horror-inspired band that followed.
Cradle of Filth – Midian
No tears please at this entry in the list. While the Filth’s entire recorded output could be considered an exercise in combining musical and cinematic horror, Midian for me is the stand out, not just because of the music (some of their strongest) but the whole concept of the record. Inspired by Clive Barker’s cult action-horror Nightbreed (and to a lesser extent the novella Cabal) this records travels deep into the Necropolis of Midian to meet its various fecund inhabitant (‘Lord Abortion’ for one) and conjures up a gothic atmosphere that few of the band’s more “credible” contemporaries can match. Add to all this the brilliant cameo from Doug “Pinhead” Bradley at the start of ‘Her Ghost In The Fog” and you have a horror metal classic.
Cathedral – The Carnival Bizarre
The spectre of ’70s Hammer and folk horror has always hung-over Cathedral, and perhaps nowhere more so than on the seminal doom band’s third album, The Carnival Bizarre. This classic saw the band refine their trademark mix of schlock imagery, psychedelia and ten-tonne riffage to deliver tunes that remain fan-favourites to this day. The Dracula-inspired biker rock of ‘Vampire Sun’, the eerie ‘Night Of The Seagulls’ and of course the iconic Vincent Price sampling ‘Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)’ all carried with them same sense of creeping nausea that typified the European horror movies of that era, and they also feature some of the best hooks in the subgenre.
Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe
I can already hear the howls of derision from the more purist end of the metal spectrum, but I am convinced that no list of horror metal would be complete without this album for three simple reasons. Firstly, Zombie’s pure maximalist aesthetic, incorporating everything from redneck gore movies to Lucha libre, is perfectly in tune with the schlockier end of the horror cannon. Secondly, he directs actual horror movies! and while they divide opinion (even though The Devil’s Rejects and The Lords Of Salem are excellent) they are undeniably the work of a hardcore disciple of the genre. Thirdly, and most importantly, Hellbilly Deluxe is packed, start to finish, with industrial pop-metal bangers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dig through the ditches, burn through the witches and slam in the back of my Dragula. Happy Fucking Halloween.
Words: Dan Cadwallader
Note: this piece was edited to remove Hooded Menace