“Remember what I did, remember what I was, back on Halloween?” In the Dead Kennedys song “Halloween,” even the most straight laced toady feels free to indulge in morbid merriment one night out of the year. Why should all the fun be over when you clock in on Nov. 1? The song urges everyone to let the freedom of Halloween be an ever-present potency in their lives.
The albums listed here are intended to capture the different sides of Halloween, but they also serve as a necessary dose of Halloween during the tedious parts of the remaining 11 months. So many albums revel in their own potentially disreputable independence. Even if it isn’t always possible to embody a Halloween spirit all year long, this list could provide a window to a place where that freedom is possible and encouraged.
1. Cro-Magnon, “Orgasm”
I was briefly alone on Oct. 31, 2001 — the perfect opportunity for a costumed man to chase me down with a large rusty shovel. Halloween gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy a personal freedom, but this expression can often come at others’ expense. Cro-Magnon’s “Orgasm” is a singular experience, an album of completely uninhibited experimentation.
The music realizes a creative autonomy that comes at the price of your own comfort; it is off-putting in how it stands in stark contrast to expectations about psych music. If the man’s screams and trailing shovel sparks taught me anything on Halloween, 2001, its disorientation has a serious part in instilling fear.
2. Black Widow, “Sacrifice”
Black Widow’s “Sacrifice” is a melding of the ostensibly taboo subject of the occult with popular music. Its evocative lyrics are steeped in an appreciation for the minutiae of Satan worship. “Sacrifice” was released only a month after Black Sabbath’s own debut, so there were no real established connections between certain genres and occult lyricism. It’s just a superb progressive rock album with a distinct lyrical focus.
Like the aforementioned Dead Kennedys song, it’s a call to abandon anything standing in the way of who you really are. The Satanism portrayed in the lyrics expresses a desire to go against an established norm; the holiday of Halloween and “Sacrifice” both find a way to hide the horrifying in acceptable culture.
3. Rudimentary Peni, “Cacophony”
“Cacophony” is a concept album centered around everything H.P. Lovecraft. The work of Lovecraft genuinely feels like a muse on this album, both in artistic inspiration and aesthetic compatibility. “Cacophony” contains a lot of the grim, bizarre punk sounds of Rudimentary Peni’s more revered EPs and previous album, “Death Church.” However, with their more tonally discursive approach, the band expanded upon their already distinct approach to the genre.
One of the weirdest things about this album is that almost every song has a different vocal approach. The vocals feel like the stream of consciousness ramblings of an insuppressible fanatic. Rather than making the various layers of vocals feel like intrusions to otherwise normal song structure, “Cacophony” treats the ramblings like gospel: The instruments support every unorthodox cadence. Though their weirdest part of this album comes in the form of armpit noises.
4. Fabio Frizzi, “City of the Living Dead Soundtrack”
“City of the Living Dead” was also released under the title “The Gates of Hell,” which feels like the more accurate title to describe the feelings evoked in the film and soundtrack. After the titular gates are opened by the suicide of a priest, an insidious unholiness creeps its way into the mundane lives of a small town.
Rather than descending into total chaos, Fabio Frizzi’s score suggests an evil might be waiting to tear innocents asunder. Halloween, while not nearly as concerning as hell on earth, has a similar way of letting the macabre infect the everyday. Halloween might not ensure eldritch phenomena at every turn, but it certainly makes it feel possible.
5. Three 6 Mafia, “Mystic Stylez”
Horror movies’ influence is evident in the production and lyrics on this album. The most obvious proof is in pointed references to “Friday the 13th” and samples from horror movies. Perhaps more than any other album on this list, “Mystic Stylez” gives me the full Halloween sensory experience that I crave year-round.
I completely understand if Halloween is low on your list of favorite holidays, but this album could convince anyone of the merits of Halloween music. Three 6 Mafia’s first album is a pitch-perfect combination of eerie minimalism and innovative flows. You have to listen to it.
6. Beta Evers, “Eruption”
While compiling this list, a quote from the 1994 film “Barcelona” came to mind: “My jazz rule is: If you can’t dance to it, you don’t want to know about it.” I knew if I didn’t put something immediately danceable on this list, it would be entirely dishonest to who I am. Like a few other albums on this list, “Eruption” is a total embodiment of Halloween’s normalization of a ghoulish aesthetic.
The songs are definitively dark-sounding music, but they don’t feel alienating in the way a specific niche of dance music might; it’s simply EDM with a fondness for the darkest sounds available within the genre’s boundaries.
7. Coil, “Musick to Play in the Dark Vol 1”
The title says it all, really. It’s an album that sets out to make the listener feel open to the sensory experience of communing with those things that wait for you in the dark. Not hideous creatures or knife-wielding creeps mind you: “Musick to Play in the Dark Vol 1” recreates the feeling of being alone with your most harrowing thoughts.
The largely spoken vocals have a confrontational tone, and the lyrics are almost entirely composed of direct questions and statements that range from the uncomfortably inexplicable to the mundane. The single line in the 5th track, “Strange Birds,” exists somewhere in the middle of this range: “One day your eggs are going to hatch, and some very strange birds are going to emerge.”
The music places a large emphasis on creating a sense of spatial awareness in this album’s world. “Musick to Play in the Dark Vol 1” wants every motif and drone to create an individual somatic response. Halloween is as good a time as any to turn off all the lights and listen to a scary song about broccoli, so why not indulge yourself?
8. Scientist, “Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires”
Dub isn’t a genre that I associate with eerie atmosphere, but this creative use of the genre’s musical language is what makes this album a revered classic. Most songs on “Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires” start with a ghastly shout that establishes the tone and theme of the song.
This might not sound like it’s a big deal, but the small changes to formula make huge differences. The reverb and percussion feel especially tuned into creating a feeling of eeriness. The production’s excellent contrast between foreground and background also plays a huge role adjusting to the album’s inspired tone.
9. Rakta, “Falha Comum”
Rakta’s new album is a modern haunted house sounds record. Falha Comum eschews the more immediate song structure of their past efforts to focus on creating a complete and multifaceted atmosphere. Throughout their impressive discography, Rakta has built upon their goth and post-punk roots to create a wholly original sound, and their new album feels like an acceptance of their greatest strengths.
The song structures’ looser direction allows the band’s spectral atmosphere to feel uncertain and capable of sudden change. When I say this is a haunted house record, I mean to say it captures the feeling of playing audience to something designed to wrap you up in its own rules, its own whispers and echoes.
10. Zouo, “The Final Agony”
The shenanigans of Halloween — the tricks rather than the treats — is at the heart of Zouo’s music. They’re the impulse to commit harmless felonies in the last hours of Halloween night’s dark.
The band’s name literally means hatred, so it’s not unexpected that they’ve got a song about doing the deed with Satan himself. If Beta Evers is music to dance to, “The Final Agony” is music that will encourage the destruction of private property.