Last year, we made a list of albums fit to listen to for the delightfully autumnal, spooky Halloween season, one album for each day of October. Check it out, links below:
John Carpenter: Halloween (1978)
Well, isn’t this convenient. We’re at the end of this list and all that’s left for me to do is recommend one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!
To listen to John Carpenter’s Halloween soundtrack strictly as a piece of music is a bit annoying, to be frank. The compositions rely so much on the main theme that it doesn’t really have a place outside of this one day a year. As the writer, director, composer and main musician, Carpenter was able to construct something masterfully concise. The music is very simple and doesn’t necessarily work on its own but as a spooky backdrop in a haunted house display or while handing out candy it is brilliant.
This isn’t to imply that this album is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It serves a purpose and helps create a terrifying atmosphere but I wouldn’t want to walk in on someone stretched back in their recliner enjoying this soundtrack on its own, unless it was Halloween.
There’s really not much more to say than that. Loud synthesized noises occasionally break the monotony of the main theme that can be a bit startling but overall this is the same thing played over and over for nearly 34 minutes. There is a 20th Anniversary Edition that I don’t own that is almost twice as long but I think I’ll stick with this 1978 original as it is a record I only listen to once a year. The film is a masterpiece and the score is a big part of the reason it will always be my October 31st choice but this isn’t an album I’d want to listen to while walking the dog or feeding the pigeons at the park lest I feel the uncontrollable urge to don a warped Shatner mask and start slashing.
Is it Uriel or Egg? I’ve read a ton of different breakdowns of what the members of this band and its offshoots that I no longer care how it all fits together so, for the sake of convenience and brevity we’re going with the name on the sleeve and the liner notes and referring to this fantastic record as Arzachel.
When it came to making this list I thought it might be tricky to conjure up 31 different albums. Now that we’re nearing the end it is evident that there are more that I could have added as today’s inclusion was going head-to-head with Comus’ First Utterance. The reason I chose Arzachel was due to it’s heavier reliance on Lovecraftian references and the heavy reliance on the organ, for those who have read my Gehenna post you will know that it all comes down to the organ.
At first, this album sounds very similar to some of it’s contemporaries, specifically Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer. It doesn’t take long before things take a trip towards the strange on the opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights. The album opens with a verse not entirely dissimilar to other Rock bands at the time but where it shifts is in the eerie organ bridges where the music takes a break from following a rigid structure to become a lot more loose and experimental.
The title track and Queen St. Gang are similarly bizarre and eventful, particularly the former with it’s extended stretches of ethereal, ambient sections. The latter provides the first recognizable groove heavily rooted in Blues music and is probably the most straightforward of all the songs present here before the surprise, brief ending that devolves into a fantastic slurry of discordant feedback and organic effects.
Leg is another bluesy number accompanied by a sinister sounding organ performing long, disjointed chords in the background. The entire album walks the line of traditional, organized compositions and complete, utter chaos brilliantly. It is a shame that this was the first and only album released under this moniker, though there is also something very special that it exists as a one-off. What occurs at the halfway point in the song Leg is particularly noteworthy as it breaks into a heavy jam session that gives way to the long, psychedelic closing tracks.
Clean Innocent Fun and Metempsychosis end the album in an absolutely horrific way and are the main reasons this was the album I chose over Comus for this list. First Utterance is a terrific album but it is one that is simply strange whereas Arzachel tap into the creepy Halloween mood significantly more. Clean Innocent Fun opens with strange string plucks and discordant sounds before giving way to a brash cacophony of noises that might sound at home on an early Sonic Youth album. The entire record has led us to this final pairing of songs that have finally done away with the facade of normality to completely embrace the chaos.
Unfortunately, Arzachel is not an easy physical release to acquire but it is luckily one that can be downloaded from a number of different sources or heard on YouTube entirely. I’d urge anyone with an interest in unique, wonderfully performed music to give it a shot, particularly at this time of year with the lights low and the fireplace roaring. It is a real treat and I’m just glad it hasn’t been lost to the ether, hopefully it never will.
Electric Wizard: Dopethrone (2000)
After my explosive negativity regarding Rob Zombie I figured I’d change course today by offering up an alternative that retains the influences of classic Horror without being quite so gimmicky or pandering. Borrowing from inspirations such as Black Sabbath, Spanish Horror’s Jess Franco and H.P. Lovecraft, Electric Wizard are a juggernaut in the world of underground heavy music. With song titles stripped from Eldritch lore as well as modern horror heavyweight Wes Craven, Dopethrone is a perfect soundtrack for the Halloween season.
There are tons of bands that have tried to recreate the sound of Sabbath so it can often be difficult to parse the good from the bad. Disciples of the juggernaut band have been around almost as long as their inception but only a handful have made an impact on me, Trouble, Saint Vitus and Sleep to name a few that come to mind. Even then, those bands are so rooted in their Sabbath DNA that they can oftentimes come across as a bit unoriginal and boring. Electric Wizard differs in the risks they aren’t afraid to take. They are also a great deal heavier than the aforementioned bands with the vocals being the most noticeable change as Oborn opts for a much louder, shouting style than the more formulaic nasally whine that the others adopt.
The songs on Dopethrone are structured and sequenced in a way very similar to early experimental rock outfits such as Hawkwind and Uriah Heep. Vinum Sabbathi and Funeralopolis open the album with a pair of hard-hitting rockers before Weird Tales forces the listener on a nightmarish, Lovecraftian drug-induced journey filled to the brim with Eldritch imagery and sonic experiments. Altar of Melektaus concludes the 15 minute venture with an incredibly interesting effects-laden instrumental section before things get normalized once again with the very catchy track entitled Barbarian.
What is perhaps the most surprising is how coherent and concise this entire album is considering how utterly fucked up the band admittedly were during the recording process. Oborn himself openly told UK-based music magazine Kerrang in 2009 that the band would wake up after being camped-out in the studio, drink, do a bunch of drugs and just jam. The music in no way reflects this kind of debauchery as every instrument comes through cleanly and articulately. I mean, I can’t even have two beers before playing if I want something to sound even remotely decent. Perhaps I need to do more drugs and drink quadruple the amount to break on through to the other side, or maybe I’m simply not even half as good as I think I am.
While Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone might not scream Halloween on the surface as it doesn’t really do anything particularly spooky or scary, the content and influences behind the music definitely reflect this time of year. This was one that took almost a full decade to grow on me after purchasing it in the year it was released but it has slowly become one of the prized albums in my collection that I revisit quite often. It is much more available now than it was back in 2000 as it has developed a prestigious cult following and for good reason. This is one Black Sabbath influenced band that does so much different that they can stand on their own two legs.
White Zombie: La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 (1992)
My god how I hate Rob Zombie’s work. Him and Dave Grohl have been creating trash since they became things in the public eye. Is it David? Robert? Jesus Christ I can’t stand either one of them. Mass market fluff for fake fans of rock to embrace. Dave?
Gimmicky, overplayed with very little substance is how I would describe almost everything that can be associated with Zombie’s moniker. I mean, how can one expected to be welcomed into the world of film with a stupid name like that? Oops, is his surname actually Zombie? My bad. His films and music still suck though. Thank god for the damned music on La Sexorcisto though otherwise he’d be batting pretty rough in my stats book.
First and foremost, I don’t have a “book” filled with statistics. Secondly, I really can’t stand Rob Zombie’s films or solo outings but I can appreciate this album and passively enjoy Astro Creep 2000 just as long as I never have to hear the singles from the latter ever again. Gimme some Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds over the Astro Creep versions of More Human Than Human and Electric Head all day baby.
To put it briefly, the music on La Sexorcisto is incredibly fun. Imagine the fun of Russ Meyer with a coated underlining of classical horror cinema. It came before Astro Creep’s blatant bludgeoning of horror references and is better for it. Good gravy I fucking loathe those horror audio clips on that album.
Y’know? Listen to Astro Creep instead if you’ve never heard it but just know that La Sexorcisto was the good one. I don’t care anymore. While you’re at it, tell me how amazing his films are at ripping off Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Every single one of them including the Halloween reboot, re-boot, re-franchised, re-chainsawed, re-massacred, re-envisioned reworking of words that don’t actually exist in practical dictionaries. Words like Sexorcisto and Supersexy.
So, here we are at day 27 of 31. Today I’m going to recommend my favorite Misfits’ album, or is it a compilation? Well, who the hell cares because over the years it has surpassed Earth A.D. as not only my favorite Misfits’ record but also as the best Punk album of all time. If you want to know the backstory you can read the extremely confusing, convoluted history elsewhere. Sure, most of it is probably incorrect but hey, at least you’ll have an idea, yeah?
Misfits: Legacy Of Brutality (1985)
I’ve offered my piece on each of the only important Misfits albums on this list so to avoid redundancy I’ll do this one in bullet points with my final thoughts at the end. Jerry Springer is still relevant in 2018, isn’t he?
- Danzig recorded over raw demos so his vocals are much more pronounced but also more refined with a wider range of octaves not entirely reliant on barbaric shouts and grunts.
- This is a list comprised of my favorite Halloween albums and this album has a song called Halloween. I’m a simpleton, not a barbarian.
- Clean, clear guitars with a pronounced emphasis on Only’s bass.
- The brilliant inverse that are the riffs used on the two opening tracks Static Age and TV Casualty, respectively.
- Legacy Of Brutality is groovy with a heavier reliance on competent songwriting than it’s predecessors. The songs live and breathe as a result.
- American Nightmare is a perfect orgy of Tarantino violence and Elvis swagger.
Legacy Of Brutality is an album that could not have existed if it were created in a studio with a hateful cast of characters plagued with the interpersonal issues of this group. There are plenty of interviews with current and past members of the band that dictate how important Glenn Danzig was as a participant but mostly, the leader.
To be frank, Misfits have become a trashy, identifiable novelty at cheesy mall shops for years. What’s impressive is how people who actually enjoy real music can still hold them in such high regard. Yes, I just suggested that I’m awesome but hey, so is Glenn Danzig. Sure, I might sound like a Danzig “fanboy” but he went on to create awesome music without the likes of that band without ever using it as a means for success.
In conclusion, listen to early Danzig Misfits then listen to Misfits without Danzig and judge it for yourself. I’ve tried to enjoy the “newer” stuff and all I can hear are a bunch of apes grinding out the same three chords while shouting trash into a microphone. To say that the band became a joke would be generous. I’ve witnessed people wearing their shirts and backpacks and sneakers and socks and tattoos and bracelets and nipple studs AND jackets loud for years. Only a fraction of them know who the band was or what they mean to people like me. “Elitist hipster fanboy” am I.
Isn’t it ironic how inherently creepy and demonic religious sounds and imagery can be? I mean, on one hand The Bible is full of ghastly horrors and violent actions yet people still congregate to Churches and the like all over the world as a means to find a sense of purpose and peace.
Something as simple as the sound of an organ can deliver such a prominent horrific tone to pretty much anything. If you don’t believe me, take a video of yourself tying your shoelaces or making pizza sauce and add the sound of the most cheery song but perform it on the evil instrument. Atmospherically the sound of those Satan pipes can enhance the feeling of even the most menial of tasks. Did you just catch the biggest fish in the lake? Listen to an organ playing on your radio and instantly you have just become the wicked warlock of the waterways. It is powerful and eerie and is the instrument I find most representative of the Halloween season. Phantom Of The Opera and Carnival Of Souls would be nothing without the harrowing sound of this, one of the unholiest creations from within the house of God.
Gehenna: First Spell (1994)
The aptly-named album First Spell is Gehenna’s debut studio recording and second EP. It opens with the lonely swelling of a lonely organ sound in the song The Shivering Voice Of The Ghost. This alone warrants the inclusion of this album on this list. If that isn’t clear enough, read the bit of organ ranting I just wrote in the preface to this post, or don’t. Who the hell am I to tell you what to do?
There is something very cinematic about this entire package. It is a thick, foggy rhythm and crisp melody that permeates throughout all five of it’s tracks and the cover-art evokes imagery from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The songs are paced and sequenced in such a way that they become much more than the sum of their parts and more like a constructed script or narrative and at a brisk twenty-six and a half minutes it is free of any missteps or filler, unlike this write-up.
The production is very raw yet clear and concise. It is a bit surprising to me that Gehenna would later opt for a more traditional sound on subsequent albums as this is pure perfection to my ears. This is purely subjective but then again, what isn’t when it comes to an opinion piece? All I know is that I’ve been trying to replicate this record’s guitar and drum tone since it came out to no avail. It is rich and complex while maintaining that classic, cold, organic Black Metal sound.
Perhaps the most significantly unique and appealing thing about First Spell is the acoustic guitar that exists sporadically throughout. It cohesively gives the entire record a bit of a folksy campfire feel, almost as if the entire thing was written and performed along a journey across varying plains, through many different struggles. The acoustic seems rooted and sincere and interestingly only used as a texture rather than the draw in the forefront.
Similarly, the variety of keys performed throughout each of the songs seem present to strictly offer ambiance. They are much more prominent than the acoustic guitar but only when it comes to how frequent they are used. After awhile they become little more than a consistent ally to the typical, heavier guitars, drums and vocals. It is a fantastic touch that makes this one of my favorite Metal albums.
Each Gehenna project is of the highest quality and their entire catalog of music is a preference of mine over most of their contemporaries. First Spell is my personal favorite of theirs but also the one that is best suited for this list. It is perfect October listening for anyone, including those who aren’t particularly fond of heavier music. Technically it is superbly performed and concisely written but not so harsh that a casual listener would find it repelling or harsh. As they have said many times in interviews, “Gehenna is about creating good music,” and I can’t disagree.
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho (Original Soundtrack) – Original Release (1960)
Bernard Herrmann was a prolific talent in the world of film. Without his orchestrated compositions many classics simply wouldn’t be as powerful as they are to this day. From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver he was a genius who’s legacy has yet to be matched in the realm of movie scores.
Alfred Hitchcock always has and always will be my favorite film director and part of why his body of work is so timelessly compelling to me is due to his frequent collaboration with Herrmann. Psycho is a perfect film despite it not being my favorite in the Hitchcock pantheon which says more about his body of work than anything else but without the music is would only be a fraction of it’s greatness. This could be said about pretty much anything but in this case the score not only enhances the imagery and narrative, it defines it.
This soundtrack can be heard without the film and still tell the same story. It rises and falls with the swiftness and grace of a well-crafted film. The intense parts are meticulously placed throughout and always when the listener least expects them. There are delicate moments so quiet and unsettling that any external noise could have the potential of startling even the most unflappable of individuals. The central moments of the overall piece are particularly my favorite. There is a good chunk of time that things get softer and subtler before the iconic dissonance of the violent stringed instruments occur. Hitchcock famously wanted this scene in the film to be silent before he was urged to give it a try with the score. A rumor also exists suggesting that the director gave him a raise as a result, communicating that the film was 1/3 the composer’s work after hearing his contributions.
Psycho and it’s soundtrack are not only legendary in the world of cinema but in culture as a whole. The ingenuity of all parties involved under the guidance of Hitchcock are still honored, ripped-off and parodied to this day but it simply wouldn’t be the masterpiece it is without the music. Herrmann himself would go on to influence some of the greatest composers with his masterful understanding of the art. John Williams’ work on the Jaws music wouldn’t have been as iconic if it weren’t for this soundtrack nor would Hans Zimmer’s crescendos be as dramatically intense.
This is the time of year to indulge in all of the fun that can be had with cheesy monster movies, gory slasher flicks and all things macabre but classics such as this film and it’s soundtrack should get the attention they deserve amidst all of the costumes and candies. Between the Hotel and mother a Norman is waiting behind a picture frame waiting to not only surprise you with a stabbing montage but a truly memorable musical number.
Much like Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, Dave Matthews Band was a group that was an unavoidable irritant for me as a burgeoning music fan throughout the early ’90s. As someone who preferred the likes of rawer, heavier bands and with an angst-ridden music elitist during that era, every song from Under The Table And Dreaming and Crash would send me into fits of rage. The Downward Spiral and Nirvana’s Nevermind were so popular that even the sight of the CD’s would fill me with anger. I was as much a hipster elitist as those album purchasers were “posers.” Hey, at least I was a hipster before it was cool though, yeah?
Dave Matthews Band: Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Today’s entry is going to read even more like a nostalgic journey entry than most on our site’s blog. For one, I’m not a fan of Dave Matthews Band per se, though I find his work as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter admirable and interesting. In short, I respect what he does, both as a front-man and composer but I really can’t stand the majority of his legacy with this band and absolutely loathe the fandom that surrounds it.
So, it was 1998 and I was into bands like Slayer, Black Flag and Doves. Every guitarist and drummer I knew was fawning over Dave Matthews Band and The Smashing Pumpkins so every jam with every capable musician included having to know a few tracks by each of those bands. Ants Marching was getting old and despicable but I kept putting on a happy face. We used to have sessions at the lead guitarist’s home when I first heard the song Halloween, the sixth song from Before These Crowded Streets. It was raw, unsettling and perfectly reflected the mood of the month that I had first heard it, October.
The creepy screams of Matthews at the end of that song birthed the incredibly frantic acoustic riff that opened The Stone. A long story short and I was hooked on the album. Every day I practiced and meticulously learned every guitar and bass line from Pantala Naga Pampa to Spoon. It might still be the most fun I’ve ever had learning to play material written by another band and Halloween and The Stone remain two songs I will listen to every year in October.
My appreciation for Dave Matthews grew from disgust to respect that October in 1998. I still don’t like the majority of his commercial releases but learning those guitar parts made me a better player as his songwriting is superb.
Before These Crowded Streets maintains a cold, autumn feel throughout and is one that I recommend to anyone looking to enjoy the season. I’d also like to personally give a nod to the rarer recordings of Matthews and Tim Reynolds performing at Luther College. It is required listening for anyone who wants to up their acoustic guitar game from campground to fantastic. One Sweet World is a great place to start.
Trent Reznor: Quake Soundtrack (1996)
Throughout the ’90s it was virtually impossible to escape the music of Trent Reznor. Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral was as much a staple as Nirvana’s Nevermind and in everyone’s CD collection at the time. His particular blend of synthesized industrial metal spawned hundreds of copycat groups as well as a moderate amount of controversy. His earlier material didn’t appeal to me in the slightest but there is simply no denying his genius as a multi-instrumentalist and composer.
Quake was id Software’s follow-up to the incredibly important video game, Doom. At first I had considered putting Doom on this list instead as I have a lot more nostalgia for that title and a more memorable soundtrack for me, personally as a result. While the music for Doom is fantastic, it borrows a lot of ideas and riffs from a variety of different heavy guitar influenced groups so it doesn’t sound as wholly original as Reznor’s Quake. Also, Doom’s music sounds a lot like a video game soundtrack whereas this one can be enjoyed on it’s own.
Reznor’s work on this soundtrack is criminally overlooked as video games weren’t taken quite as seriously as an artistic medium back then as they are today. Where Nine Inch Nails’ earlier albums fell short for me was in the overly hostile, angry vocals and synth-lead compositions. I can appreciate and respect albums like Broken and The Downward Spiral without fully enjoying them. In fact, I own all of Reznor’s discography on CD and partially on vinyl. What attracts me to his newer material and this Quake soundtrack is the restraint he has developed over the years.
This soundtrack is best heard loud on a dark, damp October evening. The complexity in the arrangements play serious tricks on the listener as subtle sounds ebb and flow throughout. There are moments where the music physically appears to affect my body, particularly in the quieter sections where tiny gurgles or tinny noises occur repetitively. In a lot of ways it sounds as though Reznor was channeling his inner Coil as the music definitely takes on a more ambient, almost noise-based quality compared to his main catalog of Nine Inch Nails productions.
In conclusion, Quake is not only a near perfect Halloween experience to physically play in video game form but also a fantastic album to simply enjoy on it’s own merits. Trent Reznor is one of the last living geniuses in the world of music who deserves all the love in the world for his consistent efforts of shaping and reshaping the formula throughout the past few decades.
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