We’ve all been to that one Halloween party: Everyone’s hanging out, having a good time, talking about their costumes and completely oblivious to what’s really going on. In the back of your mind, the suspicion that something is very wrong gnaws at your thoughts, but you’re too busy enjoying the decorations and creepy snacks to even notice. Some time passes, you have a couple drinks, and soon the room starts to get quiet; deathly quiet. That’s when the horrible, sickening realization hits you and turns your blood cold: was that Harry Belafonte’s “Zombie Jamboree”? Is this the third time that old, novelty version of “Monster Mash” has played? Suddenly, you begin to understand that the real monster isn’t a sinister creature lurking in the shadows; the real monster is whoever picked this lame Halloween playlist!
Compared to Christmas, Halloween music hasn’t evolved much since the 70s. Michael Bublé isn’t likely to release an album of spooky songs any time soon, and you know you’re desperate when you’re go-to is Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song to Ghostbusters. Even playlists on Spotify and Pandora can feel like they’re rehashing the same old songs you’ve been listening to since you were a kid. That’s why we at Eventful have put together a list of non-traditional artists that fill us with the dread and uneasiness that makes Halloween such a beloved national tradition. Whether you play an artist’s whole album, or create a playlist of your own, we guarantee that these creepy crooners will shake up that stale Halloween playlist!
This lovely, doe-eyed folk singer who recently became a part of the house band on A Prairie Home Companion might not seem like an ideal choice for a Halloween playlist, but Sarah’s vocal style is best described in one word: Haunting. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Sarah was a mandolin virtuoso at a young age, and began performing with professional musicians at the tender age of 12. Her stark mandolin and banjo ballads feature a bluegrass flair that gives many of Sarah’s songs a Southern Gothic quality. A good musician knows that the notes that you don’t play are just as important as the ones you do, and Sarah knows how to utilize silence in her music to create a chilling atmospheric effect for her listeners. Tracks like “Build Me Up From Bones”, “Annabelle Lee”, and her cover of The Decemberists’ “Shankill Butchers” harken back to an older, simpler, more terrifying time when people’s safety was never guaranteed, and horrible brutalities were waiting around the next bend in the road.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Australian musician, author, screenwriter, composer, and actor Nick Cave developed a cult following in Europe during the 70s and 80s for his ghastly live performances where he would shriek and writhe like a demon from some sort of hell dimension. These days, mainstream audiences know him as the artist behind “Red Right Hand”, which was featured prominently in the Scream films. Cave has a pension for creating macabre tales of murder and horror in his songs, blurring the lines between storyteller, songwriter, and autobiographical killer. However, Cave’s rich voice combined with the dangerous romance that he infuses into his songs gives him the countenance of a seductive maniac; a male siren who knows only death and sadness. Cave and The Bad Seeds are masters of different musical styles and genres that are showcased throughout their 32-year careers; but when it comes to Halloween, you can’t get any more gruesome than their 1996 album, Murder Ballads. As the title suggests, the album is a mix of traditional and modern murder ballads, including the ARIA-winning duet with Kylie Minogue, “Where the Wild Roses Grow”.
In the musical genre known as “horror punk”, death, supernatural evil, and the grim afterlife are just building blocks to a successful band. However, there hasn’t been a band since The Misfits that’s performed horror punk quite as well as brothers Jimmy, Bobby, and Davey Calabrese. Formed in Phoenix, Arizona circa 2003, the Calabrese brothers combined their love of punk and metal music with supposedly authentic supernatural encounters they had as kids. The group’s lyrics evoke a more classic monster/ghoul theme, but it’s the Danzig-like vocals of Bobby Calabrese that really give their music a creepy quality that’s perfect for a hard rockin’ Halloween. While all of Calabrese’s albums are rife for Halloween horrors, III – They Call Us Death and Dayglo Necros contain some of their most chilling tracks.
If haunting folk music were a scale, Sarah Jarosz would be the ghost of a murdered child on one end, and Harley Poe would be the axe-wielding maniac on the other. Fronted by Joe Whiteford, the band’s style is a unique combination of gritty punk and melodic folk music, interlaced with a hearse-load of gory and violent lyrics. They’re maybe best known for their version of “The Hearse Song”; a decades-old, morbid children’s song that audiences might know from its inclusion in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Other songs like “That Time Of The Month” and “Vampire’s Night Out” combine dark humor and sexualized violence to craft tracks that aren’t for those that shock or offend easily. While Harley Poe’s lyrics are often graphic and can make your skin crawl, the music is another story. The band alternates between frantic banjo punk and melodic folk ballads, giving their music a little more depth and unpredictability. Before going on hiatus last year, Harley Poe was also known for putting on some of the wildest, most ghoulish Halloween parties Indiana has ever seen. Joe Whiteford’s dedication to these bashes can be seen on the cover of one of their most popular albums, Satan, Sex and No Regrets.
World/Inferno Friendship Society
While this may be the least traditional Halloween band on our list, World/Inferno Friendship Society’s very beginnings are steeped in All Hallows Eve tradition. Legend has it that one October’s eve in 1997, bandleader Jack Terricloth was visited by a giant, talking black cat, who proceeded to throw a massive party in Jack’s apartment. When Jack woke up from the party a year later, on Halloween, everyone was calling him Peter Lorre, he had moved in with the giant cat, and the two were now in an anarchist band together. That night, the band found The Great Pumpkin and played at the Devil’s Ball in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In real life, World/Inferno Friendship Society is a punk, klezmer, and soul collective from Brooklyn led by Jack Terricloth, featuring an odd assortment of around forty members. They really do play a giant Halloween show (minus the giant cat) called Hallowmas every year, complete with costumes, sideshow performances, and plenty of tribute to Charles Schulz’s The Great Pumpkin. They even have a live album of one of these Halloween shows titled Hallowmas Live at North Six.