10 Gloriously Gruesome Songs for Your Halloween Playlist

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So Halloween is coming up, and if you’re like us, you’re probably starting to think about putting together a mixtape for a Halloween party. If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’ve put together a selection of some of the gore-filled masterworks that’ll be vying for a place on our playlist in a couple of weeks’ time. (Note: as much as we’re all for blood and gore, we’re generally less enchanted by songs that involve misogyny, rape, and/or other such unpleasantness — and anyway, these are party songs, and we don’t figure the likes of Mayhem’s “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” or Cannibal Corpse’s “Fucked with a Knife” are particularly laden with festive spirit. Sorry, death metal fans.) But anyway, disclaimers aside, here’s what we’ve come up with — what’s gonna be playing at your party?

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — “O’Malley’s Bar”

Perhaps “Stagger Lee” is the obvious choice from Murder Ballads, especially because of its notorious description of Stagger’s sexual preferences, but in our opinion, it’s “O’Malley’s Bar” that really takes the cake as far as sustained gruesomeness goes. Over the course of nearly 15 gore-filled minutes of mass murder, Cave manages to capture what Hannah Arendt so famously called the banality of evil — the killer’s casual narcissism (“When I shot him I was so handsome…”), his perverse self-justification (“If I have no free will/ Then how can I be morally culpable?”), ultimately, the stupid futility of it all (“Fear me! Fear me! But no one did ‘cos they were dead…”). It’s also shot through with Cave’s often-overlooked sense of humor, especially the description of the ashtray that the killer uses to finish off one unfortunate victim as being “as big as a fucking really big brick.”

The goriest bit: “Her head it landed in the sink/ With all the dirty dishes”

The Misfits — “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?”

It’s a case of pick your favorite Misfits song here, really, but this is our selection, mainly because it finds The Misfits in full-speed, pedal-to-the-metal horror punk mode. The lyrics follow a well-known horror film formula — bullied geeky kid exacts revenge on his tormentors, along with anyone else who gets in the way. If only the recording was a bit better.

The goriest bit: “Rip the veins from human throats/ Until they’re wet with life”

Shellac — “Prayer to God”

There’s never been any doubt that Steve Albini is a very angry man, but even so, this song represents something of an apogee for the man’s pent-up rage. A sort of revenge fantasy against a girl who’s cheated on him, “Prayer to God” finds Albini explaining to him up there how he’d like revenge exacted on his errant lover and her paramour. For the former, it’s a quick death (“By disease or a blow/ To the base of her neck”), but the latter isn’t so lucky: rock’s grumpiest producer would like God to please “kill him, but first make him cry/ Like a woman.” By the end of the song, Albini’s ranting in a way that’s genuinely disturbing.

The goriest bit: “Kill him! Fucking kill him! Kill him already! Kill him!” ad infinitum

Jim White — “The Wound That Never Heals”

A quietly chilling tale of a woman whose “wound that never heals” is her insatiable compulsion to kill — specifically, to murder her husbands. White narrates the song like a short story, and you find yourself identifying with the character despite your best intentions.

The goriest bit: “She’d like to kill ’em all/ Then kill ’em all again”

Warren Zevon — “Excitable Boy”

In this fairly brutal and biting satire on the tendency to explain away the behavior of killers by reference to their childhood, history, etc., Zevon punctuates each detail of his character’s rape-and-murder spree with the sarcastic refrain “Excitable boy, they all said.” The fact that the song’s so jaunty and hummable only makes it all the more troubling.

The goriest bit: “After ten long years they let him out of the home/ And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones”

The Velvet Underground — “The Gift”

While we’re on songs that are narrated like short stories, how about one that really is a short story? “The Gift” was written by Lou Reed during his time at college, and resurrected for the Velvet Underground’s second album. Notably, the stereo recording channeled all the music into the right speaker and John Cale’s reading of the piece into the left, meaning that pushing your fader all the way to either channel left you with an instrumental or a spoken word piece. The story itself is a mildly surreal tale of a well-intentioned geek who mails himself to Wisconsin to see his girlfriend. The only problem is, she can’t get the package open, so she eventually grabs a pair of scissors, raises them over her head, and plunges them… Well, OK, we won’t spoil it.

The goriest bit: Wait right until the end…

The Normal — “Warm Leatherette”

Inspired by Crash (the JG Ballard novel, not the terrible 2004 film), and a paean to the joys of car crash sex. We’ve written about the Grace Jones cover of this before, but in some ways, the original is even more disturbing, mainly because of the completely emotionless way in which Daniel Miller relates the story of a couple, um, getting it on it a burning car.

The goriest bit: “Warm leatherette melts on your burning flesh/ You can see your reflection in the luminescent dash”

The Mae Shi — “Run to Your Grave”

The album from which this is taken — HLLLYH — featured on our list of geeky concept albums a while back, and it’s laden with a biblical quantity of blood and gore, without ever descending into the sort of gratutitous gross-out silliness that’s often befallen bands who’ve explored similar subject matter. “Run to Your Grave” is HLLLYH‘s bloodiest moment — it ends in an apocalyptic bloodbath, and still you find yourself singing it in the shower.

The goriest bit: “You’ve got to tear, burn, soil the flesh/ God will do the rest”

Death in Vegas — “Aisha”

If we had to nominate an all-time favorite serial killer song, it’d be this one, for one simple reason — the way in which guest vocalist Iggy Pop sings the lyrics. It’s simultaneously funny and genuinely weird — the way in which Iggy’s character refers to his serial killer side in the third person (“I thought he wouldn’t escape… he got out”), the way in which he confesses that he lives in a cemetery … and, of course, the immortal line that comes toward the end of the song: “Aisha! I’m confused! Aisha! I’m vibrating!”

The goriest bit: “The rules are all wrong/ Every perversion is justified”

Xander Harris — “Hatchet in the Teeth”

Can an instrumental track be gruesome? If it’s the soundtrack to an imaginary horror film, we say yes. Xander Harris’ Urban Gothic has been one of our favorite overlooked releases of the year, another quality album on the consistently excellent Not Not Fun Records and a throughly enjoyable romp through some decidedly spooky sounds — it’s clearly influenced by the sounds of vintage horror movies, but it has a charm all its own.

The goriest bit: That spooky synth!