Halloween is essentially Goth Christmas. The one day of the year that the music/style/aesthetic is celebrated (and appropriated) rather than marginalized, October 31 is a good day to be goth. And a goth without music is an even sadder goth.
In celebration, we’re looking back at some of the most iconic musicians to ever bear that polarizing moniker, whether they helped invent it, took it to new heights, or had it ham-fistedly applied to them by someone as ignorant as a music journalist. Goth — as we interpret it — is as much about a look and lifestyle as it is about a sound, so our ranking of musical goth icons takes a pretty liberal approach to the label. Click through to see who made our list, and get a head start on making your own Halloween playlist.
10. Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson was most interesting on a sociological level; the same tough guys who likely would have bullied Brian Warner in high school packed arenas in the ’90s to watch him rock out in heels and makeup. Likely more important for taking fetish aesthetics to the mainstream than for any musical innovations, his influence on goth fashion during the height of his popularity is undeniable.
9. Karin Dreijer Andersson
The female half of Swedish brother-sister duo The Knife doesn’t look or sound goth in her downtime, but the moniker certainly fits her solo project, Fever Ray (not to mention The Knife’s 2006 masterpiece Silent Shout ). From the ghoulish vocals to the creepy costumes in the videos, darkness defines Fever Ray’s aesthetic—not to mention, Dreijer Andersson’s skull makeup still makes for a killer Halloween look.
8. Davey Havok
For a while, AFI’s literary-minded frontman borrowed his look from the neck up from another goth icon on our list (No. 5). And while AFI were certainly influenced by the Misfits (see their covers of “Halloween” or “Last Caress” for evidence), Havok carved out his own niche, riding the early-aughts emo surge with AFI’s more melodic mid-career sound. He would later take his brand of literate moodiness in a more electronic direction, but in this video for “Days of the Phoenix,” an early single from the classic album The Art of Drowning, he’s at his aesthetic peak.
7. Jaz Coleman
Proto-industrial rockers Killing Joke helped define the goth aesthetic in the ’80s, giving it a harder edge and influencing later mainstream acts like Metallica and Soundgarden. Frontman Jaz Coleman has always embraced the darkness visually, and followed Alice Cooper’s lead in making it cool for tough guys to wear eyeliner. Killing Joke is still killing it: check out the band’s latest LP, Pylon, which came out last week on Universal.
6. Trent Reznor
Trent Reznor has made diverse enough music over the years to evade any categorization musically, but his status as a style icon for goth kids in the ’90s (and beyond) is undeniable. In this video for “The Perfect Drug,” the creepy composer vamps on church rooftops, a decaying Victorian mansion, and a smoky lake. It’s quite possible that Trent managed to squeeze every entry in the Encyclopedia of Goth Signifiers into his career, if not this one video.
5. Glenn Danzig
For a particular brand of punk, goth is defined by the Misfits; for a particular brand of Misfits fan, the band starts and stops with Glenn Danzig. The musclebound frontman and the rest of the Misfits helped popularize “corpse paint” and the “devil lock” hairstyle (which Mr. Davey Havok would later appropriate), and there may just be no more recognizable goth icon than the Misfits skull logo. Danzig would achieve more visibility with his later efforts, but reached peak goth with the Misfits, seen here at a 1980 club show.
4. Lydia Lunch
Lydia Lunch may have little (or nothing) to do with anything that could be called goth culture, but her look and style took punk to its blackest and otherwise darkest extremes. The No Wave queen (and notorious proud pain-in-the-ass) was also—and remains—a total badass; she makes sparse, minimal deconstructionist works and preaches against patriarchal oppression. “Queen of Siam,” above, is her at her most melodic. Seriously.
3. Robert Smith
Prince of pale Robert Smith has fronted The Cure in five separate decades, and people have been jacking his style since day one. The rare goth who celebrates love and beauty, Smith was the kind of musician who could write both an anthem of tortured longing like “Pictures of You” and a giddy love song like “Just Like Heaven.” Here on The Head on the Door-cut “Close to Me,” his lyrics are as mopey as ever, but the song is poppier and sunnier than it has any business being. Goth genius.
2. Siouxsie Sioux
The frontwoman of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Creatures, Siouxsie Sioux is quite possibly the most goth babe who ever did goth. Her voice, so forceful and instantly recognizable, is still being shamelessly imitated decades later (we’re looking at you, Savages), and her next-level style and art direction feels risky and progressive, even today. How many goths do you know who can pull off canary yellow?
1. Daniel Ash/Peter Murphy
We couldn’t decide which of these two iconic members of Bauhaus deserved the top spot, so we wimped out and gave it to them both. Peter Murphy was the face and voice of what is considered the first and most important “goth rock” band, but the band is really Daniel Ash’s baby. Murphy helped define the visual and vocal aesthetic of the band that Ash founded in 1978, and together with Kevin Haskins and David J, they created a genre. The band was short-lived, breaking up in 1983, but Murphy would later pursue a solo career, and Ash would continue on with Haskins as Tones and Tail, later welcoming back David J. to form Love and Rockets. Low-key legends.
Proto-Goth icon Alice Cooper. Photo by Hunter Desportes // https://www.flickr.com/photos/hdport/
We couldn’t fit every icon on this list, so here are some musicians and bands with/of influence that we left on the cutting room floor. Feel free to tell us how dumb we are for omitting ___________ in the comments, and remember to use waterproof eyeliner to fight the tears of infinite sadness. Happy Halloween!