Goblin_SuspiriaGoblin – “Suspiria”

Italian rock band Goblin is the masters of horror film soundtracks, their music as inherently disturbing as the movies they adorn. There’s no greater proof of that than the main theme from Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic Suspiria. “Suspiria” takes the ratcheting tension of Bernard Herrmann’s legendary Psycho and Twisted Nerve scores, distorts it with a chilling asymmetry that would eventually define John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, and mixes it into a prog rock song that numbers among the genre’s greatest mood pieces. The frightening elements — the quiet tinkle of bells and hushed chanting — are barely audible, which leaves the vague impression that something wicked lurks in the shadows, just outside of perception. This is the very essence of fear. – Colin Fitzgerald

Earl Sweatshirt – “Centurion”

Earl Sweatshirt’s freshman album executes horrorcore better than most of the genre’s canonical works. So the fact that “Centurion” is one of the album’s most chilling cuts is saying something. While the lupine rape jokes that characterize Earl’s work are largely absent from Doris, he finds new and darker misanthropy in half-melodies, bizarre left field samples and wordplay so thick you could cut it with a knife. A dissonant if somewhat sluggish prelude featuring Vince Staples’ distended and demonic voice announces the track’s theme: escaping the “white man’s game with [one’s] heart intact.” As Staples fades out, the sonic carpet is pulled from under our feet. In quick succession, we hear the alveolar trill of a screaming Spaniard; Earl rapping a cappella, shrouded in cymbal clatter; and finally the primary instrumental, screeching violin notes which sound right off “Night on Bald Mountain.” “Centurion” leaves a slightly corny aftertaste: the unsettling sample of David Axelrod’s “A Divine Image” fit easily into the soundtrack for an inferior 70s slasher film. But it is put to good use in a track full of striking images of perdition and damnation and that of the road to Hell, “paved with cement.” A divine image indeed. – Owen Duff

Scott Walker – “Jesse”

This is the musical equivalent of being scared of the dark. “Nose holes caked in black cocaine.” The scrape of distant violins, a tense fretless string section mourns underneath. Walker traipses over the top wailing “no needle through a glove,” with a bass strummed like something out of Twin Peaks. The creepy hush is punctuated by chaotic, warbled “Famine is a tall, tall tower,” over a meandering double-bass line, a cacophonous cascade of tri-chords and non-musicality, out of time—making you lose your sense of which way is up. Whispered “pow! pow!”S punctuate the darkness, hinting at murder. “Six feet of fetus/ flung at sparrows in the sky.” This song is just threatening. My neck hairs stand on end when the song goes silent and Walker croons, “I’m the only one left alive.” This is what it sounds like to be murdered by an unknown assailant. This is what it’s like to be stalked by your worst fears. Every time Walker goes silent, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen next. I want it to be over. – Cedric Justice

darknightSparklehorse & Danger Mouse featuring David Lynch — “Dark Night of the Soul”

With David Lynch involved, you know it’s an unsettling listen. “Dark Night of the Soul” plunges you into its swampy depths as though the track stretched on without a beginning, middle or end. Sprawling out like a blood pool on a concrete floor, the song (if you can call it that) is saturated with paranoid foreboding. Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) use textured instrumentation like a Foley board, the looped effects, heavily struck minor chords, slinky guitars and droning rhythm the aural equivalent of fog spreading through a ghost town. Lynch’s narration walks to beat the enveloping haze, his distorted, nasal intonations the fragmented musings of a deranged mind sifting through a night of shadows and dread.

The pervasive crackle and pop of vinyl adds to its mysterious and unnerving quality. It’s like a primitive recording of a backwoods bokor reciting a voodoo hex, a scratchy 45 that gathered dust in an antique shop basement until someone discovered its lost message, put it on an archaic phonograph and let Lynch’s warble and surrounding miasma spew from the bullhorn. It creaks like the floorboards of a dilapidated house, hypnotizes as it disturbs and feels like it goes on interminably. Put this on and try not to get goose bumps or feel a chill rattle down your spine.

This is the final track on the last album to bear Sparklehorse’s name before Linkous committed suicide, which adds to the eeriness and can make it difficult to get through on a completely different level. — Cole Waterman

The Beatles – “Revolution 9”

Number nine, number nine.” Even before I knew the whole “Paul is dead” story and the joys of backward-masked messages, “Revolution 9” was a disturbing taste of chaos. This was probably the first sonic collage I ever heard, and the avant-garde mix of found sound, musical snippets and wild dynamic shifts was disorienting. John Lennon may have intended to capture the feel of a revolution, but it felt more like an assault. Worse, it seemed like there had to be some clearer meaning, and my inability to tease it out was frustrating. It’s easier now for me to let go of the need for clarity on experimental pieces like this, but at the time I was caught in its eddies of danger and violence. When I learned how this fit into the mythos of Paul McCartney’s supposed “death,” I could see how its dark mood matched that interpretation, but “Revolution 9” still leaves behind too many unsettled questions, “Turn me on, dead man/ Turn me on, dead man…” – Jester Jay Goldman

Throbbing Gristle – “Hamburger Lady”

Feel like losing your mind? Lock yourself in a dark room with nothing but a single candle and Throbbing Gristle’s unnerving “Hamburger Lady” playing on repeat. Underpinned by an oscillating hum and trembling electronic peals that sound like the machinations of a macabre slaughterhouse, “Hamburger Lady” also features whispery lyrics pulled from the text of a missive by mail artist Blaster Al Ackerman. The vocals are nearly indecipherable, not unlike the mumblings of the straightjacketed, but if you slap on headphones you can make out descriptions of a woman burned from the waist up. When the eponymous melted-skinned woman’s name is uttered, it’s in an unhinged singsong that makes this song all the more skin crawling. – Josh Goller

Pink Floyd – “In the Flesh”

I was in high school when I first heard The Wall and became consumed by its concept of a . rock star so isolated and removed from reality that his actions turn from the grotesque to the maniacal. The boiling point for this anxiety comes in “In the Flesh,” one of the most disquieting songs I’ve ever heard. What makes the song so terrifying isn’t the music, a showcase for David Gilmour’s searing guitar riff, but its lyrics, ominously delivered by Roger Waters. The second instance of the song on the album, the track answers a question posed at the album’s start: “what’s behind these cold eyes?” The answer comes in a supposed live performance in which Pink goes on a fascist, bigoted rant inciting violence against minorities and homosexuals. Pink sounds particularly menacing as he singles them all out, instructs them to get “up against the wall” and confesses he’d “have them all shot.” But the most disturbing detail may be the cheering crowd as the song ends. At this point in The Wall, Pink has gone completely mad and has swayed fans to follow him to the dark side. It’s a terrifying glimpse of the power that comes with fame and fortune, and what can happen when this power falls into the wrong hands. There are spookier songs on The Wall, but none of them ascends to the heightened and unbridled evil showcased here. – Michael Danaher

suicide-1Suicide – “Frankie Teardrop”

I first heard Suicide when, at the behest of a friend, I listened to this song alone with the lights turned off. I have never had a more terrifying experience listening to music. My friendship survived, as did my love for Suicide. How else could you react to something with that much power? “Franke Teardrop” is a remarkable distillation of everything that Suicide stood for in their time, boiling down their confrontational, fractured art into one paranoid marathon of a song. The steady drone unsettles the listener while Alan Vega’s sonorous croon takes on a more menacing tone. Then Vega screams lets out an otherworldly howl into the echoing abyss. Engrossing and terrifying, it’s one of those songs that will keep you up for weeks. – Kevin Korber

Queens of the Stone Age – “I Think I Lost My Headache”

QOTSA have made plenty of monster rockers, but “I Think I Lost My Headache” actually sounds like a monster lumbering up your staircase. The lurching 15/8 time signature moves at an uneasy pace; the guitars spiral around like spiders closing in on their victims and every time there should be a down beat the drums plod along in their own insane reality. Queens build pressure in the verses before Josh Homme croons, “until my head explodes” like there’s a horrid parasite seconds away from erupting out of his skull. The closing few minutes drone at that sickening tempo before dissolving into a nervous brass band that twitches the song to its conclusion. “I Think I Lost My Headache” is so unnervingly surreal it will have you watching over your shoulder as you listen. Between the drug references, the paranoid guitars and Homme’s disturbing delivery, it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — in song form. – Nathan Stevens

The Cure – “Lullaby”

Even before Robert Smith opens his mouth, the songs on Disintegration have an aura of doomed romanticism. When he sings, his enormously expressive voice makes it clear why this is commonly seen as a break-up album. It’s an album that’s meant to be played loud, with layered instruments, liberal use of keyboards, guitars that drone with effects more than hooks and reverb turned up until tracks sound less like compositions than delirious soundscapes. “Lullaby” is very few of those things, with a distinct guitar hook, stripped-down instrumentation, a prominent bass line and lyrics about a “spider man” “having me for dinner tonight.” These musical departures make “Lullaby” an oppressing force, with an echo used so effectively that all of Smith’s romanticized images of a break-up are de-mythologized. Take away the liberal use of synths, the slow, expressive vocal delivery and a sense of anticipation, and you get not only a song that sounds loud simply because of the difference in production, but one that makes you turn on a light and turn down the volume, too. – Forrest Cardamenis

Archie Shepp – “Coral Rock”

Somewhere in the basement of my childhood home, there’s an Ampex cassette that one of my older brothers made when he played me the title track of this 1970 free jazz album led by incendiary saxophonist Archie Shepp. I was about five or six years old. The tape documents my first recorded attempt at music criticism: “That’s really weird!” “Coral Rock’ opens with an ominous, plodding four-note bass figure that leads to a creaking violin line and a sinister groaning from an unidentified vocalist who shouts and screams in apparent pain. Shepp plays tenor saxophone and piano on this track, his rippling piano figures even eerier than his shouting tenor solos. The players sustain a lurching, menacing atmosphere for 22 minutes, but within the first few bars were over, it scared the shit out of me. The musical boogeyman emerged with the full reverberating force of our family’s vacuum tube console stereo, bouncing off the wooden floorboards and shaking me to my half-formed core. It scared me off Archie Shepp’s music for years. By the ‘80s, Shepp’s searching experimental muse had diminished, and the saxophonist recorded a series of excellent straightforward blues duets with pianist Horace Parlan. By then I had learned to appreciate the frightening energy of free jazz, and I wondered why didn’t Shepp make records like “Coral Rock” anymore? – Pat Padua

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