H alloween spans the silly, the vile, the chilling, the unknown.

So does this list of suggestions for your holiday soundtrack.

“A Deep But Dazzling Darkness”
by James MacMillan | Spotify

Classical instruments created to sound beautiful and more or less harmonious are given the opposite tasks. The nearly 24-minute piece begins with a chorus of asynchronous whispers and almost imperceptible timpani touches. Strings and woodwinds enter, soon wavering lower in steps like a theramin struggling through mud. Horns, winds and slow-boiling timpani combine into something like flickering electricity. A scratchy violin emerges, angry that it isn’t alone, satisfied once it is. And things just get weirder from there. It’s an upside-downing, inside-outing of the metaphysics and morality of classical music, both academically satisfying and psychologically piercing.

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“Dystopia”
by TesseracT | Spotify | Youtube

TesseracT’s axes (guitars) almost literally sound as if they’re slicing through the band’s tight but meaty riffs. The song’s breakdowns are sinister and syncopated, the ghost notes on the snare only tightening the screws, and the seven-minute song’s third act makes the interesting choice to take a breath and introduce some new musical ideas before an ethereal, suspended conclusion. Singer Daniel Tompkins alternately howls like a wolf and purrs like a cat when he sings, “There’s nowhere left to hide.”

“This Is a Desperate Man”
by The Furors | Spotify | Youtube

This song puts New Haven on the list. The Furors’ basement-recorded sound is surfy and jaunty and pings the familiar winking schtick of midcentury Halloween hits. But the lyrics, sung in warbling fashion by Derek Holcomb and backed by Tom Dans, tell another story, possibly autobiographical, of a man who’s lost his place in a world he hardly recognizes.

“Bucket of Blood” (from the movie Carrie)
by Pino Donaggio | Spotify | Youtube

This two-minute composition is vampiric and velvety, melding gothic drama and sinuous restraint. Its tense, stabby opening is almost immediately complicated by slinky long notes and bright flourishes. A suspenseful theme emerges but continually evolves, never quite settling, and a morbid glissando outro helps it fit neatly into a macabre playlist.

“Vacuity”
by Gojira | Spotify | Youtube

French heavy metal band Gojira—named for the original Japanese pronunciation of Godzilla, a radiation-catalyzed monster seen as a metaphor for the threat of nuclear annihilation—have made a career out of combining industrial-strength grinding with melodic virtuosity. This methodical and punishing but also invigorating song (brace yourself if you never listen to heavy music) is one of their earliest and one of their best. Singer and environmental/animal activist Joe Duplantier demon-growls the verse as well as the death metal interlude and demon-sings the chorus and the coda, meditating, as I read it, on his efforts to find inner peace even as the pain of witnessing near-total war against nature and animals threatens his will to go on. It’s a song of unmitigated horrors and also of finding the strength to face them. And it rocks incredibly hard.

“All We Knew And Ever Loved”
by Earthside | Spotify | Youtube

Here we have another local band, hailing from Bethany. Released last year, the single is a moody, nine-minute instrumental that occasionally explodes into volcanic blasts of funereal pipe organ. Supported by warm yet worried symphonic sounds and emerging layers of rock instrumentation, reverby drums doubled up to achieve the otherwise impossible get their say in the back half, straightening the song’s spine between intricate fills and giving those epic organ blasts even more spine-tingling power.

“Hounds of Love”
by Kate Bush | Spotify | Youtube

Bush’s notoriety, which last peaked in the ’80s, has been famously resurrected thanks to the inclusion of her song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” in the coming-of-age horror/drama series Stranger Things. While that song has the catchy licks and dramatic heft to go viral, it’s the title tune off the album, “Hounds of Love”, that invokes clearer horror imagery. “Running in the night, afraid of what might be / Hiding in the dark, hiding in the street / And of what was following me,” Bush sings, adding, “It’s coming for me through the trees / Oh, help me, someone / Help me, please.” But, like a scary movie where it turns out that the antagonist isn’t really out to hurt anyone, it’s only love that’s chasing her—which might explain why the music under those lyrics feels so oddly hopeful.

Happy—or exquisitely unhappy—Halloween music, everyone.

Written by Dan Mims. Image 1, taken during an Earthside show in 2016, photographed by Dan Mims. Image 2, of The Furors, photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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