We often think of movies and books as the chief vehicles of horror, but music can have an even more fear-inducing affect on the senses when it's done right. Just imagine, for instance, how much less effective classic fright flicks like Halloween or The Exorcist might be were it not for their hair-raising soundtracks.
Heavy music is rife with songs about death, pain and terror, so metalheads usually have a pretty high tolerance for enduring sonic scares — which made us curious to know what our readers consider to be the most frightening song ever written. Ranked below, are the fans' top-five picks. Listen with the lights on.
Alice Cooper's music might sound a little quaint by today's standards, but in 1975, songs like "Steven" made tough-talking teenagers start wetting the bed again, and they still haunt many fans' psyches all these years later. This cut from Cooper's pivotal Welcome to My Nightmare sounds like a demented show tune about a mentally ill adult who believes he's a child and ends up killing his wife while mistaking her for his abusive mother. It's morbidly dark, and the cheery delivery makes it twice as twisted.
So much of Aphex Twin's music blends subtle club-music thumps with euphoric ambient swells, but "Come to Daddy" — a tune worthy of being covered by Mike Patton and the Dillinger Escape Plan — is a bad trip gone completely awry. The dank, skittering breakbeats set a heart-racing pace that's pushed to pulmonary overdrive when the screwy "come to daddy" lines (a quote, of course, from Hellraiser) come bursting in through every seam. The song is unnerving as hell, but it's the nightmarish music video that will truly haunt your dreams.
Korn's "Daddy" is especially scary because it feels so raw and real. The closing song on their 1994 debut is a voyeuristic look into the tormented mind of frontman Jonathan Davis, who wails and shrieks about the trauma of childhood abuse, ultimately breaking down into very real tears while the tape keeps running. It's a song so viscerally and personally terrifying that Korn didn't perform it for 20 years, and Davis recently said that he never wants to play it live ever again.
Slayer's music is overflowing with grim tales of apocalyptic violence and hell-on-earth terror, but "Dead Skin Mask" is the one where even some metalheads need to tap out. Written about infamous serial killer Ed Gein, who had a fondness for wearing the skin of his victims on his face, Slayer do their best to put his skin on and truly live in his psychopathic mind. Tom Araya's vocal delivery is utterly haunting, but the kicker is when a little girl's voice begins to cry out in distress, "I don't wanna play anymore, Mr. Gein." Spine-tingling.
If all of metal history was transposed into one big book, many people would be too frightened to continue after the very first page. Black Sabbath's titular hymn, commonly regarded as the song that kickstarted heavy metal as a genre, is over 50 years old now and still chills the bones in a way nothing has since. Ozzy's tortured cries to god are disturbing, the vivid imagery of the "figure in black which points at me" is hair-raising in its directness, and the teetering, crashing pace of the song — built around the Devil's Tritone — keeps the ear on high-alert the whole time. Even the most gratuitously gory death-metal songs and wickedly sinister black-metal screeds got nothin' on "Black Sabbath."