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Metal and horror: a match made in hell

As Halloween rolls around, we investigate why metal enjoys such a close relationship with horror, and how they’ve shaped each other in the darkest of ways

Heavy metal’s much more effective if it’s talking about evil and dark stuff, because the music’s evil and dark!” says Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. “And what else is evil and dark? Horror movies!”

The shared killing ground between metal and horror has always been vast, and Kirk gleefully patrols that turf while waving a big machete around. A lifelong fan of both genres, he runs the US convention Fear FestEvil, which caters for their considerable joint audience. Across four decades, heavy music and horror movies have enjoyed a close relationship, sharing grotesque imagery and a visceral attitude. As Halloween creeps up on us, it’s the perfect time to examine how this dark bond has developed.

“A good heavy metal song should be like a good horror movie,” Kirk asserts. “Exciting to watch or listen to, with a lot of dynamics. You’re not really sure where it’s gonna take you, but once you get there, you’re glad to be there. Heavy metal just doesn’t work when you’re singing about peace and love, or purple flowers. It’s much more effective to sing about zombies, the end of the world and the phantom of the opera!”

It was Black Sabbath who arguably kick-started not only metal itself, but the genre’s long-term love affair with horror atmosphere and imagery. It seems we have bassist and horror film fan Geezer Butler to thank – the super-creepy title-track of the band’s eponymous 1970 debut album was based on a demonic visitation he suffered one night.

“Prior to Sabbath, people like Arthur Brown had brought darker themes into the music,” notes New York filmmaker Mike Schiff, whose forthcoming documentary The History Of Metal _And Horror_ aims to explore why headbanging and horror go hand in claw. “They weren’t necessarily heavy metal, but a lot of metal artists saw what they were up to and incorporated that.”

“Metal’s always had a dark atmosphere,” ponders Dani Filth, frontman of Cradle Of Filth and Devilment. “It’s always been about the minor chords, unless you’re Bon Jovi, and that atmosphere is reflected in horror.”

While the 70s were a fine decade for metal and horror, with iconic work being done in both fields, the 80s heralded a more brutal approach for both. In metal, the likes of Judas Priest, Motörhead and Venom stomped on the gas, with extreme metal and censorship controversy lurking just around the corner, while slasher movies and gore effects took horror up a level... with video nasties and censorship controversy lurking just around the corner.

Says the mighty Alice Cooper, “Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers sort of happened at the same time metal did. If you saw an action scene with Jason and Freddy Krueger fighting, it certainly wasn’t going to be [set to] violin music!”

Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor can trace “a cohesion… a symbiotic relationship” between metal and horror, all the way back to John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween in 1978. “That soundtrack really set the tone for the way a lot of us listened to music. Music is the unsung hero of horror movies. You look at Psycho, Jaws or Friday The 13th. And then look at A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors [1987], with Don Dokken on the soundtrack. That pushed boundaries.”


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From the archive

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