How a Documentary about Sleep Paralysis Led Me to Wintercult


I travel a fair amount for work. Often while posting up in a hotel room I’ll surf Netflix to check out some horror movies and creepy documentaries because I get less free time to watch this kind of fare when I’m home. Tonight, after sitting through a lackluster creature feature called Dark Was the Night, I settled on a documentary that had been lurking in my queue for some time. This film, The Nightmare, is an exposé of the common sleep paralysis phenomenon that afflicts men and women the world over. The documentary wasn’t especially unsettling, but it did cause me to reflect on my own experience with sleep paralysis. In the course of exploring those memories, I found myself, as I often do when I have free time and am gripped by a certain engrossing topic, scanning the web for metal songs apposite to the topic at hand. What my search yielded was a bit different.

The Nightmare is an engaging documentary that weaves the tales of multiple nightmare sufferers together into a single narrative, with dramatic interpretations of their torments intermingled with folkore and science to demonstrate the ubiquity of this affliction and possible avenues of hope and escape. Although some of the interviewees do eventually find liberation from sleep paralysis through life changes, counseling, religion, scientific treatment, and more, some are shown merely to accept their fates. The documentary ends on a stark note of one young man accepting the fact that a night terror will ultimately be his cause of death.


This is the frontispiece from a book on dreams. It was illustrated by Friedrich Voigt Leipzig in 1854.

If you’ve never suffered your own bout with sleep paralysis, the dramatic representations in The Nightmare, though duly frightening, are only an approximation of the fear and anxiety of the sufferer. Sleep paralysis has been documented all over the world for centuries, but it was first codified by Samuel Johnson in his A Dictionary of the English Language. He and other early psychologists and doctors (and no doubt clergymen and spiritual leaders) ascribed the acute omnipresence of terror suffered during a nightmare to a mischievous imp or demon sitting atop the sleeper’s chest at night. These demons were labeled in Old English as mære, and our English word nightmare is in fact derived from the Old English/proto-Germanic nachtmare. Although the common theory for the cause of sleep paralysis is held to be a disruption of REM sleep, the actual mechanisms of it, and why certain people seem to suffer far more acutely than others, remain unknown.

What is typically agreed upon, though, is that sleep paralysis is characterized by a condition of motionless, difficulty breathing, and visual hallucinations. In my own experience, I believed that I woke in the middle of the night to see a disembodied mouth and two pairs of eyes dangling above my face, attempting to extract my soul through my throat. I am unsure how I knew that is what the entity wanted, but of that fact I was certain. The creature tormented me, pressing an invisible weight on my chest and restraining my limbs; try as I might, I could not scream for help. I was utterly alone with the beast, isolated, vulnerable. A single soul stranded in a sea of darkness, just like so many other wanderers in the night. Eventually, the effect retreated, and my mind, through terrified beyond reason, returned to a state of sanity.


Francisco Goya’s “The sleep of reason brings forth monsters” from 1799.

My own experience is fairly commonplace among sleep paralysis sufferers. As pointed out in The Nightmare, the common paranormal tropes of The Night Hag, Alien Abduction, and Shadow People are all easily explained by the gestalt human experience of facing terrifying nocturnal visions while stricken with immobility. Nightmares are as common a theme in our cultural heritage and mythology as vengeful gods and the fear of death.

It’s no surprise then, that heavy metal, as another branch of the spoken word tradition of our oral history, would convey the terror and omnipresence of the mare. A cursory glance at any search engine will reveal all manner of results for metal songs addressing nightmares, from artists ranging from the world’s most popular metal band to otherworldly xenharmonic underground artists. The nightmare, as a vessel of a terror more potent than most everything else, is a perfect source material for heavy metal, a genre that thrives on and dabbles in the darkest corners of our collective consciousness.

I knew, then, that I would need to search a bit harder for something more interesting. Eventually, my quest brought me to a Reddit thread entitled, “What song gives you nightmares?” Although the thread itself was rife with more commonplace- and genuinely non-threatening submissions- one piece in particular gave me pause. One user linked to an unfortunately defunct YouTube video and described a piece of music that produced in him awful, synesthesia-like symptoms of visually perceiving terror and despondency. Dead link be damned, I followed the breadcrumbs (and a partial YouTube title) to a new musician; my documentary quest had led me to Wintercult.


Honoré Daumier’s drawing of a nightmare from 1856.

Wintercult is a depressive/suicidal black metal band formed in Russia in 2010. Originally the sole work of multi-instrumentalist Waldgeist, Wintercult became a true band in 2012 with the addition of Aequiternus on bass and drums in 2012, just after debut full-length Neverending Selfhatred. Although my YouTube spell took me through a number of intriguing tracks, including an excellent cover of Nargaroth‘s “Manchmal Wenn Sie Schläft,” it is the song “Nocturnal Silence” that is most germane to the subject at hand.

“Nocturnal Silence” is the rare kind of song that manages both to encapsulate the very essence of a band and resonate with a sort of commonality to all who have lived through a certain experience. “Nocturnal Silence” is a song for sleepwalkers, a phantom guide away from the terrors that haunt you at night. The programmed, mechanical drums strike with a sort of somnambulatory cadence that, though never juddering you fully awake with a dazzling light of technicality, is not just serviceable for the song but works perfectly in unison with the icy tremolo riffs and mournful tone to create a mesmeric effect. The steady metronome strike of the cymbals lends the song a pendulous feeling, as if your twilit walk is being conducted under a hypnosis. The excellent riffs, though never overstated, maintain a sense of solitude and isolation, even when arpeggiated runs or sustained notes add a little variety to the steady rhythmic hand. For all their atmosphere-birthing grandeur, though, all of the instruments are subject to the willful and charismatic voice of Waldgeist as he shrieks out of the blowing wind in a manner not unlike the higher-pitched wails of Chip King (The Body) or James Kelly (Altar of Plagues). Waldgeist’s voice is the focal point, the locus in the nightmare, the single thread guiding you somewhere, whether it be deeper into the cold death of terror or out of the bereft tundra into the warmth of civilization. Few metal bands are able to so perfectly match the tone of the music with the tone of the vocalist, and yet Wintercult do so in an utterly convincing and perfect manner.

Nightmares may have led me here, but it is Wintercult, and specifically Waldgeist’s voice, that compels me to remain. Is this band frightening? No, I honestly don’t think so. But on “Nocturnal Silence,” Wintercult does accurately express the gnawing tension, the sorrow, the isolation that one feels in the wake of sleep paralysis. The experience is different for every man and woman and child, but as The Nightmare showed us, and as metal like that crafted by Wintercult reminds us, our own tenuous connection to our humanity and our fear of being alone remains the same.

(Cover Photo VIA)

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  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    Very Burzumesque vocals. Not a bad track.

  • Howard Dean

    I don’t think I’ve seen the word apposite since I took the SAT.

    • Dubbbz


    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      You took the SAT? NERD!

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    sleep paralysis sounds metal AF

  • All them critters perching on those beds are gonna have Hubert wanting to horn in on that action.

  • Waynecro

    Awesome article, dude! Sleep paralysis is a fascinating topic that I’ve read quite a bit about because of my interest in UFOs and weird folklore. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I definitely feel for anyone who has. Powerlessness in the face of a terrifying urgent threat is an awful thing.

  • I guess in my own experience I have never had terrible concerns over sleeping. I recall having much more trouble sleeping (waking up not breathing, nightmares), when I was running a lot more. Since I have turned into a potato, I sleep much more soundly. I have always thought it odd to read about those we have troubling dreams, night terrors, insomnia. Interesting read, W.


    • Dubbbz

      I have the opposite issue. I get insomnia and nightmares if I’m not regularly physically active.

      • Dude, when I was more active, I would wake up rummaging through the bed “looking for jeep parts”, at the foot of the bed looking through the sheets, weird shit.

        • Waynecro

          When I was a kid, I used to sleepwalk a lot. For some reason, it always led to my pissing in weird places. One time I peed in the oven; another time, I peed in the laundry hamper. This pretty much stopped happening when I was 10 or so; however, when I was a teenager, I once got so drunk that I pissed on the floor in front of my parents’ bed while they were sleeping. Thank fucking goodness I have a history of sleepwalking, or my dad probably would have kicked my ass on the front lawn.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            I pissed in a closet when I was six from sleepwalking.

          • I watched a buddy piss in the laundry hamper, then “flush” it with an imaginary handle. Fucking great times.

          • Whenever I have to take a leak in the middle of the night, I am almost always dreaming that I’m pissing in a huge fountain. Shockingly, I have never wet the bed when this happens because it definitely feels like you are taking a leak in the dream.

          • Waynecro

            That’s exactly what fucked me up when I was a kid. I was pissing in a bathroom in my dream, but I was peeing in an oven or something in reality.

          • The Tetrachord of Archytas

            We used to have to place obstacles in front of the front door to keep my sister from sleep walking into the night

          • Waynecro

            Damn, that’s some scary shit.

      • Since finding my sleep number, I sleep like a rock with no dreams. My sleep number is Bushmills.

        • Dubbbz

          I prefer a bottle of red wine before bed…

      • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

        Only way I actually get a full night’s sleep without waking up more than once is if I completely burn myself out through the rest of the day. And that usually takes about 24 hours of going nonstop. Otherwise, I end up waking up 2-3 times a night or more.

  • Never experienced sleep paralysis, but I’ve had an out of body experience several times and they can be fun if you are aware of them. The thing I learned about dreaming is if you think you are in one, hold out your hands in front of your eyes. When I did this, I reminded my self that I was dreaming and that I could take control.

  • Abradolf Lincler

    I definitely never remember my dreams except when I had the nicotine patches on, those were nightmares. Otherwise all I know is that I wake up every morning with a boner

    • Waynecro


      • Abradolf Lincler

        Being a man means waking up ready to f*** the world

        • Waynecro

          Someone needs to put that line on a T-shirt.

  • The Tetrachord of Archytas

    I have vivid dreams all the time. Often hunting or being hunted by witch cults. Sometimes it’s crazy but I’ve never woken up paralyzed. One of my other recurring dreams is that once I recognize I’m in the presence of demons, my mouth becomes paralyzed like I had a stroke or terrible stutter and I’m unable able to utter words that would send them away. I always wake up in these points and feel like a pins and needles sensation but I can always move and never see any visual phenomena

    • Dubbbz

      That sounds similar to sleep paralysis except without the full immobility. A lot of people in the documentary reported a pins and needles sensation.

  • Howard Dean

    Holy fuck, did anyone else see the absolute craziness that was going on in the MS comment section a few days ago? Hahaha. I just saw this. This line of comments is both hilarious and disturbing. Wow.

    • Howard Dean

      This was the first part of the convo. Holy fuck. Just complete insanity:

      • And this is why we avoid that cesspool.

        • Howard Dean

          That line of comments stopped me dead in my tracks. Literally couldn’t believe what I was reading. Not every day you see something like that. Garbage pit, indeed.

          • Haha, I’m honestly surprised Rob still hangs out there. He’d be better off hanging with us nerds. Dudes got great taste too.

          • Howard Dean

            Some of their particularly shit-tastic articles are good for at least a few laughs in the comment section. Definitely was NOT expecting that type of exchange, though. Hahahaha.

          • Conan, is going to one day be murdered in his cell by this guy…

          • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

            Lol, so how’s that whole crackdown and them getting mods thing they talked about going?

          • Ayreonaut

            Over there it IS every day

        • Óðinn

          I agree with Tyree. I’m so glad we have the Toilet now. It was exactly those types of comments and threads that made me stop going to MS.

      • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

        Huge reason I’ve avoided MS like the plague ages ago, and why I unfriended Conan on FB ages ago.


          PEOPLE THERE USED THINK CONAN WAS ME & ALL CAVEMEN!!!!!! 🙁 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

            They’re are fucking stupid. We all learned that a long time ago. You are:



            ME…. EDGUY??????

          • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

            Caveman, silly! :-p

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        What article was this?

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    DUBBBZ!!!! This article was awesome, my man! Well written as always and I look forward to listening to the song.

    • Max

      It was a very well-written article, wasn’t it?

      • Señor Jefe El Rosa

        Very much so, I was quite impressed.

  • Pretty depressing track. Not bad at all. I’ll be much more in tune with this once it gets colder and darker outside.

    • Dubbbz

      Definitely good winter jams. Thankfully it was cold in the hotel room when I discovered it.

  • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

    I’ll definitely check this one out. As I’ve said before, I wake up 2-3 times a night most of the time, mostly from oddball dreams and just inability to stay asleep. Some are where I feel like I’m impossibly drunk, stumbling and struggling to breathe, and wake up immediately afterwards feeling the same way for a few minutes afterwards. I’m guessing there’s no sort of cure for this. It’s something I’ve learned to deal with for quite some time.

  • Pentagram Sam


    I dunno if this is official sleep paralysis, but sometimes when I’m completely ass tired, it’s like my body goes to sleep before my mind.

    No crazy hallucinations, but I’ll be conscious mentally, yet my body fell asleep and I have to spend ten minutes fighting it back awake. Until then I literally cannot move or open my eyes. Then it’s a race to actually fall asleep with my mind before the body does.

    Does this make any sense at all?

    • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

      That’s the textbook definition of sleep paralysis.

  • Eliza

    I don’t usually have nightmares, just really strange dreams. Like one where my father wanted me to swim in a radioactive lake where there were many deformed animals.