Washington Think Tank with W.: What makes metal music scary?

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Greetings, sewer urchins. The most unholy of all seasons is upon us! It’s that time of the year when Americans embrace the darkness lurking within their blackened suburbanite souls and allow the festering wickedness to boil to the surface. That time of the year when all good and pure things are corrupted in the name of sexy costumes. That special season when we give our spawn buckets shaped like skulls and severed heads and tell them to play cruel tricks on those who don’t reward their gluttonous desires. That spooky time when we carve open the flesh of living things and shape them into ghoulish forms illuminated from within like hellish specters. That mystical holiday when we open portals into the abyss through our television sets and indulge in the most macabre forms of art on the eve of Samhain. It’s almost Halloween! Let the dead rise from their graves and stalk the living once again! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!

Today’s Question: What makes metal music scary?

Friends, I love Halloween. I have fond memories of trick-or-treating with my family (always wearing a coat over my costume because we typically got our first snow right before Halloween) and of going to fall festivals with my friends. Even the most conservative people can find something to enjoy about the season, even if it is just the colorful displays of death and decay in the leaves of their trees. However, something interesting often happens around Halloween. Our innate desire to embrace the frightful is often enhanced as a cultural norm. Those who don’t typically fare in the darker arts as we metalheads do will find themselves indulging in horror movies or “scary” music. Why? There’s something raw and primal about tapping into your fears. There’s a release of endorphins as you embrace the animal instinct of fight or flight. It can be thrilling to be terrified.

We metal fans should know this more than most as we often willingly force ourselves to confront the confounding and face something frightening. I’ve previously written about bands that legitimately scare me. See the exhibits below.

Exhibit A: Ævangelist

Exhibit B: The Body

Exhibit C: Stalaggh

Today, however, I’m more interested in understanding WHY we find certain bands to be frightening. Each of the aforementioned bands touches my primal fear instinct in a different way. AEvangelist are masters of overwhelming your senses, leaving you in confounding bewilderment. An inability to correlate your perceptions with your surroundings can be utterly terrifying; we desire normalcy and predictability. Omen Ex Simulacra is predictable only in how alien and otherworldly it consistently sounds. The Body are frightening because of their disconcerting proximity to humanity (perhaps they linger in the “Uncanny Valley”). “Empty Hearth” appears to be the sound of a religious experience gone horribly awry, as though something welcome was invited into the human experience but supplanted by a truly sinister entity. Lastly, Stalaggh are the audible tone of human suffering. We lament and fear pain, so a band that willingly captures and embraces that agony provides a stark enemy to our survival instincts. All three bands are shocking in their own right, but to my mortal ears, each disarms you in a unique and unholy way.

So tell me, what frightens you? What bands can you only withstand for so long, and more importantly, why? Sound off in the comments below.

Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a weekly column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

(Photo VIA)

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  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    Good question Mr. George W Cyclops Voldemort.

  • Edward Meehan

    I thought Stomach Earth was a pretty scary and intense listen. I was like, uh…

    • W.

      By why, Ed? Why?

      • Edward Meehan

        It was very disconcerting and overwhelming, probably along the lines of AEvangelist.

    • …Swallowing Bile.

      • Edward Meehan

        … top tier musical violence.

  • GAHHHHH that picture!

    • Edward Meehan

      I checked out the butterfly Halloween costume, not bad. Lol.

      • This is a case where you work is >>>>>>>>>>> mine 🙁

        GL

        • Edward Meehan

          Trust me GL, it is not.

      • Ah halloween, the time when all girls are free to let out their inner sluttyness

        • nbm02ss

          Halloween is the only time I’m glad I live in a college town.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            I love that slut costume, reminds me of sluts.

  • Death

    Didn’t Stalaggh change their name?

    • W.

      Yes, I believe they’re Gulaggh now.

      • Death

        Isn’t their new concept about Soviet prison camps?

        • W.

          I’m not sure, but that would make sense with the new name. That’s another frightening concept. I recall Joe sharing some messed up stuff about Russian prisons earlier this year.

          • Death

            I had a relative who was killed in one of them.

          • W.

            I’m sorry to hear that.

          • Death

            That was way before I was even born, so I don’t really have any feelings about it. I think it was during the winter war.

          • Yeah… That hasn’t really completely left my mind. Just horrifying stuff.

          • The thing that sill terrifies me to this day even though it most likely wont happen to me is a story I read on reddit. Something about how some russian girl called her mom for help as a bear and it’s cubs were eating her and the things she said. Just thinking of how that parent must have felt makes me sick. Fucking reddit.

          • W.

            Oof. The thought of dying alive is pretty horrible.

          • That story has haunted me ever since I read it.

  • I would concur that Ævangelist is frightening.

    GL

    • W.

      Why do you feel that way, GL?

      • I somehow came across 18:17. It makes me feel (consciously) what I feel like when I am having a bad dream. Yikes!

        GL

        • Aevangelist wants to suck your soul. Protip: don’t listen to them while driving at night during a thunderstorm.

        • W.

          Good description. I think we had a discussion in here once about how a lot of us have nightmares.

          • I don’t really dream as much as I used to, hardly ever remember dreaming. However, when I do it is usually some really fucked up or weird shit.

          • I’m the exact same way!

          • Beunhaas

            Fucked up dreams are the best dreams.

          • Xan

            My dreams are strange in the fact that I rarely have one that doesn’t have a supernatural element in it. There is always some form of cosmic evil, demon, or other unnerving element in them. I’ve had a very strange rash of dreams lately. The first dream (I had this on Friday) involved a cloaked hooded figure (much like the one in my profile picture) standing in the field in front of my house. The field was on fire and he pointed to the left. The dream I had on Sunday involved me walking down the stairs in my house to see the same hooded figure standing there with my grandparents hanging from nooses from the ceiling. He was not pointing this time. Last night I had a dream where I was returning from classes to see that the field was burning and the hooded figure was standing behind one of the windows in my home. I can only ever remember fragments of my dreams. I can frequently only remember a few scenes. This dreams are creeping me the hell out.

          • W.

            Do you need an exorcist?

          • Xan

            Quite possibly.

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    both at the same time–full vol

    best of donald duck
    http://youtu.be/H8muV7Z2J-8

    velvet underground – heroin

    http://youtu.be/ffr0opfm6I4

    • W.

      Rate my banana.

      • 9/10
        A little too ripe
        -IGN

        • 8.5, the peel could have been a bit thicker.

      • Cock ov Steele

        10/10 the peel feels slightly harder and tougher. It’s coloration has become more yellow then green although a slight hint of green still shows. You peel it, it peels smoothly, that “perfectly ripe” crunch is heard. This is going to be a good banana. A savory morsel, which makes you ponder whether you should then devour the rest of the stalk. Because the next day, the bananas will get a little softer.

  • I can only listen to Katy Perry for so long before I have a mental breakdown from how awful it is.

    • Death

      You probably shouldn’t say that, the terrorist will use it against you.

      • That would imply the terrorists can catch me in the first place.

        • Death

          They just play Katy Perry as loud as possible everywhere

          • W.

            I’m not sure that qualifies as torture.

          • and then I play cattle decapitation louder.

          • Death

            Well, that way you could stop them.

          • Leif Bearikson

            That’ll backfire on the terrorists because they’ll have to deal with me singing Katy Perry and my voice is awful

    • Katy Perry should be seen and not heard

      • She is smoking hot

        • CONANtheMotherFuckin’KING

          little too young for my tastes, you have to grab em at an early age , of course this sounds bad, i wait until 18 for any monkey business !
          I think i need to turn myself in, but only to you.

    • >:(

  • Guacamole Jim

    I’ve mentioned this before, but this is one of the only songs that legitimately terrifies me. I think knowing the title and then hearing the music as the screams of people as the bomb descends is what really gets me. It becomes real.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp3BlFZWJNA

    • W.

      This is a really fascinating piece. The strings convey an abundance of emotion.

  • Dental_Damnation

    Metal doesn’t scare anyone anymore. #sludgewave scares me

    • W.

      I feel like sludge can definitely tap into your fear. Something about the gritty and muddy noise conjures up unpleasant mental images.

      • Edward Meehan

        Eyehategod used to write lyrics about some pretty horrifying real life scenarios as well, but, on those albums you really couldn’t make it out.

        • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

          I think there were a couple of moments on the new record when you could just sense the horror behind the songs.
          Not really scary but still

        • Cock ov Steele

          On the Southern Discomfort demo they have duel vocals on Peace Thru War, cleans alongside the harsh vocals. But yeah, it often times sounds like Mike Williams is recording his experience with painful abdominal cramps alongside some heavy riffs.

          • Edward Meehan

            The one I have listened to the most is Dopesick which is a pretty intense / scary album actually too.

      • Cock ov Steele

        Or just ‘eadbangin’

      • Simon Phoenix
  • This scared the shit out of me the first time I heard it. Had the volume pumped way too loud.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGWcAXDBoBQ

    • Mother Shabubu III

      It’s not as scary when Lexi Belle is the background photo.

      • God

        Favorite pornstar hands down.

        …Not that I watch that stuff.

        Edit: *chuckle* more like hand down amirite?

        • W.
          • God

            Nice cock dubya.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Oh cock.

        • CONANtheMotherFuckin’KING

          or hands down pants for a game of pocket pool ? Seriously though, she is hot stuff, hope she doesn’t go the fake tits route. A lot of them do that and they should just leave themselves how god made them. Thanks for making them god.

    • W.

      I still think this track is pretty unnerving, partially because of the evil riff and partially because of Hayes’ lunatic ramblings.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRR-9ZA6vwg

      • Agreed. Pig Destroyer just has some really fucked up and unnerving moments.

        • W.

          The Jennifer parts of Prowler in the Yard really set the mood.

          • I remember hearing “Good Friends & a Bottle of Pills” by Pantera when I was a kid and just feeling super fucked up by it. The narrative of the song was scary to a young Joe.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            The style of that song always stuck with me; it’s halfway between a mid-album atmosphere track and a slower ‘full’ song. Love it.

      • This is great.

    • Cock ov Steele

      I’m still wondering what movie that’s from or if it’s even from a movie.

    • Elite Extremophile

      Man, I hate jump scares.

  • Tyree

    Atmosphere and Production play a big part. Maybe even dissonance.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTZB9uGbR3U

    • W.

      This is one of your favorite albums of the year, correct?

      • Tyree

        Indeed it is.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      Wow. It really sounds like wandering into a very old ossuary abandoned an aeon ago. Desperation slowly taking hold as you can’t recall your way. Only old, rotting corpses keeping you company as you stumble endlessly forward. Knowing that you’ll eventually starve and join the dead. Then the song suddenly ends. Before we are given any proper conclusion besides the knowledge that the man couldn’t have survived. Could he?
      Really impressive song.

      • W.

        This is a quality description.

        • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

          Kiitän!

        • Tyree

          I thought so too.

  • Mother Shabubu III

    Terra Tenebrosa. It’s the audio equivalent of the dark corners of the mind. You don’t know what lurks in there, but it’s so enticing so you look and see glimpses of things you don’t want to see.

    Anaal Nathrakh, although I will listen to them almost any time. To me they embody the ugliness and negative side of humanity. It appeals to that side in you that may not be able to carry out a murder or something, but that potential evil urge inside you loves it. It’s a different kind of scary.

    • W.

      Good call on Terra Tenebrosa. I’m a fan. They have a very otherworldly feel, similar to AEvangelist for me.

  • The new Swallowed album made me noticeably uneasy, especially “Arterial Mists of Doom” (http://swallowed.bandcamp.com/track/arterial-mists-of-doom). I think it’s the drums that get me. It’s like they’re intentionally arbitrary to the rest of the song. Their sense of being off and their weird unpredictability made me really uncomfortable.

  • H.P. Lovecraft and anyone who uses him as lyrical inspiration.

    • W.

      Ol’ HP is a favorite round these parts.

  • Beunhaas

    This one scared the fuck out of me when I first heard it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0XuskMhwoY
    This one as well
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvvC3BfMcZI

    Their both small atmospheric tracks. Not really actual album songs, but they set the mood well.

    • W.

      Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace both have some freaky parts. What got to you on this track?

    • Mr.CustodialArts

      Dude, I was JUST gonna post that…back in ’96 when I bought this, I was still all Metallica/Fear Factory/Machine Head…I was NOT ready for the RAW UGLY INTENSITY of these dudes…AT ALL. Never forgot how UNCOMFORTABLE this record made me! The only cd I ever got rid of, only to buy it again a couple of years later. Essential.

      • Xan

        That’s kind of how I feel about Neurosis right now. A lot of people like them but it hasn’t caught me yet. I think if I listen to them in a few years when my tastes have further been honed, I will have a newfound respect for them.

        • W.

          It honestly took me a while, but Neurosis are one of my favorite bands now. I honestly think they are one of the most influential acts around.

          • Xan

            They do seem like a mature band. It will take time, but I’m sure I will become one with Neurosis.

  • Matt Pike’s Sweaty Left Nipple

    Axis of Perdition is intense.

    02 – Where The World Becomes Flesh: http://youtu.be/QY6L03192h4

    • W.

      This is a cool track. They definitely use noise effectively here.

      • Matt Pike’s Sweaty Left Nipple

        Indeed. It puts you on edge for the whole song. Chaotic and suffocating.

    • Xan

      According to Metal Encyclopedia, their lyrical themes are urban decay, silent hill, and Lovecraft. I’m sold.

      • W.

        What if they sang about suburban living and Cypress Hill?

        • Xan

          I would don a backwards cap and rap awkwardly.

  • Tyree

    Once again, Atmosphere and Dissonance. This whole album is scary but this song in particular is just a mind fuck.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9tuU_HDlNY

    • more beer

      I saw Skinny Puppy year`s ago with The Revolting Cock`s and The Mentor`s talk about a strange show.

      • Tyree

        I bet dude!

  • The Battle Born NDN

    One time I got baked and decided to check out Abruptum. I was too high for that shit.

    • W.

      I don’t drink heavily any more, but I’ve definitely been too drunk for extreme metal.

  • Pagliacci is Kvlt

    I still remember Ministry sounding pretty frightening at Lollapalooza ’92. I also remember leaving about halfway through the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set.

  • Stockhausen

    STALAGH and GULAGH take the cake for me. I’m glad you included Projekt Misanthropia in here, although I think Projekt Terror hits me a little harder. I had to work at Yhdarl a little bit, because that primal screaming in Ave Maria is DARK. Also, Gnaw Their Tongues freaks me out.
    Morbid fascination is a pretty universal trait among people in general. If it’s not horror movies or metal, then it’s that urge to look when you pass a car wreck, an slightly-deeper-than-you’d-like-to-admit interest in a murder case, etc. If the basic aesthetics of metal appeal to a person, then there’s an instant channel for that fascination, since the genre is pretty much built for it. Obviously intensity of that characteristic will vary among metalheads, but it makes sense that some will push it to the extreme and make/listen to intentionally scary music. brb gotta teach 6th grade flutes.

    • This is a good comment.

      • Stockhausen

        Also, this is also that. ^

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Both of these good comments are good comments #comments #good

    • JWG

      I feel almost like I should dig into my bag of flautist jokes.

      I should give sixth graders a pass, though.

      • W.

        Something something bandit camp

    • Mr.CustodialArts

      The “car wreck” scenario always intrigues me…I imagine it’s someone I know/love in the wreck, I imagine being a first responder, I think about the phone call somebody is going to get-I don’t separate myself from it. I feel that a lot of people go through life with a “why me?” outlook, rather than “why NOT me”-which I feel metal dudes relate to more. Life is a riff-a HEAVY ONE.

      • Stockhausen

        That last sentence may win quote of the year.

    • W.

      Quality analysis, my deceased amigo.

      • Stockhausen

        Thank you, former leader of the free world.

  • Death

    The first time I heard this I was spooked.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxve06LW674

    • Mr.CustodialArts

      It STILL spooks me!

    • W.

      The 777 trilogy definitely has some strange and creepy parts.

  • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

    This caught a lot of shit when it was released, but hearing this from the beginning was unsettling all the way to frightening.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pxmM5H8iXEk

    • Mr.CustodialArts

      I had fun picking out the Sonic Youth parts. Too bad the drama surrounding that record overshadowed the content.

      • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

        Kinda sucks how Thurston keeps calling this childish

        • W.

          Thurston’s a tool.

          • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

            I never realized it before some interviews about Twilight.

  • JWG

    WOLD. Supposedly there’s some black metal in there somewhere, but at its most impenetrable it’s more like vacuum cleaner noise filtered through a jet turbine and recorded using a fisher price cassette deck. And yet it’s completely mesmerizing in a potentially mind-shattering kind of way.

    One can’t help but hear things that may or may not actually be there in the wall of fuzz. For all I know it’s all eldritch whispers in the cathedrals of Pandemonium.

    • W.

      Ed and I were joking about it sounding like black metal recorded under a blanket. It definitely is pretty mystifying how you can only pick out certain elements.

  • Simon Phoenix

    Bethlehem is the band that does it for me.

    Dudes are unsettling.

    https://youtu.be/zjqZWWrbtAA

    • Count_Breznak

      Was just going to post http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqUrP2J58Rw

      Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia turned out not being wierd enough. In parts way more accessible than even Mein Weg, but they have some throwbacks to Sardonischer Untergang im Zeichen Irreligiöser Darbietung here and there. Still rather mehish.

      • Simon Phoenix

        I haven’t even heard the new one yet. The English remake of S.U.Z.I.D pissed me off so much with how terrible it was that it turned me off from any new material from them.

    • W.

      I’ve never listened to this band. I’ll def be checking this out.

    • CONANtheMotherFuckin’KING

      Most definitely music to slit your wrists by.

      • Simon Phoenix

        I remember listening to a song off of S. U.Z.I. D on a compilation a couple years back and thinking whoever is the singer has serious issues and needs meds. Strangely enough, that hooked me onto this band.

        • CONANtheMotherFuckin’KING

          People on here say that about me all the time. I agree, it’s difficult to fake the kind of agony that guy sounds like he is in. If he is faking it he is one of the best voice actors i have ever heard.

  • Death

    I am still afraid to listen to this song.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2rwxs1gH9w

  • JWG
  • Homo sapiens metallum
    • W.

      Never heard this before. Interesting.

  • nbm02ss

    One of my ex girlfriends was terrified of Devil Doll:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYdcApobjTY

  • Elite Extremophile

    You have to listen to the actual album for the right experience, but on Alaska by BTBAM, the transition from “Breathe In, Breathe Out” to “Roboturner” scared the piss out of me when I first heard it.

  • Further Down the Metal Hole

    I can’t actually say whether these legitimately scare me or not, because I usually turn off not far in because I just can’t do the whole intense screaming thing (as in, sounds like someone really is in pain), especially when there’s not much “music” accompanying it. Whether that means I’m actually scared I can’t say, it’s more revulsion probably. Either way, I guess the artists achieved what they set out to do!

    • W.

      I think Stalaggh especially isn’t meant to be enjoyed.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    *sees header image*

    GAAAAAAHHHH

    • W.

      I wasn’t wearing make-up that day.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        You must have some industrial-strength makeup

  • TrickleDownTacoRiff

    The evil (ness) of it all…mostly.

  • DeadButtDreaming

    I’m lame. Portal unnerves me.