In the second half of our short series on Halloween music, here are Ian Olson‘s selections with my commentary.

”Saignee/revelations” by Year of No Light

14.344151911_largeI: Year of No Light brought their blackened sludge to bear on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic film Vampyr (my favorite horror film, incidentally) in 2013 and succeeded in crafting a very peculiar and yet very fitting soundtrack to this unorthodox classic. Though separated by eighty years (!), this soundtrack succeeds in encapsulating the film’s aesthetic: the diffusion of darkness as light.

This song negotiates a difficult balancing act, poised at the juncture of three very disparate moods: stately, yet ethereal, while simultaneously dank and doom-encrusted. It builds slowly, accumulating tension as the main guitar riff relentlessly marches on and is joined by funereal synths and ominous swells. Year of No Light invoke the film’s nightmare imagery and chill the listener’s blood with a patient, This Will Destroy You-inflected strain of doom. This sonic compound paints a chilling tonal landscape: tendrils of lambent moonlight writhing along of banks of churning shadow, positive shadow suffocating hope, leaving life and light wilted and deformed. This isn’t the sound of darkness invading–this is the sound of darkness coming home to roost, drawn magnetically to the living death rotting in the heart of Courtempierre. Milton’s description of Hell is fitting here: “No light, but rather darkness visible.” Darkness illuminates in the world of Vampyr and Year of No Light concretize the absence of light as a real entity with will and cunning and capture the film’s shadow poetics.

B: I, too, would place Vampyr in my pantheon of favorites, so I will be inhaling the dark, misty tendrils of this soundtrack in the next couple of days (I never knew of it!). Ian accentuates the “being” of darkness showcased in this song as it invades, engulfs and swallows us whole, while an ancient word from one of the “strange-ers” of the faith, Dionysius, must be spoken. He found that in the midst of this suffocation of darkness and its implications for humanity that there may be a parasite, something hopeful, writhing up from within the darkness, aiming to destroy its host:

By undivided and absolute abandonment of yourself and everything, shedding all and freed from all, you will be uplifted to the ray of the divine darkness which is above everything that is.

If only we were simply able to give up control to the one to come. There are those notes, soaring to heights, in this song. A reminder that the hope is more entrenched than the dark of the night.

“Sonny’s Burning” by The Birthday Party

three-trick-or-treatersI: This song is just scarcely controlled chaos, primed and pointed in one grapeshot blast at the metaphysical hinge joining sex and death. Nick Cave sounds like a raving evangelist for original sin bellowing in agony as he is immolated at the altar. Sinister appetites drive Cave into a Pentecostal frenzy of erotic fury and the Birthday Party transcribe his delirium into filthy sonic mayhem. Cave speaks for the bad seed, the Old Man within us all, aching to procreate and slake his lust for death, and his single-minded drive infects this song with devilish momentum.

Sheets of noise echo the disorder coursing through Cave’s soul. “Evil heat is running through me,” he slobbers between bursts of deranged carousel guitar, which, in tandem with the rhythm section, catapult Cave into the abyss. Pierced by Stygian pangs, glimpsing into the outcome of his flirtations with Hell, he shrieks in ecstasy, “Flame on! Flame on!”

B: Nick Cave plays the carnival barker yelling and gasping at those on the wide path aiming for that ever so narrow gate. He blatantly declares it’s wideness, its temporal satiation of desire. He, himself, is consumed by it, he is it’s PR man, seeking to outline its positive attributes and promises for the future of those travelers on the path. Yet his voice, spitting as he talks, reveals the true resonances of the wide path: angst, disgust, shame, consumption, rage, distortion. If only the travelers had the ears to hear. It’s the nuances, the lilt in the voice, the circularity of the guitar, that will betray this carnival barker and drive us ever towards that narrow gate.

“Silent Hedges” by Bauhaus

I: Daniel Ash’s spectral acoustic arpeggios usher in a “beautiful down grade,” an apocalyptic interruption of the dreary world-system sin and death rule over. Ash’s chords linger like trailing wisps of a phantom procession, menace slowly building until that haunting beauty is pierced by a kick drum pulse and manic, distorted bass. Beauty and ugliness unite to expose the fault lines of our civilization, the “thousand wounds” pockmarking modernity. In this song, grace appears under its opposite by unmasking the present evil age for what it is: a hollow, life-sucking sham. Bristling with indignation, distortion and dissonance slice through the vacuous “real world” and denounce the lies fed to us by the principalities and powers.

“What happens when the intoxication of success has evaporated?” Peter Murphy asks. The stark, abrasive landscape mirrors the answer: “Going to hell again!” he bellows, raging in the cacophony swirling down to the world below. Our prayer is that the fallen travesty of a world the song rails against is the one consigned to the pit, and that its dissolution will beckon a better homeland (Hebrews 11).

53212B: As Ian states, there is this desperate note in the vocals of Peter Murphy as he accentuates the parts of the world where the color has been sucked dry and all that is left is a mere, grey, withered shadow of what once was. This song, whether Bauhaus meant it to or not, takes on, viscerally, the same notes of observation and imagery that, I think, would have excited someone like C.S. Lewis, what with his visual imagery in The Great Divide and The Space Trilogy. People tend to ignore bands like this, yet they might just be the ones closest to diagnosing the ills most accurately.

“Spellbound” by Siouxie and The Banshees

I: “Spellbound” is the opening track on what is most likely the Banshees’ finest album (hey, Morrissey thinks so, anyway), Juju. Siouxsie Sioux’s bewitching vocals and the insistent rhythms propel the listener into a frenzied danse macabre. And we are riveted. Some power is at work in the world captivating her and us both, sewing illusion and disenchantment. “From the cradle bars come a beckoning voice, it sends you spinning,” she intones; “following the footsteps of a ragdoll dance, we are entranced.” Have we been marked from the beginning? Who or what is responsible for this? Siouxsie never identifies the source of the laughter we hear “cracking through the walls,” and we’re not sure we want to learn its identity. But she appears to be with it (or them), and it appears as though she’s recruiting. Alluring and disconcerting both, Siouxsie absconds with us into the night, reminding us repeatedly, “We have no choice.” We are hers now, but who knows whom she belongs to? Are we doomed to waste away in the interminable dance of the damned? The powers and principalities would have it be so and, what’s worse, her enchantment seems to have taken root–we want to oblige. We have no choice: we are spellbound. Who will save us from these bodies of death?

B: We don’t know the origin of the laughter nor do we know what we are entranced by, but the music is exactly that: joyful and entrancing. This is music that would have gotten people dancing, laughing in synchronicity and mesmerized with its driving beat. I would want this to loop a few times at a party. The song speaks to the the positive edges of our desires that keep us spellbound and imprisoned to them, even though it is a game of depreciation, but, in the moment, we don’t care! Let’s dance! Let’s laugh! Let us follow the pied piper to our deaths! This song is brilliant simply because it matches that mentality with an incredibly addictive sound.

“Halloween” by The Misfits

misfits_81I: If you’re anything like me, you know it just ain’t Halloween until you’ve blasted the ‘fits’ Collection I and II at inhuman levels. The Misfits combined all the energy of early 80s American punk with the larger-than-life presence of KISS and the tunefulness of original rock and roll legends like Elvis by marrying punk’s vitriol to the horror comics and films Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only had grown up loving. Songs with titles such as “Ghouls Night Out,” “I Turned into a Martian” and “Horror Business” won fans’ undying devotion and created a unique and all too brief shining moment in American music. “Halloween” is one of their songs that doesn’t rely on tongue-in-cheek, cartoonish appeal to solicit our attention. Instead, the ‘fits craft an ode to their favorite holiday and revel in all things Halloween- the good and the bad. “Bonfires burning bright/Pumpkin faces in the night/I remember Halloween! Dead cats hanging from poles/Little dead are out in droves/I remember Halloween!” Everything comes together perfectly to deliver the epitome of ghoulish fun!

B: Ah, The Misfits. Such a fun song. Really, what more can be said about this band and this song but that they encapsulate the very thing I love about the holiday: we get a chance to dress up in the very things we fear, incarnating and mocking them simultaneously. As those who lay at the foot of the cross, we see the world for what it is and we can look the void, and its many ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and say, with the strength of the Spirit, we are not afraid!! I could totally see the Misfits screaming that into the void.