Music can make us feel things. There’s love songs, sad songs, and party songs all for this reason. However, music can also make us feel uneasy or even terrified. Think of your favorite horror movie–would it be as scary if the music wasn’t present? If you replaced the soundtrack with Billboard 100 Hits, how much would the movie change?
Probably a lot, right? Music is essential for horror films, pulling scenes together to craft horrifying sequences for audiences; the visuals and sound design of film go hand-in-hand. Artists too take this into account, creating music that utilizes horror as a tool to elevate their own sound and stories.
Ice Nine Kills and The Weeknd are the first artists that come to mind when thinking about this concept.
Who Are They?
Ice Nine Kills is a rock band focusing on the strange, weird, and horrific–literally. Their songs are all based around the horror genre, with most of their tracks being about some of the most iconic films to date. Their music videos also follow suit, having bloody good visuals to accompany their lyrical stylings.
The Weeknd doesn’t need an introduction. In being one of the biggest stars in the music industry right now, people know Abel Tesfaye’s voice quite well. With hits like “Starboy”, “Blinding Lights”, and “The Hills”, it’s no question as to why he has skyrocketed in popularity. However, Tesfaye has also used horror elements in his music career to enhance the stories he wants to tell.
Enter The Horror Music Scene
How Does INK Use Horror in Their Music?
Let’s start with the obvious: INK makes music based on horror movies. This is the most direct way that the band uses horror to create interesting sounds. INK can find the perfect lyrics for each horror movie they choose to recreate in song, essentially retelling the films we all know and love in a brand-new way.
Songs like “Rocking the Boat” retell the iconic plot-line of Jaws without making us feel like we’re just hearing the same old, same old. Instead, it feels fresh and exciting, as INK can craft words together into lyrical novels.
We’re all just floating in a shallow grave
Buoyed by the blood of the masses
They’d rather sell out that instead of save
We’re all so starving that we’ve taken the bait
You think we would’ve learned from the past
That the predator will soon become the prey
They don’t just take the plot of the movie and rhyme, which would be the easy way out, but rather they typically take unique perspectives and concepts from the films to make something new. In fact, the very beginning of this song starts with a distress call from the Orca, and throughout the song, we hear a conversation between the Orca and Coastguard until the song finally fades into the Jaws theme.
In other songs, like “Wurst Vacation,” the band takes the perspective of the killers rather than the victims. “Wurst Vacation”, based on the movie Hostel, takes the audience inside the disturbed minds of those who pay to murder tourists. It’s not just taking the perspective of the killer that makes this song particularly interesting, but rather it’s the fact that INK included dialogue of victims as well, giving the perspective of both parties.
The real horror, then, is hearing the killers justify their actions as the victims helplessly cry for aid.
Spencer Charnas’ vocals also lend a twisted delight to these tracks. In “Shower Scene,” based on Hitchcock’s Psycho, the vocals of the song make it feel like you’re truly inside the mind of Norman Bates. He doesn’t sound evil or monstrous, rather he sounds sick and tired of his own problems. The distress in Charnas’ vocals sells that this track is about an individual suffering from his own mental health, unaware of the fact he even has Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Then there’s the instrumentals. I think my favorite songs are when the films they cover have iconic soundtracks attached, such as “Stabbing In The Dark.” Halloween II famously used “Mr. Sandman” in the film, and INK flawless incorporates this into their own song. It shows respect for the material, and only makes me appreciate the band even more as a horror fan.
So, what about the visuals? Not only do these songs sound like the films, but they also look like them. The music videos that accompany these tracks are meticulously planned to mirror the movie it is trying to replicate. Take “Hip to Be Scared” for instance, which perfectly replicates the murder scene of Paul Allen from American Psycho (and even includes the entire scene acted out by both Spencer Charnas and Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach). It’s this attention to detail that enhances the entire experience, both visually and musically.
Even outside of the music, the band is dedicated to the horror genre. In fact, there’s an entire horror con for fellow horror fanatics to attend, named after their album “Silver Scream.” Their merch, brand, and image is based on their love of horror. Most of their merch is based on horror icons rather than the band members themselves, with lots of their merchandising having graphics of the iconic masks of characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.
And, hey, I gotta applaud them for the love they show for the genre.
How Does The Weeknd Use Horror in His Music?
How does The Weeknd fit into all of this? Let’s look at After Hours, his 2020 album that rocked the charts and remains as popular as ever. The songs themselves aren’t horror-themed, rather they’re much more dedicated to the 1980s. However, this dedication to the ’80s is the core factor of what makes this album’s story into a golden age horror film.
It’s the visuals of this album that lend themselves to horror, enhancing the tracks by giving the audience an interesting story that is heavily inspired by ’80s horror. The music videos all come together in a single linear storyline.
Going in order, the story starts with “Heartless”–already a bad sign of what the character of this album is meant to represent. A man that describes himself as heartless, that doesn’t believe he can become a better man because how in love he is with the lifestyle. The music video showcases Tesfaye in Las Vegas, enjoying the city of sin until he licks the back of a toad, which causes him to suffer from hallucinations. Hallucinations that cause a sort of breakdown in fact, making him into a much more reckless character.
Cut to “Blinding Lights,” where Tesfaye drives recklessly without care for his own safety. He is covered in bruises with a bloodied nose, getting into fights and acting out, all with a smile on his face as his mental stability declines into the short film named after the album.
In the short film, we are greeted with Tesfaye showcasing a dazzling smile as he looks at the crowd of people he just performed for. When he walks off stage and begins his journey to nowhere, he seems disheveled. His smile immediately falls. He seems unsure yet alert, concerned about his own safety but also the safety of others. All of this is shown to us through his movements, his simple facial features twisting into distorted feelings of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. He is going mad, yet we don’t know why.
In fact, we seem to go inside his head, seeing him being dragged across the floor, screaming, unable to escape the danger.
Finally, in the last few minutes of the film, a couple walk into an elevator that Tesfaye stands in. The music cuts, the elevator doors begin to close, and the last thing we see is Tesfaye wielding a kitchen knife.
This is the beginning of everything. The first glimpse that this album is more than just an ode to the era of the ’80s.
As the album continues into its music videos, we are met with the most 1980s slasher of them all. “In Your Eyes” follows a victim being chased by the slasher Tesfaye until she finally kills him at the end.
Even after his death, the music video for “Too Late” continue the eeriness of the album, with a pair of post-surgery women finding the head of Tesfaye only to turn him into a Frankenstein rip-off. The Weeknd even takes a page from INK’s book, paying homage to the American Psycho film in this video as well.
And while I could go on and on about this album, I don’t think I even need to. Halloween Horror Nights officially recognized the horror that came from the story, including After Hours as a special haunted house for the 2022 season.
Why It’s Important
Horror is just as important as any other genre. It is a genre one can use to tell any story they want, whether it be a love story or a tale chronicling the life of a killer. These artists, then, are taking that into consideration.
Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!
After Hours is about a man losing himself in the limelight. Losing himself and his sanity for money and fame. The character is shown as a reckless, emotional maniac. It’s a simple concept, with songs about desperation and escapism, and while the album is catchy and sometimes upsetting in its lyrical nature, it doesn’t necessarily strike as a horror album.
But that’s the thing. It is.
The visuals help us understand this–with its decapitated heads and bloody elevators–but it’s more than just the album’s visuals that lean into the eerie side. The horror isn’t within the ’80s glamour; the horror is about loneliness. Sure, that’s… pretty cliché, but there’s a reason being alone is so over done within the genre.
Tesfaye’s character is alone. Alone in a world of sin and wickedness, with nobody there to help him.
“I forgot how to regret my sins.” – Enemy by The Weeknd
Ice Nine Kills, on the other hand, is a band simply wanting to show their appreciation for the genre. Despite all their songs being dedicated to iconic horror films, there are tracks that can be enjoyed even in separating them from their source material. They’re beautifully crafted, filled with melodies and lyrics of fascinating sounds and rhymes. Even if someone doesn’t know anything about the film the band was covering, they can easily enjoy the music simply for what it is.
While their brand is centered around their love of horror, anyone from anywhere can enjoy them. You don’t even have to like horror, but you can certainly enjoy whatever INK brings to the table. But for the fans who do love horror, it makes the experience even more special. From the songs, to the music videos, to the merch, fans can play a game of I Spy and find easter eggs of their favorite films. From analyzing lyrics to being able to buy merch of your favorite slasher, the band can bring together both lovers of horror and casual fans alike.
Both artists master bringing horror into their music, enhancing the overall experience with exciting storytelling and unique sounds. Whether it be with heavy guitars or funky synthesizers, their music can make experiences based solely on the genre and what the genre represents. And for that, they deserve praise.