Halloween Music in Charlotte: Eight Spooky Local Songs
Songs for the creeps
It’s that time of year again, when the chills running up your spine might not even be caused by a deadly virus. We’ve put together a short playlist of Halloween music from Charlotte musicians. This isn’t necessarily Halloween music in the sense that it was made for Oct. 31, but who needs a Monster Mash when you’ve got a Wolf Ceremony or a Basement Seance to go to?
All of these songs are on our Halloween Music in Charlotte: 8 Songs to Spook By playlist on Spotify
Andy the Doorbum
“Wolf Ceremony/The Howling”
Andy Fenstermaker’s bio reads like Queen City folklore. As Andy the Doorbum, he honed his eccentric hardscrabble song craft while working the door, and sleeping during the day, at Charlotte’s legendary music venue The Milestone.
Though Fenstermaker decamped for southern California in 2015, he retains close ties with Queen City musicians. Many of them play on his 2020 album Even When the Cat Comes, where he covers several songs by those same musicians.
“Wolf Ceremony/The Howling” is a suite comprised of two tunes by Charlottean Robert Childers’ dearly departed combo The Luciferian Agenda. In a menacing baritone pitched midway between the occult punk-blues of Nick Cave and a Gregorian chant, Fenstermaker spins a gory yarn about the werewolf within us all that carves a bloody furrow at the socio-economic edges of America — a perfect recipe for Halloween music.
With references to satanic rituals at an Autobell Car Wash, this stately song is both grisly and funny. It’s a parody of America’s all-consuming consumerism that also evokes the dreadful feeling that all your relationships and life decisions are leading you straight to hell.
“The flag’s always at half-mast now/I don’t know why.”
A whirring sound, like an electric drill punching through your molar punctuates a thudding zombie stomp. Then Dylan Gilbert’s slurred guttural street preacher vocals try to make sense of a world of unmarked right-wing militias, frenzied followers of incompetent fascists and school shootings so numerous they’ve become numbing.
The song plays like a cross between the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion jacked up on methadone. In couplets ripped from real headlines, Gilbert seems bewildered by the onslaught of doom scrolling and bad news.
“I saw it on Facebook Live. Watching it in real-time.”
It’s all accompanied by a music video that’s brilliant in its unsettling simplicity. Clad in an oversized blue suit, Gilbert steps slowly and unsteadily across cracked blacktop like a shell-shocked man navigating a minefield. In the background, a limp American flag dangles from a flagpole like a bloodstained banner.
“Pignose (Esse Quam Videri)”
King Cackle’s protean punk blues sound so elemental, it’s like it’s been unleashed rather than written and recorded like normal music. Queen City Nerve has described the band’s fuzzed-out guitars, jackhammer drums and growled vocals, to the result of the animatronic Pirates of the Caribbean getting shitfaced and raising a swampy stomping racket.
On “Pignose,” the swaggering, staggering quartet add North Carolina’s obsession with barbeque and twangy sling-blade Southern rock to their sirocco of sound.
“Keep that belly brushed all night/Keep that belly lookin’ prime/ Here’s to cookin’ with a blood red moon/And waitin’ for the sun to rise”
Those lyrics suggest the unholy union of a down-home cookout and Lord of the Flies. In William Goldman’s psychological novel, a group of school kids is cast away on an uninhabited island where they devolve into superstition and brutality.
At the climax, they place a severed pig’s head on a stake to placate an imaginary monster, and then hunt one of their own, chanting, “Kill the pig!”
“Esse quam videri,” a Latin phrase meaning “To be, rather than to seem,” is the state motto of North Carolina. That’s us, gathered around a fire watching flesh burn.
“It Sounds Like Murder”
Leave it to Julian Calendar, Charlotte’s coolest art-punk collective, to remind us that the best post-punk walks an uneasy knife-edge balance between giddy risk and dread. Over pummeling clattery percussion and grinding spindly buzzsaw guitars, vocalists Jeff Jackson and Hannah Hundley trade an anxious call-and-response.
The vocal interplay recalls the beautiful loser duets of CBGB mainstays Patti Palladin and New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, while the music evokes the abstract, shattered view of reality espoused by minimalist post-punkers Wire.
“The way we pray at night/ It sounds like murder/The way we pledge allegiance/ It sounds like murder/The way we name our fears/ It sounds like murder”
Like Jackson’s brilliant novel, Destroy All Monsters, “It Sounds Like Murder” connects the dots between the transgressive thrill of live fast/die young rock ‘n’ roll mythology and the stomach-churning feeling that we’re living in a nonstop crime scene.
Den of Wolves
The fevered brainchild of brothers Tristen (lead vocalist/bass guitarist/backup vocalist) and Khalil England (lead and rhythm guitarist), Den of Wolves is an outlier in the metalcore scene because all the band members are Black. But they’re also metal iconoclasts because they shake up their mix of harsh vocals, technical riffs and whiplash time signature changes with jazz-loving drummer Savien Davis’s impeccable sense of swing.
Released in November 2018, “Void” remains the band’s bludgeoning gem. As the bass and rhythm guitar play the root notes of a chord progression, the lead guitar snaps and snakes with a whiplash curve that forms a riff-based melody.
The supple drums throw a time-signature shifting curve at the thrash, so that the song recalls the sinister progressive rock of early 2000s King Crimson.
Meanwhile, Tristan sings about norms and touchstones disintegrating.
“This temple’s empty and its burning down/Fingers pulling you into the flames”
As the song’s title suggests, what if the search for meaning comes up empty and reveals nothing?
Christopher Gurney’s spacious and pensive synth-driven darkwave on his 2019 album Chroma is a far cry from the gruff Skinny Puppy-influenced industrial he ground out eight years ago, but it is no less unsettling.
As Gurney intones couplets about the deadly beauty of extremes of fire and ice, rumbling chords decay and resonate as if they’re emanating from a mausoleum.
“The ash began to fall like snow/conducting a dance in the shadows
Losing touch and lost in the frost”
The most striking image in the song is the vision of Hastur, a cruel and hideous cosmic entity, rising into view. Haster is part of macabre horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s pantheon of elder gods, a race of malevolent beings from beyond the stars, the most well-known of which is Cthulhu.
Hastur’s appearance in horror fiction predates Lovecraft, appearing in Ambrose Bierce’s uncanny 1893 story “Haïta the Shepherd.” Hastur continues to appear in horror fiction long after Lovecraft’s death in 1937.
The best description of Hastur can be found in horror writer Joseph Payne Brennan’s story “The Feaster from Afar,” where Hastur is described as a black, shriveled, flying monstrosity with tentacles tipped with razor-sharp talons that can pierce a victim’s skull and siphon out the brain. You can’t get any creepier than that.
Dirty Art Club
Electronic extraordinaire Dirty Art Club just dropped a new album called FMTI in October, and it’s certainly worth checking out, but if you’re looking for spooky songs, we suggest checking out his 2017 release, Basement Seance, for more haunting vibes like “Native’s Blood” and “Into the Spiritual.”
It’s the title track, however, that really brings the list home, with it’s soothing, head-nodding but eerie, ghostly vibes. The basement is a good a place as any for a comedown.
Based in Rock Hill, The Foe released the creepy, Twin Peaks-themed video for their single “The Foe” just before Halloween in 2019 in the lead-up to the release of their second full-length album. The song gallops on herky-jerky post-punk drums through switchbacks of squalling guitar, then plunges abruptly into a creepy interlude, a freefall through a cloud layer of pulsating feedback. After a snippet of ghostly saxophone, it snaps back to slightly more unhinged headbanging.
Front man Josiah Blevins says he wrote the song about taking refuge in a bomb shelter to avoid even the most innocuous social interactions. Blevins often suffers from an overwhelming anxiety over being seen, known or thought about that he describes as being “adjacent to being agoraphobic.”
The video depicts of an outdoor search over the grounds of a spooky house by blindfolded members of the band and others, before the interlude comes, during which the video crosses the veil into a world with blatant tie-ins to the Black Lodge from the popular TV show Twin Peaks.
Gasp plays a mix of krautrock, grunge, glam and twee pop, which rumbles all the more with two drummers and two baritone guitars. The band was formed literally by chance at an event called Band From a Hat, during which Blevins and two other original members were assigned to form a band together at random. The trio shared a love for “weird, complicated rock,” and released their first album, A Violet Maze of Dreams, in April 2018, but they make for good Halloween music, too.
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