There has always been a kinship between rock/metal and horror fans. In the Venn Diagram of taste, it’s pretty rare to find a metalhead who doesn’t own a copy of Evil Dead 2 or a gorehound without strong opinions about Metallica‘s more recent work. The two strains of pop culture have drawn inspiration from each other so frequently that they are almost inseparable. For us, it’s a joy to discover works that forefront and celebrate that bond.
Here are a selection of horror novels that earned finger horns from us.
We Sold Our Souls
There’s a hole in the centre of the world, in Grady Hendrix‘s rock-infused novel, and inside is Black Iron Mountain. Guitarist Kris once had the world in the palm of her hand with Dürt Würk, a 90s metal band on the cusp of signing the biggest deal of their lives. But something went wrong on contract night, something she can’t really remember, and now lead singer Terry has become a multi-millionaire with his new outfit Koffin, while Kris is scraping by on minimum wage.
Something is not right, and if it’s just run-of-the-mill music industry shenanigans, then why will she be sued into oblivion if she ever picks up a guitar again? Or if she even thinks about playing Troglodyte, the album that she wrote just before the fateful contract signing? Kris embarks on a road trip to get the band back together and solve the mystery of contract night. It’s a journey that will take her to hell and back.
It’s a fun-sounding premise but, interestingly, We Sold Our Souls is probably the most cynical of Hendrix’s books. The various tragedies – from emotional breakdowns to just plain selling out – that Kris’ bandmates have undergone are heartbreaking, and her road is fraught with betrayal and death. Even though there’s a love of rock and metal on display (every chapter is named for a famous album), there is a general pessimism to the novel that speaks to soured dreams and thwarted musical ambitions.
The real joy of We Sold Our Souls is reading Hendrix describe the tracks on Troglodyte, all of which are painted in gripping, soaring terms that make us genuinely disappointed that the album is fictional.
In the end, the occasionally stifling gloom is all to the good. The trial by fire that Kris must overcome only fuels her desire for revenge. The only way for Kris to defeat the forces of mediocrity is to face them down, refuse to compromise and never, ever apologise.
No musical genre has as much horror potential as Norwegian Black Metal. With deliberately provocative visuals and a founding legend that involves multiple church burnings, one suicide and at least two brutal murders, black metal has an intimidating reputation. It makes sense then that the black metal scene would eventually provide inspiration for an apocalyptic horror novel.
Being invited to a survivalist compound in Ukraine to collaborate with scene legends Wisdom of Silenus may be the last shot for washed-up guitarist Strigoi. He’s got a few hit albums under his belt, but his volatile nature and various addictions have left him with a string of enemies and disgruntled ex-bandmates to boot. Once on the compound with his long-suffering drummer Roland, Strigoi bristles at the culture shock. Ultra-nationalist in politics and apocalyptic in nature, the cult that runs the compound are not to be trifled with.
As the pair work toward their new musical project, ancient dark forces begin to coalesce. It’s all systems go for the end of the world, and the otherworldly landscape of eastern Europe provides a beautiful backdrop to the final act before the curtain falls.
Although it’s not only for metal elitists, Peak brings enough evidence of his true kvlt credentials to satisfy genre purists. The book captures something of the unique, doom-laden atmosphere of the black metal sub-genre. Unrelentingly bleak, the world-ending cosmic horror is counterpointed by the self-centred and destructive nihilism of Strigoi, a man collapsing under the weight of his own legend. Roland is our entry point into the story, and despite their fractious relationship, perhaps the only glimmer of hope here is his earnest concern for his imploding friend.
Banquet for the Damned
A clear tribute to M.R. James‘ classic Casting the Runes, Banquet of the Damned is a supernatural thriller with shades of music, academia, cosmic terror and occult shenanigans. A reclusive professor (Elliot Coldwell, an analogue of James’ Crowley-inspired Julian Karswell) with a fascination for the occult manages to tempt musicians Tom and Dante to St. Andrews in Scotland to write a concept album based on his cult book Banquet for the Damned.
Initially starstruck at meeting his teenage hero, Dante soon realises that Coldwell’s research is far from ethical, and may have something to do with the night terrors now gripping the town.
Slow-burning and mysterious, the novel layers on the gothic accoutrements, staying (for the most part) on the right side of cliché. Sequences in which students are stalked by mysterious creatures have a cinematic immediacy that make them chilling.
Critics were quick to note the book’s clunky dialogue and inconsistent setting (the cultural references vary confusingly, making the book difficult to place) but all tended to agree that the end result was thumping good yarn. Classic first novel issues aside, Banquet for the Damned contains all the hints anyone needed to know that Adam Nevill was going to be a force to watch out for. He identified a fantastic gothic backdrop in St. Andrews, and the sleepy university town with its rich history complements his dark story excellently. The level of research on display would go on to serve him well as his career developed.
The Primal Screamer
Nick Blinko is the lead singer of legendary UK crust punk outfit Rudimentary Peni. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, he has been hospitalised on several occasions. Since his youth, Blinko has channelled his frustrations and his mental health struggles into artwork, music and writing. One period of hospitalisation spawned an album and an illustrated book dedicated to Vampire Squid‘s most problematic fave: H.P. Lovecraft.
The Primal Screamer is a semi-autobiographical novel that mixes Blinko’s real life experiences with gothic horror and Lovecraftian high strangeness. The fictional musician Nathaniel Snoxell has been committed to an Asylum and the narrative takes the form of notes taken by his therapist. The musician’s band is never named, but it bears enough resemblance to Rudimentary Peni that fans instantly recognised Snoxell as a thinly veiled analogue of the author.
Set against a backdrop of the austere psychiatric hospitals and grotty anarchist squats of 80s England, this is a dark and gripping tale that blends fragments of fact with dollops of fiction in an utterly compelling manner. Adding to this sense of the otherworldly is Blinko’s trademark artwork. Intricate and complex, Blinko creates landscapes of minuscule dashes and pen-strokes from which spectral and disturbing images materialise. It is true outsider art with all the rawness and realness that the phrase implies.
With the book out of print for a good few years, the appetite for it only grew, making it an underground cult sensation amongst punks and horror fans alike. After all, how could a Lovecraftian novel get more authentic than having been written in a legitimate mental health facility by a man in severe mental distress?
Look, we are quite aware that splatterpunk is not everyone’s cup of tea. We like to think of it as the genre equivalent of that friend you used to have who knew a thousand euphemisms for masturbation and liked to eat insects, but had mountains of poetry hidden under his bed (Just us? OK). What we’re saying is that there’s a dumb, aggressive exterior to splatterpunk, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have hidden depths.
Written by splatterpunk icons John Skipp and Craig Spector, The Scream tells the tale of the titular band, a group of literal hellraisers determined to live up to the hysterical rumours that the evangelical right are spreading about them. Their latest album, The Critical Mass, is transforming their teenage fans into ‘Screamers’ – zombified legions of ultra-violent ghouls.
Jake Hamer’s band represents a middle ground, rejecting both the evil incarnate offered by The Scream and the boring conservatism of their religious censors. He’s a Vietnam veteran with a head full of bad memories and a band that he’s keeping together with a hope and a prayer.
Splatterpunk is the perfect genre to capture the coke-fuelled absurdity of 80s hair metal. It is lurid, provocative and streaked with gore. Its language can be crude and rudimentary, but it’s too busy giving you a wedgie and calling you a nerd for you to properly offer a critique. The usual suspects are all here: laughable, purse-clutching religious conservatives, satanic occultists, single mothers, Vietnam veterans, drug use and corrupt government officials. It’s everything that keeps Fox News viewers up at night.
However, as we said, beneath all of the gore and in-your-face blasphemy, there’s a great deal to like. The characters are fleshed-out and compelling, and those that aren’t cartoonishly evil are pretty sympathetic. The Vietnam flashback sections are cinematic and brutal, but they aren’t told with the kind of fiendish pleasure that ignores the human cost of the conflict. It’s also pretty funny, with most of the humour being directed at corrupt televangelist and secret pervert Pastor Furniss.