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25 Songs That Are Truly Terrifying

Creepy, chilling tunes from Pink Floyd, Eminem, Nick Cave, more

As Halloween approaches, feel free to ignore "Monster Mash" in favor of this handful of more austere chillers: Vintage murder ballads, dissonant classical spine-tinglers, psychedelic freak-outs, shock-rock creep-outs, Southern gothic alt-rock gloom, art-noise desolation and more.

PJ Harvey, “Down By the Water” (1995)

A tale told by a bog witch of the highest order. In the lead single from her 1995 album, To Bring You My Love, Polly Jean Harvey transforms into a beguiling, filicidal mother from a swampy underworld, beckoning her daughter back from the river she drowned in. The music video sees Harvey undulating to a sinister cha-cha rhythm and thrashing underwater in a red satin dress: She genuinely struggled to come up to the surface, she told Spin, thanks to the weight of her hefty black wig. The chorus plays on the otherwise innocuous “Salty Dog Blues,” an American standard first recorded by New Orleans legend Papa Charlie Jackson: “Little fish, big fish swimming in the water,” Harvey whispers, “Come back here and give me my daughter.”

Scott Walker, “Farmer In The City” (1995)

The low drone that opens Scott Walker's 1995 track "Farmer In The City" only hints at the plainly laid out horror that's going to come. The pop idol turned experimental miserablist has the sort of voice that can't be described using simple terms like "haunting" or "funereal" – he has a precisely calibrated moan with a vibrato, and the pitch-black music he's released in the past two decades has used his voice, and his bleak outlook, to arresting effect. "Farmer in the City" might be the closest thing he's released to a pop song during his later period, although it's still fairly harrowing. Over a tense, spare arrangement by the Sinfonia of London, Walker wails his abstract interpretation of the Italian film director and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini's final thoughts (he was murdered in 1975). "Paulo take me with you/It was the journey of a life," he murmurs near the song's end, a flash of regretful self-reflection that speaks to the low-level horror of not knowing when one's end is going to arrive.     

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Song of Joy” (1996)

Nearly every Nick Cave song is scary; few artists have dedicated themselves to the grim and macabre like the Australian Bad Seeds leader. In the mid Nineties he tasked himself with writing and recording the self-explanatory album Murder Ballads, whose songs claimed the lives of dozens upon dozens of hapless fictional victims. Its lugubrious lead track, originally planned as a sequel to Cave's Milton-inspired soundtrack fave "Red Right Hand," tells the unflinching story of a man who meets a "sweet and happy" girl named Jo