Horror fiction does not often feature music as a plot element. True, the two are not a natural or obvious pair. But considering the omnipresence of music in our lives, this represents untapped potential. (Although that seems to be changing with a spate of works published since 2016.) For those of us who enjoy our horror and music together, I’ve compiled the list below, which I will periodically update. Whether music is the backdrop (The Shatter Point
), the key to the story (Violin
), or an element that adds atmosphere and mystery (The Willows
) varies according to the work. I welcome your feedback.
- Angels of Music — novel by Kim Newman (2016). Erik the Phantom, living beneath the Paris Opera House, runs a strange and secret agency that investigates mysterious crimes.
- Armageddon Chord, The — novel by Jeremy Wagner (2011). A heavy metal guitarist grapples with an ancient and evil song that will unleash the apocalypse if performed.
- Armageddon Rag, The — novel by George R.R. Martin (1983). A journalist investigates the death of a rock promoter and discovers a demonic force manifested through the music of his favorite band.
- Ballad of Black Tom, The — novel by Victor LaValle (2016). A musician uncovers an occult world in Jazz Age Harlem.
- Beneath the Remains — novella by Terence Hannum (2016). Two teens turn to death metal to relieve their new, stifling surroundings, then one mysteriously disappears.
- Black Mad Wheel — novel by Josh Malerman (2017). A Detroit band, past its heyday, is recruited to investigate a mysterious, destructive sound in the African desert.
- Corpsepaint — novel by David Peak (2018). A washed-up, black metal band leader has the opportunity to make a comeback album, which leads him to an antlike, anti-human music.
- Demon in Me — novel by Jennifer Soucy (2020). A drummer returns to her home, but the trip unleashes inner demons and an old cycle of violence.
- Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel — novel by Jeff Jackson (2018). An epidemic of violence sees audience members murdering musicians onstage, sparking concern that something sinister is at play.
- Disco Deathtrap — novel by Cameron Roubique (2017). A send-up of 80s slasher horror in which a serial killer on roller blades wields mayhem while partiers skate to punk and disco music.
- Doctor Faustus — novel by Thomas Mann (1947). German novel about a modernist composer who strikes a Faustian bargain with a Mephistophelean being in exchange for creative genius and success, parallelling the rise of Nazism.
- Follow Him — novel by Craig Stewart (2019). The lost and suffering are drawn to a mysterious cult, but when one follower attempts to flee, the cult’s true nature is revealed. (I’m not yet sure how much music plays a role in the novel, but Stewart composed the cult’s dystopian anthem and posted it online.)
- Hands of Orlac, The — French novel by Maurice Renard (1924). A wounded concert pianist receives the transplanted hands of a convicted murderer. Has been made into several films.
- Hantu Macabre — novel by Jill Girardi (2018). A punk rocker turned private investigator who specializes in occult crimes uncovers diabolical rituals conducted by a former disco singer.
- Heart-Shaped Box — novel by Joe Hill (2007). An over-the-hill rock star buys a haunted suit on the Internet.
- Invisible — semi-autobiographical novella by Steve Stred (2018). A gut-wrenching ride through a nightmarish landscape, part fiction and part autobiography, filled with music references.
- Jesus of Scumburg — novella by Leo X. Robertson (2018). A punk band named the Nazi Sympathizers incites such a frenzy in audiences that whole cities are annihilated.
- Locker Arms — novel by Zakary McGaha (2018). A failed punk rocker returns to his hometown and decides to pursue a mystery that lurks inside one of the high school lockers.
- Lucifer Chord, The — novel by F.G. Cottam (2018). A researcher’s efforts to write about the disappeared singer of the rock band Ghost Legion leads her on a terrifying journey.
- Lucifer Sam — novel by Leo Darke (2019). A heavy metal band that has mysteriously vanished while flying in a private jet resurfaces, but something is off.
- Maestro — novel by Vivika Widow (2016). A music teacher uncovers what causes the violent outbursts of his young pupil.
- Monk, The — novel by Matthew Lewis (1796). Music plays a small but interesting role in several scenes in this early Gothic horror novel about corruption and religious authoritarianism.
- My Soul to Take — novel by Tananarive Due (1997). A singer comes out of retirement to help fight the spread of a pandemic.
- Nerves — novel by John Palisano (2017). A down-on-his-luck soul singer (whose R&B band performs songs that relate to the narrative) develops the power to wound or heal with his touch.
- Nightmare Room, The — novel by Chris Sorensen (2018). An audiobooks narrator builds a recording studio in the basement of an old farmhouse, but strange sounds begin to intrude on the tracks.
- One for the Road — novel by Wesley Southard (2019). A touring heavy metal band finds themselves dazed in an abandoned settlement in the desert, with no idea of how they got there.
- Parallel Life, A: Ben Williamson — novel by Edmund Lester (2018). A man’s double–a rock guitarist–is murdered, and as the protagonist investigates his life, he becomes obsessed with stepping into his shoes.
- Phantom of the Opera, The — French novel by Gaston Laroux (1909). A mysterious, masked figure that haunts the Paris Opera House mentors a young opera star. Has been made into several films and a musical.
- Pretty Little Dead Girls — novel by Mercedes M. Yardley (2016). Surrounded by a tortured musician, a market fish-thrower, and a serial killer, a young woman fights her destiny to be murdered in this genre-bending story.
- Primal Screamer, The — semi-autobiographical novel by Nick Blinko (1995). A therapist’s journal entries discuss a disturbed young punk rocker.
- Rock and Roll Death Trip — novel by Sean McDonough (2017). A shock rocker takes a break from music but encounters all manner of mayhem on a desert road trip.
- Scream, The — novel by John Skipp and Craig Spector (1988). The music by the mega-cult band The Scream is causing people to kill themselves and each other.
- Shatter Point, The — novel by Jon O’Bergh (2018). Follows a college student in a band and the awful events that push him and other characters over the edge.
- Signal to Noise — novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015). A woman who learned to cast spells as a teenager using music returns years later to Mexico City and confronts the truth from her past.
- Song for Quiet, A — novella by Cassandra Khaw. In this Lovecraftian tale, the saxophone of bluesman Deacon James conjures monstrosities from other dimensions.
- Southern Gods — novel by John Hornor Jacobs (2011). A veteran is hired to find a blues singer, whose dark music is broadcast by a phantom radio station and drives men insane.
- Strange Medicine (Legends Urban Fantasy Book 3) — novel by Jim Stein (2019). The plot finds the musician from Book 1 battling creatures in a post-apocalyptic Philadelphia turned desert.
- Strange Omens (Legends Urban Fantasy Book 2) — novel by Jim Stein (2019). Featuring the musician from Book 1, the plot blends the power of music and magic to fight evil unleashed by meddling gods.
- Strange Tidings (Legends Urban Fantasy Book 1) — novel by Jim Stein (2018). A musician fights monsters in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia.
- Theme Music — novel by T. Marie Vandelly (2019). As a baby, Dixie was the only survivor when her father slaughtered her family, and became known as Baby Blue for the song left playing in the aftermath. Decades later she returns to buy the family home, with ill results.
- Vampire Lestat, The — novel by Anne Rice (1985). The second novel in her Vampire Chronicles series traces a vampire across the ages to his incarnation as an 80s rock star.
- Violin — novel by Anne Rice (1997). A tale that weaves together Beethoven’s ghost, a woman who yearns to play violin, and a ghostly violinist.
- We Sold Our Souls — novel by Grady Hendrix (2018). The lead singer of an unsuccessful metal band sells the souls of his former band mates for fame and fortune.
- Wilderness Within, The — novel by John Claude Smith (2017). A trio of camarades (including a musician) confront frightening, elemental forces of the forest and the interior psyche of artists.
- Will Haunt You — novel by Brian Kirk (coming March 2019). The legend of a book that subjects anyone who reads it to a personalized horror becomes real for a former metal guitarist.
- Willows, The — novella by Algernon Blackwood (1907). During a canoe trip, two adventurers become stranded on an island where they encounter terrifying beings accompanied by strange gong-like sounds and noises.
- Wylding Hall — novel by Elizabeth Hand (2015). A British band records their album at an old mansion, achieving success at a terrible cost: the disappearance of their singer.
- Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You — novel by Scotto Moore (2019). A music blogger investigates how a band’s music exerts a strange power on fans.
- Bacchae, The — play by Euripides (5th century B.C.E.). Perhaps the earliest example of horror and music. King Pentheus is torn limb from limb for spying on the wild music and rites of the Maenads.
- Awake — story by Jack Ketchum from the collection Out of Tune, Book 1 (2014). A jazz pianist harbors a nasty secret, and his wife plots revenge with a silver dagger.
- Beams of the Sun, The — story by Dan Abnett from the collection Out of Tune, Book 2 (2016). Obsessed with documenting obscure, blasphemous folk songs, a man tracks down a singer and his vindictive mother who wants to keep the songs out of the public.
- Celebrity Frankenstein — story by Stephen Volk from the collection The Parts We Play (2016). A pop star is created with the perfect ingredients for stardom.
- Collector of Ghosts — story by Jon O’Bergh from the collection Ghosts, Spirits and Specters: Volume 1 (2019). After four friends are transported to a tomblike mansion while playing a board game, one of them devises a possible escape based on her experience playing in an orchestra—but will it work?
- Crossroads and Carousels — story by Alan Baxter from the collection Served Cold (2019). A riff on the classic devil at the crossroads theme where a musician seeks to become the best, but at a price.
- Doll, The — story by Daphne du Maurier (1928). A waterlogged notebook is washed ashore; its pages tell a dark story of obsession and jealousy involving a violinist.
- God Is in the Radio — story by Matt Hayward from the collection Brain Dead Blues (2017). An aging rock star pens a song with the help of a strange old man.
- John Wayne’s Dream — story by Gary A. Braunbeck from the collection Out of Tune, Book 1 (2014). A recovering alcoholic musician confronts his father’s image of what it means to be a real man.
- Juniper’s Shadow — freestanding story by Fiona Dodwell (2016). A rare record found at a music fairs turns out to harbor a centuries-old curse.
- Lacunae — story by V.H. Leslie from the collection Shadows and Tall Trees 8 (2020). A Scottish composer past his prime returns to the island where he composed his greatest opus, but a reckoning is in store.
- Making Music — story by Kelley Armstrong from the collection Out of Tune, Book 1 (2014). A songwriter meets with an enigmatic singer under the guise of collaborating on an album.
- Murder Ballads — story by John Horner Jacobs from the collection Murder Ballads and Other Stories (2020). Sequel to Horner’s novel Southern Gods (see above).
- Out of Tune — anthologies edited by Jonathan Maberry (Book 1, 2014; Book 2, 2016). A collection of strange and disturbing stories inspired by spooky folk songs and murder ballads. Most of the stories do not feature music in the plot, but rather reimagine the subject of the ballads.
- 17 Hours — story by Steve Stred from the collection Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick (2018). A failed musician earns extra cash by delivering a mysterious package.
- Stay Away from the Accordion Girl — story by Jonathan Balog from the collection Chilling Ghost Short Stories (2015). A vacationing couple confront the folk legend of a mysterious young girl with an accordion and a taste for blood.
- Sunshower Death — story by Renee S. DeCamillis from the collection Deadman’s Tome—The Conspiracy Issue (2018). Inspired by the mysterious death of Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell.
- Vanitas — freestanding story by James Dorr (2011). A former seaman seeking a quiet life instead finds murder, deception, and an apparition as he struggles to build a steam-powered organ.
- Vulgar Display of Short Fiction, A — short story collection by Joe Zito (2020). Inspired by death metal lyrics, the collection includes “House by the Cemetery” about a metal band.
- Welcome to the Show — anthology edited by Greg Murano (2018). Seventeen stories built around a haunted San Francisco music venue called The Shantytown. There stories are:
— “What Sort of Rube” by Alan M. Clark. A man learns the origins of the Shantyman’s curse.
—“Night and Day and In Between” by Jonathan Janz. Something’s not right with the chanteuse.
— “In the Winter of No Love” by John Skipp. When this 60s band plays, watch out!
— “Wolf with Diamond Eyes” by Patrick Lacey. A figure in a black mask stalks the club.
— “Pilgrimage” by Bryan Smith. An encounter with a notorious cult from the past.
— “A Tongue Like Fire” by Rachel Autumn Deering. A man interviews a singer of nihilistic lyrics.
— “Master of Beyond” by Glenn Rolfe. Club managers summon a demonic force.
— “Dark Stage” by Matt Hayward. A strange guitarist possesses unusual powers.
— “Open Mic Night” by Kelli Owen. A woman seems connected to the deaths of musicians.
— “Beat on the Past” by Matt Serafini. Can a couple recapture their past at the Shantyman?
— “True Starmen” by Max Booth III. Who are the creepy fans lined up to get into the club?
— “Just to Be Seen” by Somer Canon. She’ll do anything for the performer’s attention.
— “Parody” by Jeff Strand. A frustrated performer wants to perform his parody.
— “Ascending” by Robert Ford. A dating app brings a couple together, but a shock awaits.
— “The Southern Thing” by Adam Cesare. An encounter between two fans takes a bad turn.
— “Running Free” by Brian Keene. A man with one foot in the criminal underworld starts seeing orbs hovering around people.
— “We Sang in Darkness” by Mary SanGiovanni. It’s 2035, and music is banned because it opens a portal to monstrosities.