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 Heart Boys Choir — novel by Curtis M. Lawson (2019). When musical prodigy Lucien discovers an unfinished song written by his dead father—a song that holds terrible power—he becomes obsessed.
- 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.
- Chasing Ghosts — novel by Glenn Rolfe (2016). Boys playing a game in an abandoned house and a punk band making music in a rented cabin discover that the woods hold dark secrets.
- 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.
- Cuts You Up — novel by David Blackwood (2021). An author who survived a massacre encounters a copycat killer as she publicizes her latest book. The plot reportedly contains a lot of music references.
- Death in D Minor — novel by Alexia Gordon (2017). An African American classical musician accidentally conjures a ghost while visiting an Irish village.
- Delirium (Scorned Gods 2) — novella by Mychael Black (2016). The new singer of a metal band takes on a bandmate as his second lover, but a cult of vampires is hell-bent on starting a war between mortals and vampires (two of a four-part series).
- 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.
- Devil Makes Three, The — novel by Tori Bovalino (2021). A cellist finds an ancient book in a library’s grimoire section and accidentally unleashes a demon.
- 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 — German novel by Thomas Mann (1947). A modernist composer strikes a Faustian bargain with a Mephistophelean being in exchange for creative genius and success, parallelling the rise of Nazism.
- Flesh Rehearsal — novel by Brian Bowyer (2021). A runaway girl joins a rock band in L.A. and must stop a serial killer known as “The Lobotomizer.”
- 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.)
- Forgotten Girl, The — novel by Rio Youers (2017). A street performer finds his world turned upside down when a band of thugs target him for his relationship with a girl he can’t remember.
- Grave Reservations — novel by Cherie Priest (2021). In this supernatural mystery, the protagonist chooses songs based on the vibe from audience members’ personal objects during “Klairvoyant Karaoke” nights.
- Graveyard Blues — novella by Brian Bowyer (2011). A woman’s favorite musician is murdered by a fan, sending her into drug-addicted madness, and now some diabolical acquaintances want to kill her and her friends.
- 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.
- Human Chord, The — novella by Algernon Blackwood (1910). A young tenor answers an ad for an assistant and becomes enmeshed in strange experiments in sound.
- Iconoclast (Scorned Gods 1) — novella by Mychael Black (2016). A death metal band recruits a new singer who gets more than he bargained for when he is thrust into a war between different species of vampires (one of a four-part series).
- 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.
- Karma’s Brutality (Scorned Gods 4) — novella by Mychael Black (2017). With their allies, the new singer of a metal band and his bandmates continue to fight a war between different vampires and mortals (four of a four-part series).
- Killing in C Sharp — novel by Alexia Gordon (2018). An African American classical musician must fight off a vengeful ghost and solve a mystery.
- Last Case at a Baggage Auction — novella by Eric J. Guignard (author’s preferred version 2020; alternate version first published in 2013 as Baggage of Eternal Night combined with a second novella by Lisa Morton). An antique gramophone plays unholy music that makes the listeners sick with addiction.
- 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.
- Lost Stradivarius, The — novella by J. Meade Falkner (1895). After finding a violin hidden in his college room, a wealthy heir becomes obsessed with a piece of music than can summon the ghost of the previous owner.
- 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.
- Murder in G Major — novel by Alexia Gordon (2016). An African American classical musician house sits in a haunted cottage and tries to solve a mystery.
- 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.
- Nocturnal Blood — novel by Brian Bowyer (2011). Valkolar finally meets his children, twins who are not only musicians but vampires.
- 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.
- Piano Room, The — novel by Clio Velentza (2021). A contemporary Hungarian retelling of the Faust legend.
- 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.
- Rave — novel by Konn Lavery (2021). Kids attending an illegal rave in the woods in 1999 see a horned beast decaptitating people.
- 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.
- Shackled (Scorned Gods 3) — novella by Mychael Black (2017). The new singer of a metal band and his bandmates must act quickly to stop a vampire war (three of a four-part series).
- 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.
- Shockadelica — novel by Jon O’Bergh (2021). Two horror podcasters investigate their haunted apartment building and discover an evil, existential threat. Features a musician named the Bone Man, and music plays a key role in the climax.
- 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.
- This Thing Between Us — novel by Gus Moreno (2021). A widower battles his grief and the mysterious evil inhabiting his smart home speaker as he is subjected to eerie music, odd packages showing up, and other strange happenings.
- 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.
- Voice So Soft, A — novel by Patrick Lacey (2019). A detective believes a pop queen’s hit single is connected to a string of murders and strange occurences.
- 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 (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.
- Sea of Sorrows — written by Rich Douek and illustrated by Alex Cormack (2021). Siren songs cause men to lose their faculties and jump off a boat while searching for sunken gold.
- 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 anthology 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 anthology 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.
- Blind Demo — story by G.A. Miller from the anthology Weird Rhody: Five Tales from the Ocean State that Aren’t…Quite Right (2020). A strange man drops off a demo for a small town radio DJ, and the mysterious tune causes all hell to break loose.
- Bold Dragoon, The — story by Washington Irving (1824). In this comic ghost story, a dragoon encounters a ghostly musician and mismatched furniture dancing in his room at an inn.
- A Cave, in the Woods — story by Steve Stred from his collection Of Witches (2021). An old man recounts for two podcasters his encounter with a witch who sings a deadly kind of song.
- Celebrity Frankenstein — story by Stephen Volk from his 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 anthology 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 anthology 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.
- Getting to the Gig — story by Damascus Mincemeyer from his anthology Where the Last Light Dies (2020). Three punk rockers encounter zombies on the way to their concert in 1982 Los Angeles.
- God Is in the Radio — story by Matt Hayward from his collection Brain Dead Blues (2017). An aging rock star pens a song with the help of a strange old man.
- Heavy Metal Coffin — story by Amira Krista Calvo from the anthology The One that Got Away (2010). When Miguel becomes obsessed with an old guitar he bought online, his girlfriend Tatiana begins to fear for his sanity.
- House by the Cemetery — story by Joe Zito from his collection A Vulgar Display of Short Fiction (2020). A death metal guitarist sacrifices his bandmates in an old house.
- I’m Not a Chainsaw Kind of Girl, but… — story by Hailey Piper in her collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy by Hailey Piper (2021). A woman plays strange music on the piano to conjure demons for an unusual request.
- John Wayne’s Dream — story by Gary A. Braunbeck from the anthology 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 anthology 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.
- Last One, The — story by Joe Zito from his collection A Vulgar Display of Short Fiction (2020). A woman participates in a snuff film while metal music plays on the speaker.
- Making Music — story by Kelley Armstrong from the anthology Out of Tune, Book 1 (2014). A songwriter meets with an enigmatic singer under the guise of collaborating on an album.
- Music of Erich Zann, The — story by H.P. Lovecraft (1922). An enigmatic, elderly musician entices a young university student with unearthly music.
- Murder Ballads — story by John Horner Jacobs from his collection Murder Ballads and Other Stories (2020). Sequel to Horner’s novel Southern Gods (see above).
- Nine Bar Blues — story collection by Sheree Renee Thomas (2020). These surreal stories incorporate passing references to music, but music does not actually play a role in the plot, except for the three below:
— “Head Static”
— “Shanequa’s Blues—or Another Shotgun Lullaby”
— “Origins of Southern Spirit Music”
- Old Nurse’s Story, The — story by Elizabeth Gaskell (1852). An old nurse recounts her visit to the ancestral home where spooky organ playing and other events ensue.
- 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.
- Piano Keys and Sugar — story by Hadassah Shiradski from the anothology The One that Got Away (2021). In this fairy tale-like story, a girl and her piano-playing brother finally stand up to their cruel mother.
- Satanic Panic — story by Mike Thorn from his collection Darkest Hours (2021). Draws on the overlap between 80s metal and horror fandom.
- 17 Hours — story by Steve Stred from his 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 anthology 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 anthology Deadman’s Tome—The Conspiracy Issue (2018). Inspired by the mysterious death of Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell.
- Tommy’s Shadow — story by Daniel Braum from his collection Underworld Dreams (2020). A high school musician stumbles upon an odd man in a place nobody is supposed to go into.
- Tree, The (The Witch, Part 2) — story by Steve Stred from his collection Of Withces (2021). A bard has one final encounter with his former pupil and the three witch sisters from years earlier.
- Twisted: Tainted Tales — short story collection (2021) by Janine Pipe. Built around the premise of an 80s mix tape found in an old desk, each story bears the title of an 80s song. While the stories don’t necessarily involve music per se, the concept is intriguing.
- Vanitas — story by James Dorr (2011) from the anthology Murder and Machinery. A former seaman seeking a quiet life instead finds murder, deception, and an apparition as he struggles to build a steam-powered organ.
- Umbilical Chord, The — short story by Hailey Piper from her collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy (2021). A mysterious tape and Walkman cause mayhem.
- Undying — story by Joe Zito from his collection A Vulgar Display of Short Fiction (2020). A group of metalhead friends unleash a demon when they listen to a record played backwards.
- 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.
- We All Scream — story by Hailey Piper from her collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy (2021). A girl encounters a creepy man whose presence is heralded by a jingle from his ice cream truck.
- Witch, The — story by Steve Stred from his collections Left Hand Path (2018) and Of Witches (2021). After a witch takes revenge on the townspeople who executed her sister for enchanting a young bard, the third sister engages the bard to teach music to a child in their care.