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. 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). Chronicles the rise of a demonic force manifested through a mad new rhythm.
- 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 mysterious 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Juniper’s Shadow — novel by Fiona Dodwell (2016). A rare record found at a music fairs turns out to harbor a centuries-old curse.
- Locker Arms — novel by Zakary McGaha (2018). A failed punk rocker returns to his hometown and decides to solve one of the town’s creepiest mysteries.
- Maestro — novel by Vivid 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. 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.
- 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.
- Song for Quiet, A — novella by Cassandra Khaw. In this Lovecraftian tale, the saxophone of bluesman Deacon James conjures monstrosities from other dimensions.
- Strange Medicine (Legends Urban Fantasy Book 3) — novel by Jim Stein (summer 2019).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.