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 may be about to change 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 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.
- 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.
- Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality (33 1/3) — novel by John Darnielle (2008). The music of Black Sabbath consoles a teenager locked in a psychiatric facility.
- 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.
- Maestro — novel by Vivid Widow (2016). A music teacher uncovers what causes the violent outbursts of his young pupil.
- 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.
- Parallel Life, A: Ben Williamson — novel by Edmund Lester. A man’s double–a rock guitarist–is murdered, and as the protagonist investigates his life, he fears he may have been the intended victim.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.