What happens when music unleashes demonic forces

Demonic music and the apocalypseSeveral horror novels explore the theme of music as a gateway to the demonic. The trope of dangerous music has been a fixture since antiquity. Plato believed the Lydian mode enfeebled the mind. Musicians during the Middle Ages avoided the tritone interval—for example, C and F#—because of its dissonance and association with the devil. Genres from blues to jazz to rock to rap have been labled “devil music” and accused of furthering the downfall of civilization. The following novelists take this fantasy to the limit, and show us what happens when music actually unleashes demonic forces.

Demonic Music

The Armageddon Chord (2011) – Jeremy Wagner
A nihilistic billionaire seeking immortality enlists famed rock guitarist Kirk Vaisto to play an ancient song discovered in an Egyptian tomb. The only hitch: horrible things happen whenever the music is played. Forced to perform at a concert broadcast to the world, Vaisto must find a way to avoid unleashing the apocalypse.

The Armageddon Rag (1983) – George R.R. Martin
Before Game of Thrones, Martin wrote this horror novel. Rock journalist Sandy Blair travel the country to investigate the murder of a rock promoter. The investigation leads him to uncover something nefarious about the reunion of his beloved proto-metal band, the Nazgûl, and a song that will unleash the apocalypse when performed. The story serves as a metaphor that explores the descent from 60s idealism to 80s commercial greed. With keenly drawn characters and “magical mystery tour” road trip, the novel offers an enjoyable read.

Nihilistic Music

Black Mad Wheel (2017) – Josh Mallerman
Bird Box author Mallerman, who also performs in a band, wrote this novel about a Detroit band which the military enlists to investigate a strange sound in the African desert. The band, past its heyday and hoping to revive former glory, reluctantly accepts the offer. Band leader Philip Tonka wakes up in a hospital and must piece together his shaky memory about what happened, while trying to understand the mystery of the sound’s destructive power. While not music per se, this sound represents the underpinnings of music.

Corpsepaint (2018) – David Peak
A washed-up, black metal band leader has the opportunity to record a comeback album in a remote corner of Ukraine. Little does he know that he is a pawn in the efforts of a far-right cult. The cult intends to create an antlike, anti-human music to promote their cruel philosophy. The novel explores creative people summoning destructive powers while struggling to express what it means to be human.

Jesus of Scumburg (2019) – Leo X. Robertson
This is the only book I haven’t yet read, so I’ll borrow the description from Amazon. Jesus DeJesus is the lead singer of the Nazi Sympathisers, a punk band whose music excites its audiences into a frenzy that results in the complete annihilation of whatever city the band plays in. When Jesus is reunited with his high school crush at a gig in his home city of Scumburg, his disorder-centric way of life is soon thrown into question, making him wonder if there might be a better life in store for him. Jesus DeJesus’ story is an exploration of the ever tempting urge towards total destruction.

Lovercraftian Touches

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You (2016) – Scotto Moore
A music blogger discovers an obscure song that mesmerizes everyone who listens to it. But each day, as the enigmatic band Beautiful Remorse posts a new song, increasingly strange things happen. As the blogger becomes drawn into the band’s orbit, he learns that the music actually opens a portal unleashing death and destruction. Told with subtly comedic touches, the novella seduces you into its increasingly preposterous world like a mad conspiracy theory.

A Song for Quiet (2017) – Cassandra Khaw
The saxophone of bluesman Deacon James summons monstrosities from other dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape the destiny awaiting her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous.

To see my list of all horror books that use music and musicians as plot elements, see Horror Stories Involving Music.

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