Halloween is almost upon us, and that means it’s time for a collection of suitably spooky or unsettling tracks that can help you hear what your hi-fi system is really made of.
We've picked out some great tracks from a wide variety of artists that will test your set-up’s dynamic, rhythmic, and organisational skills while being right at home playing during your own Halloween party this year.
Expect to find tracks from scary movies that build up atmosphere and tension, as well as classic songs across pop, rock, and electronic music from over the years.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Is there a better test track for Halloween than Thriller? I think not. Besides being arguably the best music video in history, the sky-high production values brought to the song by Quincy Jones make it a seriously good test for hi-fi systems on so many levels.
The song starts by building a spooky sense of atmosphere, with creaking doors, haunting footsteps, and howling werewolves all appearing in your stereo image.
Resist the urge to jump behind your sofa and you’ll hear an assortment of percussion kicking in followed by the track’s trademark funky, synthesised bassline. If your system is good at timing and locking onto rhythms, you should instantly find yourself tapping along like a deranged zombie.
There are funky fine details and interesting elements throughout this track, including a guitar, organ, and even a complete horn section. While Jackson’s vocal is certainly dynamic and enthusiastic, it’s the haunting tone of Vincent Price and his creepy words that will give your system nightmares if it can’t sound natural and refined.
By Andy Madden
Marlon Williams – Strange Things
A beautiful, haunting melody with gorgeous vocals from New Zealand country folk artist Marlon Williams that will be stuck in your head and heart for ages.
It's a lush recording with a spacious soundfield full of clear details, while the lyrics could be taken out of an Edgar Allan Poe gothic horror story. From the deep drum hits to the precise finger pluckings of the guitar strings – all should sound, with the right system components, incredibly tactile, natural and texture-laden.
At turns sorrowful and bittersweet with a tinge of creeping dread throughout, this is one for the romantic goths out there.
By Kashfia Kabir
Kate Bush – Hammer Horror
In true Kate Bush fashion, Hammer Horror is equal parts theatrical and cinematic in its sound, arrangement, and dynamics. It wasn’t Kate’s most successful single, however each section varies greatly from the last in terms of mood and texture, providing an interesting emotional ride.
The song tells the story of an actor haunted by guilt as he replaces a friend in a leading role after a tragic accident on-set, and the title of the track is a nod to Hammer Films, a historic studio specialising in horror movies.
Opening with a drum roll and an orchestral build-up, the resulting crash calms into a reflective chord sequence and Kate’s soul-stirring vocal through the verse. The bass and rhythmic elements enter during the pre-chorus section, with an abrasive drum synth underlining the section in place of a snare.
The chorus sees the whole band come into the fold with strings, electric guitar and full drum kit propelling the music as Kate sings with added energy and growl. With the right set-up, this should all shine through before settling back gently into a beautiful post-chorus and verse combination.
By Ainsley Walker
Halloween Theme 2018 – John Carpenter
Halloween’s original 1978 theme track is one of the most identifiable horror scores. 2018 saw the eleventh instalment of the series, and with the film came a reworked soundtrack, including a new revised original theme track.
Opening with the now-iconic crystalline piano riff alongside a new thumping kick drum, it’s clear that this theme has been given a fresh modern feel. The kick is loose-sounding, somewhat like a heart pounding in pure fear.
The contemporary refresh becomes even more apparent as thickly-layered synth chords come in, soaring and providing a sense of dread. In the original, these chords were far more subdued, now there are layers of sizzling resonant synths and deep sub-bass to boot – a good test of how well your system can separate all those elements clearly and precisely. As the track goes on, church organ-esque synth chords enter, which in this horror-movie setting adds an unmistakable unnerving presence.
By Ainsley Walker
Warren Zevon – Werewolves Of London
Warren Zevon’s Werewolves Of London was the artist’s only US Top 40 hit and doesn’t sound much like a Halloween song to start, opening with a jaunty piano riff, bassline, and backbeat. This, however, changes as Warren lets out his inner canine and quite literally howls his way through the choruses.
Telling the story of werewolves stalking around Soho, Mayfair and Kent, causing problems for little old ladies, and ordering beef chow mein, Werewolves Of London features a few instruments that stick around throughout.
There isn’t much in the way of compositional variation aside from a nicely harmonised guitar solo in the middle of the track which pokes through satisfyingly. Despite this, each instrument is present in the mix and works together to create solid momentum to push the track on.
By Ainsley Walker
Muse – You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween
The Teignmouth trio have evolved from being Radiohead imitators to apocalyptic indie-rockers with out-there ideas about big-tech, thermodynamics and governmental surveillance. You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween feels like a happy middle ground between Muse’s competing inclinations towards studio rock versus theatrical conspiratorial theorising.
The sixth track from 2022’s Will Of The People is an overwrought, electro-gothic delight characterised by screeching, psychedelic-esque strings, fuzzy guitar crunches, and hyperbolic lyrics. Aside from bopping your head to that zippy, electronic beat, you’ll want to sense the claustrophobia of the song’s sadly relatable subject matter of toxic relationships.
Yes, it feels like an obvious choice, but this is no trick. Muse’s campy, overwrought electro-rock pantomime of a record is a tongue-in-cheek treat.
By Harry McKerrell
The Nightmare Before Christmas – This is Halloween
Is it a Christmas or Halloween film? Why, both, of course. The film's first song is a Halloween staple – a joyous celebration of the macabre holiday, its traditions, its many monsters and its hallowed Pumpkin King.
Your speaker or headphones should be able to fully convey the different tones and characterful voices of the town's oddball citizens, while packing plenty of punch and drive to keep the high-energy tune's momentum going from anthemic chants to goosebump-inducing anticipation.
With its offbeat tune and changing time signatures, coupled with delicate-to-crescendo orchestral flourishes, this is a delightfully spooky track that's more intricate than you'd think at first listen.
By Kashfia Kabir
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Opening with wonderfully textural drum sounds, augmented by a delay effect manipulated in real-time, Bela Lugosi’s Dead represents one of the first examples of Gothic Rock.
The title of the song references actor Bela Lugosi, who played the titular character in the classic 1930s horror movie Dracula, and the lyrics mention bats flying out of the bell tower and brides filing past his tomb, giving a very direct nod to the (quite literally) timeless character.
The nine-plus minute journey showcases the band’s open influences of reggae and dub, with floating guitar licks smothered with tape echo and open-string chords featuring heavily.
It takes almost three minutes before the vocals come in, which have the quality of a speaker being projected through a PA system in an empty warehouse, with wide reverberation and ambience trailing each word. As with that cross-stick drum part, it’s a track that’s very texturally pleasing altogether and is a good test for your system’s dynamic capabilities and the width of the soundstage.
By Ainsley Walker
Goblin – Suspiria
Italian prog rockers Goblin were no strangers to creating horror soundtracks when they created the score for 1977’s Suspiria, having recorded for the murder-mystery film Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) two years prior.
Gentle twinkling piano, bells, and bouzouki (a sort of Greek mandolin) create a wide soundstage before creepy layers of whispered vocals enter, creating an unsettling juxtaposition. A drum hit marks the beginning of a build in urgency, with bass synth pulses creating a Roland 808-like bass drone (before that was even in existence, of course). If your system can separate and present everything clearly, it’s quite an enchanting experience.
Approaching the 2:30 mark, a chirping, resonant synth fades in from the left, as the rest of the music fades out to the right. This part is another great test for your set-up, as it provides a bold and present sweep of sound that covers a very wide range of frequencies. This is followed by a main groove powered by a bass guitar drenched in enough enveloping filter effect to turn the head of any funk lover.
By Ainsley Walker
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