Monday, October 26, 2009

In Honor of Halloween: Horror Concept Albums

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I have never been able to fully explain why, perhaps it is my fascination with things that are dark and disturbing (witness: my love of heavy metal and horror movies). Indeed, I believe it started with my fascination with horror movies as a kid. Of course, around Halloween, horror movies are shown all the time. I spent most of the weekend flipping channels between SyFy (Flu Bird Horror, Splinter, Snakehead Terror (which my fiancee lovingly recorded for me, thanks baby) and other atrocious films) and AMC's Fearfest (Return of the Living Dead, Alien movies, Dracula, etc.). I will probably watch over a dozen horror movies over the course of the week leading up to Halloween. Not all of them will be good, in fact the majority will not. Bad horror movies are almost as much fun as good horror movies I have found.

Where does that leave us here? Well, heavy metal has often found a way to deal with horror in its lyrical themes. Death metal is sometimes about slashers or zombies or some other such thing, black metal deals with the occult, even groups like Metallica and Iron Maiden have fashioned songs about horror subject matter. Sometimes, bands will choose to record entire albums devoted to horror. As seen yesterday, this may take the form of a tribute album to horror movie monsters. Other times, in a far more creative way, bands will formulate their album ideas around one central theme and essentially write their own horror story in the form of an album.

These concept albums are the topic of discussion here. I'm going to look at several such albums and explain what the storyline is. I will not look at the master of concept horror albums, King Diamond, choosing instead to devote an entire post to him alone.

Cradle of Filth probably deserve their own post as well, but I decided to not drag this out too much. The topic of discussion this time around is vampires, although they are often not mentioned by name. Most of the references are heavily inspired by gothic literature, a staple in Cradle of Filth's lyrics.

The band's sound is a little closer to gothic metal than the black metal that was heavily present on their previous works. This album deals mostly with the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, even featuring guest narration by Ingrid Pitt who portrayed the Countess in an old horror movie by Hammer films about her. Bathory, it is said, bathed in the blood of young virgin girls to remain youthful and was convicted for the murder of 80 people, with some estimates closer to 600. She is one of the inspirations for Dracula.

See what I mean? I am not even discussing a couple of the concept albums by this band. Midian is inspired by Clive Barker's novella Cabal, in which a man seeks answers to why he is drawn to a mythical city beneath a cemetary and the dark creatures that inhabit it. It's complicated, but it's typical for Barker stories.

Not a concept album per se, but all of the songs revolve around the theme of being able to see into the future and other psychic abilities.

This should be self-explanatory. Macabre, an early death metal/goregrind band, created this album based entirely around the life of Jeffrey Dahmer, noted serial murderer. It begins when Dahmer is a young man and extends to the controversy about what to do with the deceased Dahmer's brain. It's strange, unnerving, occasionally humorous, and utterly in bad taste. It's perfect for Macabre.

This album by progressive power/thrash metal band Nevermore is supposedly based on Warrel Dane's own experiences. Supposedly, Dane had a girlfriend who left to join a religious cult, who he never heard from again. However, Dane had dreams of her reaching out and screaming for help from him as she drowned. The album takes this backdrop and features a man descending into insanity after his girlfriend dies.

Opeth is another band that has made a career out of doing elaborate concept albums. The storyline of this album revolves around a man who has died and become a ghost. The ghost becomes agitated when he starts to believe that his girlfriend did not genuinely grieve when he died. The girlfriend feels his presence and refuses to accept that he actually has passed.

This is a rather simple concept album. Opeth depicts a man in constant turmoil after he killed his own mother.

This album is based on the movie Re-Animator starring the immortal Jeffrey Combs, in which a young doctor has discovered how to raise the dead. The movie is loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft story along the same storyline. The album sticks closer to the cheesy movie, although it is significantly more serious.

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