From the early days, when Black Sabbath pioneered the genre, to the emergence of extreme subgenres like death metal and black metal, there has always been an association of fear and horror with heavy metal. And thus, there’s an abundance of tracks to choose from when compiling a list of the scariest metal songs.
With lyrics that focus anywhere from the occult to death and destruction, some songs stand out among others as the most frightful. And for certain bands, freaking people out is their modus operandi. Hell, we could have easily comprised this entire list out of Cannibal Corpse songs.
Whether it’s the creepy music or the bloodcurdling lyrics, the baker’s dozen tracks below truly tingle our spines. Without further ado, here’s Heavy Consequence‘s list of The 13 Scariest Metal Songs.
13. Dimmu Borgir – “The Serpentine Offering”
The lead single from Dimmu Borgir’s concept album about a priest’s assistant turning to the devil, “The Serpentine Offering” is scariest because its brand of Satanism isn’t tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it’s relatable for those who have evil in their hearts: “My descent is the story of everyman/ I am hatred, darkness, and despair.” Of course, it’s musically eerie, as well. These experts of symphonic black metal have spent 25 years perfecting an occultist blend of dark metal and classical instrumentation.
Moment the Spine Tingles: When the choir comes in at 0:37.
12. Cradle of Filth – “Thirteen Autumns and a Widow”
From the opening keyboard choir melody, this Cradle of Filth track is equal parts epic and frightful. But when singer Dani Filth enters with a shriek over a death growl, “Thirteen Autumns and a Widow” announces itself as a Halloween classic. Sarah Jezebel Deva’s soaring soprano and haunting spoken-word accompaniment keep the shivers coming over seven minutes of goth-metal goodness.
Moment the Spine Tingles: At the 0:22 mark, when the vocal harmonies ascend behind that wicked shriek-growl combo.
11. Iron Maiden – “Fear of the Dark”
It’s not so much that you can expect this song to send shivers down your spine — the trademark Iron Maiden gallop will probably pump you up more than scare you. But “Fear of the Dark” makes this list because it presents an ideal opportunity to observe that universal feeling of being on-edge for reasons you can’t put our finger on. Spooky, indeed.
Moment the Spine Tingles: Bruce Dickinson sets the stage perfectly right off the bat when he sings about walking on a dark road alone at night — a direct but rich image that the vocalist elaborates on throughout over the verses that follow.
10. Septicflesh – “The Vampire from Nazareth”
Greek symphonic death metalists Septicflesh are masters of orchestral evil, but “The Vampire from Nazareth” is the epitome. Operatic vocals, swirling strings, crushing riffs, sinister melodies, and brilliant dynamics make this a monument of bloodcurdling metal.
Moment the Spine Tingles: At 1:07, when everything stops except a horn and bassist Spiros Antoniou growls, “THE NECTAR OF THE GODS!!!” (aka blood that’s baptizing a cross) right before a double-bass breakdown.
09. Slipknot – “Skin Ticket”
A Slipknot live performance is terrifying enough, faced as you are with a stage full of nightmare visions looking poised to disembowel anyone in the near vicinity as they rip out a particularly gristly industrial metal assault. Then they have to go and play songs like this one that sound like the last gasps of someone as their limbs are being torn asunder. The message that vocalist Corey Taylor sings may be one of internal distress, but everything about this song screams full on bloodletting.
Moment the Spine Tingles: The first hushed vocals from Taylor as he squeezes the mass of percussion and squeaking guitar noises like hot breath on the back of a victim’s neck.
— Robert Ham
08. Celtic Frost – “Danse Macabre”
Some things seem laughable in the daytime but then take on a completely different hue after the sun goes down. Basically a series of moans, groans and heavy breathing accompanied by tinkling ceremonial bells, ominous guitar wails, and dissonant sound effects, “Danse Macabre” nevertheless showcases how Celtic Frost were on their own creative trip even from this early stage. The sense you get from the music is of a demonic/Satanic ritual being performed by a person who grows progressively unhinged as the track advances (presumably, as evil spirits take possession). It sounds hilarious on paper and probably even more so in a party setting, but listen alone at night and you get a completely different result.
Moment the Spine Tingles: Towards the end of the track, as warped sound effects take over and frontman Tom Warrior’s vocalizations seem more and more tortured, the music recreates a near-psychedelic sensation of one’s mind melting away into an altered state of consciousness.
07. Testament – “Demonic Refusal”
Following a faint augmented synth chord, the countdown begins: “10…9…8…7…6…6…6…” Dive-bombing guitars and a pulverizing Gene Hoglan beat set the sonics for one of the deepest growls of Chuck Billy’s career, which intones, “You take my hand and sympathize/ You felt the flesh, you realized/ You took my will, now I’m deprived/ Save myself, just save myself.” Testament’s late-’90s foray into death metal featured plenty of sick riffs and sicker breakdowns, and this album’s exorcism theme perfectly fits its creepy sound.
Moment the Spine Tingles: Right after that last 6.
06. Rotting Christ (feat. Diamanda Galás) – “Orders From the Dead”
Written by and featuring Greek-American soprano singer and performance artist Diamanda Galás, “Orders from the Dead” is an absolutely chilling narrative of the Turkish genocide of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, and Helenic peoples. Over a hypnotic rhythm and Rotting Christ’s harmonized guitars, Galás alternates between English and Greek, speaking, chanting, and howling something between an incantation and a cursing of the heavens, recounting horrors of the past: “Our dead watched their daughters butchered, raped, and beaten/ In the still burning of those flames/ Our dead watched an ax remove their mother’s skull and crown a wooden spit.”
Moment the Spine Tingles: For all nine horrific minutes.
— Scott Morrow
05. Venom – “Buried Alive”
It’s the kind of scenario that can and should wake you up in a cold sweat: getting stuffed six feet or more underground with no way out. In other words, it’s the perfect subject matter for a song on Venom’s second album, Black Metal. The band drives home the point a little deeper by turning down the tempo into a slow, soupy grind that makes choice lyrics like “My bones are decayed/ My flesh it doth rot” a lot harder to turn away from.
Moment the Spine Tingles: Put a pair of headphones on and listen to the sounds of dirt being shoveled and deposited into a hole that kicks off this song.
04. Slayer – “Dead Skin Mask”
Slayer’s reputation for shock was well established when the thrash giants released their fifth album, Seasons in the Abyss, in 1990. By then a topical, even socially conscious perspective had set in, and along with it the band’s ability to portray evil got sharper and deeper. Perhaps the most genuinely horrifying song of Slayer’s career, the down-tempo “Dead Skin Mask” revisits the true story of serial murderer Ed Gein, whose penchant for human skin, mutilation, and making keepsakes out of severed body parts appears only indirectly in bassist Tom Araya’s lyrics.
Moment the Spine Tingles: At the beginning, Araya says in a flat, quiet monotone, “I won’t keep you for long… I’ll keep you forever,” barely hinting at the motivation behind the unspeakable acts the song references — a motivation one has no more understanding of after listening.
03. Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath”
It’s fitting that the terrifying edge of heavy metal starts all the way back at the beginning of the genre. The title track from the legendary Black Sabbath‘s debut album is arguably the first doom metal song, a chronicle of getting captured and tortured by witches in a dark rite. Satanism featured figuratively in the groups work, but this was the first time for a long time they would indulge in a pure horrific Satanic fantasy.
Moment the Spine Tingles: When Ozzy Osbourne, singing as the captured soul, lets out that horrific, pained scream. “Oh God, no…”
02. Death – “Zombie Ritual”
The late, great Chuck Schuldiner wasn’t one to hide behind a veil of metaphor or poetic language. The leader of metal legends Death didn’t mince words; he wanted to mince flesh. This track, from his band’s 1987 masterpiece, Scream Bloody Gore, is a perfect example. As he and drummer Chris Reifert stir up an unholy storm, Schuldiner screeches out some particularly unsettling visions, from “maggots for a cock” to the “f–king raping zombie whores.” Stomach-churning stuff.
Moment the Spine Tingles: The moment at about two minutes in when Schuldiner sings, “Drink from the goblet/ The goblet of gore,” stretching that last word out into fearful yelp.
01. Cannibal Corpse – “Hammer Smashed Face”
Of course, this song will always be remembered for its hilarious appearance in the 1994 Jim Carrey vehicle Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Yucks aside, the lyrics to “Hammer Smashed Face” can induce nausea even without visuals — which isn’t saying much coming from a band that made a career out of pushing the gore envelope to extremes. What sets “Hammer Smashed Face” apart, perhaps, is the believable sense of sadism that drives it. Original Cannibal Corpse vocalist Chris Barnes has been unabashed about his new age leanings for years, but back in the ‘90s he could deliver a horror lyric with uncompromising conviction.
Moment the Spine Tingles: “Through my anatomy,” Barnes grunts, “dwells another being/ Rooted in my cortex/ A servant to its bidding” — a goosebump-inducing suggestion of a malevolent, sentient force inhabiting the narrator’s body.