Traditional instruments can certainly create creepy music. Still, there’s something about the artificial nature of synthesizers that lends itself to telling scary stories through sound. Many composers that gravitate towards the device also gravitate towards the realm of horror—possibly because they absorbed the groundbreaking soundtrack work of John Carpenter and Goblin, or possibly because both things appeal to outsiders. Whatever the reason, you can find a plethora of imaginary soundtracks, concept albums, and occult hymns with one goal in mind: ruining the listener’s sleep. Here are some of the best synth artists that are focused on freaking you out.
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll
As former editor-in-chief of Fangoria magazine and a filmmaker with a bunch of movies that contain the word “blood” in the title, Chris Alexander knows a thing or two about horror. His latest album, named in the ornate tradition of Italian giallo horror films (The Perfume of the Lady in Black, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The Black Belly of the Tarantula), follows a couple of solo releases and several soundtracks. Befitting Alexander’s experience, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll builds suspense in a variety of ways. From Carpenter-esque minimal synth pieces like “Paranoiac” to unsettling field recordings like “High Bright Sun,” Alexander stays consistent to his overall tone while shining a light through different aspects of fear.
Anomaly on Meadow Lane
Anomaly on Meadow Lane supposedly consists of lost tapes from a reclusive pulp author, but most likely it’s ambient/electronic musician Stephen Buckley (aka Polypores) having fun in Lovecraft country. Whether it’s Buckley or “Bachmeier,” he uses a repetitive Tangerine Dream-style kosmische approach that separates this from the usual John Carpenter worship (not that Carpenter’s not a fine deity to venerate). It creates a weird, subconsciously disturbing mood through the otherworldly sequencers and repeated motifs. Synthesizer sounds aren’t found in nature; this mysterious musician makes it seem like they’re from another dimension entirely.
Songs of Scars
The enigmatic dungeon synth artist Erang mostly haunts medieval catacombs, but he occasionally emerges to pay homage to the horrors of the modern age. A continuation of the Anti Future album cycle, Songs of Scars relocates his setting, themes, and characters to an alternate future of his epic fantasy universe, reborn through the lens of King, Cronenberg, and Carpenter, chock full of creepy vibes and old-school synthesizer tones. In context, it’s an impressive reimagining; out of context, it’ll still have you glancing over your shoulder at night.
The Dark Beyond
Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)
Gregorio Franco understands that there’s nothing more terrifying than man’s insignificance within the vastness of the cosmos. The Dark Beyond takes the listener where no one can hear them scream. Franco’s harder-edged synthwave takes a more aggressive approach to evoking fear, going for more of a visceral reaction than a psychological one as he attacks from all sides. Of course, he knows when to dial it back with more atmospheric pieces and let the void speak for itself. It doesn’t say anything comforting.
The Infernal Schism
Compact Disc (CD)
Hexenkraft claims to hail from Hell, Michigan, and he seems to love death metal and the soundtrack to the video game DOOM. This neon demon slams together screaming guitar, chiptunes, and primitive-feeling synth plug-ins, making this EP feel like the soundtrack to a DOS game from the Stygian depths. As with a lot of other artists in this style, he seems fascinated by the intersection between the occult and technology, and he summons the devil at those crossroads. The Infernal Schism ticks all the boxes. It’s retro. It’s evil. It has a cover model an outer space Marine wouldn’t want to face, even armed with a BFG-9000.
Beware of the Humans
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
This Spanish producer doesn’t have to look far to find a subject: Beware of the Humans posits that the sum of all fears looks very much like us. No rubber monsters, no eldritch terrors, no masked murderers; just people. Although it can be hard to tell that he’s specifically taking aim at mankind without looking at the song titles, this pulsating dark synth certainly captures a sense of dread about something. “Nation of Trash” and the blunt “Warfare” leave little illusion as to where the real threat lies.
Occult 87 acts as the Stranger Things 2 to Occult 86’s first season, picking up the tale one year later. It follows an attempt by a mysterious cult to control the populace using music. Sure, why not? Even though it only comes a year later, 87 feels much more polished, no doubt helped by the artist’s prolific output. Occams Laser advances the narrative through both voiceover and some unobtrusive vocals over the Perturbator-style synthwave, but considering that he tackled Dante’s entire Divine Comedy in synth form, he knows how to tell a story.
Not actually an original soundtrack recording, Orgy of the Vampires is the latest imaginary score from Anders Manga. Better known as the driving force behind occult rockers Bloody Hammers, Manga has been putting out solo darkwave recordings since 2004. Terrortron is his fake soundtrack side project, and he brings a real appreciation for goofy grindhouse schlock to the proceedings. He gets to indulge here in a way that he doesn’t always let himself in his rock outfit. Just listen to “Feast on the Priests” for some spine-tingling fun. Elvira would approve.
Like pumpkin spiced flavoring, a new Halloween release from VHS Glitch has become an annual tradition. He’s been cranking them out for the last four years, and the last two, Roboror and Demoniac, are the strongest yet. Roboror is more for fans of killing technology, a claustrophobic sci-fi horror piece evoking the terror of hiding from homicidal robots in a nightmarish cyberpunk complex a la Death Machine or Hardware. Demoniac appeals to those who like jamming with Baphomet, painting pentagrams with guitars and organ tones. Two different flavors of terror; both delicious.