For most people, Halloween means donning costumes and getting into character in order to escape their normal personas, flex dormant thespian skills, and act a fool at parties—to "have fun." It's a most curious phenomenon for a supposedly spooky holiday, but it's a tradition that has legs—albeit wobbly ones.
For more morbid types, though, Halloween provides a sanctioned context in which to indulge one's scariest, most macabre urges. Such malignant souls could use an aptly disturbing soundtrack. Below, we've plumbed the city's dankest realms to scrounge up five Seattle acts that put the "low" in "Halloween." Careful—we're way past the hoary kitsch of "Monster Mash."
Personnel: Stan Reed, Wm. Rage
What's so scary about the name? It scrambles the monikers of primordial heavy-metal monsters Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, promising lifelong tinnitus.
Most supernatural/spookiest thing that's happened to them? [Answering collectively] "Last time we played on Halloween, some people actually came out and saw us play."
What draws them to the dark side? "The hate! Pure negative bliss!"
Most unusual Halloween experience? "Last time we played Halloween was at the Vera, and we couldn't smoke pot while there. Spooky or unusual? You decide."
Costume for this year? "Bog wraith."
Why their music makes you clench your sphincter in fear: As you'd expect from the name, Blue Sabbath Black Cheer traffic in cacophony and guzzle bile for nourishment (it's on their rider). Their gnarled soundscapes and pitiless atmospheres suggest a world devastated by (un)natural and mechanical horrors. BSBC are the sort of guys who'd consider the Eraserhead soundtrack too saccharine and Muzak-y for their calloused ears. Cochlea flambé, anyone?
Personnel: Dave Abramson, Steve Schmitt, Simon Henneman, Sam Wambach
What's so scary about the name? It conjures images of amputation, atrophy, and shrinkage.
Most supernatural/spookiest thing that's happened to them? Abramson: "While onstage at some speakeasy joint, Steve was shocked by an exposed electrical cable, which forced him to throw his guitar to the floor. At that same moment, the electricity starting swapping the guitar and bass signals, weaving them in and out of each other's amps, leaving trails of reverb on one side of the room, then the other—back and forth, back and forth, for a full minute. How is this even possible? I don't know. Pure magick. Also, just a few weeks ago on tour, we were down in New Mexico and we saw a UFO."
What draws them to the dark side? "In case you've been too preoccupied, America is a very dark place. We're an American band."
Most unusual Halloween experience? "In 1997, three friends and I found a dead body while surfing in Point Pleasant, New Jersey."
Costume for this year? "Simon's gonna be Max Cady. I'm not sure about the rest of us."
Why their music makes you clench your sphincter in fear: Diminished Men's new album, Shadow Instrumentals (Abduction Records), partially draws on the fantastical Italian horror-flick genre known as giallo for sonic inspiration. The band's jagged, hard-charging, reverbed riffing evokes images of slit jugulars and accelerated heart rates, all the while swathing you in a velvety claustrophobia. If soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone became possessed by guitarists Duane Eddy and Cliff Richard, and then the three cut a record in a Roma mansion spattered with ectoplasm, it would sound like the new Diminished Men opus.
Personnel: Anders Covert, Rachel LeBlanc, Nathan Donnel
What's so scary about the name? It's a Teutonic bastardization of werewolf ("Wehr" means "defense" in German).
Most supernatural/spookiest thing that's happened to them? [Answering collectively] "About a week ago... we were tracking Anders's electric guitar for our next album, Interstellar Spaceports Lost, in the attic of this huge building built in 1884 [that was] once an asylum. Rachel, Anders, and [producer] Jason Smothers of Are you a cat? discovered the door to the room of the attic—which had no doorknob but a latch—had closed while Anders was recording for 'Pictures of Dreams Make Us Scream,' locking us inside. None of our roommates would answer their phones, and the roommates we could hear three stories down outside the window couldn't perceive our situation despite our shouts. The room is plastered with rotten, peeling gold-leaf wallpaper from some decadent time past, but the acoustics are great. Then before things got any more X-Files, Anders, going MacGyver on us, picked up a random zip tie from the dusty floor, folded it in half, and stuck it in the ancient square hole of the latch where the knob belonged; [he was] able to turn it [and] we were free. None of us know how the door closed—Jason had propped it open with a bag so it wouldn't slam and ruin the session. The attic space is currently in the process of being renovated into Jason's recording studio, and we're right next to the huge radio towers at the top of Capitol Hill, so we've been picking up strange transient signals. Maybe we'll build a Faraday cage to redistribute the electrons, disrupting the radio signals inside. We'll be recording in the attic through December; this may be a developing story."
What draws them to the dark side? "Love. Light. Logic. Extradimensional beings. Heliophysics. Particle accelerators. Quantum computers. The technological singularity. Nibiru. Mythopoetics. Feedback loops. Philip K. Dick. Accelerating change. In essence, all roads lead anywhere."
Most unusual Halloween experience? "There's too many to explain; the movie would be rated at least an R due to sex, drugs, and you know. We could start with Anders once being a pirate zombie wench, and Rachel his fur-coat and cane-, fuzzy-hat-havin' pimp."
Costume for this year? "We've hardly had time to think of it. However, we do wear costumes at all our shows, so it comes naturally."
Why their music makes you clench your sphincter in fear: The unknown is often inherently scary; Wehrwolve explore mostly uncharted aural territory, reveling in esoteric, ritualistic sounds that whisper and chant of realms that are aeons beyond milquetoasty indie rock and cozy folk strum-alongs. By contrast, Wehrwolve craft paganistic excursions informed by drone, electronics, and chance operations. Where are they going with this music? Hard to say, but it's exhilaratingly unsettling.
Personnel: Pete Capponi, Adam Svenson, Eric Markusic
What's so scary about the name? It means "cursed rabbit" in pidgin German. "Hexen" is also the name of a first-person-shooter video game. Yow.
Most supernatural/spookiest thing that's happened to them? Capponi: "Our recording sessions take place in a bog way up in the mountains. The last time we were up there, we got followed out of the pass by a huge murder of crows. We were able to outrun them for the meantime, but every time any one of us goes outside, there's crows all over the wires and up in the trees outside our respective homes. They don't make any sound. They just sit and watch... and breathe."
What draws them to the dark side? "Philly Boy Roy archives; the drinks at Perry Ko's (RIP) and Lemieux's (RIP) used to get me to the dark side on the regular; watching [bandmate] Adam sleep."
Most unusual Halloween experience? "One year I dressed up like a junkie librarian and went to a party. At the end of the night, a hot babe in pigtails and a dress with cherries all over it walked up and asked me if I wanted to 'go home with a 13-year-old tonight.' Walking home at 8:00 a.m. in knee-highs and a miniskirt when it's 34 degrees out is no fun."
Costume for this year? "I'm gonna be Captain Lou Albano, in tribute to my recently deceased hero. Should be pretty scary."
Why their music makes you clench your sphincter in fear: Du Hexen Hase rummage around the sound spectrum's more extreme, desolate crevices for their long, free-form excursions. Pretty much every second of their recordings comes through the speakers grotesquely molested for maximum disorientation, provocation, and hypnosis. Listening to DHH, you sense something has gone terribly awry, but not in the ways that Hollywood movies cue you to think. No, these weirdoes are much more devious and demonic than that. An extra pair of underwear is advised.
Personnel: Michael Sauder, Samuel Yoder, Nicholas Davis
What's so scary about the name? "Geist" means "ghost," "mind," or "spirit" in German; German clearly is a terrifying tongue.
Most supernatural/spookiest thing that's happened to them? Sauder: "It always comes as a surprise to me when people say the music I create is scary. I mean, what is so scary about building a strong spirit and exploring unknown realms and accepting them for what they are?"
What draws them to the dark side? "I don't think I'm drawn to the dark side or the bright side of existence; I'm drawn to finding the truths of the spiritual and physical world, and wherever that takes me, that's where I go. The word 'Geist,' when translated to English, literally means 'spirit,' 'mind,' and 'ghost'—which happens to be the three realms I touch base on when writing music for this project. If you're going to create something, make sure it has meaning and is relevant to the world around us. I grow so tired of hearing the same songs about love and heartbreak, when there is more to life than just that."
Most unusual Halloween experience? "I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a strong Christian upbringing, so I didn't celebrate Halloween as a child. I guess you could say not having Halloween as a child is unusual."
Why their music makes you clench your sphincter in fear: There's a slightly sinister Wicker Man vibe to Geist & the Sacred Ensemble's compositions, a tribal, primitive aura that can send ripples of unease through urbanized citizens who are detached from their roots. Geist are the least overtly frightening artist here, but they're clearly in touch with the spirit world, and that's innately eerie. They surely can give you the Ouija-jeebies.