A song for a Halloween playlist

What song captures the energy of Halloween most of all?

Ozzie Moule
31st October 2021

Surprisingly enough, the main theme for the 1978 slasher classic, ‘Halloween’, is a pretty good song for Halloween, the holiday that is. John Carpenter, both the director and composer of Halloween, was able to construct a cold, menacing soundscape that communicated only one thing to the hapless listener: terror.

The shrill high notes of Carpenter’s piano and the irregular 5/4 timing combine to form an atmosphere of dread unmatched by any horror score - even to this day. Needless to say, it’s a bonafide classic. But redefining a classic isn’t easy. Redefining something as instantly recognisable as the Halloween theme is even harder.

It takes a special kind of genius to do so. Luckily, we’ve been blessed with two geniuses: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, or better known as the gentlemen behind Nine Inch Nails. Although primarily a head-banging, god-denouncing, keyboard-smashing industrial metal band, Nine Inch Nails has explored a wide variety of sounds, and Reznor’s and Ross’ iteration of the classic theme draws upon the dark yet understated ambient sounds found in the Fragile (1999) and Ghosts I-IV (2008).

A sense of progressing dread manifests within the listener, keeping them locked in, entranced by the chilling timbre.

The first minute consists of what I can only describe as ‘spooky noises’ (technical term), before a dissonant chord shatters the tense atmosphere that had been steadily growing. After comes a series of pleasant sounding chords, which wouldn’t sound amiss in one of Reznor’s other soundtracks, such as The Social Network. In this context however, the dissonance between the soft plucks of the piano strings and the other ‘spooky noises’ only heighten the unease.

From then, the duo use Carpenter’s main piano riff as a framework to build their own sound upon. Through introducing various sounds and textures throughout the course of the song, a sense of progressing dread manifests within the listener, keeping them locked in, entranced by the chilling timbre of the music.

The entire song builds up to an exciting climax; after roughly 6 minutes, the tempo starts to pick up, and you can really hear the Nine Inch Nails side of Reznor and Ross kick in. Thumping drums and rolling synths slowly fade in, bringing all the harsh noise one would expect from an industrial rock track, all set to Carpenter’s original and iconic theme.

Not something that would sound out of place on a goth night in any alternative club, the last 2 minutes of this track provide a sense of cathartic release after all the creepiness that preceded. This track will have you looking over your shoulder at the beginning, and headbanging by the end.

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