While plenty of music has been written that incorporates horror and the occult, music has played a rather reserved role in horror fiction.

Until now.

Authors have unleashed an invasion of music-related horror stories in recent years. The results have been satisfyingly diverse, representing characters from a variety of backgrounds and music from all kinds of genres. Let me share some examples.

In Signal to Noise (2015) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a teenager in Mexico City learns to cast spells using music from vinyl records. Years later, after having turned her back on that world, she returns home for her estranged father’s funeral and confronts the truth from her past.

A British band retreats to an old mansion to record what they hope to be their greatest album in Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015). Unfortunately, their endeavor comes at a terrible cost: the disappearance of their lead singer. In the Rashomon-like recounting of events by each character, the mystery grows increasingly strange.

Victor LaValle cleverly uses the Cthulhu mythos to subvert Lovecraft’s racism in The Ballad of Black Tom (2016). Based on Lovecraft’s tale “The Horror at Red Hook,” a guitarist uncovers an occult world in Jazz Age Harlem and uses otherworldly powers to get revenge.

In Angels of Music (2016), Kim Newman revisits The Phantom of the Opera—only the reclusive maestro Erik now runs a secret detective agency, recruiting divas to investigate mysterious crimes. As one reader put it, the novel delivers “a delicious cauldron of vampires, living dolls, Grand Guignol, witchery, and bloodthirsty villains.”

The saxophone of a bluesman conjures monstrosities from other dimensions in Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet (2017). Chased by horrors and cultists, the musician tries to flee from the nightmare, then stumbles on a runaway girl who also harbors something dangerous within her.

Alexia Gordon has written a series of novels featuring an African American classical musician who gets caught up in supernatural murder mysteries. In Death in D Minor (2017), she accidentally conjures a ghost at a party while visiting an Irish village and ends up being the prime suspect in the host’s murder.

Chuck Wendig gives us a decadent rock star who joins forces with others, including an epidemic of sleepwalkers, to confront an apocalyptic America in Wanderers (2019). As the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence across the country, the real danger may not be the epidemic but what the fear of it produces.

As a musician and author, I have a special interest in the intersection of music and horror. In fact, I’ve been pairing both in much of my fiction—and not just as part of the story. I enjoy creating meta-levels where music from the stories exists in the real world. In my latest novel, Shockadelica, two horror podcasters—drag artist Kendall Akande and best friend Jenna Chen—share a passion for art, fashion, and horror. When they learn their apartment building might be haunted, they see an opportunity for an entertaining podcast episode. But as they investigate further with the help of their quirky neighbors, they uncover something far more sinister. One of the characters, an intimidating musician known as the Bone Man with tattoos of serial killers, writes music on dark themes. You can find his album Box of Bones on streaming sites. Music also plays a pivotal role in the story’s climax. It’s not only for background and atmosphere.

These examples are just a sample of the available stories and the diverse voices creating these works. Whether you like your horror Lovecraftian, tongue-in-cheek, psychological, or graphic—and whether you enjoy blues, jazz, classical, rock, death metal, rap, pop, or whatever—there is something for all tastes. I’ve compiled a list of Horror Stories Involving Music at Song of Fire.

Enjoy the concert. But, please, save your screaming until the end.

Jon O’Bergh

Jon O’Bergh


Jon O’Bergh is an author and musician who appreciates a good scare. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of California at Irvine. He has published five books and released over a dozen albums in a variety of styles, including the atmospheric album Ghost Story. His latest horror novel Shockadelica is available from online retailers. After many years living in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Jon now spends his time with his husband in Toronto.

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