Horror punk (sometimes referred to as horror rock) is a subgenre of punk rock comprised of a cocktail of proto-gothic and punk rock sounds, peppered with morbid and violent imagery and lyrics, which are often influenced by horror films or science fiction B-movies, comics, and pop culture’s obsession with the macabre. It’s lyrics often reference horror film antagonists like werewolves and vampires, but also much more violent material such as serial killers and gravediggers.
The genre is similar to and sometimes overlaps with psychobilly and deathrock due to their common punk influence, and the similarity of their horror topics. Deathrock leans more towards an atmospheric gothic-rock sound, while horror punk leans towards a 1950s-influenced doo-wop and rockabilly sound. Horror punk is typically more aggressive and melodic than deathrock. Many horror punk outfits do mix these genres in their own sounds, making the distinction even more blurred at times.
The deciding differences are that in contrast with Deathrock, Horror Punk is directly influenced by that authentic punk sound resulting in stronger, faster tempos; not to mention the fifties influences and campy tone, in contrast to deathrock’s morose melodies. The difference between horror punk and psychobilly is that the latter tends to have a more fifties influenced sound, while horror punk is deeply rooted in punk rock.
So who’s really responsible for the horror punk movement? Once traditional rock n’ roll was in full swing in the ’50s, an elite breed of daring musicians craving a darker sound consciously incorporated horror tropes into their recordings and live performances. From those scare-raisers came entire genres immersed in the traditions of terror: shock rock, heavy metal, goth, industrial, and numerous subgenres of punk.
Glenn Danzig has scorched a deep, cloven-hoofed path through rock and roll history as the master hardcore horror-punk all-time greatest, the Misfits, the sultan of blues-metal beasts Samhain, and the diabolical overlord of the still-raging wrecking-ball-of-evil outfit that bears his own name, Danzig. The Misfits and Glenn Danzig are recognized as the progenitors of horror punk. Bands like The Undead (founded by ex-Misfits guitarist, Bobby Steele), Screaming Dead, The Damned, The Cramps (who coined the term “psychobilly”), T.S.O.L, 45 Grave and Rosemary’s Babies also be considered old-school horror punk bands. The Misfits and Danzig later parted ways and Michale Graves was introduced as the new vocalist (1995-2000), who brought the band’s 50’s doo-wop influence to the forefront with singles like “Saturday Night”. Graves still carries the horror punk torch with his own solo project, playing Misfits hits from his era, as well as his independent writings. Graves is one of the most dynamic vocalists in horror punk, in this writer’s opinion.
The Misfits: Origin
Originally from New Jersey, The Misfits was formed by Jerry Only and Glen Danzig in the late 1970s, during a time when punk rock was just figuring itself out. In the band’s early years, their sound was frightening, fast, exciting, thunderously loud, and shows got violent. But the image of the band also struck a chord with people: they looked like buff, pale, zombies wearing corpse paint and a lock of long hair hanging down in the front — a style that would be coined “the devil lock”.
The first two albums are seminal and a must-have for any fan of punk: short powerful songs about space aliens, zombies, werewolves, vampires and other monsters. The music was amped-up hardcore punk mixed with ’50s pop music and the majestic Elvis-like vocal range of Danzig. Unfortunately, this line up never remained and the band eventually dissolved with Danzig and bassist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein going their separate ways. Danzig and Doyle over the years have battled out in court over legal rights to the use of the band’s Iconic skull logo, namesake and merchandise. Despite that, bassist Jerry Only keeps his version of the Misfits going strong, with which fans have a love/hate relationship. In all, the Misfits remain the undisputed kings of horror punk, and the band has influenced generations of heavy metal and punk bands, everyone from AFI to Metallica.
Doyle also carries his torch in the scene through his later band, Gorgeous Frankenstein, and now his solo project, expertly titled, “Doyle”. He even developed his own 100% vegan “Made in Hell Hot Sauce”, as he’s a strong advocate for health and the vegan lifestyle. Danzig tours less and less, but has done a number of “Danzig Legacy” shows with Doyle, wherein they play a “Danzig” set peppered with Misfits hits from his reign as the horror punk vocalist overlord.
Horror Punk Style
Another detail that sets horror punk away from other genre of post-punk is its signature style. Major style influences of horror punk tend to stem from traditional punk rock fashion including leather jackets with tons of patches, pins, and custom artwork, Doc Martens, and variations on the classic Mohawk. Fifties and Rockabilly styles can also find their way into the look, often incorporated fifties shoes, blazers, blouses and hair. The Misfits’ aforementioned “Devil Lock”; is a signature for many psychobilly and horror punk styles. Lastly, you can’t forget inspiration from zombies and other horror film creatures like vampires or witches, and that classic skull face paint.
Now that you’ve got the rundown on Horror Punk, we’ve got only one question for you: Mommy, can I go out and kill tonight?