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Horror Punk Bands – What Is Horror Punk?

Photograph of the blog post author, Simon Green

Simon Green

23.5.2023

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There are many wondrous genres in the music world that you may not have even heard of. Some are so niche that you might not even think they exist – one of these is horror punk.
What is Horror Punk?
The world of rock is incredibly expansive, with almost every band creating their own specific type of music. But unlike some other music genres, horror punk is not just about the music—it’s an entire subculture that encompasses a distinct fashion, aesthetics, and lifestyle. For those unfamiliar with this dark and fascinating world, this article aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to horror punk, its history, key elements, and its influence on popular culture.

What Is Horror Punk?

Horror punk fashion
Horror punk is a music genre that combines the raw energy of punk rock with dark and macabre themes inspired by horror films, literature, and art. It features a distinctive blend of aggressive guitars, driving rhythms, and haunting melodies. The music is also often accompanied by lyrics that explore themes of death, fear, and the supernatural. In addition to its musical elements, horror punk is a subculture that encompasses a unique fashion style, often featuring dark clothing, makeup, and accessories that pay homage to classic horror icons. Fans of horror punk are drawn to the genre not just for its music but also for the sense of belonging and camaraderie that comes from sharing a passion for all things dark and spooky. The term “horror punk” is sometimes used interchangeably with “deathrock,” a similar genre that emerged around the same time but with a more gothic and atmospheric sound. While there is some overlap between the two genres, horror punk tends to be more aggressive and rawer, with a greater emphasis on punk rock elements.

A Brief History Of Horror Punk

Live shows, as displayed in the image, are an important part of the wider rock subculture.
The roots of horror punk trace back to the late 1970s when punk rock was still in its infancy. Bands like The Damned and The Cramps were among the first to incorporate horror elements into their music and image, blending punk’s rebellious spirit with a love for classic horror films and Gothic literature. However, the emergence of the Misfits in the late 1970s truly defined the horror punk genre. Led by singer Glenn Danzig, the Misfits combined aggressive punk rock with catchy melodies and dark, horror-themed lyrics inspired by B-movies and comic books. Their iconic skull logo and penchant for wearing ghoulish makeup and costumes helped to establish the visual aesthetic that would become synonymous with horror punk. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, horror punk continued to evolve and diversify, with bands like Samhain, T.S.O.L., and 45 Grave further exploring the genre’s dark themes and incorporating post-punk, gothic rock, and psychobilly elements. During this time, horror punk also began to spread beyond the United States, with bands like The Meteors in the United Kingdom and Calabrese in Italy contributing to its international growth.

Characteristics Of Horror Punk

A photo displaying an example of alternative fashion.
Despite being a relatively small genre, horror punk still has some recognisable characteristics that are noticeable from band to band. The most obvious is the violent imagery in the artwork and lyrics. The horror influence ushers this in – songs are often about murder, death, and science-fiction monsters like zombies or other living dead icons. Musically, horror punk typically features a raw, aggressive sound, with fast tempos, distorted guitars, and driving rhythms that evoke the energy and spirit of classic punk rock. At the same time, it often incorporates catchy melodies and anthemic choruses that give it a more accessible and melodic quality. In terms of aesthetics, horror punk displays heavy influences from the visual style of classic horror movies, particularly those from the 1950s and 1960s. This is evident in the makeup, costumes, and stage props used by horror punk bands, and in the artwork and imagery associated with their music. Common visual motifs include skeletons, skulls, zombies, and other ghoulish figures, often depicted in a campy, cartoonish style that adds an element of dark humour to the genre.

Horror Punk Fashion and Subculture

One of the defining features of horror punk is its distinctive fashion style, which blends punk rock and horror themes to create a unique and recognizable look. This often includes dark clothing, leather jackets, studded belts and bracelets, heavy boots, and makeup and accessories that pay homage to classic horror icons like vampires, zombies, and skeletons. In addition to its fashion elements, horror punk is a subculture that encompasses a distinct lifestyle and set of values. Fans of horror punk are often drawn to the genre’s rebellious spirit and its celebration of all things dark and macabre. This sense of community and belonging is reflected in horror punk’s many fan clubs, online communities, and festivals, which offer fans a chance to connect with others who share their passion for the genre.

The Top Horror Punk Bands

Misfits

Horror punk band Misfits
Misfits formed in New Jersey in 1977. One of the original horror punk artists, the band incorporate horror-themed lyrics, fast-paced music, and a distinctive image. The band’s early years were marked by their DIY approach to music, with frontman Glenn Danzig recording and releasing their first single, “Cough/Cool”, in 1977. Their debut album, “Walk Among Us”, was released in 1982, and it quickly became a cult classic among punk rock fans. The album includes some of the band’s most popular songs, such as “Astro Zombies,” “Skulls,” and “I Turned into a Martian.” Misfits’ image was just as important as their music, with the band members donning black leather jackets, “devilock” hairstyles, and skull makeup. Horror movies heavily influenced their image, and their lyrics often referenced classic horror themes such as zombies, vampires, and werewolves. Misfits have had a significant impact on punk rock and heavy metal music. Their influence can even be heard in the music of legendary bands such as Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Green Day. The band’s iconic skull logo has also become a cultural phenomenon, appearing on everything from t-shirts to tattoos. Best song: Die, Die My Darling
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czIGGIifxg0

The Cramps

Horror punk band The Cramps
The Cramps were an American punk rock band formed in 1976. They were famous for their wild and raunchy performances, often featuring lead singer Lux Interior writhing on the floor and guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach unleashing fierce riffs. The band’s music was a unique blend of punk, rockabilly, and garage rock, with lyrics that explored themes of sex, horror, and the supernatural. Their debut album, “Songs the Lord Taught Us,” was released in 1980 and featured classics like “Human Fly” and “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” Throughout their career, The Cramps released several influential albums, including “Psychedelic Jungle,” “Smell of Female,” and “Stay Sick!” They also gained a reputation for electrifying live shows, often notable for elaborate costumes and props. Despite their success, The Cramps remained a cult favourite throughout their career, never quite breaking into the mainstream. However, their influence is evident in the music of countless punk and garage rock bands that followed in their wake. Tragically, Lux Interior passed away in 2009, ending The Cramps’ long and storied career. However, their music and legacy continue to inspire new generations of musicians and fans. Best song: Human Fly
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TR6QuOj-Gw

Murderdolls

Horror punk band Murderdolls
Murderdolls formed in 2002, with band members including Joey Jordison, the drummer of Slipknot, and Wednesday 13, the former lead singer of Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13. The band’s lineup also included guitarist Tripp Eisen, bassist Eric Griffin, and drummer Ben Graves. The band released their debut album, “Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls,” in 2002. Initially receiving mixed reviews from the music press, it gained a cult following among horror-themed music fans and helped to establish the band’s unique style. Heavy guitar riffs, catchy choruses, and horror-themed lyrics characterised Murderdolls’ music. Their live shows were also known for their theatricality, with the band members often wearing makeup and costumes inspired by horror films. After the release of their debut album, the band went on hiatus while Joey Jordison focused on his work with Slipknot. Murderdolls reunited in 2010, releasing their second album, “Women and Children Last”. However, this album would be the band’s last, with Jordison tragically dying in 2021 at just 46 years of age. Best song: Dead In Hollywood
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7d44j9xXKo

AFI

Horror punk band AFI
Credit: Travis Delgado
AFI, short for A Fire Inside, is an American rock band that formed in 1991 in Ukiah, California. Despite starting out as a hardcore punk band and, in more recent years, transitioning to an alternative rock/post-hardcore band, the middle years of the band’s career were definitively horror punk. One of the defining features of AFI’s music is the distinctive vocals of frontman Davey Havok. His soaring, emotive voice is often compared to that of Morrissey or Robert Smith. Aside from their music, AFI are also famous for their striking visual aesthetic. Havok’s gothic-inspired fashion sense and the band’s use of dark imagery in their music videos and album art have made them a favourite among the alternative crowd. AFI has been active for over 30 years and has released 11 studio albums to date. They have won several awards, including a VMA for Best Art Direction for their music video “Miss Murder.” They continue to tour and release new music, with their most recent album, “Bodies,” released in 2021. Their blend of punk, gothic, and post-hardcore influences, along with their striking visual style, has seen them carve out a unique niche in the rock scene. Best song: The Days of the Phoenix
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Snfy0pMzEuE

Alkaline Trio

Horror Punk band Alkaline Trio
Alkaline Trio is a punk rock band from Chicago, Illinois. The band consists of Matt Skiba (vocals, guitar), Dan Andriano (vocals, bass), and Derek Grant (drums). Alkaline Trio’s music features dark and often macabre lyrics, which explore themes such as love, death, and addiction. The band’s sound is a mix of punk rock, pop punk, and emo, with influences ranging from the Misfits to Jawbreaker. The band released their debut album, “Goddamnit,” in 1998, which gained them a cult following in the punk rock scene. They have since gone on to release several more albums, including “From Here to Infirmary” (2001), “Good Mourning” (2003), and “Crimson” (2005), all receiving critical acclaim and helping to establish Alkaline Trio as one of the leading bands in the punk rock genre. In addition to their music, Alkaline Trio are also famous for their distinctive imagery, which often features skulls, hearts, and other dark and gothic symbols. The band are also popular for their live performances, which are high in energy and intensity. Best song: We’ve Had Enough
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jivhL27QdoY

Conclusion: The Lasting Legacy of Horror Punk

From its origins in the late 1970s to its current resurgence in popularity, horror punk has endured as a powerful and influential subculture. Its impact on popular culture has been significant, inspiring countless new bands, filmmakers, and artists across multiple genres. Furthermore, its legacy continues to evolve and inspire new generations of fans and creators. Whether you’re a diehard horror punk fan or just discovering the genre for the first time, there’s no denying the power and allure of this dark and fascinating subculture. So why not embrace your inner ghoul and dive into the world of horror punk today? You never know what you might discover!

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