The Value of Horror Punk

Danzig, an undisputed king of horror punk.
New Times Archive.
Danzig, an undisputed king of horror punk.
I waited till near the end of high school for my dramatic phase.

My little world was shifting oh so violently. There was graduation looming, a long-time girlfriend moving away for college, etc. I retreated into something that felt safe: horror punk. The genre is exactly that: punk music about zombies, murder, and demons (plus, heaps of bat references).

My physical persona never changed much. I dyed my hair black once or twice, and I wore a studded bracelet (that stunk dearly). But between my ears, it was like Halloween every day.

Those who delve into the murky waters of horror punk inevitably start with the Misfits. From there, the journey leads to offshoots like Samhain and Danzig. Then there’s mid-career AFI, Phoenix’s own Calabrese, and Alkaline Trio (to an extent).

But I became truly obsessed, delving into niche acts like Blitzkid, The Rosedales, and Mister Monster. Those latter acts exemplified what I loved most about horror punk: the unabashed cheesiness of grown men in leather jackets and zombie makeup, goofy lyrics like “Now I dance all night and I sleep all day/A vampire girlfriend is the only way,” and a drive to maintain a stranglehold on a moment you can understand (sweet, sweet Halloween) with true gusto. These bands weren’t scary. The rest of the world were unpredictable monsters.

click to enlarge The writer before seeing Misfits at Riot Fest 2016. - CHRIS COPLAN
The writer before seeing Misfits at Riot Fest 2016.
Chris Coplan
But as with most phases, I quickly grew out of my adoration. A few years back, I was mortified at how deeply nerdy it sounded. It was more inane nonsense than the rebellious, proudly stubborn music I adored just a few years prior. It’s easy to reach your mid-20s and feel wildly jaded. If I wanted scary, I could look at the world around me and face anything more terrifying than zombie drag racers or Jersey ghouls. But in September 2016, Misfits reunited for Riot Fest in Chicago, where I’d been living alone for some time. That singular moment rekindled something.

At the same time, I was moving to a different part of the city, and that further shift had me contemplating my larger lot in life. (I’d move back to Arizona one year later to “restart.”) I’ve played that Misfits show in my head endlessly for the last few years. There was the roar of a semi-drunken, deeply exhausted crowd, the feeling being carried 70 feet by a surging mosh pit, and the convergence of soothing nostalgia and the hum of uncertainty. It’s taken some time to digest, but a truth has emerged in recent months.

Horror punk is incredibly stupid, and that’s why I love it so. Both elements — punk and horror — are generally the same: asinine pursuits of individuality, cloaking one’s self in darkness (sonically and in trendy clothes) to escape the real world and live in a place entirely of your own making. Being a fan of this hybrid beast is about embracing those qualities, to rage against the world with humor and ferocity despite how silly wearing skeleton gloves might appear.

Once I moved back to Phoenix, these feelings only strengthened. This is a city very much in line with that attitude. You have to be both strong and ignorant to accept 120-degree temperatures and hokey Southwestern vibes. But if you celebrate all the wild madness with true vigor, maybe you can find something resembling joy. At the very least, the world is a different kind of scary nowadays.

I’m 33 years old. That feels too old for any scene or phase. But if you catch me walking somewhere, I could very well be listening to horror punk, tuned for my ears alone.