Heard Music

Alter Narrative // The Unheard Stories of Halloween

This music blog series explores a myriad of themes through unique musical lenses, all the while illuminating the captivating stories and talents of exceptional indie artists hailing from various corners of our country.

While Halloween isn’t an official holiday in most parts of the world, its pop culture and parties have spread far and wide, including India. Many of us relish the chance to put on spooky or trendy costumes, sip themed drinks, and dance to endless remixes of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” But Halloween has a deeper side beyond the parties and pumpkins – so keep reading for some intriguing and lesser-known Halloween factoids. For each tale, we’ve got a song that explores similar themes, all from talented Indian indie artists and bands. Fair warning: These tunes pack heavy themes and beats!

  1. The Historical Origins of Halloween // Kalki: The Destroyer of Filth, by Demonic Resurrection

“Evil walks the earth freely, and its supremacy grows strong, but all hope is not lost.” The opening lyrics to ‘Kalki: The Destroyer of Filth’ makes it the perfect song to kick off this list, and the perfect song to tell the story of the original Halloween. The origins of Halloween as a festival date back to the ancient Celtic day of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth – these spirits wrecked crops, caused trouble, told false fortunes, extinguished the villager’s hearths, and yet the Celts looked to them for protection for their main source of comfort for the upcoming long, dark Winter. 

Demonic Resurrection is a death metal band from Mumbai, formed in 2000 by a bunch of 17-year olds just looking to bring extreme metal to the scene. With a tenure of almost 2 decades, these true met-vets (metal veterans) are often regarded as the torchbearers of Indian Metal to the Global audience. The epic-esque opening and the marching drumbeat of this song bring up visions of something dark to come and a formidable enemy ahead, but also oddly prepares you to ride straight into war.  

  1. All Saints Day, and All Hallows Eve // Captain Raj, by Scribe 

Scribe is a Post-Hardcore band from Mumbai, active since 2005 and with a reputation for being one of the most technically proficient bands of the Indian underground metal scene. They are a  band that did everything you weren’t supposed to do as a Metal / Post-Hardcore band, and personally remind me a lot of System Of A Down.  As the instrumentation of ‘Captain Raj’ takes on more of a punk beat and format, it reminds you of what this kind of music is associated with: public unrest, un-civil disobedience and raging against the machine.

By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had blended with older Celtic rites and in A.D. 1000, the Church made November 2 All Saints’ Day, a day to honour martyrs and those fallen in battle. Though it’s widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday, it was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. “You have been slain in cold blood! In cold blood you have been soaked to the bone with the guilt of your own venomous splinter!” While perhaps not as literal as our previous song selection, Scribe’s ‘Captain Raj’ takes a cynical stab at martyrdom, the portrayal of unearned honours and the public’s unforgiving opinion on these monsters behind the curtain. 

The All Saints’ Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas and the night before it began to be called All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

  1. Candy, Capitalism, and Carnage // Children Of The Clouds, by Albatross

“We’ve reached the cotton-candy playground in the clouds.
Your friends await you, beaming ever so proud.
They’ve all killed their folks, and are free of their chains.
They rode this ride before, and they will ride again.”

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular and commercial hit! Halloween parties moved from living rooms to communal streets, giving birth to the tradition of trick or treating and creating an instant boom for the primitive confectionary industry – and “harmless Halloween pranks”, especially in the USA.  It wasn’t long before kids and teens took the pranking into cities and became more destructive with setting fires, breaking glass, and looting pedestrians; and by the early 1930s till the 1950s, many cities firmly banned any and all celebrations related to Halloween.  ‘Children of the Clouds’ by Albatross sets the scene for this with an unexpected perfection, all the way from their lyrics, to the song’s manic energy, to the intro that sounds a lot like an evil witch’s cackle. 

Albatross pride themselves on their unique “melodic storytelling,” where a rhythmic lyrical pattern holds the story of each track, and eventually album, together.  This band have amassed fame and critical acclaim for their horror-tinged heavy metal assault with lyrical compositions that send one on a morbid, unnerving journey. 

  1. The Industry Built Off Boo-x Office Hits // XOXOXO, by Bhayanak Maut

Speaking of commercial success, scary Halloween movies have a long history of being box office hits. Perhaps the most classic of them all, the ‘Halloween’ franchise, tells the story of a young boy named Michael Myers murders his 17-year-old sister and is committed to jail, only to escape as a teen on Halloween night and seek out his old home, and a new target. Considered a classic horror film down to its spooky soundtrack, “Halloween” inspired many other iconic slasher films like ‘Scream,’ ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Friday the 13.’  

Bhayanak Maut, or BM, active since 2003, is a Metal Band from Mumbai immensely popular for their brutal live shows along with stellar stage presence and insane mosh pits. They described their song ‘XOXOXO’ to have an ambient and moody quality, a track tailor made for a villain’s entry! The lyrics tell the (very literal) story of a small town sommelier turned serial killer, wrought with murder and though creepy, complement the music very well. And a tiny touch to make all the difference, listen carefully and you’ll hear the voices of a team of soon-to-be-dead cheerleaders scream “XOXOXO” over the instruments and main vocals. This track was based on a book – as are many great Halloween movies – and has all the elements to make it a pretty darn good horror movie itself!

Two decades after they started playing, Bhayanak Maut are still actively releasing new music and touring, making them among the longest-standing metal acts to come out of India. 

  1. Spooky Superstitions and Love Connections // Namaste, by Motherjane

Contrary to popular belief, many of the now-obsolete rituals performed on past Halloweens focused on the future instead of the past and the living instead of the dead. In particular, many had to do with helping young women identify their future husbands and reassuring them that they would someday—with luck, by next Halloween—be married.  ‘Namaste’, with its powerfully uplifting vocals, relatively soft instrumentation and universal message, is essentially a love song for all humanity. According to drummer John Thomas, “The lyrics are basically borrowed from the greeting Namaste which translates to, ”˜I recognize your soul˜” .  It speaks about directly addressing the soul of a person, rather than greeting the form of a human being with lyrics like “Your eyes don’t shield me, they’re the window to my soul, and I fade away.” 

Motherjane’s music can be best classified as Ethnic progressive rock with influences from the vast soundscapes of India, and they have been bringing their unique sound to India and the world from 1996 to now! They were formed in Kochi, are reputed with having pretty much created the metal scene in Kerala, and they have opened for bands like Megadeth, Machine Head and Opeth.

A lot of old Halloween rituals have surprisingly lived on till today as superstitions or traditions, like trying to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt; or hiding proposal rings in food/drinks and bobbing for apples. Each one of these Halloween superstitions relies on the goodwill of the very same “spirits” whose presence the early Celts felt so keenly.