Tales From the Metalnomicon: Gregory Bastianelli’s Heavy Metal Inspired Horror Novels

Following up the inventive, kinetic shockers Loonies (2015) and Jokers Club (2011) was always going to be an extremely tall order. But rising New Hampshire horror novelist Gregory Bastianelli proves himself more than up to the task with Snowball — a twisty, engrossing (literal) chiller that gleefully sets a sinister, brutal supernatural force loose during a Christmas Eve blizzard, stalking a gaggle of stranded motorists who slowly realize there are forces drawing them together that are far, far beyond the ordinary.

The promo copy of the book also included a short interview with Bastianelli about the novel in which he talks about the foundational role heavy metal and hard rock have played in his life and work — which actually makes quite a bit of sense considering how much of the imagery, velocity, and attack here would not be out of place in the songs or cover artwork of a trad metal album.

“My love for horror came at a much earlier age than my love of hard rock music and heavy metal,” Bastianelli tells Decibel. “I remember watching horror movies on television as young as age six, mostly in the form of the Creature Double Feature program that ran every Saturday afternoon on a local Boston television station. This consisted of a double bill of B-movies from the big bug genre in the 50s, the Japanese Godzilla films, Universal monster classics, teenage beach terrors and British Hammer Studios Horror.

“By the time my love of reading horror stories and watching horror movies evolved into my desire to write horror, at around the age of 11, I also began my first foray into enjoying music and even bought my first 45 single around that time,” he continues. “And it only became natural that my appetite for twisted tales leaked into the genre of music that appealed to me. And before long, music became the soundtrack that I wrote to. Whenever I sit down to write, I play loud hard rock music that constantly occupies the background as I spin my own tales of madness, depravity and the obscure line between reality and the other side.”

Bastianelli was kind enough to conjure up this metal-heavy heavy metal playlist to help you break on through — like he so brilliantly does with Snowball.

1. Black Sabbath – “Megalomania”

Madness. One of the things I most like to write about in my stories is characters who become unhinged from reality. And no song depicts the descent into insanity more graphically than Black Sabbath’s “Megalomania.” The line in the song, “How did my fantasies take complete control,” fits perfectly into the theme of my debut novel, “Jokers Club.” In the book my main character is a struggling horror writer and I have to admit the tale is somewhat autobiographical. But the writer fantasizes a lot and eventually gets lost in his own imagination. His grip on reality loosens much like depicted in the lyrics to “Megalomania” with Ozzy screaming “getting back to sanity from the depths of sorrow,” a descent many characters in my book experience. I always believe characters in my novel can’t endure horror without experiencing some form of madness. In my latest novel, Snowball, several of the characters question their own sanity when they encounter the many horrifying aspects of the story.

2. Iron Maiden – “Wrathchild”

Rarely would I ever buy an album based solely on how awesome the cover looks. But like buying a horror novel because the cover looks amazing — which I have done — I bought Iron Maiden’s Killers album because of its creepy cover art depicting a ghoulish figure holding a bloody ax. It looked scarier than any horror movie poster at the time. The song “Wrathchild” stood out for me with its anger and haunting lyrics and at one time I even thought about writing a book about a character living with the wrath of his birth like the singer denotes. Who knows, maybe I’ll still write it one day.

3. Bloodrock – “D.O.A.”

I heard this haunting song on the radio when it was released in 1971 when I was 11 and just beginning my foray into writing. I immediately bought the 45 of it, one of the first records I ever owned. The song about a plane crash victim’s dying moments shocked me with its graphic nature. It was simply a song about someone dying a horrible death. This was music? This was gruesome. And I loved it! A man sees and feels his life bleeding out before his eyes, all the while looking down at his missing limbs and his girlfriend’s death stare while lying among the carnage of the plane crash. This was a scene of horror I could only hope to capture in my writing. No wonder Rolling Stone magazine labeled it in 2019 as one of the 25 most terrifying rock songs.And no wonder my writing career launched in the direction it did.

4. Alice Cooper – “The Ballard of Dwight Frye”

The first full album I ever bought was Alice Cooper’s Love it to Death. I wasn’t familiar with the band whose strange looking singer had a girl’s name, but my sister recommended it so I trusted her judgment. She was one of my first writing supporters and became an important critic, which is one of the reasons I dedicated my first novel, “Jokers Club,” to her. So she wouldn’t stir me wrong, right? And she didn’t. “The Ballard of Dwight Frye” mesmerized me. The epic song of a man who breaks from reality and descends into a spiral of madness is a theme I’ve often explored in my writing. In Jokers Club, my protagonist loses his grip on reality to the point where he can’t distinguish what is really happening and what is only in his imagination, much like Dwight Frye, who was named after the actor who portrayed the crazed Renfield in the classic film version of Dracula. That novel was the book that terrified me the most when I read it in junior high school and cemented my passion for writing horror. See, it all goes hand in hand.

5. AC/DC – “The Night Prowler”

While AC/DC remains mostly known for its songs of sex and booze and not horror, they did manage to pen one of the creepiest songs in rock with “The Night Prowler.” In the late Bon Scott’s throaty growl, a mysterious intruder creeps around late at night. This song should belong in everyone’s Halloween soundtrack. And the lyric “You don’t feel the steel till it’s hanging out your back,” is an image I actually used in an as yet unpublished manuscript. I have a character who is stabbed in the chest, but she doesn’t realize it until she actually looks down and notices the metal blade sticking into her body. It’s a terrifying image and might not have happened without this creepy song.

6. Metallica – “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”

Did I mention something about madness? From its first haunting chord, Metallica welcomes the listener to a place that harbors insanity. The sanitarium is a fixture in a lot of horror movies from Bedlam to Shutter Island and many others in between. Metallica’s song depicts the depravity inside and the desire to escape. My second novel, Loonies, has a sanitarium at the crux of the story and is the origin of the lunatics that the title depicts. There is a fine line between the insane and the sane, and that’s one of the themes I try to present in that novel. We all have a little bit of crazy inside. It’s how well we keep it hidden that keeps us on the outside.

7. Black Sabbath – “Electric Funeral”

One of my favorite horror movies as a young child was the 1963 anthology film by Italian master of the macabre Mario Bava, titled Black Sabbath. The film depicted three tales of terror that truly frightened me with its atmosphere and feeling of dread. Is it any wonder that this same film ended up inspiring the name for a band that would eventually become synonymous with darkness and evil? My older brother had Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album and I played it constantly when he wasn’t around. Every track sated my taste for ghoulish delights, but “Electric Funeral” stood out with its lyrics of radiation destroying the world like many of the sci-fi horror flicks of the 50s prognosticated and the devil and hell taking over. The song was graphic and dismal and certainly left an impression.

8. Alice Cooper – “I Love the Dead”

I can’t say enough about Alice Cooper’s influence on my writing. After buying Love it to Death, I ended up buying every Cooper album that was currently out and every one that came out after that. I was hooked on his songs and the twisted world he created: “Sick Things,” “Cold Ethyl,” “Dead Babies.” This was one demented musician and I couldn’t get enough. I even explored the possibility of writing a novel based on the songs of Alice Cooper and maybe I still will someday. I bought every rock magazine that featured him and saw the pictures from his theatrical concerts; it looked like a horror movie musical. I finally got to see him for the first time in concert in the summer of 1977, and the highlight of the show for me was the song “I Love the Dead,” which ended with Alice being beheaded in a guillotine. I stood in front of the stage, watching as the executioner placed the struggling Alice in the death contraption, released the blade, and then held up the singer’s bloody decapitated head for the whole audience to see. It wouldn’t be long before I began decapitating heads in my own stories.

9. Kiss – “God of Thunder”

Every horror story needs a little blood. It’s almost a requirement. And blood runs red and deep. Black Sabbath was the first rock band I ever saw in concert, back in 1976, but a couple months after that show, I went to see Kiss. And the moment I most relished was in the intro to their song “God of Thunder,” when Gene Simmons in his Demon make-up, begins to spit blood. It dribbles out at first in slow streaks that run down the white makeup on his chin. But the more he thumps the strings of his bass guitar, the more the blood flows and moments later his long red tongue coated with the gooey gore discharges it with a fury and red is soon splattered all down the front of the armored plates of his costume and even onto a few frenetic fans in front of the stage. My novel Snowball is set in a winter landscape, and the contrast of the red blood on the white snow is a constant image I stress throughout the novel.

10. Rob Zombie – “Demon Speeding”

If anyone embodies the spirit of Alice Cooper, it would have to be Rob Zombie. And there is no perfect blend of horror movie and heavy metal music than Rob. He uses sound bites from old horror flicks as intros to many of his songs, and some tracks are even named after horror movies. Eventually Rob Zombie would go on to direct his own horror movies, such as The House of 1000 Corpses and the Halloween reboot, and he even co-authored a novel, Lords of Salem, based on his film of the same name. The man is a true triple threat and I could list dozens of his songs as inspirations, because they are all about horror, demons and madness. But “Demon Speeding” is one of my favorites for its full throttle energy. Rob Zombie is living my perfect fantasy of writing horror for the page, screen and song. But I feel fortunate enough that I’m able to fulfill my dream of writing horror novels, so I think I’ll just stick with that.