The A.V Club’s Samhain Sabbat party playlist
Halloween is one thing—for babies. Once everyone starts getting a little longer in the teeth, they realize Samhain really sets the tone for autumn. For those with Christian blood coursing through those veins, in Wicca, Samhain is one of the eight Sabbat celebrations that make up the Wiccan Wheel Of The Year. Celebrated on Oct. 31—when the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest—Samhain is the primary neo-pagan festival, celebrating the lives of those who have died. (It’s not to be confused with Danzig’s band, Samhain, though that’s awesome, too.)
No one has to be an observant Wiccan or neo-pagan to observe Samhain. (Well, probably not, anyways. Observant Wiccans and neo-pagans definitely might disagree.) All that’s required is a stock of robes, a bonfire, maybe a wicker man, and, of course, a really good pagan-rock soundtrack. Here are a few suggestions for getting a Samhain playlist started.
Paul Giovanni, “Maypole”
There’s likely no finer set of Sabbat songs than the original soundtrack to the 1973 horror-musical The Wicker Man (the one with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, not the one with Nic Cage and Ellen Burstyn), composed and performed by Paul Giovanni and Magnet. Sung by a gaggle of pink-cheeked Summerisle kiddies, “Maypole” tells the story of the whole rich tapestry of life—“On that tree there was a limb. / And on that limb there was a branch. / And on that branch there was a nest. / And in that nest there was an egg…” and so on—taking listeners on a spin around the whole Wiccan Wheel Of The Year. Perfect tone-setting music! (And the next track on the album, the more sinister “Fire Leap,” is great too, especially if you’ve worked jumping over a bonfire into your Samhain party plan.)
Gwydion Pendderwen, “Harvest Dance”
Do you see a pattern developing? Don’t worry. We’ll get into the more Satan-worshipping stuff in a second. For now it’s all about the triumph of the harvest, of pulling in an autumnal bounty and welcoming the first frost. Who better to sing about that than American songwriter/poet/conversationist/witch Gwydion Pendderwen? His name sounds like a punch line to a joke about neo-paganism, for God’s sake. Sorry. For Satan’s sake.
Black Widow, “Come To The Sabbat”
These English proto-metal pioneers stirred controversy in the late ’60s and early ’70s for their live shows, which staged female sacrifices, and communing with well-known English occultist and Wiccan High Priest Alex Sanders. Black Widow’s own occultish tendencies culminate on “Come To The Sabbat” from 1970’s Sacrifice. Built around the raucous chant-chorus, “Come, come, come to the sabbat! Come to the sabbat! Satan’s there!” and accented by Jethro Tull-y flute lines, this Black Widow tune is the keystone of any pagan playlist. Because how many songs guarantee that Satan will actually be there? Not that he’s “maybe attending” or might pop by if he has the time, but that he will, for sure, be there? Few. And the promise of the Big Man’s presence should help distinguish your Sabbat festival celebration from the one your neighbours across the hall are throwing.
Coven, “Pact With Lucifer”
From the upside-down crosses to the exultation of Satan, the Chicago psych-folk rockers Coven practically invented heavy-metal iconography. (The band is also rumoured to have invented to the sign of the horns, even though everyone knows Ronnie James Dio’s grandmother invented this.) Told through Coven-leader Jinx Dawson’s saucy, Joplin-esque yowls, “Pact With Lucifer” tells the story of a farmer who strikes a deal with the devil in order to secure the prosperity of his harvest. But—wouldn’t you know it?—Lucifer has other designs. Like a ballsier Pentangle, Coven makes excellent autumn music. The band’s first album, 1969’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Souls, includes a 13-minute “Satanic Mass” as its last track, perfect for you and your friends to intone along to.
Blood Ceremony, “My Demon Brother”
Inheritors to pagan oversized Celtic robes, Toronto’s Blood Ceremony channels proto-metal influence into its Sabbath-y riffs without coming off as a nostalgia act. And live, lead vocalist/organist-flautist Alia O’Brien twists and writhes like she’s possessed by the spirit of Jinx Dawson (though Dawson is still alive). Like “Come To The Sabbat,” “My Demon Brother” is a petition for a demon to enter our world, lured by “forbidden hymns in black magic rites.” And really, Blood Ceremony’s two albums could constitute a Samhain playlist just by themselves, given that the albums have like nine songs just about the god Pan.
Electric Wizard, “The Chosen Few”
Known as “the heaviest band in the universe,” Electric Wizard’s also probably the coolest. Cooking up some of the best heavy metal riffs since Black Sabbath, these U.K. stoner/doom droners have spent their career fusing the occult onto Rastafarianism, last days prophecy, and amplifier worship, creating their own pseudo-religion in the process. “The Chosen Few” exults the Wizard’s own witchcult, with vocalist Jus Osborn intoning “Hail covens this is it / One thousand amps toll the end-time riff.” Play this when everyone’s hypnotized by the crackling embers of the fire, the wind’s rustling through the trees, and things are just starting to get weird.
Witchfinder General, “Witchfinder General”
It’s probably a bit to upbeat and straight-up metal to be sufficiently pagan, but Witchfinder General’s eponymous tune (in the grand tradition of metal songs that are the band’s name) is a great way to round out your playlist. Though explicitly anti-Wiccan (the song details the exploits of 17th-century English witch hunter Matthew Hopkins, or at least the exploits of Vincent Price playing Matthew Hopkins in the 1968 film Witchfinder General), the song has some great sing-along sections that make it ideal party music.