There are many varieties on the theory of what makes something sound frightening. Some say that dissonant notes—notes that don’t sound good when played in unison—can create unease. Some argue high-pitched tones mimic the sound of a human scream in our brains. Others point to low tones as a signal of the approach of some large beast, while others posit a combination of high and low pitches creates an impression that something just isn’t right.
Sometimes, sound just isn’t enough to sell the fear. Unease and tension can be signaled by non-auditory cues, such as dark imagery, sudden movement, hints of violence and death.
All of this could serve as a manual for how to create a good horror movie soundtrack, yet the members of Murder Dream have adopted it to write and present their music. High, screeching guitar leads mimic human screams between actual human screams. Rumbling bass and thundering drums provide the primal lion’s roar.
On the visual end, dark makeup around their eyes, inspired by the “corpse paint” employed by black metal bands, highlights the intense stares given by bassist /vocalist Zack Boyden and guitarist/vocalist Chris Monzon to the audience. Suddenly, Monzon will tear away from the microphone stand, drop to the floor, and deliver a flurry of blows directly to his guitar neck, while Boyden will twitch and sputter as if possessed. A candelabra slowly drips wax atop the bass amp, lighting the stage and casting shadows.
“We have this attitude where we want to be really exciting and fun, but we’re also gonna take ourselves kind of seriously,” said Boyden. “So the atmosphere is like scary stories around a campfire. There’s a fun aspect, but there’s also a history of tradition and legend that goes along with it.”
“It’s like being in on the joke, but it’s not a joke,” said drummer Garrett Caufield.
“The way I put it is, we are legitimately trying to summon a ghost,” said Monzon. “Maybe in the back of our minds we know we won’t actually summon a ghost onstage, but we’re gonna try as hard as we can.”
Both onstage and off, the members of Murder Dream have attempted to interact with the spirit world. Each song contains a ritual, and the band members have tried at least few of them. When they learned that Google had bought a local plot to build its complex, they traveled there and attempted to perform a ritual to haunt the land before the construction began.
“We were hoping they would get too spooked to gentrify Reno,” said Monzon.
These rituals, while admittedly tongue-in-cheek, are a way to get into the spirit of their music, which is dark, heavy, filled with creeping, menacing riffs. It draws from many different styles, from no wave and goth rock to doom metal and powerviolence. No particular genre takes center stage in Murder Dream’s sound. The band members have found the center of a Venn diagram of heavy, dark styles and crafted something more fitting to their varied tastes.
Murder Dream’s upcoming album— rumored to be scheduled for release on Friday the 13th in October—will be titled Eras of Death. Five songs detailing different historical periods, from ancient Egypt and witch trials to futuristic settings, will center on death in all its gruesome forms. The self-titled track, “Murder Dream” comes with a slow but steadily approaching dissonant riff, telling the tale of a demon summoned to murder people in their dreams.
“Being spooky is fun,” said Boyden. “But it’s also a huge part of humanity.”