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Need Creepy Background Music? 14 Free and Reasonably Priced Dark Ambient Albums

I recently got to run two sessions of Call of Cthulhu for my group, and when I was prepping for the game I decided it was time to freshen up my horror background music playlist. I normally use an “applicable to most RPGs” playlist (Sinister, part of my three-playlist system [1] for BGM) that draws from all sorts of soundtracks, but a little web research suggested a new tack that sounded fun: dark ambient music that fades into the background, its atmosphere of tension pervading the game.

My poking around led me to acquire several new albums, including some excellent legally-free ones, and I liked how they worked as BGM. I’ll be using them — and expanding my catalog — for future horror games. (This Yog-Sothoth thread [2] was a goldmine for recommendations.)

I made two new playlists, Ambient and Tension; I used the former most of the time, and the latter when things were getting tense. During action scenes, I focused on describing things in an action-y way and left Tension playing in the background rather than switching to an action playlist.

For the lists below, I broke the albums down by free/not free and noted whether I used them in my sessions or not. The ones I sampled and didn’t acquire all sounded good (or I wouldn’t mention them here), but weren’t right for my session (or, in some cases, I just plain ran out of time to sort them into playlists, and so didn’t download them). They might be perfect for your game.

Free albums

Verbum Mentis: Refrigerium [3]
Verbum Mentis was a great find — this is music that makes me think of spelunking, trapped deep under a million tons of earth, wondering what’s down there with me. (I’ve actually been spelunking once, and my memories of that trip come back when I listen to this.) So good. I used this album for my game.

Verbum Mentis: Past appearances I [4]
For a musical connoisseur, which I’m not, it’s probably easy to tell which Verbum Mentis album is which…but I can’t. And that’s fine! They’re obviosuly not identical, and they’re all good. I used this one as well.

Verbum Mentis: Past appearances II [5]
My third Verbum, also great, and also used on game night.

Olivier: Obscure [6]
I believe this is the soundtrack to a video game. It wasn’t right for my game, but I liked the samples and could see using it in another context.

Igor Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms [7]
I try to avoid vocals in my BGM, save for the occasional track here and there, so this choral album isn’t quite my cup of tea for gaming music. But creepy? Holy shit is it creepy. It also sounds old, like it’s being played on a wax cylinder or something — really perfect for the right kind of Call of Cthulhu session.

Atum: Agorafobia [8]
I ran out of time, or I would have picked this up; it’s really solid. It’s sold on a “name your price” basis with a minimum price of $0.

ZewCthulhu.pl: Shub-Niggurath [9]
Like Agorafobia, I ran out of time to categorize this one or I would have bought it. (And like the Atum album, it’s also available for $0 and up.)

Reasonably priced albums

Musica Cthulhiana: Fragment [10]
Musica Cthulhiana — surpise! — makes music with Call of Cthulhu in mind. Their stuff is broadly applicable to any kind of moody horror, though, and it’s fantastic. This was my favorite acquisition.

Musica Cthulhiana: The Fourth [11]
Almost as good as Fragments, and distinct enough to make it worth owning them both. I used and enjoyed this one — and like Fragments, I sometimes listen to it while I work, which makes for some creepy writing music.

Toru Takemitsu: Flock Descends Into The Pentagonal Garden [12]
It might not look or sound like horror, but give it a shot and you’ll see why it works. I used it in my session, and it’s quiet (sometimes a bit too quiet for BGM), subtle, and creepy in a way most BGM isn’t.

Lustmord: Carbon / Core [13]
I’ve seen Lustmord recommended for BGM many times, and after listening to samples I can see why. Based on the albums I checked out, this one seemed like the easiest fit for a horror game.

Pelgrane Press: Eternal Lies Suite [14]
If I’d run across this earlier, I’d have bought it first — it’s Pelgrane’s soundtrack for their Trail of Cthulhu RPG, and holy crap does it sound good based on the samples. This is on my shortlist the next time I buy any horror music.

I wish there were more publishers out there commissioning music for their games, because it’s an awesome tool to have on hand.

Allicorn: In Remote Places [15]
This would make a great soundtrack for Beyond the Mountains of Madness — or any game with a wintery setting, for that matter. It makes me think of cold places, wintery nights, and what could be lurking in the snow.

Glenn Danzig: Black Aria II (NSFW cover) [16]
This sounded like an out-of-left-field choice, but listen to a couple of samples before dismissing it. I’m not sure what sort of game I’d run with it, but it’s got potential.

Now that I know this approach works, I’m definitely in the market for recommendations — and I bet other GMs would love to hear about your favorite dark ambient albums, as well. If you’ve got some good ones to share, let us know in the comments!

Happy Halloween!

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Need Creepy Background Music? 14 Free and Reasonably Priced Dark Ambient Albums"

#1 Comment By ongoingworlds On October 31, 2012 @ 5:38 am

Great! I’ll be playing Call of Cthulu tonight!

#2 Comment By Mark Thomas On October 31, 2012 @ 5:54 am

[17] – full of dark ambient music, all free.

#3 Comment By Martin Ralya On October 31, 2012 @ 6:34 am

Wow, that is a great find — there’s a TON of free music there. Nice!

#4 Comment By Mark Thomas On October 31, 2012 @ 10:14 am

There’s a related site (which escapes me now) of more general atmospheric stuff too. I believe there’s a link from darkwinter.com. Well worth checking out.

#5 Comment By rednightmare On November 1, 2012 @ 3:21 am

You guys really saved my bacon yesterday with this. I had a Halloween themed game and needed a soundtrack to set the mood. Found this post half an hour before the game.
My players loved it and really want atmospheric music more often so @Mark Thomas, I need to go find that related site.
Everyone thanks a bundle.

#6 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 1, 2012 @ 6:58 am

That rocks! I’m glad the article and comments proved timely and useful.

#7 Comment By MuadMouse On November 6, 2012 @ 12:15 am

Klaus Schulze’s [18] and [19] are my absolute favourites for creepy background music. They sort of lurk at the edge of your consciousness, intruding only occasionally to disturbing effect. This is especially true of Irrlicht, which is like subtle, sinister madness manifested as music. Timewind is somewhat less likely to cause Sanity loss, and works very nicely in any situation where unobtrusive ambient music is required, especially if you want to convey the feeling of being in a vast space.

When I want to build tension, I default to [20]. Except for the last track (“Love Song for a Vampire” by Annie Lennox), it’s perfect for getting your heart rate up without actually drawing attention to itself.

You might also want to check out [21] by Jon Hodgson. Cubicle 7 put it on YouTube for gamers to use, with permission to grab the audio for personal use. The music is quite minimalistic and as oppressive as the bowels of Mirkwood!

#8 Comment By Desolo SubHumus On July 24, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

I realize I’m necro-posting here, but if you’re still looking for recommendations, my fourth album should work perfectly for just about any horror games. I’ve used it for playing Arkham Horror and it worked out for horror board-gaming, at least. It’s free and just shy of 3 hours long.


Also, if there’s enough interest, I’m willing to upload the 1-track version (from before I added in volume changes at the beginning and end of each of the 10 tracks). As for my first three albums, I can tell you how using them for horror gaming of any sort would be: (in the words of Marvin the Paranoid Android) ‘This will all end in tears.’ or ‘Very badly I suspect.’