Follow TV Tropes


Drone of Dread

Go To

"What we want is to create a powerful sense of dread."
"See? The longer the note, the more dread."

In music, a drone is a sustained, continuous sound, note or tone-cluster. Music based around drones will emphasize minimalism and texture, timbre, eventually harmony, with less concern over rhythm and melody.

Because the atmosphere created by this kind of music tends to be extremely creepy and unsettling, it is a close cousin of the "Psycho" Strings, and the two often overlap, but are just as often very distinct: the original psycho strings, for instance, are not drony at all, and many drones do not use strings, rather relying on low played brass instruments, or weird apparatuses and machines to produce their sounds.


Drone based music can delve into Nightmare Fuel particularly efficiently if it uses what is called "infrasound," which simply put, is sound pitched so low that it's just barely above the human threshold of hearing it as an individual tone. Studies have been conducted showing that this ultra low pitched sound, while almost undetectable to people, has a strange ability to cause nervousness, and even physical discomfort, despite the listener not even being aware of hearing it. There's even some speculation that local harmonic resonance in certain areas is responsible for people perceiving those locations as being haunted.

Frequently used in Horror stories (particularly Psychological Horror ones), but can show up in other genres as well (generally as a way to highlight that, whatever the appearances are, something very wrong/unusual is going on under the fragile surface of reality).


Not to be confused with the similarly named part of a bagpipe (which however does produce a droning sound), an Attack Drone, the sound made by a heavy bomber aircraft before it bombs its targets to rubble, or a male honey bee (even though the musical element, the instrument part and the robot are all named after the animal, which in turn is named after the onomatopoeia for the sound it makes). Note that old-fashioned bagpipes and the like do rely heavily on the more contemplative drone in place of a bass section.



    open/close all folders 

  • The Worldwide Reveal Trailer for Modern Warfare 3 overlaid scenes of Monumental Damage with a chilling, rhythmic, atonal blast reminiscent of a siren, only a couple registers lower and slower. As the film progressed, it was combined in chorus with the tone used for the Emergency Alert System in the United States.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Mononoke: When the Kabuki Sounds are replaced by low droning brass instruments, you know something creepy is about to happen.
  • Serial Experiments Lain: The powerlines make an ominous humming sound, made creepier by the implication that Lain is the only one who hears it.
  • The track Blue Summers of the Trigun anime consists mostly of this.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Whenever the Monolith is involved, drony contemporary classical music composed by György Ligeti (see below) is heard.
  • A Field in England uses this frequently throughout the soundtrack to signify that there is something off about the field the characters find themselves in.
  • Irréversible has a horrible techno drone repeat over and over in the infamous Fire Extinguisher scene, consisting of one recurring note, bent higher than lower, in a cyclical wave.
  • Antichrist: With the exception of Händel's "Lascia ch'io pianga", used in the prologue and conclusion, the soundtrack consists entirely of drones.
  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker's leitmotif is a dissonant droning which sounds like running a razor across a piano string. (It was actually achieved by heavily sawing on the D note on a cello.)
  • Terminator:
    • In The Terminator, a frightful metallic-sounding droning theme plays as the Terminator prepares to shoot Sarah Connor in the night club.
    • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a terror-inducing droning sound plays in the background whenever the T-1000 makes an appearance.
  • John's Carpenter's The Thing (1982) makes heavy use of minimalist drones to evoke apocalyptic dread. The political/sociological documentary The Power of Nightmares borrows from The Thing's soundtrack.
  • The use of a crescendo-going ominous drone in the very first seconds of There Will Be Blood quickly established the strange nature of the movie.
  • The ominous drones denoting the presence of evil spirits in The Evil Dead (1981).
  • The theme for the Emperor becomes very creepy due to the droning chorus.
  • Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ had a lot of this. Peter even lampshaded it in an interview at the time, saying that his rule of thumb while composing the soundtrack was "When in doubt, Drone."
  • Repeated drones were used in the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
  • Used very effectively throughout Inception to solidify the "wrongness" of the dream worlds.
  • Used repeatedly in the German film Das Experiment (The Experiment).
  • This short film.
  • Goblin's soundtrack for Dawn of the Dead is full of this trope.
  • Several parts of the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind use drones reminiscent of the aforementioned Gyorgy Ligeti; e.g., the piece when the aliens emerge from the mothership at the end is similar to "Requiem", the Monolith music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • This is practically a Characteristic Trope for David Lynch, typically used to make something mundane suddenly terrifying.
    • The film Eraserhead loves using it, and to great effect; an especially unnerving drone is played at the end, matching the equally terryfing imagery.
  • Sinoia Caves' soundtrack for Beyond the Black Rainbow makes good use of droning notes, especially during the 1966 flashback scene with the song "1966: Let the New Age of Enlightenment Begin".
  • Used in The Hurt Locker when the main character finds a cord on an IED that reveals a daisy chain of about 8 more
  • Other than the slow "Psycho" Strings below the opening credits, and some music performed onscreen by the characters and then under the end credits, this is Martha Marcy May Marlene's only soundtrack.
  • Citizenfour has an eerie, static-y noise that appears whenever the US government is doing something sneaky like surrounding Edward Snowden's house (and his unsuspecting girlfriend) with "maintenance vans" shortly after Snowden's leaks hit the news or detaining one of the reporters' partners for nine hours at an airport under "national security".
  • The long organ notes at the beginning of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi score have this effect.
  • In Happy Feet Two one accompanies every instance of the moving icebergs advancing the conflict.
  • Avengers: Infinity War opens with one of these, notably replacing the bombastic music accompanying the Marvel Studios-logo. This immediately clues the audience in to just what kind of movie this is...
  • The leitmotif of the Prowler in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a repeated, discordant screech/roar, underscoring the impression of a high-tech predator implacably chasing its prey.
  • The ABCs of Death: The closing credits cleverly uses dialogue, sound effects and bits of score from all of the shorts to create a dreadful ambient piece that lasts the duration of the credits. Sounds from each short pop up when the respective short's credits are on screen.
  • Apollo 11: This 2019 documentary uses a lot of drones, especially in the section leading up to the launch. This may be to give a modern audience some of the tension that would have been felt back in 1969. We know now that the mission was a success, but every step had a non trivial risk of death, and everyone involved would have been very aware of this.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has the Probe make this droning WUB WUB WUB sound along with an inhuman electronic sounding screeching, which turns out to be whale calls when played back underwater.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, the EBN programming is accompanied by a sustained droning sound to show the brainwashing, soul-sucking effects of prolonged exposure to Hades' network.
  • The march of the SS battalion in Fury (2014) in accompanied not just by the soldiers singing an (authentic) SS marching song in universe, but also by a drone on the soundtrack to amplify the sense of fear at seeing several hundred SS marching for war while our protagonists are down to five men and an immobilized tank.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Season 3 intro of Babylon 5 features low sustained synth chords, combined with an echoing Dramatic Timpani.
  • For some reason, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has seen fit to accompany the rating cards before each movie they show with one. The effect is unintentionally unnerving.
  • The end music of each episode of The Shadow Line is the siren drone of doom, but high pitched instead of low. It's singularly disturbing.
  • Law & Order makes extensive use of this (at a low pitch) when the (usually disturbing) key revelation comes out, either on the witness stand or (better yet) in chambers or an interview room.
  • Hannibal uses one for its uniquely ominous opening sequence.
  • The miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber overkills the heck out of this, with many scenes involving the Unabomber not only using a drone but also using a very shrill, almost eardrum-piercing pitch.
  • When they were testing the Brown Note myth on MythBusters, the boys tripped over this trope: the myth involved a victim surrounded by stereo speakers that would play various frequencies. Although they couldn't make anybody cack their pants, both Adam and Jamie noted that when the speakers played an especially low frequency, that they felt very uncomfortable and nervous for reasons they could not explain.
  • The soundtrack to Chernobyl is overall very subtle and understated, but uses a low, unsettling droning sound - reminiscent of the workings of the fateful power plant - as a common motif to add to the series' bleak, eerie atmosphere.

  • In general, there is an entire genre called "Drone", where most of the music fits this trope, though gentle harmonies are obviously also possible. Either way, it's mostly recognizable by emphasizing single notes or tones, which means that you can have 20 minutes of just the same note at the most extreme. Eliane Radigue(Example) and Phill Niblock(Example) are good examples for this, as well as several other bands (some of them listed below) mixing it with other genres like Ambient or even Metal.
  • A very common trope within noise and earlier industrial bands was to utilize drones and ambience to create a soundscape; this can be seen with alot of compositions which were just improvisation on the parts of band members (given that it would be very easy to create droning sounds with a 70s synthesizers).
  • Cabaret Voltaire does this alot with their earlier work, especially their first 3 albums.
  • György Ligeti's compositions spanned a large array of different styles, but some of them featured really prominent drones, notably the pieces Requiem and Atmospheres (both heard in 2001: A Space Odyssey). The former combines drones with Ominous Latin Chanting, and the latter features the largest cluster chord ever written, with every note in the chromatic scale over a range of five octaves being played at once — that's 60 different notes.
  • L'Étoile du Matin Noir, an EP of dark ambient and noise music featuring many drones, released for free under Creative Commons.
  • Most of 16 Horsepower's output is ominous to begin with, but when David Eugene Edwards breaks out his Chemnitzer concertina or hurdy-gurdy, the ominousness gets cranked up to 11.
    • Ditto Woven Hand, Edwards' followup music project. He frequently plays drones underneath the main melody, to make these already-menacing songs even more so.
  • Calibretto's "American Psycho" uses a sustained organ drone for an effective Last Note Nightmare.
  • The entirety of drone metal. Especially Sunn O))), the Trope Codifiers, whose music is horror incarnate. link.
  • John Cale tends to carry this with him wherever he goes.
  • Some ambient music is based around sounds like this.
    • In particular the dark ambient artist Lustmord, who uses the aforementioned infrasound in his music to incredibly unsettling degree.
    • Jack Dangers' album Music for Planetarium.
    • Most pieces by Greg Davis (an ambient artist, not to be confused with other musicians of the same name).
    • Both albums by Dilate.
  • "You Can't Cool Off in the Mill Pond You Can Only Die" by John Fahey (not Blind Joe Death) adds throat singing for more drone.
  • Xera's "Inda" starts off with a rather creepy, minute-long drone performed on a rabel.
  • Muslimgauze does this alot; but with the tribal variety of Middle-Eastern chants and beats added in to give texture. His earlier work on the other hand replicated industrial-style drones from the likes of his contemporaries.
  • Norwegian duo Röyksopp have this hidden track on their album 'Senior': [1]
  • Klaus Schulze's "Wahnfried 1883", especially the beginning and ending, and the intros of "Echoes of Time" and "Solar Wind" from the Special Edition of Timewind.
  • Bull of Heaven.
  • The Caretaker 's Everywhere at the End of Time starts off as slightly distorted old music, but gradually devolves into this.
  • Some of Autechre's ambient works, such as "Paralel Suns", which sounds like Silent Hill ambience, "Perlence Suns", and "Perlence Subrange 6-36".
  • Robert Fripp and Jeff Fayman's 2000 collaboration A Temple in the Clouds uses "Frippertronic" guitar drones. link
  • "Modern Ruin Part 2", the Hidden Track on Covenant's Modern Ruin album (only on the CD, not the digital release), is reminiscent of the forementioned Quake soundtrack, as well as the otherworld hospital ambience in Silent Hill. Likewise for the ambient piece "Cryotank Expansion" from their first album. The opening track of Skyshaper, "Ritual Noise", starts with a siren-like drone.
  • Some Throbbing Gristle material, such as "Slug Bait" and the legendary "Hamburger Lady".
  • blowupnihilist use these in many of his works, as heard here, and on the Objective Nothingness EP.
  • Several songs by Nine Inch Nails, including "Sanctified," "Something I Can Never Have," "Even Deeper," and the ending to "Hurt."
  • Fever Ray's "If I Had a Heart", used as the main theme for Vikings.
  • They Come Out at Night by Eschaton combines drones with Drum N Bass beats.
  • Nurse with Wound, especially the minimalist album Soliloquy for Lilith.
  • A lot of Black Metal bands like this a lot. Some examples are Deathspell Omega, Blut aus Nord, and Weakling.
  • Post-Rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always used this trope a fair amount (the intro to "The Dead Flag Blues", the mid-section of "Sleep", etc.), and its prominence in their music has increased with time. Two tracks on each of their two latest albums consist almost entirely of drone.
  • Fuck Buttons prominently utilize drones in Sweet Love for Planet Earth, OK, Let's Talk about Magic, Race You To My Bedroom / Spirit Rise, Colours Move, and Brainfreeze.
  • New-wave band Daniel Amos opens "¡Alarma!" (off the album of the same name) with thirty seconds of buzzing synths. On Doppelgänger, a similar synth drone connects "Hollow Man" and "Mall (All Over the World)".
  • The Velvet Underground used this a lot, especially live, which may not come as a surprise since John Cale, mentioned above, was a member. A good example is their live improvisation "Melody Laughter".
  • When Velvet Underground alumnus Nico started writing her own music on harmonium, she used this trope ubiquitously. The Marble Index, Desertshore, and The End... contain particularly notable examples of it.
  • Swans have done this quite frequently. Examples include "Surrogate Drone" and "The Seer".
  • The intro to Red Rider's still-popular "Lunatic Fringe".
  • Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II has a lot of songs that incorporate this trope to unnerving effect, e.g. "Tassels", which inspired the forementioned "City of the Dead" in Fallout, but "Stone in Focus" manages to have a drone that sounds nice.
  • Freaky DNA uses drones throughout "Bass Armonium", and in parts of "Fog Stalker" and "Iced Cubed".
  • A lot on Frances the Mute by The Mars Volta, most prevalent on "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore". The title track, not actually included on the album, uses the trope even more prominently.
  • OGRE & Dallas Cambpell prominently utilize Drone of Dread to horrific effect on their All Hallows and Beyond the Infinite albums, notably in "Tomorrow's Headline", "Lockstep", "Of Terror", and "Carve" on the former, and "Monolith I", "A Great Big Mystery", "Monolith II", "Open the Doors", "Daisy", and "Jupiter" on the latter.
  • Wilco's "Less Than You Think" contains three minutes of piano and vocals, followed by twelve minutes of drones that were generated by each member on a synthesizer. It was meant to be a musical depiction of frontman Jeff Tweedy's migraines.
  • Black Metal performer Echtra used this a lot on his first solo album. His later albums used drone, too, but usually with the intention of creating a trance-like meditative state rather than creating an atmosphere of dread. These albums also no longer resemble Black Metal, and arguably can't be characterised as metal at all (ambient is probably a better categorisation of most of their content, though there are still a few intense passages on some of them).
  • Folk/avant-garde project Giles Corey also has used this both to create a sense of unease (on the Self-Titled Album) and to create a state of trance (on Deconstructionist, in whose liner notes doing this was explicitly stated as being a specific goal of the album; the album also uses binaural beats and other techniques with this in mind).
  • ElP:
    • Time Out of Joint (TOJ).
    • Accidents Don't Happen feat Cage & Camu Tao.
  • Cathedrelic, a collaboration between ambient artists R. Lee Dockery and Smokey Emery, is comprised of two 1/2 hour-long drone pieces that sound like they were lifted from one of Aubrey Hodges' video game soundtracks (mentioned below).
  • Carbon Based Lifeforms' "VLA" is just one long droning track with some distant chirping/screeching sounds that, depending on your choice of version, lasts 10 minutes (album version), 45 minutes (EP edit for music streaming services), or 1 hour (full version).
  • Confirm Humanity by multi-genre artist Soularflair resembles the Doom PSX soundtracks as well as Mark Morgan's drone ambient pieces from the first two Fallout games.
  • The intro of The Police's "Don't Stand So Close to Me".
  • Tears for Fears: A deep, lingering synth drone underscores "The Prisoner".

  • The last of the six Sea Interludes in Britten's opera Peter Grimes (and the only one not available in a concert version), "Fog", sustains one fifthless dominant seventh chord quietly for several minutes under various orchestral laments and outbursts.
  • In Trouble in Tahiti, a low held note on the cello fluctuates in volume as Dinah and Sam, not looking at each other, despair of reconciling.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • The track Crystamanthequins from Homestuck is mostly defined, early on, by a harsh, droning note intermixed with a heavy drumbeat and high-pitched synth wails, although the drone dissolves towards the end. In the comic itself, it's used for [S] Make Her Pay, which depicts the most significant points in the troll Cycle of Revenge.

    Web Original 
  • Used in this adaptation of a Fuan no Tane segment.
  • The injury list for Urinating Tree's "This Week In Sportsball: NFL Week Two Edition (2020)" eschews the usual Taps in favor of a piece of ambient music that incorporates this. Considering the list consisted of forty-five injuries (eleven of which were season-enders) and two deaths, Taps would've been insufficient in terms of both tone and duration.

    Western Animation 
  • This trope is part of the appeal of the Hypnotoad from Futurama. Interestingly, it was originally just a placeholder sound until they found something better, but they decided it was just so wrong sounding that they had to keep it. According to David Cohen, the name for that particular sound effect in the editing machine is "Angry Machine".


Video Example(s):


The Monolith on the Moon

Whenever the Monolith is involved, drony contemporary classical music composed by György Ligeti is heard.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / DroneOfDread

Media sources: