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Hell Is That Noise

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The OwO of doom!
"And—And it was making this noise, this—this sound that bored right into your brain."
Powell describing the Reaper horn, Mass Effect

What the hell is that noise? That noise is hell.

A character within the story hears something odd. Unnatural. When they hear the sound once, it may not be that terrifying, but as time passes, they become more and more frightened. The sound gets scarier as it gains more and more relevance. Given time, the sound comes to haunt them, even away from the source. The sound has taken on a nightmarish relevance because of the setting. The sound could come from anywhere.

The trope isn't limited to a sentence, a catch phrase, or a song. The sound that terrifies the character can be made by the living, such as footsteps, a laugh, the call of a loud little animal. The sound may be made by the non-living, such as the creak of a chair, a door, a bouncing ball, the crackle of radio static, or any one of hundreds of other seemingly mundane noises. Often times it signals the coming of a yet-unseen threat, usually one you don't want to be anywhere near you, and hearing it is more than enough of a sign to tread carefully, brace yourself, or run. Better pray it doesn't mean that You Are Already Dead.

This isn't a Brown Note, a sound or image that causes involuntary action or harm. This trope is about the psychological effect of a repeated noise to the character(s) in the story. See also Hearing Voices, which can also be this depending on what kind of voices they are, and Nothing Is Scarier, which is almost the Visible Silence version of this. Sinister Scraping Sound is an intentional, psych-out type of hellish noise; if a noise foreshadowing a threat is produced by something attached to, or ingested by, that threat, it's The Croc Is Ticking.

Compare Terrible Ticking. Contrast Most Wonderful Sound, which people are happy to hear. Compare and contrast Scare Chord, where the audience learns to fear the music.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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    Comic Books 
  • A variation on this happens in one of the EC Comics stories, wherein a king's daughter falls to her death while he is enjoying himself at a party, and her scream keeps ringing in his ears afterwards in every sound he hears, starting with the local church bells (he has them melted down), the movements of the castle inhabitants (he has them wrap their feet in soft cloth), and even the sounds of people working in town (he has them cease working). Unfortunately his quest for absolute silence reaches a head when his ears become so sensitive that he can hear the people breathing. He orders them to stop breathing, and finally he is beset by an angry (and loud) mob. One of them, a clockmaker, sews a clock inside the king's chest that automatically wound itself up at the slightest movement and took hours to run down. The king is left lying on a bed, hardly daring to move, hardly daring to breathe, so as not to trigger the clock. Then a spider comes down on a silk line, heading for his face...
  • In Supergirl storyline Bizarrogirl, Dr. Light and Gangbust are examining what appears to be a Kryptonian rocket ship when they hear a strange noise in the darkness. Alarmed, the duo become alert right before being ambushed by Bizarrogirl.

    Fan Works 
  • Always Visible: When Galbraith arrives in London, he notes that after Portland, the streets of the capital of England are so noisy from cars that he gets the impression that turbines are buried under the asphalt.
  • Children of an Elder God: In the prologue, two scientists and a team of spelunkers are exploring a network of caverns when they hear several faint, faraway screams. They freak out right away:
    [There are faint screams in the distance]
    Home Base (Speaker unidentified): What the hell was THAT?
  • From Harvest to the Ark: The skittering of the Flood becomes this for Alley. It creeps him the hell out when he first hears it on Alpha Halo and when he hears it again in Voi, knowing exactly what it represents, he FLIPS OUT to the extent that his behaviour is enough to convince his commander to retreat immediately.
  • It's Always Spooky Month: Skid can apparently make a high pitched shriek, and Pump can make what sounds like lawnmower noises. The narration lampshades it.
    The Monster wasn't exactly sure how he was able to make those sounds, but he wasn't one to question.
  • Lessons from the Mountain has Morgoth's laughter. Over five hundred years battling monsters, and Maedhros still considers his laughter to be the most frightful sound he has ever heard.
    Maedhros: I proudly told him that he may kill me or torture me, but that would never be. He laughed. I think that was the most awful sound I have ever heard, and I have heard many things that no one should hear.
  • Quicken: When Emma goes nuts, she screams. Her scream sounds so scary and inhuman than her assailants step back.
    A switch was suddenly flipped inside me. Something primal and inarticulate tore its way out of my throat, a sound I could have never imagined that I could make.
  • SCP-682's roar.
  • This Bites!: The foghorn button in the transceiver. Whoever triggers it will claim to love it, while everyone else screams at them.

  • In the song "Spooky Scary Skeletons" by Andrew Gold,note  the titular skeletons, despite being "shy" and "silly", are still considered scary because they "speak with such a screech", "shriek", and "shout startling shrilly screams".
  • Anaal Nathrakh invokes this in their music frequently, even by the standards of extreme metal. Have a listen.
  • Every Khanate "song" is completely demoralizing, especially on their first album. The worst examples of these would be the looping riff at the beginning of Under Rotting Sky and the entirety of No Joy. This is as close to Hell as a human being will ever come to. It should come as no surprise that Khanate features Steven O'Malley of Sunn O))) fame.
  • Prepare for the most spine chilling 7 minutes you will ever experience. Prepare yourself for Battle of Mice. The vocals are psychotic and distressing, but the final two minutes of this song is the horrifying cherry on top of this terrifying cake(You will be paranoid afterwards, guaranteed.)
  • Blind Guardian will make you fear both the song and the mere phrase "Mr. Sandman." In addition, the eerie jingle accompanying the "bung bung bung bung" will no doubt instill some fear into your dreams.
  • 22 Going On 23 by the Butthole Surfers. The song is a sloshy bass and high-pitched electric guitar broken up by a woman describing her trauma since being sexually assaulted, which may hit hard for anyone who has survived rape or any form of sexual violence.
  • Anything by Blut aus Nord will automatically qualify, specifically their later output
  • Krzysztof Penderecki has a freakish, atonal string piece originally called "8'37". After he heard the piece performed, however, he decided to retitle it Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Why he did that isn't surprising once one actually hears the piece: by accident, Penderecki managed to evoke air raid and emergency sirens, bomber noises, and even screams of the burning bomb victims. The opening note alone is one extended, unidentifiable piercing screech.
    • "Canticum Canticorum Salomonis" by the same composer sounds like souls crying out of the depths of hell, and Satan's wretches dragging them down again. Thrilling and terrifying.
  • Pink Floyd's Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict. The whole song is unsettling despite the innocuous name, but toward the middle they do this whispering/heavy breathing sound and cap off the song with a long-winded and completely incomprehensible speech in a dramatic tone of voice with a thick Scottish accent that may indeed by from Hell itself. Waters revived the Pict's vocal stylings for the schoolteacher from The Wall ten years later, and that guy sounds even more deranged and hellish.
    • The song is orders of magnitude worse played in reverse. Almost everything is eerier, but the long, shrill animal howl in the background sounds far more like a reedy, human voice in intense distress or pain, rising in pitch and volume instead of fading off.
    • Speaking of The Wall, the noises at the start of Empty Spaces, and the bridge in Hey You (with buzzing, dental-drill like noises) deserve an honourable mention, as does the absolutely batshit-insane megaphone speech at the end of "Waiting for the Worms." It's like a dramatic reading of Time Cube that deteriorates into incoherent garble.
    • "Careful with That Axe, Eugene..." There's a good reason why a certain trope is named after this song.
    • "A Saucerful Of Secrets" is full of this, especially the beginning of the second movement, which sounds like you're being chased through a dark castle by the legions of Hell.
  • Most of metal-bashing avant-garde group Einstürzende Neubauten's early output is like this. The worst offender, however, is "Negativ Nein", which opens to a creepy beat played on PVC pipes over what sounds like a badly plugged toilet being plunged, topped by Blixa Bargeld's broken-steam-whistle scream and heavily overdubbed and echoing chanting. In German.
    • Speaking of Einstürzende Neubauten...never listen to "Halber Mensch" if you still want to sleep at night. It's probably one of the scariest songs ever.
  • Converge, considered a founding father of the Metalcore genre, released their 2001 album Jane Doe to critical acclaim. The album was based off of songwriter & lead singer Jacob Bannon's horrible, draining, and broken relationship with an ex-girlfriend. The tenth song, "Phoenix in Flames", is 42 seconds of Bannon screaming his lungs out over mad drumming. It has to be heard to be believed.
  • Aphex Twin: "Come to Daddy" was written, in Richard D. James' own words, as "a crappy little death metal jingle" meant to spoof metal music. But for a "crappy" parody, James put quite a lot of work into making it sound scary.IIIII WANNNNT YOUR SOULLLLL! I WILL EAT YOUR SOULLLLL!
  • Ozzy Osbourne's voice on the first two Black Sabbath albums, especially on the self-titled album's title track. Before he became a caricature of himself, Ozzy sounded like the lost soul he actually was at the time. This is especially notable on the pre-album demo track of "War Pigs" featured on the Ozzman Cometh collection, which is far creepier than anything Sabbath actually released.
    • Just the first two? Ozzy's vocals on the third album, Master of Reality, are just as creepy, especially on "Lord of This World".
    • First 30 or so seconds of Iron Man can qualify.
  • Number nine...number nine...number nine... and everything thereafter
    • The chaotic orchestral buildup that's played twice in "A Day In The Life" from The Beatles Sgt. Pepper" album. You get used to it eventually, but the first time you heard it's frightening. Especially through headphones.
    • On the subject of "A Day in the Life", that 15khz tone near the end of the track.
  • tool loves using this, and quite a few tracks on any of their albums are comprised of dissonant noise and sound effects. Special mention would have to go to "Disgustipated" and "Faaip de Oaid" though. Both are the closing tracks from their respective albums, and both manage to be completely fucking terrifying.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Ur-Example may very well come from Classical Mythology: the god Pan loved to scare the shit out of lonely travelers by hiding nearby and letting out a bloodcurdling scream. Ever wonder where we get the word "panic?" Now you know.
  • Similar to Pan is the skinwalker of Navajo folklore. It initially freaks out its victim with two loud whistling noises that can be heard for miles. Its "speech" sounds like a distorted voice or animal call.
  • Japanese Mythology: A number of youkai are know to torment travelers by making sudden and terrifying noises, like the kerakera onna (a giant, ghostly woman who haunts brothel patrons with an Evil Laugh only her victim can hear), or Hachishaku-sama (Ms. Eight-Foot-Tall), who stalks young children and can imitate the voices of their loved ones but can only make a terrifying "po-po-po" sound otherwise.
  • La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) from Latin American folklore is very well known for her piercing, otherworldly screams of "¡Ay mis hijos!" ("Oh, my sons!"). To this day, many people are still very terrified of her and believe her laments are an omen for dreadful times.

  • Kakos Industries: Episode 6 sees the Kakos Industries shareholders receiving Corin's announcements through an echo trapped in a box. The box is made of wood from Kakos Industries' GMO Echo Tree, which contains vibrations indefinitely. Corin goes on to explain, however, that the Echo Tree project is now in permanent beta after a project staff member murdered everyone else and burned all the notes. The reason he did this? He stubbed his toe walking through the Echo Tree Forest, which echoed his scream of pain for so long the sound of it it drove him mad. Between that and the sounds of being mercilessly axe murdered being added to the Forest's sounds, cleanup was handled by Kakos Industries sending in their best body-collectors-who-happen-to-be-deaf, who complained after the fact of a cold vibration inside of their bones.
  • The Magnus Archives:
    • The whistled tune that the narrator of "First Hunt" hears as he and his friend hunt portends something very bad. The tune is "A-hunting we shall go".
    • In "Boatswain's Call" the mate on a modern ship carries the eponymous old-fashioned whistle. As the narrator finds herself in the midst of a disturbing trip in the (also strangely old-fashioned) lifeboat with the crew, the mate blows it, making a sound that is unnaturally and disturbingly shrill and piercing, yet somehow also sounds far away. Of course, this signals that things are about to go From Bad to Worse.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Fraggle Rock: In the episode "Wembley's Wonderful Whoopee Water'', Wembley discovers that he can hear liquid inside rocks. He uses this ability to dig through one and find fizzy water that tastes like strawberries, boosts energy, and makes sleep unnecessary. The other Fraggles declare him a hero, but then Wembley hears a disturbing new sound in the rock the water is being pumped from. When he listens to the rock a while later, the noise has gotten louder and scarier than before. On top of that, the rock now has a crack in it. In the morning, the crack has gotten bigger, and the noise is even worse. A few minutes later, the rock opens a Bottomless Pit, which Gobo falls down. Wembley rescues Gobo and declares the well has to be shut down.
  • A subverted example occurs in an early episode of Sesame Street. Mr. Hooper has to go to the post office first thing in the morning and asks Big Bird to open the store for him. Big Bird is already nervous about how dark the store is, and when he unlocks the door and hears a strange noise, he freaks and runs out of the store, not even bothering to turn on the lights. Fortunately for him, Mr. Hooper has just gotten back. He turns on the lights and shows Big Bird where the sound was coming from: the pay phone was off the hook.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: The clicking sound of Yumiko's boxcutter is something you learn to fear in Mihama Academy, as it indicates that it's wielder is royally pissed.
  • Super Danganronpa Another 2: Chapter 5 ends with a successful Frame-Up and a Total Party Kill. The sound of the "wrong verdict" alarm sums up the entire horror of the situation perfectly.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Most Terrifying Sound, Hell Is That Sound


Friday the 13th

The sound that plays in every movie when focusing on the killer (''ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma''), or the killer is nearby, meant to resemble Jason's voice saying "kill kill kill, mom mom mom" in Mrs. Voorhees' mind.

How well does it match the trope?

4.74 (19 votes)

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