Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “The Castle Hall” — Ayreon (1998)

Cries from the grave resound in my ears
They hail from beyond my darkest fears
Faces of the past are etched in my brain
The women I raped, the men I’ve slain

Shades of the dead are sliding on the wall
Demons dance in the castle hall…

Aw man… the song couldn’t be more Halloween if it tried.

The Castle Hall is the second song I’ve featured from Ayreon‘s prog-rock masterpiece Into The Electric Castle (the first being the exquisite Valley of the Queens). This makes absolutely perfect sense. The theatricality of the album, with its fantastical elements, shades of horror, death, fantasy, reflection, and even humor all fit perfectly into the Halloween ethos.

To give a little context: the storyline deals with the fate of eight strangers, pulled from different eras of human existence by unknown cosmic entities. Each represents a trope from a different era: a knight, a Roman soldier, an Egyptian queen, a 60s hippie (!), a barbarian, a “future man”, etc. An unseen voice instructs each of them to traverse this strange world in search of an “Electric Castle”, inside which they will be forced to confront and combat their darkest fears and innermost turmoil.

Or some such mishegas. It’s a magnificent album musically, and the story is over-the-top fun that has its dark moments, its sad moments, its WEIRD moments, but it never takes itself too seriously. I think that’s why it works so well for me.

Anyway, the track The Castle Hall features the inevitable moment when the surviving visitors finally make it to the titular structure, a moment of dark and wondrous excitement. The song showcases the Barbarian and the Knight, as they face their secrets within its stone walls. The Barbarian confronts the spirits all those he has raped and killed during a lifetime of chaotic bloodshed. The Knight, pure of heart, invokes power and protection from the sword Excalibur and the sorcerer Merlin.

It sounds silly, maybe it is, but it’s so much fun. The dark swirling keyboards, haunting vocals, crashing guitars, and thundering rhythm section all evoke a terrifying trip throughout a haunted castle. The two lines I bolded above “Shades of the dead are sliding on the wall / Demons dance in the castle hall!” are so perfectly delivered, so wondrously spooky, so iconic in their presentation, it hardly abides the telling. Except of course it does!

So continue your Halloween journey by journeying with me through The Castle Hall. Do you dare confront your secrets, those you have wronged, the turmoil that you hide from everyone, perhaps even yourself? Carry a torch. Bring a sword. For all the good it’ll do you…

If you have killed, beware the Gathering of Spirits,
For they do fish for men.
Here, the disembodied Astral World becomes flesh once more.
I pity the men of swords.
For here, blood runs cold…

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