Death Waltz: Behind the Art of the World’s Spookiest Reissue Label
Spin the Blackest Circles
British nightmare factory Death Waltz Records combines the haunting soundtracks of cult flicks with the blood-and-gutso mayhem of contemporary artists. The sinister vision of Spencer Hickman, the one-time manager of Rough Trade’s London dungeon, has released ten vinyl-only slabs in only one year of operation — breathing new life into John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s prescient fog-drones from Escape From New York, Johan Söderqvist’s sweeping orchestral score for modern vampire tale Let the Right One In, and Giuliano Sorgini’s psych-funk hallucination for 1974’s The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, among others. These vinyl reanimations are all wrapped in an artist’s gorgeous new interpretation of a film’s worm-eaten skulls or VHS hallucinations.
Hickman has been working at record stores for nearly 30 years, and started Death Waltz with the idea to put out the vinyl version of the soundtrack to 2009’s retromanical goosebumper House of the Devil. He’s been chasing that particular contract for a year, but the idea snowballed into a flurry of hopeful e-mails — and a surprising number of “yes” answers from the horror elite. “The Italians, every single one of those people has been ripped off so many times,” Hickman says. “That’s their kind of existence in the film industry. When I did [DW001] Zombi Flesh Eaters, I just emailed the guys that owned the rights and they were like, ‘We can do that, as long as you pay us. Because most people don’t pay us.’ I paid everyone up front, in advance, two months wages, and just hoped for the best…I always just thought I’d press 500 records and it’d be a little side thing. I never thought it’d be so busy that I’d have to leave my job and make it my job.”
While ominous strings, stabs, and screeches lurking in colored vinyl grooves are obviously the Death Waltz backbone, its bleeding heart lies in the vibrant sleeve art, splattered into being by Hickman’s favorite graphic designers, and included on a fold-out poster in every copy. “One thing I say to every artist is ‘You’re not doing a movie poster, you’re doing a mood piece for the music,’ says Hickman. “The artwork is for the music and not necessarily for the film.” In honor of the label’s upcoming tenth release, here’s Blu-Ray director’s commentary for of Death Waltz’s gorgeous, gore-filled LP covers.