The Devil’s Music: 10 Songs Based Around the Tritone Interval

If you’ve ever studied any music theory or are just given to reading about music, you’ve probably heard of the tritone — it’s an interval that’s three whole tones apart, and its dissonance means that it sounds sinister as hell. Some time in the 18th century, possibly earlier, it was dubbed diabolus in musica (the devil in music), and its use has historically been frowned upon in liturgical music, which generally relies on unison and harmony. (This, perhaps, gives rise to the oft-repeated story that the tritone was banned by the Catholic Church.) All this, of course, means that using it in your songs carries a certain inherent badassness — something exploited by the musicians who populate this list.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — “The Carny”

Cave uses the tritone to evoke a suitably freaky circus atmosphere, which is pretty much perfect for a song that involves murderous dwarves, a bird girl (“flapping and squawking”), a horse called Sorrow, someone named “Dog Boy,” and a biblical flood thrown in for good measure. And then, of course, there’s the malevolent carny himself — we only hear of him through his absence, but there’s little doubt left that he’s not a particularly pleasant sort.