Sunday, October 01, 2006

Halloween Music: Why Midnight Syndicate is the Best

If you visit a haunted house this Halloween, you may hear some spooky music being played over the speakers while you're waiting in line, or you may hear it inside the attraction itself. You may also spot a poster that reads, "Music for this haunted house has been provided by Midnight Syndicate."

Then you might think, who or what is Midnight Syndicate?

Here's the Wikipedia entry.

Certainly not mainstream, and unlikely to ever have a music video, Midnight Syndicate is easily the best "gothic horror" soundscape recording group on the market. But it's not sold year-round in music stores. If you want to buy it retail, you have to visit the Halloween stores that pop up late September and through October every year. Otherwise, you'll have to order online.

Midnight Syndicate is great to listen to around Halloween, but a lot of people, myself included, like listening to it all-year round. I understand it has a big following among the Goth community, too.

I've described Midnight Syndicate as "moody orchestral music." But it's a lot more than just that. Each CD is a soundscape, a theater-of-the-mind soundtrack with varying levels of intensity and style. It is quite literally like listening to a movie soundtrack of a truly frightening film.

Each CD release gets progressively better than the one before, although I can recommend any of them (but I have not heard their debut CD). For instance, Gates of Delirium is a "visit to Haverghast Asylum," and during the opening number, "Welcome," you can almost envision title credits rolling on the screen. But there is no accompanying movie to go with this CD. Any images will occur inside your mind provided imaginatively by the music and sound effects.

Following Gates is The 13th Hour, which in my opinion is their best next to Gates. They have eight CDs out now, and their latest, Out of the Darkness, is on my birthday list for this year (my birthday is October 31, of course). These CDs are awesome for any Halloween event or trick-or-treating, or for year-round enjoyment.

As a Halloween afficianado, I've heard many other Halloween CDs and records. Most of them are disappointing at best. One such example is Manheim Steamroller's Halloween CD, produced by Chip Davis of the Christmas CD fame. The reason this CD fails is because it's too happy and bouncy. You can't have a Halloween party (for adults) and play this CD. You might as well put in the Monster Mash. I bought this expecting a good, dark, moody musical experience. Instead, its full of dance rhythms and fast tempos. It's not Halloween. It includes a second CD with sound effects which are okay. If you need good sound effects for your Halloween haunt, the second CD is good, but some editing will be required.

Martha Stewart, would you believe, came out with her own CD of sound effects titled Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween. It isn't bad. I've heard much much worse. It is full of various good sound effects. The problem is, though, that the same sound effects repeat throughout the CD. If you can find this CD and pay a couple bucks for it, it's worth it. If not, pass on it.

Erich Kunzel's Chiller will always be at the top of the list for quality Halloween music. But when the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra performs the music, how could you expect anything less than perfection? Recorded in DDD, it's crystal clear. If you listen closely with headphones, you can hear the wind instrument musicians take breaths before playing flutes. The music is awesome, and it even has sound effects of a frightened woman running through the rain looking for help at a scary old house, and the shower scene is recreated as well.

And any Halloween isn't complete without the Halloween (movie) soundtrack.

There are a lot more quality Halloween soundscapes out there, but Midnight Syndicate is the one I recommend. Don't waste your time or money on no-name department store Halloween CDs.

Speaking of department stores, when I was a kid in the early 1970s, my mother and I were shopping in October and I spotted a record album called Sounds to Make You Shiver.

This record had everything. It had an awesome cover, and inside it contained a visit to a crazy haunted house filled with creaking doors, and out-of-tune piano, witch cackling, some laughing guy torturing a screaming woman, shutters slamming open and closed in the wind, and so much more. Side B was a series of the sound effects used on Side A.

I listened to this record millions of times. It was one of my childhood icons.

It disappeared a few years later. Last year, 2005, I did a search on google and found a few blogs reminiscing about the record. I found it on eBay and bought one. The cover was just as I remembered, and I listened to it and discovered it wasn't as frightening to me as an adult as it was when I was younger. Huh. But it was still fun and I played it on my porch speakers during trick-or-treating. The trick-or-treaters seemed to like it, and it did add to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, as a 35 year old adult, I found it a little cheesey. But it's cool to when you're a kid. And you know what? I still enjoy it despite its cheesiness.

Stop by again soon as I discuss which Halloween haunted houses in the Cincinnati area are the best, just in case you've never been to one and you're wondering which to go to first.


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