Thursday, October 3, 2013

Day 3 - Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana

     One aspect of Halloween I've always thought was lacking, the only thing that might make the only other contender for king of holidays-Christmas-have a slight edge, is the music. The volume of carols Christmas can bombard you with in the car, in stores, on the sidewalk, or on TV is staggering. But what does Halloween get? Look at any cheap point-of-purchase Halloween soundtrack at the costume store and you'll have some co-opted movie themes-Exorcist...okay, fair enough, Ghostbusters...hmmm, not terribly scary-and pop songs of questionable appropriateness-Thriller...fine, Werewolves of, I, just..what?

     There is a smattering of "Halloween carols" out there, Kristen Lawrence is a kindred spirit and has made a few albums of carol-esque songs. Still though, there are lots of borrowed pagan or re-purposed folk songs on her CDs. And her works are far from being ubiquitous and a part of our hive song library. A+ for effort though, certainly. The closest we have, that fits in my perhaps rigid demands, to Halloween songs would be novelties like Monster Mash. Which is a fine enough song to get you in the spirit of the season...but ultimately, its just a novelty. What if the only Christmas carol we had was Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? I'd love to have a catalog of songs covering the same variety of tone as Christmas has. Maybe a solemn song about the legend of Jack O'Lantern, a fun song about trick or treating, you get the idea.

    But alas, this world doesn't exist yet, so the next best thing for me is good, moody, unsettling instrumental music. Now I can already hear people saying, "This jerk whines about the Exorcist theme and now he's going on and on about how great instrumental music is for Halloween", but just hold on you punks. What bugs me about throwing movie themes willy nilly into a Halloween playlist is that they already have association built into them. You hear a movie theme and your mind thinks about...the movie. Not Halloween. I do keep some movie soundtracks in my Halloween collection, most of Danny Elfman's stuff is obviously begging to be played this time of year. I include those soundtracks with less distinct "themes" though, stuff you couldn't easily hum and recognize, Sleepy Hollow or The Wolfman, for example.

   That's where Midnight Syndicate's, and some of Nox Arcana's, albums come in. They're created with the same sensibilities of a soundtrack, but for movies that don't exist so no problems with pre-existing association. Most of the albums have a concept that the music is built around, a loose "plot" that gives them identities...vampires, an asylum, zombies, haunted carnival. I qualified Nox Arcana's discography somewhat because they have a few albums tied directly to existing source material, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, HP Lovecraft's work, that has performed spoken word segments and don't work as perfectly and universally as I'd like. Not that it's a comment on the quality of the albums. Taken on their own, if a more specific experience was desired, they are great listens.

    You've likely heard both of these groups without realizing it in a Halloween store or while waiting in line at a haunted house, they've become the go-to guys for "more serious" Halloween ambiance and with good reason. It's very well crafted music, it bites into your bones like a cold night and makes you feel like you're living in a horror movie. And on a non-spooky tangent, Nox Arcana also has a few winter themed albums that would be perfect to play in December for a more secular, solstice-y celebration.

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