Earlier this month we offered you an exclusive listen to “Carriage Ride” – a track from the album Monsters of Legend, the latest release from celebrated horror music team Midnight Syndicate. That track's chilling blend of moody cinematic score and immersive sound design was just the beginning of what would turn out to be their most elaborate and entertaining creation to date. The creative duo of Edward Douglas & Gavin Goszka are famed for their skills in creating complete sound environments – their CDs are a perennial favorite with Halloween spookhouses and parties, costume and prop shops, role-playing games and gothic events – but until recently, their album content concentrated on their music, with sound design and effects playing more of a supporting role in expanding the scope of the compositions.
All that changed with 2011's Carnival Arcane (read our review here), the band's first major step toward expanding their sonic environment, with music and effects often sharing nearly equal duties to create a three-dimensional experience – in essence, a spooky but sublime campfire tale told without words. Monsters of Legend takes that storytelling aspect to the next level, creating a full-scale sense of cinema and casting you, the listener, as the protagonist in a classic horror film. As you can tell by the title and cover art, it's the beloved Universal Monsters which populate this audio world, and the sound design brings the creatures, their minions and their spooky lairs to eerie life.
In line with the album's classic theme, Douglas and Goszka have turned to more traditional symphonic arrangements, drawing inspiration from legendary composers like Bernard Hermann. The result is a more sweeping, sumptuous sound that offers genuine chills as well as a cozy feeling of nostalgia for the golden age of screen horror. The mood sets in gently but effectively with the prologue "Return to Arcacia," with low, lurching strings and piano creeping in amid the sound of rainfall, followed by the dark brass fanfare of “Into the Valley of Shadows,” which suggests a proper opening title sequence. By this point the larger scale of the production is very apparent, and captures the feel of a large studio recording hall.
As the tracks progress, the elements of a loose storyline begin to unfold, with the sound of a horse-drawn cart clattering through "A Watchful Gathering," distant rumbling drums and soft chimes, whistling wind and the cawing of crows suggesting a late-night graveyard visit – perhaps by Dr. Frankenstein himself in search of fresh corpses. A thick brew of surreal effects and eerie chimes depicts the oceangoing threat of the Dracula-inspired piece "Unexpected Cargo," with a climb of dissonant brass signaling the awakening of a deadly stowaway. A swarm of shrieking bats bursts through "Stone Guardians," giving way to a somber pipe organ, bell and choir dirge, with Gregorian backing chants and a single female soprano lead; similar gothic arrangements come into play in "Requiem."
One of the most ominous tracks is the doomy march "Dark Tower," which opens with the sound of a massive drawbridge groaning open, inviting the listener to venture even deeper into the darkness; it essentially serves as the gateway to the film's third and concluding act. From this point, climactic moments from all of the classic films are represented: a fast-paced werewolf hunt on the moors in "A Terror Unleashed," the last stand of Count Dracula in "Lord of the Realm," and the building and animation of Frankenstein's monster (listen for the crackle of the Doctor's laboratory equipment). The latter culminates in one of the album's most dramatic cues, “It Lives!” with screeching strings, ground-shaking percussion and blasts of brass heralding the creature's unnatural birth.
While effectively paying homage to the golden age of horror, Monsters of Legend also transported me to happy Halloweens long ago, when my third-grade teacher killed the lights and played haunted house and ghost story records to a simultaneously terrified and delighted cluster of kids. (If you have similar fond memories, it might be worth shelling out a little extra coinage for the vinyl edition of Monsters of Legend to fully recreate the experience... but act fast, because they're only pressing 250 copies.) The nostalgic fun-factor alone is enough for me to rank this record among my all-time favorite Midnight Syndicate creations, but it also satisfies the horror soundtrack fiend in me... and take my word for it, that beast has a ravenous appetite.
If you're already ripping away pages from your calendar in fevered anticipation of October 31st (less than 100 days to go!), giving Monsters of Legend a spin or two will no doubt magnify your Halloween mania... but it's totally worth it, and once you hear what's inside you'll certainly be adding it to your playlist for this year's festivities. But hey, why wait? Get the party started now!