October is finally upon us, and that means it's time to dig into our favorite Halloween mood music – whether it's horror movie soundtracks, spooky-themed bands or dark soundscapes – to add that extra something to your homemade haunt, costume party, game night, movie night, or whatever keeps your Jack O' Lantern lit. Depending on your taste, just about anything we've covered here in our music reviews would fit the bill – but as a confessed soundtrack junkie, nothing gets me in the spirit better than the vintage vibe of classic horror scores. That includes original soundtrack albums, of course, but there are also some electronic and prog-rock artists out there who harness that same vibe for their own works, offering a new spin on old school. I was recently introduced to an electronic musician who not only pays creative tribute to those classic movie grooves, but has found creative and fun ways to pull them out of the background and onto the dance floor.
UK-based artist Sam Haynes accomplishes this with Welcome to the Horror Show, a full-length album of eighteen entertaining and atmospheric Halloween tracks – all of which draw upon the unique and memorable synth horror movie scores of the '70s and '80s (and some reach back even further). Rather than simply rehashing the signature electronic tones of John Carpenter, Goblin and other beloved composers, Haynes goes back to the elements that made those classic tracks tick, using lo-fi analog textures, pulses and patterns as the foundation for new and original compositions. Where artists like Zombi, Umberto, Anima Morte, Giallos Flame and Bottin riff on the progressive rock elements of those works, Haynes places his emphasis on the more cinematic, atmospheric elements (calling to mind another FEARnet fave, Midnight Syndicate), then builds a beat-based repertoire on that foundation. The results will feel right at home in the foggy, cobwebbed corridors of a Halloween attraction, but also command your attention as groovy stand-alone works... some of which will get you out of the shadows and up on your feet. An ideal sample of this balance between old-school synth cinema and modern EDM is the darkly textured “Ghost House,” which you can hear below:
After a deceptively mellow vintage organ intro, a dark and buzzing down-tempo synth bass line and heavy beat injects this track with ghoulish energy, breaking for a light motif reminiscent of the unforgettable Phantasm main theme. (The track later gets a wicked revamp in the “Fettdog Mix,” which strips that motif to the basics to make way for a tense, glitched-up electro dirge.) A familiar Night of the Living Dead sample kicks loose an up-tempo Euro club-style EBM groove in “Zombie,” and there's a goofy but infections funhouse feel to the shuffling beat of “Halloween Night.” '80s synth textures blend with my old friend the theremin (an electronic staple of '50s horror and sci-fi) for “Endless Nightmare,” built on a simple but irresistibly clicky beat. “Scarecrows,” which is low-key and moody in its original piano-based form, gets amped up a bit with a slow, creeping beat for the “Cheekyboy Dub” remix.
Roughly half the tracks on Welcome to the Horror Show employ this fusion of old and new styles, but when Haynes chooses to set the rhythmic elements aside and summon pure cinematic atmosphere, he brings forth quite effective mood pieces – some of which will warm you with nostalgia like a hot mug of cider, while others provide genuine chills (and maybe a jump or two). You can picture Dr. Phibes at his organ in cuts like "31-13", while the harpsichord line of "The Dark" has a slick giallo flavor, and the theremin returns for a more serious role in “Midnight at the Funhouse.” Tracks like the simple but effective “Doll House” and "Séance" build upon creepy lullaby themes or piano patterns by layering in dark strings, ghostly choirs and the occasional hard impact or shock-stinger; one of the coolest in this crop is "Ghost Train," which employs a low John Carpenter-style piano and growling synth strains to create a thick, ominous tension.
In case you're wondering, I'm already busy building my perfect 2013 Halloween playlist (to tell the truth, it's pretty much a year-round work in progress), and with the arrival of Welcome to the Horror Show – as well Haynes' debut album Halloween Carnival – I've got plenty of new material to mix into my brew of old and new horror soundtracks, dark rock, experimental electronics and vintage spookhouse sounds. Now's the ideal time to pounce on this one for your own party mix, because Haynes is currently offering a discount on the digital copy of the album in a variety of formats. Head over to his Bandcamp page, and when prompted for a discount code, type halloween to get 20% off.
But before you go, check out the official video for “Halloween Night”...