As natural as it may seem for electronic music pioneers like Skinny Puppy's cEvin Key to compose music for horror movies, it's amazing that a project like this didn't come along much sooner: seven years ago, Key (aka Kevin Crompton) joined forces with two of his frequent collaborators – industrial music icon Ken “Hiwatt” Marshall and videogame composer Traz Damji – to form the instrumental unit Scaremeister, partnering with the Groove Addicts music library (today the Non-Stop Music/Warner Chappell library) to release a volume of 31 “mini-scores” suitable for horror features, trailers, TV shows and games.
cEvin Key (and friend) in the studio
Within a week of that first volume's release, Scaremeister had already licensed three of the tracks to major film studios and a video game developer. Since then, multiple cues from this ultra-creepy collection have made their way into trailers for Inglourious Basterds, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween 2 and many more, bringing Scaremeister in line with fellow FEARNET fave Celldweller as one of the industry's leading go-to music providers for horror and sci-fi filmmakers. This week, that first collection – now titled 31 Spirits – is finally available as an album from Metropolis Records, and can be appreciated as a standalone collection of eerily effective soundscapes that ranks among the participating artists' best work.
As you might expect, the majority of the tracks on Spirits are brief – best suited to trailers or TV spots – with many coming in at well under 2 minutes; the dynamics are also super-compact, with many of the pieces following a three-part structure despite their brief runtimes. But that's where their similarities end: the themes and moods represented here run the full spectrum from subtle, almost subliminal atmospheres to full-on shock and terror cues – often over the course of a single track.
Ken "Hiwatt" Marshall and Traz Damji (a.k.a. "The Humble Brothers")
One aspect that immediately distinguishes these compositions from the vast majority of movie and game music is the team's creative choices within the world of vintage analog instrumentation; while analog synths have become quite fashionable in film scores lately, most of those tend to stick to '80s-era pop and dance-based structures, while the Scaremeister crew also tend to compose along classical lines – although they usually avoid the all-too-familiar orchestra samples, a wise choice which lends their compositions a distinctive alien quality. Notable exceptions include the excellent “Alchemist,” “Premature Obituary” and “From Within,” which blend the best of both worlds.
With that said, these tracks know how to get up and rock; there's a heavy industrial and experimental noise undercurrent to many of these cues, rising to the forefront in “Electroshmere,” “The Escape,” “Continuum” and “The Apparition,” and the rhythmic spectre of Skinny Puppy is ever-present on tracks like “His Return,” “Subject 22” and “Chamber Therapy,” any of which could work as well on the dance floor as the big screen. Springy, distorted bass lines, crunchy guitar riffs and thundering electro beats provide the lifeforce for cues like “Personal Demons,” “Dark Skies,” and one of my favorites, the madly metalized “Omen in Black.”
More than just a must-have instrumental collection for Skinny Puppy lovers, 31 Spirits is a welcome arrival for any horror music collector, capturing the high-level production and dynamics of feature horror film scores, but in a cool bite-size format (much like Celldweller's Soundtrack to the Voices in My Head series) that clicks equally well into a mix-and-match playlist with any variety of dark industrial, electro and EDM tracks. For me, it's never too early to start building the perfect Halloween party mix, and these cues are sure to prompt more than a few “what movie is this from?” conversations with your fellow horror buffs.