With the approach of Halloween comes another tradition – the release of a new album from horror masters Midnight Syndicate (Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka.) Their albums – Carnival Arcane is their 14th – always fills the air with Gothic dread, ambient sounds and creepy instruments. If the “things that go bump in the night” had a soundtrack, Midnight Syndicate would ring through the echoing halls upon their midnight entrance.
Each album they release tells a story in music, a “soundtrack for the imagination” filled with haunting melodies, sound effects, shrieks, groans and the occasional lyrics, all fitting the theme of the album. For instance, their studio album “The 13th Hour” has the listener journeying through a sinister and Gothic haunted house. The album begins with the house looming in the mist, and subsequent songs makes it feel like we are stealthily creeping from one dusty, decrepit room to the next, until at last, we realize we are not quite alone … and that this presence is not friendly.
Carnival Arcane continues in this grand, masterful tradition of storytelling with music, but is even more ambitious than all others – both in the depth, grandeur and creepiness of the music, and in the well-researched and accurate representation of what it would be like to visit a slightly shabby, sinister circus from the Victorian era. It owes a lot to the novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (at least that’s the impression I got,) complete with nightmarish rides, a sense of foreboding and sinister characters.
We’re introduced to the Lancaster-Rigby Carnival, a traveling circus with a sinister past. The album begins with the arrival of yourself, a “mesonoxian” visitor (a very cool archaic word meaning midnight.) The atmosphere is cold, and in the distance we hear the arrival of a locomotive – the wheels squeak to a halt, and the sounds of the circus rise from the night air in a slow, haunting chorus of introduction. Already, we feel a sense of something shady and macabre, but we must go forward – who know what wonders await within? Besides, the aggressive ringmaster (voiced by Jason Carter – aka Marcus Cole on Babylon 5 and a bit part as a demon on Angel) promises us the horrific instruments of lobotomies, freakshows, the big top and a grand carousel you’ll never forget.
While we voyage through a variety of acts, we can hear the ambient sounds of excited visitors, strange laughter, elephants and the squeals of horses. From a menagerie of strange creatures, a forceful hawker ushers us into Madame Zora’s tent, where we are read our fortune with a flourish of deep atmospheric music, curious whispers and a sense of dread. Through Dr. Atmore’s Elixers and Good Humour and Fortification (cheerful circus music and applause), Alura the Snake Lady (Middle Eastern mysticism) and Arcane Wonders (Victorian music boxes), we have a sense of the wide musical range Douglas and Goszka have put into this album – far beyond the Gothic melodies of previous albums.
The middle of the album begins the transformation from fantastical wonders and big top adventures to something far more sinister and dangerous – you begin to realize and witness the fallen grandeur of the Lancaster-Rigby circus. From the chilling and even sad music of the freakshow, we go on a carousel ride from Hell – beginning with the usual cheerful carousel melody, it quickly degenerates into an abomination of madness, ghosts and ghouls until it explodes in a crescendo of what must be broken horses, snapping electricity and injured victims.
We journey deeper into the carnival, where all the Gothic and Victorian horrors begin to close in on us – mad clowns, screaming children, horrific laughter as we’re lost in the hall of mirrors, a ghoul chasing us in the shadows, where we run, panicked, into a dreaded labyrinth, and finally collapse in a claustrophobic room of barking mad laughter. The carnival then closes (perhaps a bit too hastily … before the Victorian-era authorities witness the mayhem), and we are left listening to the grunts of several circus performers entering their boxcar after a long night, trying to stifle their mirth and drunkenness. One performer talks to another in a conspiratory whisper “So, what’s the next town at?” A cold wind blows through the air, and music from a Victor gramaphone echoes off in the distance.
With it’s wide range of atmospheric sounds and natural transitions from one track to the next, this could easily pass as a movie soundtrack for a grandiose horror film. Midnight Syndicate have definitely pushed their musical boundaries, and the mix of ambient carnival sounds and atmospheric composition blend perfectly, successfully transporting you to their fantastical world. It fits perfectly as the chilly atmosphere of a home haunt, and no doubt you will hear it at some amusement park, where their music is often played. This is an essential album to add to your horror collection, and powerful mood music while celebrating Halloween … or to add a touch of sinister magic before going to a modern circus.
- Carnival Arcane can be found at Amazon.com