Thursday, September 29, 2011

Carnival Arcane by Midnight Syndicate

Doctor Zombie discovered Midnight Syndicate purely by accident.

Several years back, I'd heard them mentioned a few times on various horror forums I frequented at the time... but hadn't given them much thought. I'd mentally stored them away as this Goth/spooky/haunted house music that people seemed to rave about, but I was in no rush to check them out. Almost as an afterthought, I put them on my Amazon wishlist with the intention of purchasing them when I got the chance, but with no true burning need to do so.

Some months later, in October of 2002 or 2003, I happened to be doing a painting side job in that most unholy of places - the west side of Cleveland. I had a few thousand bucks in my pocket, so, after stopping at Einstein Brother's Bagels for a Caramel Apple Latte in Crocker Park, I swung into the local Borders just to look around. There was a Halloween-inspired music rack, and there I saw Midnight Syndicate's Born of the Night and Gates of Delirium. Remembering I'd heard good things about them, and fully besotted with the warm, bloodstained feeling of October and the coming Samhain, I took a chance and bought both CD's.

Jesus Christ in a candy apple red chariot, am I ever glad I did.

I wasn't two songs into the first CD, and still getting on I-90, when I realized I was a huge Midnight Syndicate fan. Since then, their ghoulish symphonies have been a constant writing companion. I can say this with certainty - I'm a product of the 70's and 80's and an unrepentant horror fan. There's something about Midnight Syndicate's music that resonates with the part of me that never grew up; that eternal ten year old who still dearly loves Dungeons and Dragons, late night horror movie hosts, Halloween, zombies, vampires, werewolves, walks through graveyards beneath an October moon and curdled milk clouds, and all other manner of things that go bump in the night.

Seriously. If Doctor Zombie's Midnight Theater of Terror had a soundtrack, it would be something dark and moody from Midnight Syndicate.

Imagine my further surprise when I found out that they actually hail from just down the road. That's right, dear readers - Midnight Syndicate is local and they're from Chardon, which is only about 20 minutes down the road from the Theater of Terror. Northern Ohio apparently breeds all kinds of ghouls who love all that's spooky. Must be something in the water...

My frequent readers know that I absolutely love to shine a light on local artists, and Midnight Syndicate is no different. My love of their early efforts led to my purchase their other albums, and their retrospective CD - Out of the Darkness - is an everyday listen at work while I write.

Midnight Syndicate has a sound unlike any other. They perfectly capture the sound of creepy moors, dark and spooky houses, the visceral, unheard soundtrack of Halloween, and all that is dark and eerie. One of my favorite Midnight Syndicate songs, Noctem Aeturnas, was the music I heard in my head when I wrote For Whom The Gods Love Die Young, a short story in my Kindle-only horror fiction collection, Disturbed Graves: Tales of Terror and the Undead. That haunting zombie short story had a chilling soundtrack, courtesy of Midnight Syndicate.

So - what about Carnival Arcane? Obviously, being a fan, I was excited about their new release and, when I had the opportunity to pick it up earlier this week, I jumped on it.

Carnival Arcane is, in a word, perfection. Thematically, it tells the story of a traveling circus, but it's that circus we all fear coming to town. With shades of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, or Richard Laymon's Traveling Vampire Show, or even the mystical, mystery of the wonderful HBO series Carnivale; Carnival Arcane is at times both soothing and disturbing. It is brilliant in its unrealized terrors.

Yes, yes. We all fear clowns. Clowns have become almost as trite as a dude in a hockey mask... but Carnival Arcane transcends that tired trope and takes us into a lush, decaying, musical world where there is evil lurking under the big top, or staring with cold, alien, glittery eyes from behind the wagons parked just outside of the garish carnival lights. It is about freaks, and charlatans, and animals long abused and hungry. It is about the dirty sexuality of the snake dancing woman, or the inexplicable gooseflesh that breaks out under your shirt as you have your fortune read by an old woman with a raspy, Eastern European accent. It is about the Ring Master who is too tall and too pale. It is all of these things and more.

Midnight Syndicate achieves what many musicians have tried and failed to do. They've made a concept album that maintains the illusion throughout. And they've been doing this throughout their career, which is pretty cool if you think about it.

Now, before Dr. Z throws all credibility out the window, lest you think that I am not an impartial reviewer... bear this in mind. I've often thought that Midnight Syndicate made some choices that were to their detriment - especially in their earlier CD's - choices that were too over the top. From the lugubrious theatricality of the spoken word on Born of the Night, to the overly bombastic Dungeons and Dragons marches - I've always felt they sometimes went too far in their attempts to integrate the creepiness of sounds with the perfectly fine-tuned, mood-inducing music.

Not so with Carnival Arcane. They've taken the style and genre they defined, and made a CD that is the quintessential blend of sounds; both melodic and atonal. On one hand you have well written and performed music, music that tugs at our darkest fears, and on the other, you have these sounds - sometimes obvious and at other times almost subliminal - that add to the atmospheric instrumentals.

This CD is a masterpiece, and the deviant minds behind Midnight Syndicate - Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka - have outdone themselves.

For those readers of mine who are writers or artists, believe me when I say that Midnight Syndicate is perfect music to create art with. It's deliciously dark and is perfect for you to put on after you've turned the lights off and lit a few candles. Maybe pour yourself a little bit of absinth, and let Carnival Arcane be the musical muse to your innermost Richard Upton Pickman.

If you're interested in hearing more - make sure you check out the link to their website at the bottom of the page. Midnight Syndicate by no means needs my help to sell albums. They've had several wildly successful CD's, have scored several horror movies, and even produced and directed their own - The Dark Matter. But, if I can, in my own small way, lead my readers down the gloomy path towards the darker things in life... I will. And Midnight Syndicate, and Carnival Arcane, are those dark orchids that grow alongside the path and bloom only when the full moon is bright.

Or something like that.

Was that too much? Did I wax a little too florid in my descriptions. It happens. I offer no excuse, only a simple explanation; I'm listening to Midnight Syndicate as I write this.

That's what happens!

Pick up Carnival Arcane. You won't be disappointed, dear reader. Pick it up, and relish the unpleasant dreams it gives you..

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Halloween - It Itches!

All right. I am well and truly into the Halloween mood.

I know it's still early, but I am sooo ready for my favorite season to get here. Friday night I watched John Carpenter's original Halloween and Shaun of the Dead. Sunday morning I got up early and watched the 2010 remake of Night of the Demons before anybody else in the house awoke. (Night of the Demons, by the way, was an okay movie. It was scary, had some great gore, but was a bit formulaic - right down to the horny teens and sole female survivor. That said, it was about a group of people who go to a kick ass Halloween party, so it only added to my longing for Halloween to get here).

I've straightened and re-alphabetized my horror DVD collection so that I have quick, immediate access to it should I get a sudden urge to pull out a horror movie at random. I'm getting set to rewatch The Walking Dead Season 1 in anticipation of its return next month, and I've got Trick 'R Treat lined up (with several other, select Halloween watching necessities).

Speaking of Trick 'R Treat, make sure you check out Fearnet's website. They've been periodiocally issuing short Trick 'R Treat themed holiday message from the iconic Sam character. Creepy, weird, oddly poignant... I'm sooo goddamned excited for Trick 'R Treat 2 and the return of old pumpkin-headed Sam.

Speaking of movies that fully capture the awesome feeling of Halloween, I came to the realization this weekend that I don't own Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. This seems like a tragic oversight on my part. I will rectify it soon, though.

So what else has me feeling so Halloween-y? There's a million things. Obviously the cooler weather and the falling leaves are starting to get me in the mood. Also, this week began the age old, time-honored return of haunted attraction commercials to the radio. Ohio still has a vibrant haunted attraction community and there are some kick ass ones out there in the creepy corn fields of rural Ohio, or the dingy, decaying urban factories of our cities. I haven't been to a haunted attraction in about 13 or 14 years (which, if one does the math, is about as long as I've been married. Odd that.) I plan to rectify that this year. I've heard great things about the Haunted Mansfield Reformatory haunt and I think I'll make the trip in the next couple of weeks.

If any of my friends who are regular readers are interested in going with me, shoot me an email. It'll be a blast... kooky, creepy, and all together spooky!

Halloween is here because of something else too. Two weeks ago, I bought and consumed the first of the annual pumpkin brews. wOOt! Dear, dark Pagan gods - how I LOVE pumpkin beer! It was some Blue Moon Pumpkin Brew, which is quite tasty for a commercial, mass produced beer. I also cracked open a Great Lakes Nosferatu whilst watching my beloved Browns kick the hell out of the Dolphins yesterday.

In that same vein (no pun intended!) - this weekend, I'm planning on bugging Mrs. Zombie to buy some New Holland Ichabod, which was my favorite pumpkin brew by the end of last year. It's soooo tasty!

I also get to indulge one of my guilty pleasures at this time of the year, and the stores are replete with them. What I'm talking about is my fascination with vintage and vintage-style Halloween decorations. I love classic, 1920's and 1930's postcards and greeting cards, I love Biestle classic Halloween cutout decorations from the 60's and 70's. Believe me when I say you'd recognize them if you saw them. They're the classic, brightly-colored cardboard decorations that all of our moms hung up at Halloween, or that decorated our classrooms growing up. I someday plan on finishing my mancave and will decorate it in vintage Halloween items because, in Doctor Zombie's world - and in his dark, black, undead heart - EVERYDAY SHOULD BE HALLOWEEN!

Some final links before I leave you for the time being. Again, make sure you check out Eric Pigor's site - Toxic Toons. No other artist I know of fully captures the quintessential horror elements of halloween better. I just ordered my 3rd shirt from him - his limited edition Pumpkin Witch shirt and I should receive it this week sometime. Just in time for Halloween!

For information and purchase-able Vintage Halloween items, make sure you check out Halloween Town. They have a great selection that makes me wish I was independently wealthy so I could but it all! By the by, if you're looking for a Christmas or Halloween gift for old Dr. Z... this is a good place to start!

Also - I just purchased Midnight Syndicate's newest CD release - Carnival Arcane. This is so fucking appropriate to the Halloween season and I'm absolutely loving it. It's deliciously creepy, and downright spooky. Watch for a review to follow soon and, please, check out the link to their site at the bottom of the page. If you haven't experienced Midnight Syndicate, you're definitely in for a treat.

Finally - keep an eye on The Midnight Theater of Terror this weekend. Doctor Zombie, Mrs. Zombie, WolfGirl, and Zombie Boy are going on a roadtrip that is so damned appropriate considering the season that it's got Dr. Z quivering in undead anticipation. Pictures, a writeup, and - hopefully - some incredible video will follow! I promise you won't be disappointed, dear ghouls!

Now, before I leave you, I wanted to point you to the video below. I was at Toxic Toons and was surprised to find this song playing in the background. It was goosebump inducing because I, honestly, had totally forgotten about this song until I heard it again on Unkle Pigor's site. Does anybody else remember singing this song in elementary school?? Like I said, I hadn't heard of or even thought of this song in probably 30 years, but as soon as I heard it I was suddenly in Mrs. Cutler's 3rd grade class again, excited because it was Halloween and so proud of my Darth Vader costume because, although Luke was cool - I knew even then that the Dark Side was much, much more fun!

This song reminds me of candy corn, caramel apples, those plastic Halloween costumes with the plastic masks with elastic bands, falling leaves, and Beistle Halloween decorations.

Geez... I need Halloween to be here NOW!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Birth of a Monster!

As I mentioned in a recent post, I edited and released a Nook version of my favorite author's works. Lovecraft: Compendium is doing great and actually selling copies over on the Barnes and Noble platform, and it's gotten me thinking.

Which is never a good thing.

You see, my day job in Evil Corporate World is as an editor and writer. Which, on one hand, is really cool. It means I get paid a good bit of money to do what I love. The downside to that is that I'm often working on things like coporate communications, PR stuff, and business crap. In other words, stuff that sucks the creativity out of my soul and cracks and gnaws at the artistic marrow of my bones.

So, to combat that, I've decided to make a run at expanding beyond my own writing and taking a stab at expanding Doctor Z's plans for world domination. How do I intend to do that? Well, I've taken the steps to start a small, independent media venture.

Dark Autumn Media is the grotesque, alien spawn of my hubris. It'll be the non-D. Allen Crowley branch of Doctor Zombie's media empire.



I've put together another blog to act as the temporary headquarters until I get around to a real, official-looking website. I also wanted to have a landing spot and place to go for parties interested in the other stuff I'm working on (like the HP Lovecraft project).

It's - like I said - just a shell... so don't go there and be all judgemental.

My immediate plan for Dark Autumn is to:

  • Develop an online 'zine devoted to horror, fantasy, and sci-fi

  • Develop more public domain collections of my favorite authors for the Nook platform

  • Begin collecting stories from other writers for development into eBooks.

  • Document my attempts for the edification or ridicule of others

  • Eventually expand to act as a more traditional publisher.
You'll note the 'Media' part of the Dark Autumn Media title; that's because I want to expand beyond the whole writing and digital publishing as well. I also do video work and editing in my job and have always harbored a desire to do something creative in front of a camera. In fact, the genesis of the Doctor Zombie persona was an homage to the old horror hosts that used to take over the local TV affiliates in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. I've also always wanted Dr. Z's Midnight Theater of Terror to expand into the video blogging sphere. Finally, I've always always always said that I learned video production and shooting for the sole purpose of making my own zombie movies.

I'm hoping to make some or all of that a reality.

Which is where you come in, dear reader!

If you visit the site, you can see that I'm already working on submission guidelines for the first anthology I plan to publish. Although the site's open, submissions are closed.

But they're not for you dear, faithful minions!

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at writing, or have reams of stories tucked away in a closet somewhere.. I'd like to offer my faithful readers the first chance at being included in the first Dark Autumn Media anthology. Please send them to me at my email (you can find it up top, on the right hand sidebar) or through Dark Autumn Media (darkautumnmedia{AT}mail{DOT}com).

I can't promise much, beyond the fact that you'll be part of a collection, be published, and be able to brag to your friends and family. I've learned tons about the digital publishing process with my own books and I'm hoping to utilize that to help other writers out. Like I said, I can't promise much, besides glory!

Wish the good Doctor luck!

Unpleasant dreams!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Melancholy and Dark Rememberances

Things have been pretty crazy for the old Doctor lately. Work's been nuts, and I've recently returned to school again in the eternal quest to finally finish my Bachelor's degree.

There have been some upsides though. I recently went to the Phantasy Night Club to see one of my favorite bands from the 90's do a reunion show. The Phantasy in Lakewood, by the way, has not changed at all since I first went there at 16 or 17 years old to see old school punk shows.

The band I saw was a local, Cleveland Goth band called Lestat. Very cool because I -seriously - LOVED them back in the day. I still, to this day, have Lestat songs on my iPod. I even wrote about them in my first novel, North Coast Gothic: A Grim Fairy Tale.. They were a huge part of my early adulthood - and I am excited that they're back together and releasing a new CD in December.

Bonus: My friend Christine (who works here with me in Evil Corporate World and you may remember as one of the fine actresses from the awesome Cleveland-based independent film company -Bad Eye Films) is an old friend of the lead singer of Lestat. In fact, he too works here at Evil Corporate World in our IT department. She even managed an introduction via Facebook, so he and I have corresponded a few times.


Where am I going with all of this, and how does all of this coolness in Dr. Z's life match up with the seemingly grim title for this blog post?

Well - it's a perfect storm for Dr. Z to get all melancholy and moody.


First, it's fall. Autumn always gives me such a deliciously heady mix of emotions. It's my favorite time of year and I love everything about it... Halloween, falling leaves, pumpkin brews, clambakes, the return of my beloved Browns, warm days, cool nights... it's all there. But, it also makes me really, really nostalgic. It gets me thinking about high school, and college, and the fact that I'm one year older and farther away from the expectant excitement of childhood and trick or treating.

Add into that the fact that I'm back at school, and that I just saw one of my favorite bands from my singlehood and young adult life, and you can see where I'm at.

To make things worse, a week ago I had to order a new copy of The Cure's Disintegration. I finally replaced the CD I bought back in May of 1989 (a mere month before I graduated high school) because it had become unplayable. That CD sustained me through years of moodiness and is, in my mind the quintessential Cure CD. So, with a shiny new copy in my cold, undead hands it's been a week of Plainsong, and The Same Deep Water as You. If I'm not listening to that, I listening to my copies of Lestat's Grave Desires and Vision of Sorrows.

This will not end well, dear readers. Not well at all.

Don't worry about, Doctor Zombie, though. I'll pull on my black Converse Chuck Taylor high tops, buy some New Holland Brewery Ichabod Pumpkin Ale and suck it up. Incoherent rambling, pointless points aside, I'll pull it together. I promise!

I'm not really sure where this post was going, but it started with Lestat, and it should end with Lestat I guess. I just pulled up the manuscript for my first novel, North Coast Gothic to see what I'd written about them, and figured I'd excerpt it here. It, oddly enough, encapsulates how I'm feeling.

It's also an opportunity for me to plug my novel because that's what I do. Truthfully, I haven't sold a copy of North Coast Gothic in months and I fear that it's very dated and only appeals to Clevelanders, but I still have a warm spot for it in my undead, beating heart because it was my first novel. Honey Badger don't care!

Anyway... check it out and, if you get the chance, check out Lestat. You won't be sorry.

Excerpted from North Coast Gothic: A Grim Fairy Tale

"Lyds and I went to a concert a few weeks ago...

...The concert was a small show at the Cleveland Agora. The Agora is a rundown, decrepit old theatre that brought in only alternative bands and the occasional pro-wrestling gig. You’ve got to love the Agora for itself, though. It was small and intimate, and some of the greatest bands of all time have played there. I saw my first concert there. It was a double bill of the Violent Femmes and the Dead Kennedys, I think. In an age of stadium shows and $85 ticket prices, there’s something wonderful about paying fifteen bucks for a show where you can drink with the band afterwards.

I had been feeling especially melancholy lately, and that’s why I was at the concert. I looked around me and I realized what had been bothering me so much lately. I was feeling old. I was a few weeks away from my thirtieth birthday, and I was no longer a kid. So much had happened in the last year and I was feeling so horrible disconnected from who, or what, I was. A Goth couple stood in front of me and they were twenty if they were a day. He had a black t-shirt with the name of some band I’d never heard of before and a shaved head. His girlfriend was a beautiful girl with black lipstick, a tight ass under a black vinyl skirt, and a baggy sweater. She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and she went back to talking to her boyfriend. The guy looked happy as hell, in that innocent way that everyone did at twenty. He could have been me ten years ago.

I felt myself growing angry. At what, I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the youth of those kids in front of me, or my impending birthday. I sat there glowering.

We had just finished listening to the opening band; a local group called Bath. They had a male and female singer who alternated songs. Their style, lyrics, and their whole set was pretty much unintelligible, but I liked their sound. I’d seen them one other time and had actually bought one of their tapes. They played for a while and, when they were done, I excused myself from my friends.

After a while, the lobby lights flicked and I returned to the theatre. I found Chris and Lyds near the stage and walked up. The lights dimmed and the band entered. We were there to see the band Lestat and they took the stage amidst machine-generated fog and red and black lighting.

The lights came up and the Agora was filled with moody music in a minor key. With no fanfare or preamble, the band’s lead singer, Razz, came out and broke into song as the crowd went wild. I’d been listening to them for years and wryly wondered if half the kids there had been out of elementary school the first time I had seen Lestat.

I felt the dark music sweep over me and I lost myself in the swirling Gothic sounds. As I’d done the first time I saw them, I fell in love all over again with the band’s guitarist; a black haired vampire named Susan. She stood in the corner, somberly wrapped up in the music her long, delicate fingers made. Meanwhile, Razz’s deep voice sang of blood and redemption and I looked around me, sighing with a sense of melancholy. Suddenly, like an epiphany, I came to a dramatic realization.

As I stood there among the sea of black clad bodies and the haze of clove cigarettes, I saw myself. Here and there, I saw a pale faced Goth with wrinkles around their eyes, or one with a Robert Smith haircut and a bald spot, or a normal looking person singing word for word with Razz. I realized I wasn’t alone.

As I’ve said before, Goth and Industrial culture is about nonconformity. But, more importantly, it’s also about finding a niche for those who are similar to you. We Goths are alike in our souls and I wasn’t the only one aging, or getting married, or having children. I had different priorities, yes. But I was still a Goth at heart. I did not have to give this up.

I didn’t know what kind of father I’d be. I didn’t know what kind of husband I’d be. I supposed I’d just have to be the best that I could. All the tragedy and all the curves of life were inconsequential. You deal with the shit as it comes along.

In the meantime, I listened and absorbed the throbbing beat of the music, the dark sound enveloping me. I embraced the music back, like one would embrace an old lover. It was like going home."