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..

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