Monthly Archives: October 2010

Halloween, Thor Style

Over the last two countdowns, I’ve been closing things out with a music-themed Youtube video that ties into Halloween in some way. I didn’t originally intend to do it each year and I have no clue how long I’ll keep it up. All I do know is that this video was the perfect closer to the 2010 countdown:

To provide a little background on the video, the uploader has a Halloween tradition where he dresses up as a musician who has influenced him and plays a ukulele cover of one of their songs. In 2006, he chose to dress as Jon Mikl Thor.

But his dressing up for Halloween isn’t the only reason I chose this video. After all, Thor has been discussed here before due to his work in films like
Zombie Nightmare and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare and his live shows often feature him changing into a variety of cool Halloween masks over the course of the show. Also, many of Thor’s music videos (as seen in the 2005 An-THOR-logy DVD) involve him battling alien invaders and other evil forces. Although he’s not what you’d call a “horror rocker,” he has done his fair share of songs about vampires, ghosts, beast women and the like.

I suggest reading his official biography page or Wikipedia entry for the full details on his career, but here’s a brief summary: Jon Mikl Thor was originally a bodybuilder, eventually becoming the only Canadian ever to claim both the titles of “Mr. Canada” and “Mr. USA” in the 70’s. But the music bug bit Thor, and he formed a band. Although initially using names like “Mikl Body Rock” and “Thor and the Imps,” the name eventually became simply “Thor.” In between bouts of guitar playing, the singing strongman would perform feats of strength, like inflating hot water bottles (much harder than it sounds) and bending metal bars held between his teeth! Although the band drifted apart in the late 80’s as Thor branched out into more behind the scenes work and a few movie roles, Thor returned with a vengeance in the late 90’s and has been rocking to this day.

I’ve often said that Thor straddles the line between awesome and cheesy, and I love his music for it. Sure, the lyrics in songs like “Thunderhawk” can get pretty goofy at times, but the backing music is pretty damn good and others songs like “Intercessor,” “We Live to Rock,” “Thunder on the Tundra” and “Keep the Dogs Away” will rock your face off. You might smirk sometimes, but you will rock out. Stuff like Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” and Hotshot’s “Always in My Heart,” make me laugh hysterically and aren’t terribly played, but I would never think for a second of buying one of their CDs. But that’s not the case with Thor.

I fully believe that this mix of serious and silly is fully intentional, too. I mean, do you really think he’d allow a cover like this on one of his albums if he was dead serious about his work? The plug for his VM Sports clothing line is a great touch.

In addition to the above linked most recent release, his 1985 album Only the Strong has been re-released. If you look at his output (especially the stuff mentioned here at the local), you’ll see he one hell of an imagination. Hopefully, this will all mean more Thor in future.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween

From all of us here at Gravediggers Local 16, we wish you a safe and happy Halloween.

A bit early, but why not?

Thought the American Thanksgiving is next month, I would like to take today to thank each and every one of the readers we’ve had in the past year. GdL16 keeps growing and we’re still not sure how this little experiment is going to turn out. Everyone’s continual support here, on the twitter feed and over at Facebook is truly appreciated.

Thanks go out to every single shop on Etsy that allowed GdL16 to run a Tuesday uEtsy. They’ll return in November but thank you for helping us grow the site by having some spooky content every Tuesday. It also allows the Front Office to tell more about the GdL16 world.

Many, many thanks go to each and ever artist that has let us review their spooky, tiki and plain awesome bit of work here on the site. It’s been incredible how warm a reception we’ve received to offer our humble opinions and insights on another person’s art.

And personally, I want to thank Weird Jon, The Abominable N. Oremac, Atomic Mystery Monster and the Front Office. I am lucky to write for this site but I’m even luckier to have these guys writing, offering fun and hilarious reads.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Go out and get some candy!

Big Scream TV: The Boo Tube

As noted in my last review of a video decor DVD, although the concept (and commercially available) existed in the age of VHS, it wasn’t until DVD technology entered the picture that Halloween video decor really took off. One of the biggest and most influential titles to take advantage of the technology was the Big Scream TV series by Lightform Productions.

The concept behind the series is simple: a looping series of spooky talking heads that seem to float in nothingness that can easily be done at home. The DVD-R starts with a quick credits screen that notes the following performers: Bill Lae, Mike Ziemkowski, Tim Peyton and Teresa Shea. We then go to a graveyard-themed menu with looped scary music and wind effects. Three tombstones give us the following choices: “Here Lies the Untame,” “Here Lies the Tame,” and “Here Lies Scary Tips and Illusions.”

Choosing the “untame” option starts a fourteen minute and thirty-three second long video of numerous spooky faces. The faces, realized using a combination of makeup and computer generated effects, pop up onscreen for a few seconds to either growl, laugh menacingly or make some comments before vanishing. The transitions are very well done are aren’t just simple fade ins/outs. For example, the mouth monster shown on the cover is spat out and gobbled up by a giant disembodied mouth and demons appear and disappear in explosions of flame. The CGI effects also add extra touches to the fiendish faces. Frankenstein’s monster shoots sparks from his electrodes, a three-eyed monster wiggles its ears and shoots steam from his nose and lots of other neat little touches that I won’t spoil. Although there is some pretty creepy stuff here, it should be noted that several monsters ham it up for their performances and tell corny jokes. Also, despite the “Untame” name that implies use for teenagers and adults, several monsters makes references to children and candy, for reasons that will become clear in a bit. In a nice touch, the track loops automatically and each face has its own chapter stop (for a total of thirty).

Selecting the “Tame” plays most of the same material from the “Untame” loop. In fact, the only difference is that the demons, rotting corpse, mouth monster and exposed brain guy scenes have been removed, making the running time only seven minutes and 38 seconds before it automatically loops. It also cuts the chapter stops down to fourteen! Don’t be fooled, though. There’s still some material that will scare kids. Although I’m sure some of the jokes (especially the mummy that injures itself) will help them cope.

Selecting the “Tips” option will play a four minute video about the basic set-up, how to use the DVD in displays and decorating suggestions. There are a lot of great tips here, like how to adjust brightness and contrast to reduce light from TV (in order to hide the fact that a screen is being used). There’s also an explanation of using the DVD to create an amazing Pepper’s Ghost effect, which is clearly explained in simple terms and is actually very easy to set up using Plexiglass and household items. In a nice turn of events, the thinnest and cheapest type of Plexiglass is actually the type that works best for the effect! But even if you aren’t able to do that effect, you can still play it on a TV with decorations around it (I recommend putting a frame around the screen) or put it in a darkened window. If you have to go that route, might I suggest putting in a dark room that people can’t enter, thanks to the open doorway being blocked off? You can use stacked boxes, fake nailed-up boards or warning tape to both keep people from getting closer and to add to the effect.

Despite being a DVD-R, Big Scream TV: The Boo Tube has an excellent transfer. Sadly, there is no submenu for the individual chapter stops or loops for individual characters. Although somewhat understandable since this 2004 DVD was the first release in line, it would have been a welcome feature. It is possible, however, to program your DVD player to do that (or to make your own custom mix of characters). That might be the best course of action for those using it in a haunted house. The mad scientist segment alone would be a perfect introductory video to explain the rules of a mad scientist-themed haunted attraction. Depending on your tastes as to how the characters look and act, as some might not like the dialogue directly referencing Halloween if the haunt runs throughout October, then this might be the best option. Those using this on Halloween without a specific theme for their house should be easily satisfied, and use of the Pepper’s Ghost effect will almost guarantee that their house will be the talk of the neighborhood. That said, I wish the loops were longer in length. I know that Trick or Treaters probably won’t mind, seeing as how they’ll only see a few of the faces as they visit, but I can imagine that this could get old after awhile at a party. Having this on a factory-pressed DVD would have been nice, as those tend to be more durable than recordable media. In any case, I certainly know what will be making an appearance in one of my future Halloween displays…

The success of The Boo Tube led to two more installments in the series, Funny Bones and Crystal Ball. Lightform Productions has also gone on to release a how-to DVD called Xtreme Haunted Home Make-Over, along with more traditional video decor products like Halloween Scarols and Terror Eyes. I strongly suspect that the success of these titles is why several cheap video decor DVDs started flooding the market in the following years.

Special thanks to Lightform Productions for the review copy!

Burn: Out and Up.

I need to find an official ‘Gravediggers Local 16 Halloween Countdown Trophy’ and mail it to Weird Jon for this is the third consecutive year in a row that he’s maintained a straight countdown OR lasted longer than I have. The man is a machine.

I wouldn’t say I burn out easily but that the part of my mind that is reserved for Halloween is hardwired in a way that it can’t really stand repetition for long. I like spooky but I like spooky that’s different. This is a problem because spooky things (movies, books, music) usually, to me, end up sounding/being derivative, bland and somewhat dull.

So. A few days ago, I come across The Order of the Fly’s ‘Rot’:

I was generally excited because here is a band that had a song under two minutes. Ecstatic! Holy cow, here’s something new. A death punk band keeping it brief and heavy. Sort of different. The singer’s voice wasn’t trying to emulate Glenn Danzig, Peter Murphy or Elvis. Seemed something new.

Of course, the under two minute song was not the norm. Which, I can now see, makes sense. The Order of the Fly has two singers and two keyboards (keyboard + keytar) so it’s kind of hard to have a discography made up of solely two to three minute songs without half your band getting bored.

They’re still a good band. If you want to find a band that infuses punk, metal and new wave into something spooky, The Order of the Fly is there for you.

They’re not the only instances. Here’s Blitzkid.

Blitzkid has been around for years and I have kind of overlooked them, not out of any real reason. Similarly, I catch the above video and thing ‘what have I been ignoring all these years?’ A two minute song that’s catchy, angry and fast? Well, let’s see what they have.

Similar results. Disappointment.

See, Blitzkid has some talented musicians, much like Order of the Fly. Hardcore punk, the basis of the two minute fast song, wasn’t started by any text-book-talented musicians. Yeah, Minor Threat was great and so was Bad Brains. And ‘Milo Goes to College’ is a great album, but they kept it short, fast and sweet more because that was the attention span and anger of the time.

Cue twenty-five years later, and you got the devilspawn of hardcore and they actually have some chops. Blitzkid, yeah. They can put out an album of two minute speed deathpunk on it but after that’s done, they’re going to be bored. Listening to their other songs, it was clear that they have brains as well as talent, much like Order of the Fly. These are bands that think, and kind of want to be entertained playing the music as they entertain you.

So I continue on my days, looking for the mixture of Minutemen and Misfits. I’ll add ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘Rot’ to a playlist and rock out for as long as I can before burning out and burning up.

Music to Haunt By: Michael Hedstrom

Michael Hedstrom

Official Site

Midnight Circus, Hedstorm Productions 1999
Clive Manor, Hedstorm Productions 2001
Demagogue, Hedstorm Productions 2007

The haunted attraction/Halloween community is just as prone to fads and crazes as everyone else. Asylums, pirates and rednecks are only a few of the theme ideas (be it for a room or the entire haunt) that took the community by storm, both professional and home haunters. Sometimes it’s due to the success of a particular movie that sparks it (as was the case with the pirate and wizard crazes), but it’s hard to pin down what sparks the others. My personal theory is that the internet’s ability to share prop tutorials and theme ideas allows ideas to spread much faster than they could in the old days. So if one person’s setup is popular enough, then numerous people will set out to do their own version.

In the late 90’s, clowns were the big thing in haunt setups. The only problem was, there wasn’t any spooky circus music available. Countless numbers of people would post at haunt forums asking for where they could find such music, only to be told there really wasn’t any and they’d have to either snag a copy of the out-of-print Killer Klowns From Outer Space soundtrack or play scary sound effects over regular circus music. Thankfully, one home haunter took it upon himself to fill the void: Michael Hedstrom.

Although both Michael and his wife Tamara (best known as “Keeba” to fans of their excellent Halloween website) have been haunting their home for years, it wasn’t until 1999 that Mr. Hedstrom combined his love of Halloween and music in his debut effort, Midnight Circus.

“Clown Alley” definitely shows that Michael Hedstrom is a big fan of Danny Elfman’s work, given that it’s strongly influenced by the theme to Beetlejuice. But in addition to being different enough to not sound like a mere cover version of that song, several wacky sound effects have been layered over it. These laughs, honks and sproinging noises pop up in many other tracks (including one that uses a bouncy version of a funeral dirge). But a circus is more than just clowns, as tracks like the vaguely Middle Eastern “Temple of Temptation,” the coughing and hacking of “The Dancing Firebeasts” and the spooky “Museum of Oddities” reflect. I suspect that the Amazon reviewer who claims to use Midnight Circus in sideshow performances (like fire-eating and sword swallowing) goes to these particular tracks a lot.

“The Tunnel of Fun” takes things back to the clowns for awhile, although “Temple of Temptation II” and the snarling, growling of “Wild Animal Cages” do take the listener back to other aspects of the circus. “Midnight Midway” provides an eerie circus feel suitable for both haunted circus/carnival scenes with and without clowns. The same goes for the calliope-sounding (but likely computer-generated) “The Carousel Phonograph,” a quick along with plenty of crackles and pops to hint of being played from an oft-used phonograph record. “The Tunnel of Fun” is an effects track that compiles all of the effects previously used in other tracks. The layered nature of the screams, footsteps, heartbeats, clown effects and the like don’t lend themselves well to individual use. However, this track is great for livening up a darkened hallway or dark maze (especially if you put icky-feeling things on the walls, like pieces of hose to simulate snakes). As a special bonus preview of the next album, we get “Clive Manor.” use of march-like drums and cymbals give this a decidedly light feel, which also allows its use in a circus setting.

The album Clive Manor came two years later in 2001, offering listeners a musical trip through a haunted house. We start with a moody trip through the “Forest” (guess which type of scene this works best with) that leads us to an equally effective “Hidden Passage” (good for any scene needing a spooky atmosphere). “Dungeon” mixes music and the sounds of dripping and chains, making it perfect for any dank, dark location in your haunt. Although good for a variety of scary settings, “The Lost Steps” is a great way to spice up one of the few aspects of haunted attractions that don’t have music especially tailored for them: stairs. Even if you don’t do haunted houses, it’s a neat way to add a little atmosphere to your front steps. Seeing as how I already covered “Clive Manor” in my Midnight Circus review, let’s move along to “Big Game Trophies.” First I first read the track listing, I imagined spooky music with a few soft growling and roaring effects tossed in. Instead, I got amazing tribal drumming that whisked me off to a distant jungle. If you don’t have a haunted trophy room, this track also works for scenes involving witch doctors or shrunken heads.

“From the Mist” uses an interesting computer or synthesizer effect at times that makes me think of spectral orbs floating about. It’s not a bad track to bust out if you’re using Phantasm spheres and don’t have any music from said franchise to use. “Nursery” gives vocalist Tamara Hedstrom a chance she’s talented in both scaring and singing. As the plinking music that brings children and music boxes to mind, she occasionally urges the listener to stay and play in several haunting whispers. I wonder if this was used in their own haunted nursery scene? “Hall of Portraits” is my favorite track, as it’s really creepy and perfect to use to introduce people to Hedstrom’s work. In fact, that’s why I chose to use it in the Myspace Halloween countdown that eventually mutated into Gravedigger’s Local 16 (previously noted in my reviews of the music of Daikaiju and The Ghastly Ones). It’s perfect for use with just about any creepy scene, not just the classic “hallway full of spooky paintings.” The title of “Widow’s Walk” refers to an architectural feature alleged to be used by the wives of sailors, ever on the lookout for their long-absent husbands. The name alone adds a lot to the implied back story of the manor. But, given that most haunts probably don’t use one, this mournful tune will have to be used elsewhere. Perhaps the walk is where we spy the “Storm,” an effects track filled with thunder, rain and howling wind. I would have preferred a little more variety in the thunder effects, along with a little more space between each use of said effect, but it’s an otherwise serviceable track. Finally, a sense of urgency kicks in as the “Fleeing the Grounds” begins. It’s a great way to end the album, along with the added bonus of being useful in a scene where visitors have to run from something.

2007 brought the release of the most recent (and unique) album, Demagogue. What’s a demagogue, you ask? Well, it’s a term for a ruler who leads and controls people by exploiting the emotions (especially fear) and views of their subjects. The official website describes the album as “A dark musical journey from the birth of the universe to the death of a madman, from mysterious and hypnotic to angry and violent.”

Things kick off, appropriately enough, with “In the Beginning.” It’s a mysterious instrumental number, good for a wide variety of scenes. Both “Awakenings” and “Basic Instinct” are very moody, while “Sanctuary” and “Isolation” are both great for dungeon scenes, basements and the like due to their lonely feel and dripping sounds. You can even use them back to back if you wish. “Epiphany” is the shortest track, running just under a minute in length. It musically recreates the sensation of thinking something over until a realization suddenly occurs. If the preceding tracks represent the early life of a theological scholar, then “Demagogue Emergent” marks their rise to power using religion. The use of chanting in many (but not all) of the tracks that follow make them perfect for scenes involving cults or altars. These tracks are “The Word,” “The Order,” “Sister Mary Katherine,” “Idol Worshipers” and “Victory Prayer.” “Holy War” gets the blood pumping, with musical notes simulating the clashing of armies. Naturally, “Mourning” follows such a battle. As expected, it’s great for a funeral setting or any scene involving death. “Afterlife” makes for a fitting close to the album, given the theme.

All tracks from the above three CDs, save for “Epiphany” from Demagogue, are perfect for looping and each album could be played on a loop for any house decorated with the appropriate theme. Clive Manor has the broadest appeal due to the general nature of its theme, although “Big Game Trophies” might not work for some setups.

Michael Hedstrom’s spooky use of synthesizers and instruments should definitely appeal to fans of music from groups like Nox Arcana and the Midnight Syndicate. Those in the industry have taken note of his talent as well. Midnight Circus was used in the “Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns” maze at Knott’s Scary Farm’s award winning and on Music Choice’s “Sounds of the Seasons” channel, while Clive Manor was nominated for a JPF award. Hopefully we can expect more great things from Mr. Hedstrom (and hope they happen to him as well).

Special thanks to Hedstorm Productions for the review copies!

Music to Haunt By: Hollywood Haunts

Hollywood Haunts

Official Site

Monster Movie Haunts!, Introsound 2008

Those who browse through Halloween CDs each year may have noticed a mysterious newcomer to the field: Introsound. Initially debuting with the “Dr.Goodsound’s” line consisting of Twisted Circus of Horror Sounds, Creep Show and Halloween Haunt-O-Tron, Introsound’s newest line is Hollywood Haunts. Said line consists of albums designed to provide spooky dance music for parties (like the Halloween Chiller Dance Party! CD) and spooky music and sound effects, like the subject of today’s review. Why the name “Hollywood Haunts?” That’s because the company was started by Gary Gelfand, who has worked as both a sound editor and sound effects editor on numerous movies. Although the 2008 release Monster Movie Haunts! credits Jonathan Cooper and Ryan Teixeira with the composing duties, the reference to that work also being done by Introsound leads to believe that Mr. Gelfand also played a role in this.

The name Monster Movie Haunts! seems to stem from the concept of doing music based around general horror movie archetypes rather than covers of themes from such films. Not only does this format provide for more originality, but it also frees the composers from being constrained by the running time of a particular scene and lets them dwell on the subject for as long as their imaginations desire.

The opening track “Pirates!” might seem like an odd choice for such an album at first, but it actually makes sense. After all, several horror films have involved pirates, such as Night Creatures and The Lost Continent. Don’t forget the use of ghosts and sea monsters in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise! The creaking of a wooden ship leads us into rousing, but things take a turn for the creepy when said music eventually gets distorted upon the arrival of the first of many ghostly “Yarrs.” Pirates shouting leads to organ comes, along with thunder more creaking effects. Drums and the initial appearance of the “Yo Ho” chorus usher in more of a sense of menace to the affair. The ending fadeout includes organ work, tolling bell, moans, an accordion shanty and bubbling effects. I’m baffled by said bubbling. Perhaps it’s a reference a pirates cooking or maybe it’s supposed to represent something sinking? It’s a shame how its rather confusing appearance takes one out of the otherwise great atmosphere that the track provides.

An evil laugh and loud, scary music kick off the eerie chanting of “Mad Mummy’s Tomb!” The tone and style later shift to a general “Egyptian” feel using flutes, gongs and the like. Although this particular section is not scary, it goes a great job of. But a moving stone lid and the screaming of a crowd signals the music to get moving lid crowd, music gets heavier and is joined by angrier chanting. A cobra’s hiss temporary takes us back back to the regular Egypt music, but chanting and more lid movements put a stop to that. The ever-building scariness is joined by a faraway yell and dripping before the roaring mummy appears. Naturally, the frightened crowd we heard earlier panics. As drums and a new “Egyptian” tone take over, we hear more of the mummy’s roars and growls as he attacks a man with a rather goofy scream. The closing of the and sounds of wind make for a very effective end. Like the one before it, I have a few issues with the effects here. Although a somewhat unusual choice, I can accept the roaring mummy due to seeing a few movies using such a vocalization. Although the large screaming crowd seemed odd at first, it actually makes sense if you assume that it’s a large expedition. Still, it would be more ideal if effects that didn’t require the listener to stop and think about how they fit in (and to have not used that ridiculous male scream). Also, the fact that the expedition sees the lid move and screams (but doesn’t flee) makes much more sense when you remember that these tracks are supposed to be looped. In other words, people will only hear some parts of the track as they pass through the scene it’s used in.

“Dragon Slayer: The Sorcerer’s Realm!” begins with tiptoe synth notes and then the sound of a clashing sword. Thing get heavier and rockin’ as we hear the roars and howls of the strange creatures the titular slayer has to battle. As thunder roars, we can also hear the breathing and slashing sword of the heroic knight, which leads to a funky beat and keyboard work. The fact that the pounding percussion sounds like a blacksmith hammering a sword is a neat touch.

“Black Forest Vampires!” is an excellent soundscape that’s easily the scariest track on the CD. Amidst the ever-howling wind, we hear flapping wing and the echoing, screaming yell-like bird calls…or are they really some type of vampire. They even sound like they’re coming closer and closer to you at times. There’s also the constant sound of creaking, perhaps from a coffin or door of an abandoned house. Speaking of which, this track could be used with any haunted house setup anbd not just for vampires in a forest.

The beeping music that opens “Fright Night Sci-Fi: Planet X!” initially reminded me of an old school 8-bit video game. The numerous appearances of an evil-sounding robotic voice speaking in an unknown language and spooky space effects. Although it later switches to organ-like music and a spooky theremin-like “woo” noise for awhile, it eventually fades back to the original beeping style (but with more creepy musical accompaniments). This is perfect for just about any scene involving aliens, especially if the scene involves walking through a dark and malfunctioning crashed spaceship.

“Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab: Midnight Madness!” is the longest track of the album, clocking in at a little over ten minutes. Sadly, I feel that it’s the weakest track of the album. It opens with LOUD organ music that dominates the entire track. It immediately piles on effects like bubbling, thunder, female screams, an evil scientist laughing and faint sparking. Sadly the laughing feels forced at times and when the scientist mumbles, he ends up sounding like the “Yip Yip” Martians from Sesame Street. Although Introsound wisely mixed in new sound effects to offset the repetition of older effects, choices like a witch-like woman laughing and yowling cat seem out of place despite being lumped in with zapping noises, oddball echoing monster yells, rats and a heartbeat. I think this would have worked a lot better as a soundscape. It could ope with thunder and some lab sounds, then we’d hear maniacal laughter, other lab sounds, a beating heart and a different monster groan.

Thankfully, “Bait’s Motel!” not only makes up somewhat for that disappointment, but wisely opts not to mimic the Psycho theme song. Creaking doors, footsteps, wind, soft snarling, a heartbeat and light bubbling pave the way for soft, scary music. As the synth work builds in volume, it becomes very effective and reminds me of 80’s horror movie music. The music temporarily stops for thunder, moans and yells but soon returns. There’s a steady pace to it, as the killer seems to go from room to room in a murder spree. First we hear pounding knocks on a door, then choking, a heartbeat, screams and growls followed by a deep, evil laugh. Later, a ringing guest bell, ghoulish laughter, soft chortling, whispering and bubbles (my best guess is that it’s a shower or bathtub reference) come into play for the effective ending.

“Theater of Horrors!” is the second of the album’s unofficial 80’s horror duo, whose moody, mysterious music follows knocking and a creaking door. As we hear drips, creaking doors, wind, squeaking rats and screams, the soft synth music hints at glory days long past. Despite the name, this track could work in any haunt setup or scene devoted to an old place that has seen better days.

Despite the name, “Child’s Play!” has nothing to do with Chucky. After the tinkling, music box-like intro, the sounds of a bird cawing and distant children saying “Nah Nah Nah” are heard. Suddenly, evil growls brings in louder, scarier music (which reminds me of an evil version of “Ring around the Rosie”). The use of evil laughter and circus-like drums make this track suitable for both clowns-themed scenes or an intense haunted nursery.

The overall feel of Monster Movie Haunts! is what would happen if a relative of a Midnight Syndicate or Nox Arcana-type group married one of those “spooky sound effects” CDs that pop up everywhere come October. All of the tracks have lengths suitable for use in individual looping, which is probably the most effective way to use this. Playing this entire album on a loop while handing out candy might confuse people, especially if your decor doesn’t match most of the themes suggested by the tracks. It’s a shame that the occasional use of a less-than-ideal sound effect or two in some tracks dampens some otherwise great tracks (and music). Sometimes I wonder if some of the sillier-sounding stuff was purposefully intended in order to appeal to small children who would otherwise be terrified by certain tracks. Whatever the case is, there are several excellent tracks where this is not an issue. The heavy use of sound effects might be a turn-off for some, but may please others. I recommend listening to samples on Amazon before deciding whether or not any of the tracks will be suitable for your intended use.

Special thanks to Introsound for the review copy!

Ghoul Squad

Ghoul Squad on MySpace and Facebook

Ain’t gonna front – I don’t know anything about this band except 1) They’re from Massachusetts 2) They’ve been in this game longer than most of the other death rock punk bands these days 3) they might be broken up and 4) the music is incredible. 

Last March, they said a 7-song E.P. is coming out. Hopefully, we can drum up enough interest for them to reprint ‘The Witch Grows Up’ and ‘Dark Ride’ so I can purchase copies. Or maybe they can throw their stuff up on Amazon mp3 or iTunes. Either way, don’t go away, Ghoul Squad.

Music to Haunt By: Dronolan’s Tower

Dronolan’s Tower

Official Site

Journeys in Darkness Vol. 1: Those Who Dwell Beneath, Forever Young Music 2008

Although initially surprised by the idea of CDs designed for use while playing tabletop RPGs, I must admit that it’s not a bad idea. Remember, the whole point of a role playing game is to immerse yourself in another world and what better way to do that than through music? That’s why music and sound effects are so important in haunted attractions!

I first became aware of the concept from a friend, who owned an “Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons”-type set that came with a CD. Apparently, it contained both music, sound effects and characters talking and my friend mainly used it to laugh at the goofy voices. Having never heard of any other such CDs since then, I assumed it was a one-off failed experiment. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the Midnight Syndicate released an official CD for use with Dungeons and Dragons in 2003! As it turns out, enough RPG fans were buying their CDs for use in gaming sessions to attract the Syndicate’s attention. This led to the band setting up booths at gaming conventions, where they got in touch with the company that owns Dungeons and Dragons and, well, you know the rest. Interestingly enough, neither this nor the first CD I mentioned where the first musical projects associated with role playing games, as shown at the following Wikipedia notations.

But they aren’t the only ones producing such CDs. Research reveals that soundtrack CDs are available for both the Cybernet RPG and the German edition of Little Fears. Spaceship Zero also inspired a CD, but it does not seem intended for use while gaming. The same band behind that release, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, also produced a compilation CD for use with the d20 version of Call of Cthulhu.

But what about music designed for fantasy adventures using any gaming system? That’s where Dronolan’s Tower comes in. Founded in 2006 by David Allen Young in Studio City, California, the motto of Dronolan’s Tower is “Music By Gamers For Gamers.” With the help of a choir and Hollywood studio orchestra, Dronolan’s Tower released Legends of Kitholan Vol. 1: Tales of the Long Forgotten in 2007 to immediate acclaim. The album netted three awards in that year’s Radio Rivendell Fantasy Awards: “Best Fantasy Album,” “Best Unsigned Artist,” and “Best Song by an Unsigned Artist.” This was followed up in 2008 with Journeys in Darkness Vol. 1: Those Who Dwell Beneath, which focuses on dungeon crawls and darker themes than the general fantasy-based Legends of Kitholan.

So if gamers can use spooky ambient music CDs for use in games, then why can’t Halloween enthusiasts and haunters do the reverse?

The light percussion of “Prelude – The Hand of Fate” leads to bells and heavy, epic fantasy-type backing music. The drums and horns toward the end add to the effect and give this track the feel of the opening credits sequence of a movie. In “Tomb of the Cursed,” soft, serious string work gets varied when the light drum pounds get involved. But as the pounding gets louder, the music gets scarier for awhile. Soft piano, deep, low horns and some brief male chanting give it a more mournful tone until the soft “fantasy touches” lightens things up a bit towards the end. The opening low strings of “City of the Ancients” transition well from the last song and have an epic, but subdued mood. Violins provide a lighter sense of ethereal unease via at times, while there is a spookier, heavier feel at others (especially near the end). “Where Men Dare Not Tread” starts with “tip toe”-like pianos and low, heavy horns that gradually build in volume. Drums pick things up, as do horns. It’s as if you have been spotted and are now on the run. Things slow down near the end, but the track still retains a feel of danger. In fact, the use of drums there makes me think a fight has broken out.

In “Those Who Dwell Beneath,” low string work builds somewhat in intensity and is occasionally joined by drums. It’s very moody and effective until the drums build up and team with deep horns to provide a feeling of danger and menace. “Glories Lost” has a feel of elegant sadness thanks to the softish, medium string work but once the drums come in and the violin work varies, you know there’s more than just sadness here. Horns and the return of musical tip-toeing are a nice touch. “Mysteries of the Deep” provides a low sense of danger in its soft intro, then soft horns, piano and plucking strings give it a more laid back feel. I think that pretty much every track on the disc is all well-suited toward creating the sense of exploring, but this one works especially well. “O Darkest Knight” is the spookiest of the tracks, thanks to the evil whispers, chanting and sinister strings that open it. However, it adopts adventurous feel not long after and the violins get a real chance to shine here. The evil touches come back later, though. “Realm of Shadow” has a soft, low intro that sets tone for rest of track. The mix of strings, drums and what seems to be soft chanting in “Escape from the Depths” make for rousing opening. The drums are very pounding here, although the music later becomes slower (but is still energetic). I can easily imagine flight from some underground realm, fighting at some times and hiding at others.

Writer/composer David Allen Young has put together an amazing CD that could easily be the soundtrack for a big budget, major Hollywood motion picture. Although darker in nature than the first release by Dronolan’s Tower, this is not a scarefest. Instead, the music immediate brings fantasy films like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series to mind and also creates sense of guarded wonder with some elements of chills and excitement…the exact same emotions felt by countless children on Halloween upon finding a house that has gone all-out in its choice of decorations. So if you have a castle or wizard-themed setup and want music that will draw everyone into the mood of the realm you have created without overwhelming the little ones, definitely use this album.

Given that the average track length is about six or seven minutes, all but the first track are ideal for individual looping. In my opinion, however, the CD works best in its original intended form in which the album is played from start to finish and looped again. The tracks all flow into each other quite nicely and succeed in their intended goal of being long enough to act as a backdrop for players’ characters to
explore, fight and (hopefully) emerge triumphant and have it more or less synch up with the music at some point. Perhaps things will get darker and scarier in tone for the second volume. Only time will tell…

Special thanks to Dronolan’s Tower for the review copy!

The Meteors

Thirty years ago, three lads from the isle of England put together a band called The Meteors and from there, some say, the genre of psychobilly was born. Punk rock and rockabilly mixing together, with elements of horror mixed in with classic roots rock country.

Thirty years as a band is pretty impressive, even more so when you see the Meteor’s prolific discography (including front-man and original member P. Paul Fenech solo and side projects.)

They’re really catchy and much more high-energy than some of the other bands who utilize the upright bass. More electricity fueled speed. It’s no wonder why Meteors fans have adopted the name ‘the Wrecking Crew.’ It’s like this band is out to demolish everything in its path. Seems like they would be a fun show.

You can find them at the modest website of to check out news and tour dates, though the only ones on the books so far are off in Germany (the Germans sure do love themselves some psychobilly and death rock.)