Category Archives: Music to Haunt By

Music to Haunt By: House of Nightmares

Buzz Works

Official Site

House of Nightmares, Monolith Graphics 2010

While browsing through the ol’ Google Analytics, the sheer number of people who read the Nox Arcana and Buzz Works installments of “Music to Haunt By” after searching for “House of Nightmares” convinced me that I simply had to review Buzz Works’ newest release.

Given how the above links already give the origins of Buzz Works and its Nox Arcana connection, let’s jump straight into the review. The titular track “House of Nightmares” opens with moaning, thunder and theremin-style wailing music. Tolling bells, a chanting male chorus and other sound effects add to the spooky feel created by the occasionally John Carpenter-esque music. Similarly, “Night Closes In” has something of a Carpenter feel to it. The pounding music gives one the sensation of time running out or being chased (perhaps that explains the moaning effects), while the contrasting music box-like chimes add to the sense of unease. I can easily see this track being used in a room setup involving a chase or perhaps even a haunted nursery. The moans that close it out also leads the listener into “Book of the Dead,” where moaning and male vocals creepily chant over heavy, pounding music. Haunters should find that this will greatly enhance the feel of a room containing a spooky-looking spellbook prop, especially if it’s played so low that it can only be heard when people approach the book. In fact, you can make it even scarier if you use a motion sensor that starts playing the music when people get close enough.

“Darkness Rising” features somewhat dreamy music that is soon overtaken by darker music and the sound of a beating heart. “Dead Time” appropriately begins with a clock ticking, then strings and pounding piano notes are combined with with wordless female vocals. The harpischord is used to great effect here, and it further adds to the sense of danger and the otherworldly. As an added bonus, this track’s length makes it ideal for looping. “The Ruins” starts off softly and then gradually builds up. The whispering and music definitely makes you feel like you’re in an ancient, haunted place. There’s a rain or fire effect that can be heard at points as well. I personally would have preferred it to not be used, but it doesn’t hurt the track. It’s just something to keep in mind if you want to use it for a haunted room or crypt scene. “The Forgotten Crypt” uses a steady deep note with alternating light, chime-like notes and pounding notes layered on top. The numerous scary sound effects are only icing on the cake. Despite the name, it can be used in many haunt scenes and the light touches could let it work in a haunted nursery scene.

The medium, pounding buildup of “Well of Souls” reminds me of a rock song starting, but the rest of the track is eerie rather than rocking. There’s also a feel of danger and movement felt amongst the pounding notes, which allow the track to be looped for use in more than just a scene involving a bottomless pit effect. “The Descent” has a light industrial feel to this, although the female vocals lend an unearthly feel to it. I think the prior track conveyed a sense of descent better, but this track would work wonders in a haunted factory or boiler room setting. “The Summoning” has a perfect spooky opening that just screams horror. Breathing and moans, followed by thunder, precede a spoken chant that summons the forces of darkness. The chant, presumably read by Joseph Vargo, can also be found in the CD’s enclosed booklet. Pounding music and heavy horns signal the coming of the “Ancient Evil” summoned by the previous track. Moans and the occasional burst of chanting add to the feel of a powerful being rushing into our world.

“The Black Abyss” has great eerie, otherworldly opening music and sounds, plus some monstrous groans and dripping. It’s perfect for looping in cave scenes and bottomless pit setups. “Shadow Dwellers” starts with soft, steady pounding notes with lighter material and creepy sounds layered on top. However, it then goes into heavier pounding music (including some guitar and harpischord work)and tolling bells. It is bound to evoke the image of something creeping around while on the prowl. The rock-style opening of “Bridge Between Worlds” does have an otherworldly feel thanks to its sound effects and interesting musical variations, but it might not be to everyone’s tastes. I can easily see this working in a vortex tunnel. Slow, pounding music and effects make “On the Prowl” live up to its name, wherein bursts of Halloween theme-style guitars alternate with heavy piano work.

“Devil’s Night” has pounding notes and noise that fall somewhere between tribal drums and an “industrial” sound. Naturally, these are paired with moaning chants and spooky sounds. The bells and female vocals play off each other especially well. The distorted chimes and heavy sound effects of “The Nether Realm” transport listener to another world filled with danger. The bubbling-like effects that pop up at times might seem odd, but could benefit some setups, such as a vortex tunnel leading to a room with lava effects. In “Hallow’s Eve,” effective organ work leads to a soft harpischord and even softer moans. But the moans increase and pounding notes join in soon, as do the bells. The pounding notes of “Unleashed” increase and decrease to create impression of something being freed and chasing someone (or something). Heavy piano notes are used occasionally, while moaning chants add to the bells and other effects. It could used in a variety of settings, but I think playing it can add an extra “oomph” to the final scene of a haunted attraction or put some additional excitement to a darkened hallway.

This CD has cemented my conviction that Buzz Works is not simply Nox Arcana working under another name. The musical presence of Jeff Hartz, both in terms of playing and writing abilities, are undeniable and set both this and Zombie Influx apart from the (also awesome) style of Nox Arcana. That said, Joseph Vargo does retain enough of that style so that Buzz Works albums will still appeal to the Nox Arcana fanbase.

House of Nightmares is a definite “must have” for both haunters and those who like to play scary music and effects while handing out candy on Halloween. Were it not for a few minor details in select tracks, I would say this would be the perfect CD for use in any haunt setup. That said, it is pretty darn close and it’s easy to program a CD or .mp3 player to skip over any tracks that don’t fit the mood you’re trying to create. I should also stress that these albums exist because their artists have set out to tell a story, not to make haunted house soundtrack CDs.

Special thanks to Monolith Graphics for the review copy!

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!

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!

Music to Haunt By: Buzz Works

Buzz Works

Official Site

Zombie Influx, Monolith Graphics 2009

If you read yesterday’s installment about Nox Arcana, you might remember how I teased about another new release of sorts from them. That’s due to their involvement with Buzz Works…

Buzz Works’ origins lie in an Ohio-based store of the same name that’s devoted to all kinds of spooky decor and merchandise. Although established in 1997, it wasn’t until relatively recent times that founder Jeff Hartz decided to start a music project under the same name. Teaming up with Joseph Vargo of Nox Arcana to fill out the group’s ranks, Zombie Influx was their first release in 2009.

Although William Piotrowski did handle the engineering duties, only Hartz and Vargo shared the songwriting and performing duties (while Hartz also wrote the dialogue and provided the vocals). This isn’t merely a Nox Arcana album under a different name, although there are some of their trademark touches in it. There are, however no bonus tracks or opening narration that are standard in Nox Arcana albums. As a special treat, the liner notes contain the text used in the broadcasts scattered throughout the disc and pictures of Rich Klink’s awesome zombie sculptures (which are also used on the disc art).

“Ground Zero” starts things off with a kinda dreamy synth opening, but its later tone, drums and a variety of sounds of zombies make this more of a nightmare. There are some lighter touches with little to no zombies, but track still creepy. The title of “Satellite Radiation” comes from the theorized cause of the dead rising in Night of the Living Dead and the use of beeping satellite noises that go in and out of the music (and other technological sounds) both reflects that and goes well with the drums and synthesizer work. In “Defcon Six,” a crackling broadcast tells of the raised danger level due to a virus and provides instructions on what to do. “Creeping Death” uses slow and creepy heavy synth work and other spooky touches to great effect. These include occasional female vocals, a vaguely tribal drums effect and a zombie groan. “Echoes of the Living” has lots of eerie synth work with lots of twists and turns, along with some light guitar and an almost bubbling-like sound. “Doomsday” is aptly named thanks to its heavy, pounding drums and bells. Light vocals and increasing piano use adds to the exciting, but hopeless, feel.

“The Feeding” opens with an odd horn effect, heavy synth open and other creepy touches (such as a heartbeat-like drum). I can imagine a few scattered zombies creeping out to a source of food, which in turn attracts more and more of the undead. Perhaps that’s why we hear machine guns at the end. “Warning Signs” is a short broadcast (with brief synth work) about the signs of infection. “The Dawn” is clearly a reference to Dawn of the Dead. The use of low zombie effects under synth work is very unnerving and somewhat otherworldly. “Dead Run” uses bells, pounding synth and fast, frantic piano work to create the effect of running in a panic. Light synth work and what seems to be thunder effects kick off “Post Mortem,” which are soon joined wailing vocals (or are they notes?) and a slow, soft guitar that eventually fades away before the zombie groans enter the picture. “The Panic Spreads” blares a short siren before a broadcast usual broadcast about the zombies overwhelming defense forces. The comparison to the gates of hell opening is definitely a reference to the tagline for Dawn of the Dead or possibly even a reference to the alternate title for this film.

Speaking of which, “Transmutation” uses light, but pounding, synth, bells, guitar and heavy piano work to create something that reminds me of Dawn of the Dead. to some degree (especially the drum effects). “The Pain of Dying” is also a reference, this time to a line from Return of the Living Dead. Light, dreamy music and some crackling gives way to slams wailing notes and scary synth work. The fast-paced percussion and bells that open for “Armageddon” helps build a sense of dread and hopelessness. Some organ and keyboard work give this an 80’s horror-style feel that only lets up to the sounds of jets soaring and bomb blasts. “Dead Life” uses strange, disturbing synth music and vocals that I can’t place (and which strange life forms to mind). I can see this track working in an alien-based scene as well as a zombie-based one. “Flesh Eaters” could refer to a wide variety of zombie movies, including the original title intended for Return of the Living Dead. A guitar and slow, low sirens blare as a hoard of zombies is heard. Said hoard is eventually overwhelm guitars and other musical touches for awhile. A snippet of the earlier news report on zombies plays later, as do odd synth effects that seem out of place to me. “Ravenous” mixes a fast piano with drums, electric guitar, synth hand claps, bells, harpsichord and samples from previous bulletins mixed in. The titular “Zombie Influx” uses creepy opening music and mournful strings with samples of a man talking about his dead wife and seeing things in the nearby woods. One part seems to imply that he’s the cause of this. News bulletin samples and what seem to be samples from Night of the Living Dead play us out over synth work.

A few minor quibbles over some of the sound effect choices aside, Zombie Influx is an amazing album that makes the listener feel like they’re inside an 80’s zombie epic. The majority of tracks are loop-friendly and the album played in its entirety will compliment any zombie-based setup. In fact, some people were so taken by it that they started a haunted house in Sweetwater, Tennessee based on it (and using it as a soundtrack) called “Defcon 6.” As for Buzz Works, they’ve recently unleashed their second album, House of Nightmares. If it’s anything like Zombie Influx, then we’re in for a treat.

Special thanks to Monolith Graphics for the review copy!

Music to Haunt By: Nox Arcana

Nox Arcana

Official Site

Blackthorn Asylum, Monolith Graphics 2009

For years, I had thought the Midnight Syndicate was the only group out there doing spooky ambient albums based around a single theme. So as you can imagine, I was pretty blown away with I stumbled across the Wikipedia entry for Nox Arcana. Elated by the idea of even more cool haunt music being out there, I immediately started researching Nox Arcana.

Formed in Cleveland, Ohio by Joseph Vargo, the name “Nox Arcana” is Latin for “mysteries of the night.” Since 2003, the famed horror artist and his bandmate William Piotrowski have been cranking out albums devoted to everything from horror authors to ghost pirates.

Given that Mr. Vargo used to be a part of the Midnight Syndicate, it might be tempting for some to label Nox Arcana as a Midnight Syndicate clone. However, that is just not the case. If you go read my history of the band, you’ll find that Vargo was huge part of the reason the Syndicate adopted that style (so Nox Arcana is merely doing more of the kind of music he’s always been doing). Besides, Nox Arcana includes lots of extra bonuses with their albums, such as opening narration, bonus tracks and lengthy liner notes filled with details to help draw draw listeners further into the world the album’s music has located. They’re often filled with puzzles and injokes, too. How can you not love a group that would name a song after an obscurity like this?

Blackthorn Asylum is not merely a trip through a haunted asylum, as certain tracks and the liner notes (designed to look like a journal) reveal that an experiment that should be familiar to readers of this story by H.P. Lovecraft. Medical diagrams and coded messages can also be found in the liner notes. I won’t spoil anything by telling you what I’ve found, but let’s just say the answers will surely delight any horror fan.

“Legacy of Darkness” starts things off with rolling thunder followed by a combination of synth work, piano, pipe organ and a variety of sound effects. After the laughing, moans and screams, a crackling recording (voiced by Joesph Vargo) discusses the nature of insanity and hints at the secrets of the asylum. The title track “Blackthorn Asylum” is very scary and good for just about any scare scene or haunt. This thanks to its moody piano, chanting vocals, and synth work that alternates between medium and heavy in terms of volume and feel. The vocals, piano and synth work of “Sanitarium Gates” are relatively softer than they were on the previous track, but are still just as effective. The tolling bells are a great touch.

“Abandoned” uses soft piano notes and foreboding synthesizer work to evoke the feeling of loneliness. The wordless female vocals (by guest vocalist Christine Filipak) go well with the violins and chanting male vocals (the Gregorian Shadow Choir) and add to the sense of unease (with a touch of danger). “Threshold of Madness” has a wonderfully pounding, 80’s horror movie feel to it. Soft speedy piano work is soon dominated by pounding drums, male chanting, organ work and bells. Eerie use of a harpsichord in “Tapestry of Decay” gives the track a suitably ancient feel, with female vocals, light bells and synth notes coming in at times. Male vocals later join in for a spell and add to the sense of dread. “Hidden Horrors” effectively uses heavy synth work, an evil laugh and male chanting, followed by female vocals. The very chilling bursts of chanting and organ work in this are strengthened by low whispering and more laughter. It’s perfect to use in a part of your haunt where you want to keep visitors guessing about then something will come after them. “When Darkness Falls” couples light piano work, female vocals and soft (but somehow heavy) synth work. The plunking of keys seems like shadows growing, and the later use of bells and a violin add to the mood.

“Shock Treatment” is a soundscape that runs less than a minute in length. Thankfully, its use of pulsing, electrical shocks and screams are great for continuous looping without sounding odd. This is ideal for use with scenes based around electric chairs or shock treatment. “Fractured Memories” uses light piano work with some heavy touches, aided by synth notes, bells and vocals. “Phantasmagoria” gets the heart racing with pounding percussion, the sound of thunder and loud chanting in a language I can’t make out (presumably Latin). Thunder and rain signal the coming of the “Creeper,” whose evil laugh is often heard throughout the track. Low violins and bells make up most of the track, with moaning male chants enhanced by lone female vocals. A light, slow piano gets “Sanity Slipping” going and are later joined by more chanting, bells and the occasional use of a music box-like effect.

“Dementia 13,”named after the horror movie of the same title uses pounding notes and soft wails to get things going. Great piano work is eventually joined by bells, chanting and wild violins that add a sense of madness to the menace. The combination of piano and violins give “Solitary Confinement” a mournful feel, aided by bells and light male chanting in background. “Frenzy” lives up to its name thanks to its fast, heavy piano and bells. Vocals of both sexes also add to the effect. “The Condemned” uses pounding, heavy drums and chanting, along with a “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”-style organ work. I love the musical “slamming” effect in this. “Spiders in the Attic” uses eerie synth (or is it violins) and a new type of wordless female wails along with piano, bells and the sort of chanting we’re used to. Its spooky sound and long length make it great for any haunted attic or basement.

“From Beyond” is another short soundscape, where pulsing and buzzing summon up something that growls, laughs evilly and speaks backwards. “Essence of Evil” uses bells and heavy synth work, along with a piano and male chanting in Latin to live up to its name. The drums and female chants that join in later are extremely effective. “Fade to Black” opens with a Halloween-style piano open with bells and heavy synth, along with chanting and a gong near the end. Or is it? A period of silence reveals moody synth work and breathing, followed by a crackling recording about the dangerous mutated inmates in basement. Sinister laughter takes us to another brief silence, followed by the resonator sound effects, moaning, and the backwards-talking demon.

Despite the name, the music of Blackthorn Asylum can work with haunted attractions or yard setups of many other themes besides asylums (minus most of the soundscapes, of course). The majority of the tracks are well suited for looping and for playing while distributing candy come Halloween. I’m not the only one to notice the greatness of William Piotrowski and Joseph Vargo’s music. Big-name theme parks have used their work, as have the Travel Channel and a special showing of Nosferatu. As of this writing, Nox Arcana have recently released Theater of Illusion and have contributed to another project I’ll be discussing tomorrow…

Special thanks to Monolith Graphics for the review copy!

Music to Haunt By: Midnight Syndicate

Midnight Syndicate

Official Site

The 13th Hour, Entity Productions 2005
The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates, Entity Productions 2008

If you hang out in forums devoted to Halloween and/or haunted attractions, then you’ve probably heard of the Midnight Syndicate. Their music is held in very high regard and always comes up in discussions over what makes for the best spooky soundtrack. Their music has appeared in TV shows, numerous movies and professional haunted attractions. But who are they?

Formed in Chardon, Ohio in 1995 by Edward Douglas, the original Midnight Syndicate was a very different animal than it is today. Although Edward Douglas composed the music and the trademark “soundtracks to movies that don’t exist” theme was there, the 1997 debut album didn’t only feature the scary instrumental music like their work does now. Instead, it also included music from the following genres: “rock, rock-a-billy, techno, rap, new age, humor-pop, jazz, and space [music].” As you can see from that link, they also used to have a much larger lineup. Things got a little more familiar for modern fans in 1998, when the lineup was cut down to Douglas, Gavin Goszka, and artist Joseph Vargo. Opting to do an album consisting solely of the music the Midnight Syndicate would become famous for: dark ambient music. The resulting Born of the Night (for which Vargo provided the name, cover art, vocals and creative direction) was a smash hit and forever cemented the Syndicate’s style. Although he left the group in 2000 to work on a book (and eventually start his own band), Goszka and Douglas kept things going and have continued to release albums to this day.

One such album is 2005’s The 13th Hour, the cover art for which was provided by the late, great Keith Parkinson. It’s a sequel of sorts to their 2001 album Gates of Delirium, which took listeners through the haunted Haverghast Asylum. This time around, we’re touring the haunted Haverghast family mansion (no doubt a reference to Dr. Crawford Tillinghast).

“Mansion in the Mist” brings things to a spooky start with heavy synthesizer work combined with other effects (including what I swear is a creaking sound of some kind) and light, off kilter piano work. It brings to mind someone seeing an abandoned mansion at night and approaching it. “Forgotten Path” is a soundscape consisting solely of sound effects. We hear insects chirping and footsteps, as if someone is making their way to the mansion. After hearing a bird cawing, we hear someone going up the steps, opening a creaky door, then entering and closing said door. “Time Outside of Time” is the perfect musical representation of entering an haunted house. The opening piano is soon followed by scary, mournful synth work and light, wordless female vocals (provided by the lead singer of Lazy Lane, Lily Lane). The breathing effects at one point are a great touch and its length makes it ideal for looping.

The same goes for “Fallen Grandeur,” a great “general scare” track thanks to its spooky, speedy organ work followed by heavy synth and the occasional chanting vocals. “Hands of Fate” is a very brief effects track consisting of a clock ticking and minor (but heavy) synth) notes. Soft synth and piano work gives “The Drawing Room” a sense of both unease and a period setting. One gets the feeling that the piano is playing on its own. “Mausoleum D’ Haverghast” is great for any scene involving the dead, from mausoleum to graveyards. Its mournful bells are accompanied by the heavy synth and occasional chanting vocals in background. “Family Secrets” starts with a synthesizer riff that should be familiar to horror movie fans, then gives way to a light, steady piano under synth and wordless female vocals. A bell causes a shift to greater sense of danger, then shifts out to interesting variations in both music and vocals. “Last Breaths” is another very brief effects track, wherein we hear softish breathing (and other effects), which suddenly gasps out.

“Vertigo” has a pounding intro that grips you and never lets go. A gong, violin and other instruments scattered throughout and the wordless vocals give it a sense of falling down from a great height. “The Watcher” uses medium, steady piano notes and blowing wind effects, which are later joined by light vocals and other effects, to give the feeling of being watched (and being scared as a result). The faint evil laughter at the end is a great touch. “Cellar” is a soundscape that runs just under a minute, which kills me since it’s (in my opinion) too short to work as a looped track while otherwise being the perfect background to any dank, dark location. It could work very well, however, with a motion-sensing device that’s activated when someone has to go downstairs in order to get to the next room in a haunted house. A musical stinger, the soft squeaking of rats and a door opens to start things off. Next comes dripping and more rats, and is that a whisper or just another synth note? Creepy synth effects, along with some light vocals, are a major part of the heavy, pounding “Cold Embrace.” “Hand in Hand Again” starts with the sound of a phonograph starting up, the whirring of which takes us to the soft sounds of a real 1919 recording by Raymond B. Egan. The Midnight Syndicate has upped its scare factor by overlaying spooky effects that eventually overwhelm said song.

“Harvest of Deceit” opens with a pounding, steady piano accented by gong strikes and soft vocals. Similarly pounding bells with synth effects are also present and the piano work changes over time before slowing down at the end. “Footsteps in the Dust” uses light plinking noises that sound like tiptoeing to open things, but soon the spooky synth kicks in to show that things aren’t as innocent as they seem. We also get distorted voices of a parent and child (the latter played by the then two year old Mary-Kate Douglas, daughter of the group’s founder), a door slamming and a heartbeat. The piano work in “Veiled Hunter” is medium in both volume and speed, and also picks up synth at times. In fact, sometimes it reminded me of the famous “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” from the original Friday the 13th. “Sinister Pact” uses barely heard vocals, organ, synth work and the occasional bells to create a spooky feel. The soft, distorted voices are a nice touch. Running just under two minutes, “Grisly Reminder” effectively uses soft, light synth work and piano with the occasional use other effects. The short, but scary “Deadly Intentions” uses whispered female “come with me” and synth work to great effect.

That voice seems to have lured the visitor/listener into “The Lost Room,” which is Carpenteresque at times, but still remains its own distinct work. The pounding synth and bass line are joined by a piano, and…are those moans I hear as well? A new twist is added to the room in “Living Walls,” in which a harpsichord intro is joined by vocals and synth work. At this point, it’s easy to imagine faces forming in the walls as the visitor looks the other way. But as the bells enter the picture, so do the breathing and groaning effects that imply the faces have been spotted. It’s sure to be a cool way to accent the famous spandex-based haunt scene of the same name.

“Gruesome Discovery” uses soft, quick synth notes and gongs that imply someone running away from danger. Eerie vocals and additional synth notes add to the effect. The drums usher in a child’s laughter followed by closing doors. “Return of the Ancient Ones” starts with loud booms, the sound of falling plaster, soft wind, and then steady series of synth notes. Said synth work gets faster as the vocal chorus and gongs make themselves known. It’s like being stalked by a Lovecraftian entity. It all stops as clock strikes midnight…or does it? The bells slow and distort…even time is being controlled by the house! The title track, “The 13th Hour” is also the final track. We start with another boom, then synth music that increases in speed and volume. Crashing effects add to the sense of running for dear life from something unspeakably evil, pushing all obstacles aside. More moans and effects and effects build, then it suddenly stops as door opens. As crickets are heard, it becomes clear that the evil is confined to the mansion and we’re finally safe.

The use of music and soundscapes to imply a storyline rather than directly tell it makes The 13th Hour a more grown up version of those narrated “trip through a haunted house” records many of us listened to as kiddies, like A Night in a Haunted House and Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted_House.

The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates is an interesting little album which was released to promote the Midnight Syndicate’s then-upcoming feature film The Dead Matter, but was not the soundtrack. Instead, it is a mostly material inspired by the movie, although some work from the film was included.

The mix of creepy organ riffs, synth work and bells on the opening track “Cathedral Ruins” is very foreboding and eerie, with a touch of sadness. It’s a great mood setter for just about any haunted scene and is perfect for looping. The quick “Shadowed Grove” evokes the feel of walking in a dark forest, using only soft, creepy drum beats and synthesizers. “Meeting of the Acolytes” is a “light” sort of scary, but still effective. Cymbals and soft (but forceful) piano work mix with wordless chanting and synth work. “The Revenants” has an opening that bring the theme from Halloween to mind, in which the opening piano forms the backbone while the violins and percussion effects add otherworldly sense of menace. It’s a good way to creep out, but not terrify, children while still being enjoyable for adults

“Called From Beyond” has a heavy synth opening, followed by a gong and other scary touches. Some parts vaguely remind me of the Jaws theme. The light wordless vocals get louder as song progresses and thr increased gong use makes me wonder if they’re being used to summon something calling King Kong style. “Nightfall” use a light, but unsettling piano with even lighter synth touches. One gets the sense of someone nervously (but masterfully) playing the piano. “The Hunt” uses its pounding, heavy beat and drums to give both a sense of urgency and feel of being pursued by something nasty. “Across the Chasm” is a quick, alternately heavy and soft piano piece that incorporates other touches to create the effect of creeping over great depth.

“Cemetery Gates” is another loop-worthy track that’s perfect for those who want to use something other than the usual dirge for their graveyard or funeral scenes. The mournful piano and tolling bells go extremely well with the wordless vocals and synth work. Although the sounds of wind in “Entering the Crypt” eventually give way to the piano, they never truly leave. The flapping of bats’ wings are a great touch and the track is perfect for any “old, dark house” setup. Castle setups will benefit from use of “Alchemist’s Chamber,” which uses heavy, somewhat pounding synth over very scary organ work and wordless vocals. Harpsichord interludes gives it an “ancient” feel. “Tear of Osiris” is an eerie track I wish went on for a little longer, using soft gongs, chimes and flutes to create a vaguely Egyptian melody. “Forging the Scarab” starts with a heavy, pounding beat and synth work joins in to further the effect of dreadful work being done. There are also some light touches, like chimes and gongs, that give a sense of scrap metal and hammering. As usual, the wordless vocals are as effective as ever. “Shadows Descend” uses soft ‘n steady synth and piano notes, along with touches of female and male vocals. The piano gets more involved about a minute in, then gets somewhat erratic as the sense of synth menace increases. Both get rather varied later on, but eventually return to “normal.”

Although fairly short in length, “Inside the Scarab” creates a building sense of menace via synthesizer, with the occasional use of noise that suggests the beating of an insect’s wings. “Exodus” uses a combination of piano, bells and light synth work to create a spooky feel. There’s definitely a sense of leaving in a hurry. It “picks up” at points, as if a brief rest was cut short and later gets very menacing and pounding midway through. Perhaps that part represents the reason for this exodus? A medium, steady piano opening in “Dark Legacy” leads to synthesizer work, and later a gongs signals the organ to join in. It feels like someone recollecting of the past, and there are otherworldly touches at one point (along with vocals). The light, plinking melody of “Lullaby” is very much like a child’s music box. The occasional use of soft female vocals increases the feel of something supernatural. Things go off kilter, then synth work and children chanting enter the picture.

“Lost” is the first of three bonus tracks, all performed by Gavin Goszka. It (just like the other two bonus tracks) is a throwback to the original sound of the Midnight Syndicate. In sharp contrast to the preceding material on the disc, this has a rock feel and actually has lyrics! The use of synth work and guitar makes for interesting combo, along with a light piano riff and various spooky touches. The interesting guitar opening of “Not Your Saviour” sets the tone for the track, while drums and other synth touches are gradually added (including hand claps). Finally, the otherworldly effects at opening of “Theme to the Dead Matter (A.b.t Remix)” slowly give way to funky effects over piano and the vocals we’re used to from the rest of the album. But they too give way to more claps and even some spacey robot-like(!) noises at one point. None of the bonus tracks are well-suited to use in scaring people and are best either skipped over or tossed into a Halloween party playlist.

The music of The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates’ flows together very well (with the exception of the bonus tracks) without sounding repetitive, making it especially well-suited for both casual listening and/or playing while handing out candy to trick or treaters. The same can also be said of The 13th Hour. For use in haunts, the lengths and themes of certain tracks will most likely result in haunters picking and choosing the tracks best suited for the scenes they’ve set up rather than using the entire album. Now that I think about, I can also easily see some combining multiple tracks, such as using both “Footsteps in the Dust” and “Lullaby” to create the aural backdrop for a haunted nursery.

As of this writing, the Midnight Syndicate has recently released two new albums, the Destini Beard collaboration The Dark Masquerade and the “best of” Halloween Music Collection compilation (which includes some selections from the albums used in this review). Here’s hoping they have many more to come!

Special thanks to Entity Productions for the review copies!

Music to Haunt By: An Introduction

Having clearly not learned my lesson from doing the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari, I’ve decided to do another music-related review series for the site. However, unlike last time, this will be much shorter and won’t have the introduction and first review merged into a single post…

Sound is an important part of any haunted attraction, be it the noise made by a performer or by a hidden audio player blasting scary sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, a haunted attraction can still be great without any prerecorded sound effects or music, it’s just that sounds can greatly enhance a scare. Try watching any of the shark attack scenes from Jaws without the music and you’ll see what I mean. No offense to Dario Argento, but I’m convinced that Deep Red would have been nowhere near as intense without Goblin’s amazing score.

But you don’t necessarily need sound effects to scare people. Simply playing the theme from Halloween in a darken room is enough to unnerve many people. However, doing that in a room decorated to look like a spaceship will only cause confusion (if not outright amusement). You just have to match the right audio with the right setup.

Over the course of this review series, I’ll be looking at CDs from artists that specialize in music designed to scare people. I’ll also include suggestions on what themes work best with each CD and how certain tracks can be used, be it at your haunted house or simply played in the background when trick or treaters come a-calling.

These aren’t the standard “scary sound effects” CDs you can pick up just about anywhere come October, although some of the CDs will have a track or two of just sound effects. Most of the time, the majority of the tracks will either be just music or a combination of music and sound effects. For those not in the know, the latter is also known as a “soundscape.” Soundscapes can be a combination of sound effects played over music, or a group of related sound effects playing on the same track (either playing one after the other or layered over each other). For example, a graveyard soundscape could consist of ravens cawing and the wind blowing, with the occasional sound of a grave being dug or a shuffling zombie.

Speaking of soundscapes, our Twitter pal Tribal Gothic has recently released an ambient sci-fi soundscape called “A Failed Event in Time.” You can get the free .mp3 here.

For an even more in-depth look at the use of sound in a haunted attraction, I highly recommend this twopart article from 2 Scary Guys. Also, our recent “Tricks and Treats” article has a few sneaky sound tricks. Check ’em out!