Midnight Syndicate is best described as music for the imagination. Soundtracks to your darkest dreams.
Each of the group’s albums has a theme, follows an intentionally vague story, and lets your mind wander away with the rest. The haunted-house industry uses them heavily as atmospheric backdrops, as do artists and writers from around the world. Consisting of composer/filmmaker Edward Douglas and composer Gavin Goszka, Midnight Syndicate has been steadily creating new material since the late ’90s.
Albums have taken fans everywhere: abandoned crypts, a crumbling insane asylum, sinister carnivals, looming Victorian mansions, and all the dark crevices between. They also released the official Dungeons and Dragons soundtrack, tracks of which were used in Balder’s Gate. But in their newest album, released September 10, Douglas and Goszka take us somewhere somewhat unexpected. The listener receives an invitation to join Midnight Syndicate for Christmas festivities.
The intro piece on Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering, titled “Christmas Overture,” is an elegant set-up for what is to come. On a personal note, I have been a die-hard fan of Midnight Syndicate since 1999 and have probably logged years of playtime between all the albums. “Christmas Overture” was the first time one of their songs actually spooked me.
It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Christmas or not—Christmas music is part of our collective cultural experience in North America. We are all exposed to the trappings of Christmas, voluntary or not. And even the most secular people have some emotional ties to Christmas music. For many of us, the tunes immediately conjure hosts of memories and associations. The feelings of familiarity and warmth. And that is exactly why this album is so effective.
“Christmas Overture” begins like so many other holiday songs: cheery bells, a few strums of a harp . . . and then it begins to decay, slowly at first, twisting downward to something very wrong but still somehow recognizable. It becomes a churning swirl of notes that involuntarily call back memories, promise something familiar (was that the first few notes of “Jingle Bells”?), but continue to distort into something haunted. Beautiful and twisted and haunted. And that is what Midnight Syndicate does best.
The rest of the album does not disappoint after such a strong opening. There are sad, contemplative, lonely, and lost pieces (“Coventry Carol”); suspenseful, heart-pounding thrill rides (“Winter Storm”); undeniably sinister music (“Up on the Housetop”); and plenty of Midnight Syndicate’s signature, beautifully creepiness (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”). The album comes in at sixteen tracks, with a running time of about 50 minutes, but it doesn’t feel short. It’s creepy without being disturbing, invective without hand-holding, and does exactly as promised—it paints lush and vivid scenescapes for you to lose yourself in.
I do want to note that as much as I am a loyal fan, I am not a fanboy (er, girl) who sees no flaws. I have such respect for Midnight Syndicate that I feel obligated to be as honest a listener—and potential critic—as possible. It’s just not applicable here. There is very, very little to criticize. Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering is yet another amazing addition to an already stellar line-up.
A few additional notes about Midnight Syndicate:
If they sounds familiar, but you can’t place them, it may help to know that Edward Douglas was a Guest of Honor at CONvergence in 2011, when he shared his film The Dead Matter for a screening at Cinema Rex, spent time with fans, and sat panels. One of the things that makes Midnight Syndicate so amazing is that they care, genuinely care, for and about their fans. Not only do they listen and welcome fan interaction, but they are immensely supportive of their fan’s own personal projects. And they are always evolving as artists.
Last year, the duo presented their first ever live show at Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends, which was part concert, part performance art, and all spooky. If you’ve missed the hearse, now is the time to jump on and enjoy the ride—you never know where they’ll take you next.
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