Monday, September 21, 2009

Darkly Everafter

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. I love it when the sky turns gray, the leaves turn orange, red and yellow, a chilly wind cuts through you, forcing you to break out your warmer clothes, and... most of all... I love it when Halloween stores start to open. Actually, in our neck of the woods, mostly only the latter has happened so far. Halloween stores are places that are only open for 6-8 weeks of the year tops, and they're stuffed to the gills with masks, costumes, and decorations that are macabre, gruesome, and totally, totally fun. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I told Julie (my wife) the other day that I wish we could afford to permanently decorate one room in our house as a kind of gothic horror room and pipe spooky music into it year round. I'd get my gamer friends in there to game, I'd sit in there to read, and basically it would just be an awesome hang-out room. Although it would earn me a ton of goth points, and I'm really not a goth at all. I just like Halloween. And artists like Depeche Mode and The Cure.

One thing that's a result of Halloween stores is the gradual degradation of my classical musical snobbery. See, I also like classical music; I've played two instruments and done a few other things that cause me to appreciate it a lot. I say classical, but I mean that in the broader sense, not the stricter sense; what I really mean is "Romantic era" music, which starts with Beethoven in the early 1800s, and makes up most of the orchestral compositions for the next nearly 100 years. I'm a big fan of composers especially from central and eastern Europe: Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Dvorak, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, etc. So for a long time, I had a real snobbish attitude about orchestral music; if it wasn't one of these types of composers, it wasn't up to snuff.

The first chink in that armor was John Williams and the soundtrack for the Star Wars movies. John Williams is a very talented composer, and the more I listened to some of his work, the more I realized that even though it was composed to accompany a movie (and a somewhat cheesy, fun and pulpish movie at that), the music is really good, and I don't just mean that in a "I like it" kinda way; it's diverse, it's technical, it's good music. So, for a long time, I've also now been collecting movie music soundtrack scores on CD, and I have now a lot of them.

When folks would talk about what kinds of music was best to listen to in the background while playing D&D (and other roleplaying games, but since this conversation usually came on on ENWorld, it was mostly D&D) I would recommend a few of my favorite orchestral movie music scores, and I used to be disparaging of those who recommended Midnight Syndicate's official D&D soundtrack. Why would you listen to two guys with a synthesizer each when instead you could be listening to real composers writing for real musicians playing real instruments? (The fact that I also preached the musical acumen of artists like Depeche Mode... who play synthesizers, didn't seem to concern me at the time). What changed my mind about that was the local Halloween store.

Although Midnight Syndicate did do the official D&D soundtrack CD, they're actually much better known as the makers of half a dozen or so gothic horror Halloween-type music CDs which are the gold-standard when it comes to Halloween stores, haunted house type attractions, and ironically, their last two albums have been scores for b-movie horror. Although I'll say that musically Edward Douglas and his partners in Midnight Syndicate don't have as much going on as John Williams, Howard Shore, or Danny Elfman, I discovered that it didn't matter; this stuff was fun anyway. Also, sometimes you just want mood music in the background, and that can add a lot to the experience of a roleplaying session, or even a book-reading session, even if the music itself is kinda forgettable. Not that Midnight Syndicate's music necessarily is, but...

That brings us to this year. We had our first foray into the two Halloween stores that grace our little township this weekend, and at one of them I spotted a CD called Necronomicon by artists Nox Arcana. Which, let's face it, isn't nearly as catchy a name as Midnight Syndicate, but I presumed that the concept was pretty similar, although this specific CD obviously had a Lovecraftian theme running through it. I looked up Nox Arcana, and found that they have a website. On their website, they've got a lot of musical samples in mp3 format. Although I don't actually have any of their CDs (yet) I've got a pretty good flavor of what their music is.

Thing is; Joseph Vargo, one of the two Nox guys, actually worked with Midnight Syndicate while they were developing their haunted house sound, and is credited as being part of their project for the Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows CDs before parting ways. In fact, he did the cover art for both CDs; and he comes at this as an artist first and a musician second. A few minutes of fact-checking suggests that the parting may not have been amicable; Vargo mentions a "stifling creative environment" and apparently a lawsuit was filed with Nox Arcana as the plaintiff asserting that a Midnight Syndicate CD was deceptively similar to their own Darklore Manor. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

In any case, Vargo's artistic background overshadowing his musical background is actually apparent on the musical samples I've listened to so far, which I've loaded up on my mp3 player for fun. Although Nox does attempt to diversify by incorporating some ethnic and period instrumentation on some of their works, it does tend to blend together. This is true mood music; musically it's difficult to listen to without getting bored, but in the background of a roleplaying game session, a haunted house environment, or while reading Bram Stoker's Dracula (seriously, read that novel if you haven't. And listen to the Nox Arcana sample mp3s while you're reading it. Why not?) it'll only add to the experience, not take away.

Plus, the artwork is really pretty nifty. It's been growing on me.

Here's a youtube video of one of their songs from the Grimm Tales cd, "Darkly Everafter", including a slideshow of the art that (I presume) accompanies that CD.


doombringer said...

I've bought most of the music on RPGnow. Grimm Tales is my favorite of their albums so far. The pirate themed album has been used extensively in my Crimson Throne campaign.

Joshua said...

I just bought most of it at my local Halloween store too... I've got seven of them, I think. I don't have the pseudo-D&D themed one, but I'd like to grab it if I see it.

I should issue an addendum to my post; the samples don't really do the music justice; they come off much better as a complete CD rather than disassociated samples.