Looking for nightmarish music to haunt your Halloween party? Or ambient textures to enhance your Halloween haunt? Well, look no further than Hallow's Eve, Volume II: The Horror - in which the musical group In a World offers a series of instrumental soundscapes in the spirit of the Halloween season.
Following previous releases such as My Halloween and Hallow's Eve (we all knew movies had sequels; who knew the same thing held true for recordings?), Hallow's Eve, Volume II: The Horror is divided between "Music" and "Atmospheres." Although the distinction between the two is not always sharp, the musical tracks tend to be dramatic, orchestral-sounding pieces that stand on their own as an entertaining listening experience; the atmospheric tracks tend toward collages of sound effects that would ideally be used as a background loop in a haunted attraction. What both types of tracks have in common is a certain evocative magic; with their ability to inspire imaginary mental images, they act as a sort of soundtrack of the mind, bringing nightmares to life even during the day.
Unlike Midnight Syndicate, which is probably the most famous name working in this genre, In a World's arrangements emphasizes traditional acoustic instruments rather than electronics and synthesizers. A trio of musicians overdub violins, cellos, pianos, flutes, percussion, and wordless vocals (sometimes assisted by a choir) until the wall of sound reaches full-blown orchestral levels that would not sound out of place in the concert hall or on the soundtrack to a motion picture. (Although electric guitars, organs, and synthesizers are not listed anywhere on the credits, at least a few tracks sound as if they could not have been achieved without these instruments.)
Despite the soundtrack stylization, in which texture and mood are often paramount, several of the tracks feature haunting melodies. The standout is "Shrouded in Shadows," a melancholy piece that layers a lyrical flute on top of church organ chords. "Happy Hallowdays (Reindeer's Revenge)" deliberately evokes the textures of Danny Elfman's work. "Grotesque" seems inspired by the Penderecki pieces that William Friedkin and Stanley Kubrick used to enhance THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING, respectively.
In contrast, "Zombies" is a throbbing slash of Nine Inch Nails-style rock, with distorted guitars wailing over a pounding drumbeat that suggests an advancing army of the dead. The more orchestrally oriented "Mummy's Minions" achieves a similar effect but with a Middle Eastern flavor; the dramatic rhythms are quite catching, and it is impossible to hear the music without imagining flowing desert sands overrun by the walking dead.
Less successful are "Crazy Clowns" and "Welcome to the Funhouse," which (despite being labeled "Music") sound designed specifically to serve as background tracks for psycho-circus funhouse haunts, complete with dialogue snippets and cackling laughter. The Killer Klown motif is perhaps the most overused and tired Halloween cliche out there, and we really did not need two tracks devoted to it. Compounding the problem, both "Crazy Clowns" and "Welcome to the Funhouse" reappear in instrumental versions (with the voices removed) as "bonus tracks." That's a little too much clowning around for me.
As for the "Atmosphere" tracks, they feature self-explanatory titles like "Affliction Hospital," "Ghost Ship," "Bat's Lair," and "Tortured Souls." "Vortex," with its deluge of voices, is remeniscent of Ligeti's "Atmospheres" (featured on the soundtrack for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) and could have been tucked into the "Music" category. Even if you aren't planning to haunt your garage this Halloween, you may find these tracks useful audio texture for your Halloween party; they would certainly enhance a reading of a spooky story; and simply listening to them alone in the dark is chilling.
Hallow's Eve, Volume II: The Horror is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it stands on its own as entertaining music. Other tracks are better suited to backing up some other form of entertainment, whether a haunt, a play, or a reading. This is obviously not pop music in the traditional sense, but it would go over well at a Halloween party, and fans of the macabre - whether you're into Halloween, horror, Goth culture or some combo of the three - may find themselves listening all year round.