Karate King: Nightmare Vision: Music for Film Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Composed by Karate King
2017, 76 minutes
Cassette | Digital Format released on January 29th, 2017
Nightmare Vision: Music for Film is classic horror synth. As horror synth is an offshoot of minimal synth, it forces the artist to work with a limited palette. Other types of music have more wiggle-room. A rock song with a weak bass-line can be carried by strong drum-work. A pop single can afford a lackluster verse if it has a catchy hook. A free jazz experiment could do whatever the hell it wants, so long as the players are in synch. Minimal synth doesn’t afford these luxuries. Minimal synth is all upfront, exposed. It is essential, then, for purveyors of the genre to be meticulous in their sound arrangements and design. Nightmare Vision: Music for Film, shows the artist Karate King doing exactly that.
Karate King uses melody and mood, fluctuating his focus as needed. This is exemplified from the onset. The opening track, Abisso oscuro, slides in with a low squelching tone. A decaying piano sound crawls overtop. The movement is slow and intentional. The ambience is cold, ominous. A melody forms. The track becomes more menacing as it gradually takes on more water and weight. At around the two and a half minute mark, the song shifts and atmospheric effects engulf the listener. The melody reprises towards the climax, only more warped. The song ends with a dramatic synth-cymbal hiss and a quick keyboard fade.
It’s an effective opener, as it introduces much of what is to follow. Nightmare Vision: Music for Film is seeped in nostalgia. Obligatory references like John Carpenter and Goblin are apt, but influences go deeper than that. Karate King seems to have extensive knowledge in horror films and horror scores from the 1970s and 1980s. This compilation is tribute to that. "Tales from the Campfire" pulsates in way that begs for VHS-style movie credits to roll onscreen. They driving melodies in "Gates of Flesh" hit with that deliciously shallow sound of old keyboards. The beats in "Hooker’s Demise (Hung Her By the Tits)" wheeze like flat drum pads.
For better or worse, this older aesthetic also falls into production. A good pair of headphones reveal that these sounds aren’t as deep as they could be. Lower notes sit up front with the highs. Beats don’t have the dynamic range that some contemporary listeners may be used to. Some people will be bothered by this. Others aren’t going to care.
Nightmare Vision: Music for Film is long. For some listeners, it may be too long. The sheer amount of songs – 21 tracks in all – could start to feel a little overwhelming, especially considering that the timbre is relatively the same throughout. The strong songwriting, however, is varied enough to keep tracks from feeling too redundant.
There are a number of songs worth mentioning. "Grotesque Rituals", saunters on bellowing drums, scampering keys, and heavy synths. It sounds like one of the more keyboard-heavy Dead Can Dance songs, the way it nods to Eastern influences while still keeping a dark Western undercurrent. "Scalped Hooker" is one of the more experimental tracks on the album. It osculates wildly between speakers, creating a disorienting effect. It’s probably the least melodic song on the album, focusing instead on noise and arrangement. "Mondo Brutale (End Titles)" is an homage to ‘70s giallo soundtracks. The song moves with the same melodramatic romance that backed many of those classic Italian films.
Maybe "Mondo Brutale (End Titles)" is for some sort of contemporary giallo movie. But maybe it isn’t. As the title suggests, Nightmare Vision: Music for Film, is a collection of music pieces that were written for film. But the liner notes do not give a filmography and the listener may not know what movies these songs were composed for. This may leave some listeners feeling like they are missing something. A film listing would have been a welcomed companion piece to this collection. On the other hand, by omitting this, Karate King allows his songs to speak for themselves.
Overall, Nightmare Vision: Music for Film is a collection of songs by an artist who clearly loves old horror and old horror music. With this compilation, Karate King pays tribute to his influences without plagiarizing any of them. Nightmare Vision: Music for Film isn’t breaking any new ground, but it isn’t trying to. Instead, Karate King if giving listeners solid horror synth; moody, nostalgic, and cinematic.