Midnight Syndicate: Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering CD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Released by Linfaldia Records | Official Site
Performed by Midnight Syndicate
2015, 49 minutes
Released on September 10th, 2015
When it comes to music, Halloween is a horror fan's time of the year for spooky sounds and tunes. Oddly, though, we don't have many song staples that just says "Halloween". Sure, there are a few tunes like "Monster Mash" that you naturally associate with the holiday, but I think we can all agree that's not really spooky. When I listen to Sirius XM's Halloween Channel for the season, a lot of times it's just songs from soundtracks (Psycho, Suspiria, etc.). If you look at Christmas tunes, on the other hand, that damn holiday has countless songs that are just for the season. "Jingle Bills", "Frosty the Snowman", "White Christmas"...the list is endless. Up until recently, a delightfully dark soundtrack for the happiest of holidays has hard to find. Fortunately for us, Midnight Syndicate is here to help.
I've mentioned in my review of Midnight Syndicate's fantastic Monsters of Legend that I've been a fan of their work since early 2000, and they are one of the few musical artists that manage to impress me with each release. Every time I don't think they can top themselves, they manage to do so, and Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering is no exception.
The CD consists of 16 songs and clocks in at over 48 minutes. As fans of Midnight Syndicate would expect, while the songs are Christmas classics like "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" (the latter of which is one of my favorite tracks here), the band offers its spooky touch. However, the beauty of Midnight Syndicate's work is they're not making it obnoxiously or stereotypically bleak. Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka, the composers who form Midnight Syndicate, are subtle with their darkness. Listening to Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering is surreal in that as you start listening to a familiar, what is supposed to be gleeful Christmas tune, there is an underlying sense of foreboding that is almost just out of reach. It's as if your subconscious catches it first and your smile quickly fades as you're checking over your shoulder to make sure nothing is there. It's an odd to say the least, having both feelings of happy childhood memories and the nagging suspension that something is just not right.
That's not to say you don't know what you are getting into, though. First, it's Midnight Syndicate, so you shouldn't expect anything less. But the stage is also set from the first song, "Christmas Overture". It definitely nails that holiday sound from the start, but there's also just enough off about it that it makes you feel uneasy. This is exactly the song I'd imagine would be playing in an insane asylum in a horror movie. It's not so much out of tune, but it feels so close to that, the primal part of your brain is starting to calculate the fight or flight odds.
From there, it only gets better, with each song offering a different feeling of joyous hopelessness. As mentioned, "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is one of my favorite tracks on the CD. I've never thought of the song as particularly haunting, but in the hands of Midnight Syndicate, I will never think of it as anything but again.
Another great track is "Night of the Krampus". It starts normal enough, with an Eastern European flavor getting you right in the mood of Christmas in another land (for me at least). Then it takes a turn down a gloomy alley and...wait, are those whips I'm hearing?
"Angels We Have Heard on High" follows and it begins with its familiar tune, but within seconds, it too decides that there is no time for niceties. This one manages to be both unnerving and depressing, and I can't put my finger on why.
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" doesn't even try to hide the fact it's not going to be what you're used to. From go it has a sense of foreboding. But, like "Angels We Have Heard on High", it manages to invoke different feelings, but in this case it's actually hope. If this were in a movie, and the beat were a little faster, this would be the montage scene of our hero preparing for a battle that they might not live through.
I won't go through each song, as they are all terrific, but I will mention that the last title, "Christmas at Midnight", is the perfect bookend to "Christmas Overture" as it's the light to the opening song's dark. It even feels like, again, if this were used in film, it would be in the closing credits. Our hero has rid the world of the evil Krampus. He or she is battered, bruised, and broken, but still alive and standing over the vanquished villain.
Midnight Syndicate constantly amazes me on one-upping their prior release, and damn if they haven't done it again here. If you are a horror fan (and you must be, otherwise, why would you be reading this?), there is no excuse not to have Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering on your shelf, to be played on repeat on Christmas Day.