Month: August 2021

  • Midnight Syndicate Returns

    Taking a slight curve for this Friday edition of reviews this week to highlight a short release from the group Midnight Syndicate.   Midnight Syndicate is a “band” consisting of its founder composer/director Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka.  The group produces genre music almost entirely within the realm of gothic horror and the supernatural using state-of-the-art electronics and samples as well as acoustic instruments.  Over the past nearly two decades, they have provided music for everything from haunted theme park attractions, role-playing games (most notable Dungeons and Dragons), video games and film to licensed music used for television.   They have a host of awards and accolades to boot with some of their non-film albums being among the most popular genre releases of their type.  They are one of the largest worldwide suppliers of Halloween music.  For Gothic music fans, these discs will likely need no introduction.  Midnight Syndicate releases a number of non-film related albums some of which (Carnival Arcane, which was available for reference) are like filmic concept albums featuring a blend of thematic ideas and design that tell a story over the course of the album.

    It is the latter that this latest release, Bloodlines, is building from.  It builds on the group's popular 2005 release The 13th Hour which continued the exploration of the Haverghast family mansion.  Music from that album found its way into haunted attractions and theme parks worldwide.  The Haverghast's first appeared the 2001 release Gates of Delirium and the current set of music serves as a sort of prequel in the story line.

    The title track opens with a swath of atmosphere and vocalises.  Chimes and a simple piano line, augmented by organ, follows as the music builds slowly in its somber minor mode.  The piano tends to introduce thematic material and serves as a sort of invitation into the dark, horror-music gestures that follow.  The Gothic orchestral horror sound comes through quite well in these selections with engaging thematic ideas that have a dark Elfman-esque quality with a bit more growl and Poledouris-style rhythmic ingenuity.  The music manages to grow well across each track to add a sense of narrative but working to increase creepy atmosphere.  The latter is achieved through little effect touches along the way that add to the flavor of the music.  "I Won't Tell" has some creepier music with its eerie vocal sounds that open the track as we move into a lullaby-like feel with the music box melodic material that is soon surrounded by slight percussive ideas and hints at darkness.  "Assembly" appears to be a brief scene setter for harpsichord which gives us a period feel.  From here we move into a macabre setting of Wagner's "Wedding March" that alternates with the Gothic styles of the earlier score.  "Grand Waltz" provides another slight danse macabre-like atmosphere that continues a slow descent into the madness.  "A Light in the Attic" has a more underscored feel to build tension with repeated rhythmic patterns that help drive the music forward.  "Sands of Time" closes things off with a looped series of ideas to perhaps lead us into the next album.

    The music provides a brief thematic exploration of Gothic horror styles that will be familiar to Midnight Syndicates fans.  Themes are interesting with the title idea helping to provide some continuity through the other items here in this concept album.

    Fans will hopefully be able to see Midnight Syndicate this September-October at the Cedar Point Amusement Park (OH) which will bring back their multimedia concert events to the park's HalloWeekends event.


    Buy or listen to Bloodlines
    Watch the album trailer:
    Midnight Syndicate official website:

  • Debut Debussy Album From Mathilde Handelsman


    Debussy: Images
    Mathilde Handelsman
    Sheva Collection 234
    Total Time:  61:57
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Debussy’s piano music provides a window into his growing exploration of line and its impact on harmonic structures.  The music moves from the inherited harmonic ideas of the 19th Century and shifts into more impressionistic aesthetics before moving beyond into even more abstraction.  He was also not above incorporating global music into his own work from Javanese gamelan and flamenco to even American ragtime.  In this new release, pianist Mathilde Handelsman, a student of Menahem Pressler and John O’Connor, explores music from 1903-1907 covering some of the essential works of Debussy.

    For this recording, Handelsman plays on an 1875 Steinway which makes this recording historically interesting as the sound is a bit less bright than a modern piano.  This warmer sound quality imparts an equal richness in the harmonies that derive from careful sustains that Handelsman uses to shape the music.  It also softens the higher registral writing sometimes as well which helps “Reflets dans l’eau” which opens the album in the first set of Images.  Once the ear adjusts, made possible by the attention to detail and fine shaping of the music, the instrument itself fades into the background while the music can be experienced in this “new” way.  The subtlety of her approach continues in “Hommage a Rameau” with its excellent shades of crescendo and decrescendo moments adding to her phrasing and approach quite well.  She also manages to delineate and bring out the various lines of the music.  The climaxes of the music thus grow quite well in her interpretations.  Estampes provides an opportunity to further appreciate the shifts in Debussy’s style with “Pagodes” giving us a taste of new harmonic and melodic lines.  The rhythmic ideas in “La soiree dans Grenade” also provide another opportunity to hear Handelsman artistry at play.  The second series of Images brings us more beauty and exploration of sound and harmony with three final smaller works (“Masques”, “D’un cahier d’esquisses,” and “L’isle Joyeuse”) serving to round off the recital and serving as little encores of a sort.

    There are hundreds (!) of recordings of partial and complete versions of all of this music and the competition is quite fierce.  Those who appreciate the music will certainly have their own interpretive favorites.  Handelsman makes for a fine interpreter of this music that can handle the virtuosic technicalities of the music as well as the subtle harmonic shifts quite well and it is obvious from her performances that she has spent a lot of time thinking through these pieces.  The draw here will be to hear this music played on a “period” instrument of sorts.  The miking is rather close at times which creates a sense of sitting in a studio, or salon, to hear the music rather than a larger recital hall space.  It works well overall and makes for a fascinating journey through Debussy’s musical landscapes that perhaps provides a new window into the soundworlds he heard.  As a debut recording, this one is quite impressive both technically and interpretively and it will be interesting to hear how Handelsman approaches to this music (which one could say has a fine French sensibility) continue throughout her career.  This makes for a great start with a hope for more Debussy from her in the future.