I've blogged about my love of the music of Midnight Syndicate before. It occurs to me, however, that I've never done a proper review of one of their CD's before. I've been meaning to resurrect my "Sounds of the Season" feature for the past couple of years, so it seems fitting that I should do so by reviewing the latest offering from the masters of macabre melodies!
Monsters of Legend, like all Midnight Syndicate albums, has a theme running throughout. As you might guess from glancing at the cover art, this time the focus is on the classic monsters of Universal and Hammer horror films. The music is certainly evocative of the mood from those great flicks, but this disc offers much more than being just a disc inspired by some old monster movies. The Syndicate duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goska have, quite cleverly, incorporated the cinematic beasts into the mythology previously established on their first two albums. Both Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows (as well as the Out of the Darkness album, which re-tooled tunes from both discs) took place in the village of Arcacia. This little burg is, apparently, just over-ridden with ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other things that go "bump" in the night. No surprise then, that legendary creatures like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster have taken up residence there. A clear narrative is established through the music and sound effects, though it is left up to each listener to craft this story in their own imaginations. This is what Goska and Douglas do best: painting lush aural images that tell a tale that is unique for each listener. If you're like me, and grew up on the gothic spookiness of the Universal films, or the blood-drenched horror of Hammer, then many of these tracks will instantly conjure to mind the fog-laden graveyards, foreboding castles and shadowy villages that these movies took place in. At the same time, none of these numbers are in the least bit derivative of previous composers, all having the signature Midnight Syndicate style.
Musically, this is the Syndicate's best album since The 13th Hour...and that's saying something since I thought their previous offering, 2012's Carnival Arcane, was a damned masterpiece! When compared against the two original albums, which this album references, you cannot help but be struck by how much this duo has evolved not only as composers, but as musicians. While I love those two discs, the level of musicianship is far and above here. This CD has a complex, orchestral feel that really communicates a sense of epic scale. It's easy to imagine Legosi or Lee as Dracula, menacing Arcacia with his latest nefarious scheme, when you hear tunes like "Lord of the Realm". To drive home the Arcacia connection, five of the tracks are new recordings of songs from Born and Realm. These tracks aren't just re-hashes though, but work to connect this tale to those previous releases. The arrangements are completely different, and really enhance this shared universe that they have created.
One of the best aspects of this whole project is that Midnight Syndicate have licensed the rights to use the likenesses of Legosi, Karloff and other Universal Monsters for this project. That means that they could evoke the images of Frankenstein's Monster or Dracula that most listeners envision. Since this isn't a soundtrack to an actual film, the listener is free to cast their favorite actors in these roles, regardless of whether or not that performer is still alive! This gives weight to the title, making these the true, legendary monsters that we all know and love, not just Public Domain renditions that would cheapen the whole affair.
All in all, this album is a fantastic addition to the Midnight Syndicate discography, and one hell of a disc to listen to when wanting to get in that spooky frame of mind! It has an grand, gothic feel that truly pays homage to those Legendary Monsters that have haunted our nightmares since we were children!