Psych Ward Psymphony
Psych Ward Psymphony, self-release 2012
Psych Ward Psymphony 2013, self-release 2013
Psych Ward Psymphony is shrouded in mystery. All that can be said for certain is how it was founded by musician Jamie James. No, not the guy from Steppenwolf! This Jamie James is also a haunt industry insider and has been working in the business since 1995. The full list of members is as follows:
The seeds of the group were planted when one attraction he was working at was in need of a short original composition. After seeing the high cost estimates from the musicians, Mr. James told the haunt owners he could do it for nothing. With the help of a friend, they created what could be considered PWP’s first song. He still felt the need to create dark music even after October ended and soon called up some other musically inclined friends. They decided to just have fun with it and not to have any set goals other than keeping the tracks around 5 minutes and making sure they were doing something different. The end result was the band’s 2012 self-titled debut album.
Despite the obvious Halloween connection, Psych Ward Psymphony starts off with a pair of creepified Christmas carols! “Jingle Bells PWP” has dark, foreboding jingling bells lead into a very dark piano rendition of this Christmas classic…then the guitars kick in to rock your face off! The scary, growling vocals are a great touch! “Holly & the Ivy” starts with a mix of jingling and tolling bells. But soon an eerie little girl sings “la la la” and blasting guitars usher in an adult woman (Jacquie Shifflette Darbro) singing the lyrics of this lesser-known Christmas song. The creative use of feedback and haunting organ work keep this from simply being a standard cover song. There’s even some season’s beatings thrown in for good measure! Those without any winter plans for their haunt should skip right to “Turn Back.” A scary organ and traditional Halloween sound effects like a wolf howling and wailing wind join a voice whispering for the listener to turn back while it’s still not too late. But when you hear a vampire welcoming you in with dark piano accompaniment, you know it’s far too late to escape. Just like the poor sap you hear trying to laugh it off as ghostly wails are heard. Having a sepulchral voice mocking him during the guitar segment is an excellent touch, as is the evil laughter which takes us out. The sound of a crackling record brings in “Death Waltz.” But the static and feedback soon turn into headbanging rock greatness and chilling sound effects. This contrasts nicely with the light (but intense) piano and percussion. In addition to the end portion being reminiscent of a certain John Carpenter horror favorite, this could also be used in the ballroom of a “Haunted House of Rock.” Another song with potential use inside of a haunt is “The Morrigan.” Named for a type of spirit, it appropriately features Jacquie Shifflette Darbro providing beautiful, but unnerving vocals. She’s presumably the one doing the crying later in the track. There are plenty of interesting touches in this, such as the sound effects, dreamy harps and how parts of the track sound like a radio tuning into two stations at once. There’s also some amazing stereo channel effects which make it seem like the audio is traveling across channels. Since there’s an evil voice which pops in from time to time to explain what the subject of this track is, why not use it for a display in your haunt’s spooky museum? The Morrigan can either be represented by a flying crank ghost or a puppet operated by a performer to trick patrons into thinking they’re watching an animated prop. Their reactions when the “prop” lunges at them are always worth it!
The sounds of birds and someone walking outdoors take us into “Corpses,” where Robbie Rothzchild provides the sinister vocals about watching people die from disease. The spooky piano work, percussion, guitars and (of course) feedback provide the perfect backing. “Bad Place” is my favorite track of the album and has already gotten played several times over the course of the year. What starts off as a moody outdoor soundscape leads to a rockin’ musical conversation between a little kid and their grandfather about an old house. The child’s humorous commentary throughout the track was an excellent touch. I had to get up to answer my front door when I first listened to this track and noticed how the further away I got, the creepier it sounded. I could barely make out the music and sound effects, but the lyrics became nearly impossible to understand and sometimes sounded like screeching. So if you really want to freak people out, play this at a low volume as they wander through a dark maze or hallway. Cymbals are added to the rock mix in “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” along with a distorted recording of a man moaning. His moaning soon becomes rambling about his mother and people meeting gruesome fates in a house. The zapping sound effects are just one of the many effective touches, which also include the doctor’s notes at the end. This album revels in static and feedback, but “Hell’s Hell” stands out with its creative mixing. There’s plenty of slow, moody rock with some soft organ work and evil laughter thrown in for good measure. “The Death Lord” opens with a wide selection of disturbing sounds and horror movie stingers. It’s mostly wailing guitars, screaming and drilling after that, but the titular character does provide some commentary from time to time. Syncing this with an animatronic display of a torturer and some victims would be incredible. A motor starts up the carousel music in “12 Clowns,” which is soon followed by a man singing about 12 silly clowns. What a shame he gets choked to death before he can finish! His killer takes over the hosting duties and dumps us into a world of unnerving music (both of the rock and circus varieties), crying, laughter and other sound effects. You might want to use a motion detector to have this start playing as soon as people enter your haunted circus room. Things come to a close with “The Survivors?” Sirens blare and the wind howls as a whispering voice telling us to follow her. Such whispers occur many times under the moody guitar work and organ work. There are so many other creative audio effects to enjoy as well!
With its (to quote the band) “live vibe” and being designed for haunted attractions to play in order to entertain their guests, Psych Ward Psymphony decided to adopt a more traditional approach for their next album in order to obtain wider appeal. Something including dark ambient tracks which could be used inside a haunt. Several guest performers were called in as well. The end result? Let’s take a look…