As was the case last year, I’m going to take another look at the albums I reviewed for my 2014 “Music to Haunt By” article series with an eye on their use in tabletop role-playing games. The order of the albums once again reflects the order in which I reviewed them and does not reflect personal preference. Although I had to remove some tracks for spacing purposes, you can find the complete tracks in each of the links. Listening to Atrium Carceri has made me realize I have been neglecting the use of albums to create a general mood rather than a precise soundtrack to the events. Speaking of which, the founder of Atrium Carceri was also a founding member of Za Frûmi. That group’s dark fantasy tracks will be of definite interest to those seeming music for tabletop gaming. The use of sound in gaming seems to be growing, as evidenced by the availability of character SoundSets. But enough of that, let’s get to the reviews:
Music For Haunts – This album offers a lot of variety for game masters doing horror campaigns. Have an adventure involving a haunted circus or creepy children (if not both)? You’ll want to use tracks like “The Ringmaster’s Music Box,” “The Karnevil” and “A Child’s Nightmare.” I especially like the low key creepiness of the dark calliope music in that last track. Encounters with cannibals will benefit from “Gonna Make You BBQ.” Said track is heard on what appears to be a malfunctioning player, as it constantly stops and “rewinds.” It sounds happy and innocent at first, but the distorted singers’ love of meat can be off-putting. Hearing the titular line get repeated over and over again and having it sound eviler each time really drives home the double meaning of the phrase. Both “Noise In The Basement” and “The Apparition” work well together. Thee first of the two is a masterful combination of faded moans and spooky violin work while the second brings in a piano and wordless female vocals. It’s perfect for just about any supernatural encounter. The soft buildup of “Satan’s Microphone” leads us to evil effects, the sound of flames and dark tones. The intense buildup and creepy guitar screeches towards end are great touches. Why not use it as your players investigate a haunted boiler room? Being over twelve minutes in length, “Verfelgte” is the longest track on the album. Although there is some music, like brief burst of violins, it mostly consists of sound effects. There’s soft wind, clanking chains, creaking gates, dripping, eerie chimes, crackling flames, storm effects and so much more. One could even get away with using it on a loop for an entire gaming session.
Dulcet Jones – In the titular track “Halloween, I’m Afraid” the creepy organ-style tones and smashed glass beat create a lurking feel. Even the lighter moments and somewhat jaunty piano feel unsettling and odd, which could allow for use in an asylum or circus scenario. Want something with an 80’s horror vibe? Try “Tuckers Brother.” “Urban Crawl” offers subtle scares while the echoing guitars of “Electro Acoustic Lament,” coupled with wind effects, give the track a peaceful sci-fi feel. In situations where calming music is required, I recommend “The Ghost in my Guitar” and “Overmed Daydream.” Things get scary again with the opening track of the next album, “More Halloween, I’m Afraid.” The moody opening buildup and wind effects lead nicely into the electro beats and spooky “woo” noises. Despite the name, “Night Circus” can also be used in a variety of encounters thanks its eerie touches and scary organ work. “Asylum Wedding” offers organ work and strings that are soft, slow and moody. There’s a creepy music box feel at times and the drum machine kicks things up. “Release the Bats” would be perfect for the belfry thanks to its use of bells and stylized fluttering wings. Blasts of steam and an oddball music box join other audio oddities in “Steampunk Lullaby.” It’s off-kilter enough for an asylum or steampunk scenario. The acoustic guitars and plinking music box tones of “Lobotomy Ward” give it a mildly creepy feel while “Red Narasimha” amps up the scare factor thanks to little touches like wordless male vocals and wind effects.
Atrium Carceri – Although I will discuss how to use individual tracks, you could easily play the entire album on a loop to create an overall feeling of loneliness and desolation. Unless your group speaks Japanese (or if the scenario you are playing is set in Japan), I recommend turning down the volume so you can’t make out the dialogue samples in certain tracks but can still hear the music. Any journey through a factory will be enhanced by playing “Enclosed World/Liberation,” thanks to its numerous sound effects and dark chorus. The sounds of pounding machinery is also a big part of “A Stroll Through the Ancient City.” The groaning, choking and conversation snippets allow for use with a scenario involving a messy transformation from human to something else. “Synaptic Transmission” sounds like some sort of feedback or transmission. There are plenty of static-like tones and bizarre sounds which make it perfect for players attempting to contact aliens. “Ruins of Desolation” is further proof you have to hear this album in order to truly understand it. This review can only go so far. It’s a low key kind of creepy as glitchy tones and distorted voices are coupled with pounding beats and snippets of male choral work. The surprise orchestral tones and chorus do work very well here. “Thermographic Components” is perfect for any horror game and “The Corruptor” has a mix of unearthly moaning and distorted “transmissions” after a sample tells us to “destroy.” The distortion-filled opening of “The Carnophage” leads to the sound of something breathing and moving among the static. There’s so much potential in here to unnerve your players!
Sam Haynes – Do you need something to enhance the mood during a chase sequence? Try “Death comes creeping in,” as the soft opening gradually builds up moans and heavy tones to create a sense of pursuit. “Masks” provides a sense of things creeping and lurking around in the dark. Do I even have to explain the uses for such a track? The titular “Spine Chillers” offers a constant feel of unease, “Halloween Twilight” brings in the creeps and the use of wordless vocals in “Night Caller” is especially chilling. Since the names of “Sinister Lullaby” and “Pandemonium Carnival” already describe their potential use in gaming sessions, I’ll focus on how the moaning in “Spirit of Halloween” makes it ideal for ghostly encounters and “Hex (soundtrack mix)” creates a mood of mystery. The album’s numerous remixes and dance tracks (“HeXed,” “Grim Reaper” and “Night of the Ghouls”) could be fun to throw on while you wait for everyone to get ready.
Midnight Syndicate – The light use of wind and wordless female vocals in “Darkness Descends” make it appropriate for just about any spooky situation. The same goes for “Fallen Grandeur.” The presence of ghosts is felt throughout “Room 47,” so use it with players holding a séance or invoking the dead. “Born of the Night” is incredibly moody and evocative while the soundscape “Raven’s Hollow” combines wind, distant tolling bells and ravens cawing. Want a trip to a castle to feel especially memorable? Try playing “Awakening,” “Alchemist’s Chamber” and “Residents Past.” I think you can guess what sort of scenario “Haunted Nursery” would be best suited for. “Army of the Dead” was apparently designed for the introduction of monsters in play, but I think its use of chanting lets it work with a summoning ritual or encounter with a cult. Play “Dark Legacy” and “Soliloquy” when someone recounts a tortured past and use “Morbid Fascination” to create an overall sense of mystery and lurking. The short, but scary “Deadly Intentions” uses a whispered female “come with me” and synth work to great effect. “Undead Hunters” will make players feel danger and pursuit, as will “Vampyre.” In need of a good storm? The sound effects and moody vocals of “Tempest” are just what you need!
Virgil Franklin – The wailing wind, synth work and musical moans of “Zombies 1” makes me think of spirits rather than the walking dead. “Zombies 2” has more a “Voodoo” feel thanks to its use of drums, but the use of a flute and instrument which sounds like fluttering insect wings are just as well-suited for Lovecraftian games. “The Darkness In The Hollow” is a theremin fairy tale and the use of synths in “Left For Dead” remind me of crashing surf. There’s plenty of wailing winds and other creepy touches while knocking noise and otherwordly effects come in around the second half. Its watery feel also makes it a good companion for the adventurous “Pirates!” “Master Of The Ethermuse” features plenty of heavy breathing mixed with spooky piano work while “Left For Dead (Reprise)” offers sinister ethereal effects, soft moans and distant drumbeats. “Atmosfear” can be used when your group encounters vortex or journeys through another plane of existence. “John’s Vision” will make listeners think of crawling things, “Music For The Others” has a mournful tone and “Luminousity” offers a medieval feel. Its being over ten minutes long means one could theoretically loop this track for an entire gaming session if you so desired.
Darkmood – Although the album’s theme is a zombie outbreak, it can also be used with other types of games. The wind and drums of “Mutation” will spice up any jungle encounter just as much as the sound effects of “Dark Waters” work well with pirates or waterside investigations. If you need something with soft winds and otherworldly synth sounds, “Infected” is the track for you. Pounding synths, drums and strings in “Outbreak” can help build suspense, along with a sense of menace and terror. “Bury The Dead” uses varied piano work to create feelings of nervousness and lurking while the lengthy “Walkers” can enhance a chase. Planning an encounter with a killer wielding a sharp weapon? The stabbing synth tones and effects which remind me of sharpening knives in “Hordes” will do nicely. Thanks to its skittering feel and sci-fi touches, “Pulse” works best with unearthly encounters. “They’re Coming” has plenty of piano work with a “We are coming” chant layered underneath. Hello cult encounter! “Last Breath” uses lurking synth notes to evoke a breathing feel. This feel is further aided by some breathing sound effects, along with a woman crying and laughing. “Epitaph” offers a steady beat, light creepy music and great use of spectral effects.
Last year’s installment of Music to Haunt By: The Return has tips on using music (along with some free album downloads).
Come to think of it, Episode 125 of this site’s official podcast has plenty of horror music, including several of the tracks noted here!