Just like last year, I’m going to take a look at the entries from my 2017 “Music to Haunt By” review series with a focus on their use in tabletop role-playing games. Speaking of last year, I’ve since learned that the Atrium Carceri album I covered then was actually inspired by the Kult RPG! Digging further into the past also revealed more examples of audio releases created specifically for use with select Dungeons & Dragons adventures, along with the gaming set I mentioned back when I first discovered how popular gaming music was. I even learned there’s a Call of Cthulhu campaign which includes suggestions about music to use while playing! I also found some additional details about the origins of Zew Cthulhu’s audio releases.
But what about more modern examples? In addition to a fairly recent kaiju wargame soundtrack, I also learned there’s a Lovecraft-inspired album whose creator openly calls for Call of Cthulhu players to use it! Terra/Sol Games has free audio enhancements and Nocturnal Media has theme music for Talislanta: Tales of the Savage Land. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has also released a licensed audio drama version of the classic Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign, along with a special prop set for gamers. I wonder if they noticed the article in Unspeakable Oath issue 23 where a reviewer suggested buying their Dark Adventure Radio Theatre releases specifically to use the enclosed props in gaming sessions?
But now I’ve gone too far off topic. So let’s get back to my look at material which wasn’t originally intended for use with RPGs. As always, the order of the albums reflects the order in which I reviewed them and does not reflect any personal preference. I occasionally had to remove some tracks for spacing purposes (or if they didn’t seem to offer any potential gaming use) but you can find the complete listing in each of the links.
Mark Harvey – If you’re looking for the perfect combination of music and sound effects to play during tabletop adventures in specific settings, you owe it to yourself to check out Mark Harvey’s work. The track which opens Pumpkinland is called “Pumpkinland” and features a slow, rumbling buildup which carries on through entire track. There are also touches of musical instruments to keep the tension up. It’s not too overwhelming for younger players while still being creepy enough for everyone else. It’s great for just about any spooky setting. You can also try playing it right before starting your next horror role-playing session to create some instant atmosphere. The track’s mild lurking feel also helps it flow into the next track: “Creature.” Said track turns up the lurking sensation and absolutely oozes with unease. It’s all atmosphere with no additional music aside from the occasional “throb.” It’s over 6 minutes, so you could potentially get away with looping it over and over again during a single session to keep players from getting too comfortable while playing a horror RPG. “Swamp” picks things up a bit with hissing music and a feel that’s almost like something breathing. There are the occasional distant cries heard as well. Most fantasy RPGs will have players venture into a swamp at some point, so don’t let the name trick you into thinking it can only be used for horror games. The organs and horns “Ghouls” are sometimes joined by vaguely mystical or spacey touches, so it also has some fantasy potential. It’s a bit insect-like at times, so it also works for encounters with creepy crawlies of any size. “The Pumpkin Patch” is an epic soundscape whose length depends on the format you purchase it on. The digital download runs a little over 25 minutes but has a brief silent pause about 17:14 into the track. This is due to Bandcamp’s size limits and the uninterrupted 34 minute version can only be found on CD. There’s wailing wind, creaking branches and night birds. There’s even some howling wolves, crickets and thunder at times for good measure. On the music side of things, there are the occasional touches of instruments. But they come and go too quickly to let you make any definite identifications. Either way, it makes for a spooky backing to any horrific expedition, be it a journey through Ravenloft or Dunwich.
Pumpkinland II starts with a track named after the album. In fact, it has an appropriately dark and low synth opening. There’s plenty of musical variations to keep things interesting (and disturbing). It gets even creepier halfway through, thanks to the vaguely metallic notes and subdued string work. I also enjoyed how the string work picked up as it plays out. The vaguely creaking open of “Nightfall” brings a swaying rope to mind. Perhaps your players will experience it during an encounter with a gibbet at a crossroads somewhere? Its sinister synth tones take on an almost heartbeat-like feel at times. Said heartbeat is enhanced by both the percussion sounds and the soft sounds of wind which are woven into the track. The sounds of monkeys and birds are merged with dark synth work in “Lagoon.” There are steady, stab-like tones and even some vaguely otherworldly touches. Later we can hear effects like a heartbeat, something moving through vegetation and a yowling cat in the distance. The track picks up a bit for the second half (especially the heartbeat and moving sounds). You could potentially time a something to happen when the heartbeat reaches its highest point. Alternately, you could wait until when the jungle sounds yield to a heartbeat as the track’s unseen traveler exits the lagoon. Clocking in at over 8 minutes in length, “Caverns” is one of the album’s longer tracks. The synth work has an appropriately heavy mood and strange laughter can be briefly heard at times. The fluttering bats and distant dripping perfectly capture the feel of wandering in an underground realm. The sound of footsteps let us know we’re not alone in the caves. These briefly give way to more synth work, but the effects do return. My only (minor) complaint is how the effects simply get repeated rather than use variations of them. This just might become your track of choice for exploring dungeons, but there’s also potential for haunted caves and mine shafts. Synthesizer notes are used to create a low key sense of dread in “Green Mist.” “Midnight” clocks in at a little under 24 minutes, so it can be played in the background throughout every gaming session to build tension or as the score for a specific scenario. The sound of wailing wind is louder than it was on the other tracks. The inclusion of rain and creepy bird sounds enhances the mood, as do the sound of something rustling. There’s plenty of variations, especially the weather effects. Sometimes a random sound effect is used once and never appears again. These include church bells, bats and distant thunder. All other effects return in some form throughout the track.
Pumpkinland III changes things up by starting with a track called “Procession,” which has what I like to call a “medium low” musical backbone. There are some neat variations to the plodding drumbeats and other instruments take over at times. The synth heavy “Rites” is suggestive of dark doings and runs for over 12 minutes. Its unique use of drums is supported by dripping sounds and distant moaning. So it’s ideal for when players investigate dungeons, crypts, catacombs, prisons and forgotten temples. Pounding synth work and some new wind effects kick off the ominous “Pumpkinland III” (which is perfect for deserts and arctic wastelands) while “Nocturne” features low, heavy synths and chirping insects. The chirping fades in and out and crickets join in at times to keep things interesting. The use of insect calls also mean it can be used as the musical backing for when players encounter the Necronomicon. Those new to the world of H.P. Lovecraft should look up “Al Azif” to understand why that makes sense. The creepy opening of “Docks” vaguely reminds me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? series. But the soft wind and creepily cooing synthesizers take things in a different direction. Dripping water and softly lapping waves can be heard later on, along with the occasional appearance by wordless female vocals. The synths get very varied about halfway through. There’s also a sound effect that’s either someone walking or the sound of the docks settling. In addition to use with anything involving pirates, playing it while the players have to cross a haunted bridge would make things even creepier. Game masters can make up a story about a ghost who crosses the bridge at times in order to take advantage of the “walking” sounds if your adventure involves a bridge but doesn’t mention any ghosts. Low synth notes lurk in the background of “Nightmare,” which conjures up a feeling of mild nervousness. A lengthy screech breaks the tension and returns just before the end. Other random effects put in brief appearances throughout the track. The sounds of wind and militaristic drum beats are combined with synth work in “Graveyard.” The synth work is just as wonderfully varied as the drums are steady. I love the sneaking tones and mournful notes. Previous albums used variations on certain sound effects in the tracks to keep things interesting, but this time synth work handles that particular task more. But don’t let that make you think the effects are boring. Hell, there’s more different wind sound effects in this than the other two albums combined!
Dulcet Jones – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Horror Trilogy is one of the more unique releases I’ve seen in the world of scary ambient music. Why? Because the “album” is actually three separate tracks, along with a track combining all three into a single audio file! “Horror Trilogy Part One” uses beautifully slow guitar work to create a sense of eerie elegance. It might seem like it’ll drift into pleasant listening music territory at times, but its classic spooky riff always brings it back to the dark side. It’s absolutely dripping with fantasy game potential. “Horror Trilogy Part Two” combines a more traditional rock feel with synth work and works with multiple RPGs, especially ones set in the present or future. Unearthly guitars and percussion combine for an effective opening. The synths get eerily ethereal when the guitars and drums pick up. It’s sure to create a feel of suspense and urgency when players hear it. Sometimes there are also sweet spooky guitar solos followed by drums (and more moaning synths). The feel gets really heavy as the track adds some distortion and electrical tuning effects about a minute and half into it. “Horror Trilogy Part Three” is 100% pure synth work consisting of a pounding beat and vaguely bell-like tones. It actually ups the scare factor when said bells take a break. Oh, and there’s also lots of creepy synth touches on display as well. In fact, Horror Trilogy packs in a lot of spooky ambience in one small package. Buying the individual tracks separately will cost you buck fifty while just buying the combination track only costs a dollar. Either way, it’s a low cost investment with a high cost sound. Each track can easily be looped and they go with just about any scary situation you can think up.
Grave Tone Productions – “Home Is Where the Horror Is,” the opening track of Dying Within, starts off with two messages warning about the album’s content, so it’s of little use for gaming sessions. But thankfully “Death Bed” has potential. The rockin’ guitars are sometimes joined by piano work and eerily ethereal noises. A crackling record effect brings in some wordless female vocals, along with a woman saying a prayer in Spanish. But the rock music quickly takes things back. There’s also some nifty alternating drums and guitars and even the sound of breaking glass! If your game module has a room where a record player turns itself on, make sure to use this. “Murder House” is fairly soothing at first. But the soft piano and string work are briefly interrupted by bursts of guitar work. The piano takes the spotlight for awhile, but then guitars and percussion put in another appearance. Said guitars take on a reverby sound for a bit and the end result reminds me of the soundtrack to an old European horror movie. The creep factor increases once the sinister strings and elegant piano work take over for the ending. “Don’t Open the Door” uses guitars, drums and cymbals to grab the listener’s attention. A voice warns the listener(s) how every life comes with a death sentence and the instruments take the track back for the ending. Playing this at the start of a horror gaming session would be a qucik and effective way to set the mood. “Dying Within” has a somewhat Western feel to it at times. Perhaps the metallic noises it occasionally uses are meant to be spurs? The opening guitar work is slow and low key, but picks up with a reverby feel. Things take on a more rockin’ tone and eventually transitions into super speedy 80’s metal before the two styles are combined. It takes on a steady, determined feel once the medium piano bursts and wordless unisex vocals kick in. There’s also some booming and militaristic drums for good measure. This is the perfect track for those looking to do something a little different while playing Deadlands or any other “weird west” RPG. “Deathtime Story” starts with a little boy asking his father to read him a bedtime story and quickly transforms into a mix of “kiddie” or “circus” music mixed with rock and various vocal segments. There’s lost children, creepy children asking for people to come out and other disturbing touches. The overall effect makes me think of evil spirits trying to lure the unsuspecting into an eternal game of Hide and Seek. So seek this out if you’re playing RPGs like Little Fears or KidWorld. “Panic Room” has plenty of guitars and interesting percussion. There’s some unearthly music in back at times too. “It Was Only a Nightmare” combines extremely creepy synthesizer tones with string work and piano. Drums slowly come in, as do guitars. A slow acoustic guitar suddenly takes over, only for the other instruments and eerie stuff to find their way in. This album is great to pick and choose tracks from rather than looping the whole thing during game sessions.
Midnight Syndicate – With a name like Zombies!!! Official Board Game Soundtrack, you know this album works best with role-playing games like Dead Reign, GURPS Zombies, Infected!, etc. Its heavy use of sound effects in certain tracks to tell a story might make it more difficult to use the album in full during gaming sessions depending upon your preferences. If you want the feel of having a zombie movie playing in the background for atmosphere, but without any visuals or plot to distract you from the game, playing the entire album will suit your needs. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the periods of silence I noted earlier were meant to give players a little extra time to concentrate or talk among themselves. But if that doesn’t work for you, don’t fret. You can still pick from several amazing tracks to use individually, even if your game of choice doesn’t involve the living dead! Mild reverb guitars and slow creepy buildup open “It Begins” and the overall feel track really gets your skin crawling. This is another track which works well for situations involving spiders or insects bug or spider room. It can also work with other themes thanks to its use of different eerie touches I can’t quite place. One part sounds like jangling chains, so there’s definitely some dungeon crawl potential here. “Where Did Everybody Go?” uses soft and moody string work to create a feeling of desolation and loneliness. The thudding drums add to the feel. It also builds up as it goes along (complete with moaning tones) for a very loud finish. The pounding drums of “They’re Coming for You…” sound like a heart beat. Snippets of percussion and the sounds of shuffling and junk being knocked over soon appear. It creates the sense of following or being followed. A distant motorcycle and soft zombie sounds are heard before the music takes back the focus. The complete effect is something dangerous getting closer, so you could use this with other monsters besides the living dead. You could also get away with passing off the sound of the motorcycle as the sound of a chainsaw if need be. A gong strike brings us into “Slight Miscalculation.” You’ve never heard drums and strings used like this before! Although it starts at about medium volume, it gets louder as the track speeds along. There’s plenty of tension as creepy woodwinds and zombie sounds are heard. It creates the feeling of running…until the track switches gears by musically implying safety has been found.
“Last Day to Live” is another track where the volume builds up, but it has lots of details which sets it apart from the others. I like how the vocals and piano play off each other later in the track. Percussion and synths with a distinctly “John Carpenter” feel join the mix of pianos and synth tones (along with some distant gongs and wordless female vocals at times). Although the music stops at 3:28, there’s a period of near silence and a soft eerie tone until the track ends at 3:49! The loud and rumbling opening of “No Escape” makes great use of strings. It’s all quite unnerving, especially the soft bursts of piano work. The pounding and horns make it feel like you’re being chased by a giant, so why not use it when players are pursued by a giant monster chase people in your haunt? Its sounds of breathing and whispering will certainly add to the overall effect. “Town Square” is a soundscape which opens with storm sound effects, soft synth tones and wordless male vocals. Empty swings can be heard blowing in the wind and zombies are rattling metal fences. The music is appropriately sad and mournful given how track implies civilization is in ruins. We also get to hear breaking glass, bursts of gunfire, wordless female vocals, wordless unisex vocals and a woman screaming in the distance. Any role-playing game with a post-apocalyptic theme would benefit from the use of this track, since the zombie noises could also be interpreted as mutants. “Veiled Hunter” creates the sense of frantic running, so it practically begs to be used in a chase. The tense, sweeping tones of “Into the Abyss” aid its epic orchestral feel. It feels like a taking a journey and you have to love the drum work. The string work and drum strikes go well with the wordless vocals. It develops a chase-like feel at first, only to quickly go back to the original feeling of grand menace. The moody opening “Alternate Food Source” leads to the sound of a creaking metal door being opened and a person walking around. As they check stuff, the sound of a shotgun reloading and a shell popping out can be heard. Slavering zombies and shaking metal can also be heard as the frightening strings and drums build their way up to the track’s climax. There’s also a soft, gradual build at the start of “Fear.” Light echoing notes and soft string work are aided by some violins in the back. Thunderous drumming and an intense beat take over, only to lead to the crackling static of barely audible radio broadcast. But when the guy broadcasting is eaten by zombies, the radio stuff goes away and the music grows into a frenzy. So be sure to cue this up when players turn on a radio.
“Adrenaline Rush” has an appropriately intense feel thanks to its pounding percussion, pianos and strings. There’s lots of different percussion instruments on display and reminds me of machinery or a busy factory. A motorcycle is heard (but could pass for a chainsaw) as well. The music fades as an out of breath man is heard trying to escape zombies on a motorcycle. The super soft opening of “Dusk” ushers in light, steady piano work and backing wordless female vocals. Some zombies are heard at times, but the track eventually becomes a mix strings and strange soft noise until the ending. “We’re Screwed” is another track that’s perfect for factories. Machinery and steam are both heard among the pounding tones and percussion, along with some brief touches of piano. There’s also lots of breaking glass effects, clanking chains and ominous string work. In “Race to the Helipad,” tense tones and suspenseful strings play as a helicopter is heard. I love how the percussion is used to indicate urgency. Drums and strings make the listener feel like they have to run as fast as possible. This is enhanced by the sounds of a man breathing, zombies, guns and a hovering helicopter. Naturally, everything goes silent when the helicopter leaves.
Darkmood – If you want to create an unnerving atmosphere for your next horror RPG session, just loop The Haunting in full in the background. You might have to lower the volume to hide some of the sound effects if you feel they’d clash with your planned adventure, but the overall effect will still creep out your players. But if you prefer using tracks individually, you still have plenty of options. Given how many of the tracks are over five minutes in length, looping individual tracks is no problem at all! “House of Horrors” opens with enough tuning sounds and synth work to create an eerie, off-putting experience. There’s also other sound effects! A creaking door is heard, along with electrical equipment and wordless female vocals. Echoes and screams soon follow as the track takes on the feel of music from a horror movie. You’ll know what I mean once you hear it. A pounding buildup leads to breathing and scattered whispers, along with distorted screams and moans. There’s also some vaguely sci-fi touches, string work, monster noises and too many other things for me to even attempt to catalog. An electro beat takes over for a spell and is later joined by whispers, only for the scares to resume control in the end. This would be great for when players explore a laboratory, especially if it is located near rooms featuring captured victims and caged monsters. “Scared” uses strings and LOUD pounding drums to create another track with a cinematic horror feel. This is followed by wind chimes, buzzing and other creepy touches I can’t place (which only makes things more unsettling). The track takes on a mournful feel before a monster is heard breathing, along with menacing whispers and other strange touches. Aside from the pounding and breathing, the track takes on a vaguely science fiction feel with its use of static, distortions and echoing vaguely spacey notes. Metallic distortions and a short sci-fi undercurrent also turn up in “Within the Night.” Most of the track’s synth work has a has a John Carpenter feel, with the sounds of breathing and a faint heartbeat which come later adding to the effect. The buzzing noise is the background is soft at first, but picks up after some impressive string work is heard. Various electrical noises are heard, only for the disturbing sounds and Carpenter feel to eventually return. Closing the track with the distorted sound of a woman screaming was a perfect touch. This could work in an alien encounter, laboratory, or if you get all meta and have your gaming group explore a haunted attraction. The medium paced “Evil Comes” maintains a constant ominous feel. Don’t be surprised if you start to feel like something is after you while you listen. The sinister synths are aided by piano work, wordless female vocals, frenzied violins and heavily distorted talking. The music here really cranks up the feelings of evil and something not being of this world. So this is prefect for when something is summoned in any given Cthulhu-themed RPG.
“All Hallows Eve” is fairly fast paced and comparatively light compared to the rest of the album. But keep in mind how “light” for this album is still darker than the music you’ll find elsewhere. I don’t know what I love more, the piano work or its overall ambience of evil. Some sci-fi stuff appears about a minute into it but you can probably get away with using this in non sci-fi setting. The way the swarming synths seem to surround you is an impressive effect. Perhaps you could try using this when flying insects are attacking? Come to think of it, the fact its piano work sounds like something from a John Carpenter movie lets you use this in a slasher encounter and the heavy static also allows for use in a room containing a television. Otherworldly ambience opens “Cabin Terror.” Is that the wind wailing or is it evil spirits? You decide! The screech which comes later seems to indicate spirits (but it could be birds). Wind can definitely be heard next, along with music that might be somewhat peaceful in a different context. Well, at least before the distorted violin work comes in (followed by synth tones and ethereal vocals). Monstrous sounds take over, complete with howls and echoing screeches. The heavy but trippy ending synths make for a most unique closing. Be sure to use this if players are in a building located in a wooded area. Speaking of woods, the opening of “Into the Woods” is a mix of creepy sounds and synths which comes complete with unearthly screeches and ominous distortion effects. I’m very fond of how it uses string work to build up tension. A slam and distorted static take the listener to a segment with touches like the music from modern horror films. It absolutely overwhelms you with evil for the rest of its running time. Aside from a distant howl, most of the effects are disturbing because you can’t place any of them. The pounding beats dueling with tribal drums works wonders for the overall mood. Be sure to use this in a haunted forest. “Lost in Darkness” brings us more tribal drums, along with moaning tones and pounding synths. There’s even wordless female vocals at times! It picks up with a scarier feel once the disturbing chirps and other sounds join in. “The Howling” would work in either a werewolf encounter or a trip through a haunted forest. Its loud, pounding heavy synths and distant high pitched howls see to that. It has more focus on dark synths than the howls and it’s interesting how the howling gets so loud it sounds almost like a siren at one point. The tribal drums and synths create a sense of being chased, so you might want to take that into consideration when planning its usage in RPG sessions. Otherwise you can just let the intense synths reign supreme until the final fade out. The album’s final track is appropriately named “13.” The deceptively soft opening contrasts with its later focus on loud creepy synths and effects, complete with scattered metal clanks. Distortion abounds and women’s screams all have an echo effect. There’s also some callbacks to the previous tracks mixed in with all the new stuff! The tribal drums and breathing get supplanted by extremely heavy breathing that seems to close the album. Only for the surprise appearance of a woman loudly screaming acting as an audio jump scare.
Sam Haynes – Pumpkin On Your Stereo contains a lot of spooky music you can dance to. Although this does limit which tracks you can use if you don’t plan on having players investigate a party or club, you can definitely loop the entire album to keep things interesting if you’re using a role-playing game that takes a long time to create characters. “October Moon” starts things off with a bang. Its extremely catchy opening beat has a dark, moody backing. Pounding tones takes over for a spell and the final result is perfect for those aiming for a Stranger Things-style vibe for their horror gaming sessions. “Ghost House (Haunt Mix)” opts for a softer, slower opening. It’s much lower key and creepier than the last track. There’s even some unearthly touches thrown in with the sinister synths for good measure. A whispering sample brings in a louder dance beat and there’s plenty of electro variations backed by pianos. The dueling pianos manage to crawl their way to the front for the last leg of the track, along with some wordless female vocals. This makes me think of a haunted dance club, but it might have some potential in other settings depending on your preferences. If your horror game of choice involves children, be sure to use “Pumpkin Jack.” Its opening soft sounds and music lead to a build in volume thanks to a plinking music box. The spooky strings and synth combo which follows does slow down a bit towards the end, but it’s still fairly energetic. There’s soft music box break at times, but it usually ends quickly. The soft, incredibly dark opening of “DeathNotes” sounds almost like footsteps at times. It grows in both volume and intensity thanks to a very different music box melody and some pounding tones occasionally appear. Factor in some slow piano work and you have one very unnerving and scary package. This is a perfect choice for investigations of a haunted playroom. If said playroom has an old record player in it, the use of faint crackles and pops in the track will let you pass it off as a record which plays by itself.
“Shockwaves” is very hard to hear…at first. But it’s dance time once the electro beats start up! The soft string work in background is a bit moody and there’s some interesting synth noodling, along with the numerous drum machine beats and circus-like music in the back. However, the sound of chirping crickets replaces music for the ending. You can easily get away with using this for an encounter with creepy clowns. “Midnight creeping” has an overall sneaking feel. It’s got soft freaky noises, steady distorted drums, creeptastic beats and even the obligatory music box segment. Let’s not forget the moaning backing tones and pounding beat! “House of the dead” has plenty of dark synth variations and its eerie nature grows along with the volume. It takes on an 80’s horror feel once the dance beat starts up and also conjures up a sense of pursuit. Piano work opens “The Hypnotist,” but electro touches and drums quickly join in. There’s also some interesting lighter touches thanks to Sam’s use of a xylophone. This is another track best suited for a haunted playroom or circus. The low and heavy “Blackest eyes” is filled with hints of menace and unease. I love how well the string work goes with the piano parts. The pounding distorted buildup and woman screaming near the end add to the overall effect. This track oozes with suspense and fear. The creepy “Crawlspace” is the most scary of the dance tracks. Its sneaky synth opening, eerie electro touches, distorted vocal snippets and pounding drums all make for an eerie listening experience. Sam’s trademark electro feel is taken to new heights in the intense “ElectroShock.” This catchy little number also includes scary synths, devious drums and a music box cameo. “Samhain” has a soft ‘n slow steady synthesizer beat with occasional appearances by soft piano work. It has a low key creepy feel but the track’s pounding drums do admittedly kick things up. It makes me think of running, but not being chased. “The Coven” is brimming with horror RPG potential thanks to its creepy piano work and backing tones. The music box, drum bursts and string work help as well.
Virgil Franklin – Halloween is great for picking and choosing tracks from rather than looping the whole album. Otherworldly tones weave in and out of “So It Begins” to create a feeling of mystery and uncertainty. It also blends creepy chirping and beeping tones into the musical background at times. The slow snippets of piano work in “By The Fullness Of The Moon” steadily increase in both volume and speed. Eerie backing tones and wordless female vocals soon join them, only for the piano to take over. Soft chimes briefly show up near middle of track (and return for the ending), but it’s the vocal effects that really shine here. There are vocal tones and the alternating female vocals and male vocals. Said vocals seem very distant and also alternate with the piano work. It’s great for just about any eerie situation, no matter what theme your RPG of choice uses! “Worms” offers heavy synth tones with some occasional light touches. But even heavier tones work their way in, only for light and unearthly tones to assert themselves later. In fact, they often sound like screams. There’s lots of potential here. Heavy pounding drums kick off “Midnight Has Come.” The ethereal notes and backing tones are joined by crackling static and other startling effects. It use of tambourines is surprisingly effective! There’s even a point where only the soft, low musical backing is heard, although the drums do eventually return. “Behind You” has a gothic horror feel. The tolling bells, drums and menacing tones are perfectly combined with piano work and gongs. Encounters with vampires or investigating a crumbling castle will be greatly enhanced if you play this. In sharp contrast, “It Hungers” has a more modern approach. Feedback and other distorted tones create the feeling of something slinking about in the darkness. The distortion effects even get turned all the way up halfway through the track. The addition of sci-fi synths give this potential for use when players explore a laboratory or alien spacecraft.
Like many tracks I’ve reviewed here, “Insane In The Membrane” has a low, slow opening build. This time said build consists of spacey synths and a soft throbbing tone in back. Sometimes all you can hear is backing! Wailing tones and other synth touches pop in occasionally. When the spacey synths do make their return, they’re kind enough to bring new touches with them. This would work well when played back-to-back with the album’s final track. The pounding drums, ominous string work and horns in “A Bump In The Night” have a surprisingly epic feel. The violin solo helps as well. There’s also a music box feel to the background music at times! The drums come back after a brief pause of silence and the horns take things back to normal. A track with such a grandly dark tone deserves to be used as the soundtrack for an encounter with a vampire or a visit to a haunted throne room. “Flies” uses insect-like synths to create the sense of a swarm of buzzing and flying pests surrounding you. Although many of the album’s tracks make great use of stereo effects, this one particularly stands out. “Carol Ann” is the track to go to if you need something with tuning effects and touches of static…and menace. Lots and lots of menace. Don’t let its name fool you, “Skeleton Dance” is not a haunting ballroom waltz! The music box opening and circus-like percussion music used to represent skeleton bones make it more “cute” than “scary.” However, you could use it in a haunted circus or nursery right before the scary stuff happens. In “Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble,” blowing winds lead to noises indicating that something slimy is being stirred. Dripping and the occasional moment of bubbling can also be heard, along some evil synth work in back. But the bubbling picks up once the ghostly tones enter the scene. Swamps, sewers and laboratories could get as much use out of this as a room with a bubbling cauldron could. Tolling bells start “Fine’,” but crickets and dark synth work soon take over. There’s also some percussion effects and a return appearance by the bells at times. Unease is created through its only using synths for awhile, only to layer in bells for the rest of the track’s duration. This cries out to be used in explorations of a graveyard or haunted forest.
Although I usually look at albums I’ve previously reviewed for this segment, I want to try something new this year. If you want your gaming sessions to have an 80’s feel, you need to check out Aphasia Records. A lot of the releases are inspired by cult movies from that decade, right down to the faux wearing on cover art. Sometimes the artists don’t shy away from the sleaze factor of those movies, so not everything there is appropriate for kids. But I’m getting off topic. Both Protector 101’s Hunter’s Journey and Perturbator’s Nocturne City are perfect for cyberpunk adventures. One review of Action Jackson’s Miami System describes the track “Coke, Palms and Money” as “the ideal soundtrack for a slow cruise through the seedier side of the city.” I’m sure you’ll be able to find more. A lot of the albums there have become streaming-only, but are available for download at other online retailers. If you have trouble finding what you want, you can try contacting the artist and see if they’ll make a direct sale to you. There’s also a few free downloadable compilations to be found there, so don’t write off that Bandcamp page just yet!
The most recent (as of this writing) installment of Music to Haunt By: The Return has tips on using audio to scare people, along with some free music downloads!
Episode 213 of this site’s official podcast has several of the tracks noted above (along with other musical compositions which could be suitable for your next gaming session).