A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Perhaps no sound is as inherently linked with the horror genre as the pipe organ. From the immediately recognizable open strains of Bach’s “Tocata In Fugue In D Minor,” in 1932’s Doctor Jekyll And Mister Hyde, to the spectral romp of Carnival Of Souls, to dark and tormented geniuses like The Phantom Of The Opera or Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the pipe organ is used to simulate the sensation of a person possessed. Perhaps the pipe organ even inherently evokes ancestral memories of popcorn palaces and weeping chandeliers, in the times before talkies.
In the book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear (Routledge Music and Screen Media), it is theorized that the pipe organ recalls the Gothic era, with its “ruined magniﬁcence, beautiful disorder, attractive decay, dreadful spectacle, and supernatural extravagance” and a searching for the sublime. According to Edmund Burke, “beautiful objects are associated with smallness and delicacy, huge objects evoke awe and terror—a sense of the sublime.”
It is easy to imagine vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses, imagining these acoustic behemoths filling sacred spaces with immense tones and drones, like an early wall of sound. Pipe organs could be seen as the perfect example of the horror lover’s love of the sublime. As Clive Barker put it, portraying the horror lover as a modern shaman.
“The shaman’s position within the tribe is to be a sort of go-between, between the ghost-world, the worlds of the dead and the ancestors arid the minor divinities, of the haunting spirits on the one hand, and the tribe and common-life on the other. And the shaman goes off, takes his or her dream-trip, ventures into these places and comes back with, hopefully, insights, sometimes healing insights, spiritual insights, news from the gods, news from the ancestors.” – The Edge Interview
Horror is, after all, a representative of the fantastic, and is tied in with the quest for the spirit, for the supernatural. In this way, horror is religion’s twin shadow, the path we walk in search of real trembling awe and mystery.
Pavor Nocturnus is the newest LP from Melbourne, Australia’s The Night Terrors, and first release for the new imprint Twisted Nerve Australia, a collaboration between reissue labels Dual Planet and Finders Keepers. Pavor Nocturnus is built around recordings from the gigantic pipe organ in Melbourne’s Town Hall, The Grand Pipe Organ, the largest in the southern hemisphere. Pavor Nocturnus is a titanic opus of grindhouse funk and giallo gothicness, recorded on one Friday the 13th back in June.
As if a talented band playing Goblin grooves on a giant pipe organ weren’t good enough, these recordings are then adorned with Carpenter-esque analog electronics, pounding tribal drums, and The Night Terror’s most defining characteristic, the classically trained theremin playing of Miles Brown.
The cobwebbed gothicness of the pipe organ, with the eerie, otherworldly bent tones of the theremin combine to create a mixture of archaic horror and speculative SF, as if this vaunted cathedral, or ’20s movie palace, were to suddenly uproot and blast off into orbit, leading Rock Star Journalist to compare Pavor Nocturnus to Mario Bava‘s Planet Of The Vampires.
So, really, with allusions to The Phantom Of The Opera, Captain Nemo, Doctor Jekyll And Mister Hyde, Carnival Of Souls, John Carpenter, and space vampires, i could pretty much stop writing here. What else do you need to know?
Except that The Night Terrors can really write and play. It’s a little sickening that these baroque monstrosities were captured on one afternoon, reminding us of the times where composers were expected to be able to improvise, as well as notate music. This is like J. S. Bach, improvising in front of Lucifer.
As is often the case with instrumental music, Paver Nocturnus works best as a whole, and you’d be advised to throw this on a pair of headphones, or get the LP and blast it through a stack of speakers, and let yrself be transported, to let yr head fill with phantasmagoria. If there is anyone out there currently writing gothic or sci-fi horror, this would be an excellent soundtrack, to get and stay in the mood.
While working best as a soundtrack, there are standouts, however. The first one to leap out and snare my attention was “Megafauna”, with its grinding, pyrotechnic bass organ riff, opening up into choppy, chunky discordant organ chords and growling bass synth, rooted down in the powerful funk drumming of Damian Coward. The drums are The Night Terrors ace in the hole, as they lend a driving sense of adventure, as well as giving that ’70s giallo cinemafunk vibe we all adore. Also, scope that second breakdown about 2 minutes in, with craft chord modulations, if you have any wonder if The Night Terrors’ cuts are theoretically sound.
“Kucelli Woke Up In The Graveyard” is the next one to stand my hair on end, with right and proper ominous tension from the bass synth, as the phantom organ shreds yr peace of mind. Dig those Carpenter basslines! This is the most cinematic outing on here, making me think this Kucelli has accidentally fallen asleep in the graveyard, only to be awakened by glowing vampires with spiked hair and long fingernails.
Both “Gravissima” and album closer “Spectrophilia” stand out, and sound of a piece, mainly with their insanely colossal drums. “Gravissima” is more of a heavy funk outing, however, while “Spectrophilia” astounds with its plodding ominousness giving way to jaw-dropping classical beauty. You have never in yr life heard a theremin sound so lovely, so haunting.
These tracks probably stand out more only in that they are heavier and more bombastic than some of the more creeping and subtle material on here. It’s all good, and indispensable to all horror lovers. Get this now, and get it on yr Halloween mixtapes!
Melbourne’s The Night Terrors straddle the dark chasm between silver screen horror and classic SF, producing a new galaxy of antigravity bloodsoaked visions.
If yr lucky enough to be in Australia, you have a chance to see this album performed live, at Melbourne’s Town Hall, on Halloween!
Highly recommended! Great stuff!