Album Review – The Incredible Dark Carnival (Sam Haynes)

The Incredible Dark Carnival

It’s certainly no lie that I’ve enjoyed the soothing sounds of dark electro artist, Sam Haynes.  And while the warming months approach us and it’s time to play outside, his music reminds us that there are plenty of things out there that can send a chill down our spines.  And since this is my third review of his awesome music, this might as well be a “chillogy” of sorts!  (Please don’t hurt me.)

As I’ve stated in prior reviews, Sam Haynes’ work has a focus on ambient textures mixed in with some electric groove beats.  With plenty of tracks to wake the dead at any party or terrify guests of any corporeal state, his twisted creations bring a delightful variety to the table.  Plus, it’s been interesting to see how he’s altered and evolved his sound with incorporation of new motifs and styles.  So, how does this album change the mold?  Buy your ticket for the show and attend The Incredible Dark Carnival to find out.

As with every album, Haynes tends to experiment with new ideas throughout electronic music. From D’n’B to electro to even a little dubstep, multiple motifs and genre styles change up his sound to deliver something both fresh and spine-tingling. In that regard, Incredible Dark Carnival already succeeds. However, this one really pushes forth in exploring different genres and ideas to their fullest; from homages to classic eras in horror to dark ambient pieces oozing with atmosphere. While this should be all too familiar territory for the artist and his fans, this album kicks it up a notch.

Incredible Dark Carnival kicks off its show with a dark ambient piece called “Carnival of the Devil”. Through a sinister narrator, we’re transported through an almost cosmic whirling sound. It paints a scene where the ominous carnival itself is slowly coming into view! This is bridged with some chilling organ style keys and a vocal-like theremin to bolster this spooky soundscape. To top it off, the drum roll makes one believe the show has just begun! This kick off shows a step up in sound. Not only does it make me think of some of my favorite dark ambient artists like Nox Arcana and Midnight Syndicate, it highlights how far Haynes has come in terms of building and creating this atmosphere.

The more dark ambient side of the album features tons of brooding realms created through eerie sounds. “Death’s Minstrel” showcases a somber piece with sliding textures amidst what sounds like a low pitched wailing in the background, creating an awesome take on the funeral march. Meanwhile, “Parade” feels like a strange hybrid of the progressive rock sounds of Goblin and the soundtrack to the Exorcist. This ’70s homage is complete with an ethereal choir, (tubular) bells, and a quiet droning.

The follow up, “Behind the Mask” matches this with an eerie music-box like loop, with the remix carrying a pretty nice hip-hop style beat. Unlike previous “music box” style pieces, there’s something kind of ‘alien’ about this one… “Boneyard” remains my favorite for its sounds of what I can describe as slowly awakening from a dream-like state in slow and arching movement. Sounds like the kind of thing one would expect for the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in a sense. Combined with a fading ghostly chorus, something about it feels right at home within the repertoire of Akira Yamaoka (whose best known for the soundtracks of the Silent Hill series.) Funland and Curtain Call have that fine line of ambient and electronic mixing to create stark atmosphere with a vague, yet lingering menace to them.

On the more electronic side, there’s still a nice dose of sick atmosphere combined with infectious grooves and killer beats. “Electric Freakshow” stays true to its name with a slick synth key loop spliced with thick pounding of drums. The drifting “wooing” sounds of a ’90s Mark Snow (i.e. X-Files) inspired key sequence really does this track for me. “Switchblade Slideshow” exchanges this lighter key sound for something much crunchier, fuzzy, but strangely true to the vintage b-movie soundtrack. In fact, this track almost sounds like a surf rock tune, altered by a midnight movie mad scientist who deserves this theme! In fact, this would be perfect for a haunt scene with some demented scientist doing all sorts of wicked experiments.

“Here Come the Clowns” was a fun track that felt a bit too repetitive for me, but the truly demented remix (or rather “Guyschur remix“) changed that for me! It’s the fear of clowns, meshed with an industrial hellscape of sorts. The technological sounds and robotic voices kind of make me think of Killer Klowns, but the theme is perhaps a bit too sinister and disturbing to fit the goofy horror-comedy. But hey, I’ll take unleaded nightmare fuel over camp any day! Personally, if the robot voice was toned down or altered with some more variations, that would have made this remix for me.

Ringmaster” wasn’t quite what I expected, it carries the sound of a maniacal stuntshow and other such strange things, all true to the creepy carnival theme. I kinda wish this track had a bit more power and gusto to it, to fit the title. It’s more than made up for with two prior tracks which remain among my favorite for the electro-side. “Nightfall” is a cross between psychological horror and synth pop. Or if you prefer, it’s a mix of Silent Hill and MJ’s Thriller. The drum and electronics bring to mind the instrumental cheese glory of Return of the Living Dead. Eerie siren-like sounds stretch through the piece as a radical new wave style makes this a sweet party track. It combines some solid creepy ambiance with solid vintage synth beat.

The remix of “Screamtime” is similar to the original track, with a nice mix of gloomy bells and swirling sirens to keep the screams rolling. Something about this sounds like the ’90s era of Depeche, with a dark underground style to boot. The mid-point ties back to the creepy carnival with a chilling organ playing a part for the rest of the track. This version of the track brings to mind a rather dark portion of the show, perhaps a “magic” trick that really spices up the old “saw a guest in half” trick. For the haunted attraction maker, perhaps a rather gory display akin to the more downright terrifying stunts seen on that old “Masters of Illusion” show.

To close the carnival experience, the appropriately titled “Lost Souls” starts out with a low stretching synth note that brings to mind Wendy Carlos’ work on A Clockwork Orange. Then it leads into an organ version of the classic ‘psycho strings’ into an ominous bell chant. This electronic piece conveys being lost in something dark, perhaps a carnival of lost souls, eh? Perhaps a good track for wandering patrons who find their way back to the mortal world, even though the creepy carnival’s happy haunts don’t leave you that quickly.

Overall, there’s a pretty even balance of the dark ambient focused tracks and the electro/electronic dance oriented pieces. Though, there’s plenty of overlap within the works too. Now, while the fusion hasn’t caught my ear in the past, Haynes has really nailed that sound almost perfectly. From these tracks, I can sense some new directions for our musical horror host. And by all means, that’s quite the good thing.

While I’ve stated I’ve had a bias toward the more ambient tracks in previous albums, this album has made me warm up a bit more towards the electronic side of things. And with a pretty sick assortment of tracks, I have damn good reason. Overall, I find myself criticizing less works within the albums and praising more. At least from my standpoint, it’s a good sign Haynes is evolving for the better. So, if you need a cool and creepy treat to enjoy while the summer heat is on the way, give this album a try. Incredible Dark Carnival receives 9 fence hopping cheapskates fed to the show’s lion out of 10! Even without a ticket, you’re still in for a scare!

Disclaimer:  I am reviewing an advanced copy of this album sent by the artist.

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