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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Nox Arcana

Carnival of Lost Souls

Review by Gary Hill

You might remember Nox Arcana from the review I did last year of their Necronomicon album. Actually a lot of that information - with more detail and some question and answer with Joseph Vargo is included in my forthcoming book due out August 20th. Vargo who, in addition to being the main man behind Nox Arcana, is also an artist even provided the cover for that book. Well, this is their newest release. While the other album that I reviewed was focused on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, this one is about a twisted carnival - the story says, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" to me. Like that other disc, I've put this one under progressive rock, but the music is a dark sort of electronic and symphonic piece of work. There is really little rock involved. Also like that disc, this one doesn't have any truly weak material. It does however have one thing that its predecessor didn't. If you wait until after the last song finishes you'll hear a series of hidden tracks. The last one of these is a full on heavy metal stomper. It tends to be a little on the generic side, but an interesting change of pace, nonetheless. Still, they put enough weirdness in to keep it interesting. All in all this entire disc proves that Vargo and Nox Arcana are far from a one trick pony. In fact, I would have to say that they have shown themselves to be a smooth riding machine that can continue to produce mile after mile. Here's looking forward to hearing what they do next.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Ghosts of the Midway
Appropriately this one is based on twisted big top music with a barker giving the introduction in spoken words. This is creepy and very cool. After the final line, "Step this way, there's no turning back," the music carries on for a short time to end.
After Hours
This begins tentatively in a dark and eerie way. This is pretty, but also quite frightening. Operatic vocals skirt across the top at points lending both an epic and gothic tone to the music. The track doesn't wander far, instead gaining all its sense of mystery from the intense atmosphere.
Harlequin's Lament
In many ways this cut is similar to the last one, but it has more of a melodic song type structure. This one gets quite intricate at times and is even more powerful and menacing than the one that preceded it. It is also very beautiful.
Calliope
Again showing an emphasis on the appropriate, a twisted and dark calliope type of music serves to create the atmosphere on this piece. Hints of choral vocals appear in the arrangement. Eventually these vocals create a non-lyrical melody that is not quite out in the front. I'd have to say that I like this track even more than the previous ones. It seems to have a more captivating melody without sacrificing any of the ambiance.
Madame Endora
A dark keyboard texture serves as the backdrop as a creepy half whispered voice tells you your fortune - and it ain't pretty.
Nightmare Parade
Neo-symphonic music begins a pounding sort of melody that creates the backdrop here. This one is highly dramatic and dynamic. Those chorale vocals return at times and this number feels like it would fit well as the soundtrack to a horror film. You can hear the sounds of some demonic animal tamer at points.
Shadows Fall
While this one does have melodic elements it is mostly just dark atmosphere. At times this reminds me of the music to the film Halloween.
Hall of Mirrors
Twisted carnival music with demonic laughter and weird echoing effects create the motif for this one.
Spellbound
A scratched record texture is added to this piece. Musically it is a distant sort of song, with actual (but odd) vocal lines. It really does feel as if it might have been recorded by playing a record with a microphone in the distance. I'm not saying that I think that's how the effect was achieved, but that that is the feeling you might get from it.
Cries in the Night
With operatic vocals over the top at points, this is another piece of dark atmosphere.
Soul Stealer
A neo-classical texture with Gregorian chant sorts of vocals lend a pretty yet very dark melody to this number. This is one of the most dramatic on show here. Percussion later gives the feeling that the cut may be about to burst forth as a hard rocking jam, but instead the keyboards intensify and the arrangement powers up that way. This is one of the strongest pieces on the album.
Haunted Carousel
This is pretty much what the title would lead you to believe, twisted carousel music. Some more of those dark chorale type vocals also wander around this motif. This is one of the most effective cuts on show in terms of creating a general sense of foreboding while still maintaining beauty. The organ on this one is quite intriguing at times. 
Theatre of Sorrows
A piano line serves (along with more chorale vocals) to provide the main melody to this slice of dark ambiance. This is another that would seem to fit quite well into a horror film soundtrack. It has some definite neo-classical elements.
Living Dolls
The winding of a toy starts this, then a twisted lullaby sound comes in to make up the main melody of the song proper. This is another tasty slice of creepy atmosphere and a child's laughter comes across at times adding to the effect, as do the chorale vocals. Those vocals become the main impetus for a short while in a dramatic segment.
Lost in the Darkness
Very dramatic and quite neo-classical, this is dark and powerful. After playing through in potent ways, this drops to a harpsichord based song structure and begins growing back upward from there. This is another of my favorites on the disc, but then I've always been a sucker for harpsichord. Later an even more evocative segment that is dominated by piano makes its presence known. The outro is composed of just one keyboard element and the operatic vocal line.
Snake Charmer
Atmosphere starts this and after a percussion segment this takes on an Eastern theme. It's mysterious in texture and rather exotic. The tribal drumming on this one is a nice touch. The harpsichord type sounds return in this one at points, and the operatic vocals also show up. This one gets quite lush in terms of arrangement later. It's another of the highlights on the CD.
Freaks
This is short and very dark in terms of atmosphere. The sounds of monstrous creatures and chains rattling (along with some dark laughter) make up the majority of this piece. I wouldn't say that it has a lot of "music" involved, but it's an interesting interlude nonetheless.
Circus Diabolique
This one is of the more dramatic, rather rocking variety, but still is full of atmosphere and ambiance. Our barker is back directing us to what is going to happen on the center stage. 
Pandora's Music Box
Well, we all know about Pandora's infamous box, what if it is a music box? It would probably sound a bit like this track. This one takes the typical music one might hear from such a device and transforms into a dark and more lush creation. It's another example of how Vargo creates a bleak, yet pretty tapestry. Just the music box sounds alone eventually end this.
The Devil's Daggers
This is a dramatic, pounding, epic sort of piece. It's another that feels as if it would be right at home on a horror film soundtrack. It works its way through several reiterations and recreations. This is another of the standout compositions.
Storm
As one might expect the sounds of a storm begin this piece. A symphonic arrangement pounds in with Gregorian chant type vocals to create the single most dramatic piece of music on the CD - talk about going out on a high note. This one is very nearly classical music, but it's no less dark or powerful than the rest. This one piece alone is worth the price of admission here. It's a killer.
Hidden Track 1
After several minutes of silence, the sounds of change being dropped brings in a pretty, but dark piece of music with a whispered voice carrying on the tale after the storm.
Hidden Track 2
Several more minutes of silence go by then the wind and a playful sort of sound with dark textures laid over top takes the disc. A weird cackling ends this.
Hidden Track 3
More silence takes over, and then eventually more dramatic, but quite understated keyboard elements come in. Then the cut shifts into a full on metallic jam that is the only real rock music on show here. This has a killer classic metal sound. It's an old-school metal type of song. This does include a more eerie sort of bridge with more prevalent keys and spoken/whispered vocals. This eventually ends the disc in fine fashion.
 
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