When you think about it, Halloween has either inspired or inherited some devilishly good music. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mussorgsky’s Night On The Bare Mountain, Ozzy Osbourne‘s Bark At The Moon or even Jacko’s Thriller – all have their place on the night of the living dead. And that’s before you even get to Alice Cooper.
To this vivid canon can be added the new album from MaJiKer – who sounds nothing like any of the above. The House Of Bones is a song cycle inspired by a number of sources, principally haunted house films of the 1940s, ghost stories and rich examples of Norse mythology. It bridges the divide between modern songwriting and the classic musical literature from before those haunted house movies, bringing in a frisson of Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler. To strengthen the links with the past MaJiKer makes use of older instruments such as the viola da gamba – a precursor to the cello – and the dulcitone, a kind of cross between an upright piano and a celeste.
The attention to detail in the accompaniment is key to the album’s success, for this is music that really cares about exactly how it sounds. Spidery textures support the often fragile vocals rather like a web would a spider, the effect akin to watching one of those macabre movies. The striking nasal refrain on When Fire Becomes My Name is like When Doves Cry covered by Tim Burton, while the beautiful viola da gamba sound really comes in to its own on The Struggle, a song of uncommon beauty that carries richly melancholic emotion, but remains ice cold in temperature.
Just occasionally the feeling comes across that MaJiKer is trying too hard to create an atmosphere of dread, and the whispered delivery can become a little wearing towards the end, its tales of woe not always easy to bear if the listener is in the opposite mood. Yet even in these passages there is still much to admire. Specifically this is the case in the way MaJiKer knows how to set his voice to instruments, creating a striking tension but at the same time allowing his carefully spun melodies the room they need.
The taut strings and sotto voce delivery keep the album icy cold, the mood is predominantly fraught. “You can’t hurt me”, proclaims MaJiKer in the opening Baldur’s Dream. “Try to kill me but you only kill yourself”, he sings later on, on Only Kill Yourself; then “your pain is mine” he says on Sword And Suffering. But maybe the resolve of this collection of songs is best found in Ocean. “Together we can calm the ocean,” he reassures to a backdrop of atmospheric noise, before the hypnotic coda takes hold.
The House Of Bones needs several listens to get a chance to fully work its magic – but once there it rewards the listener aplenty. MaJiKer has a truly unique sound and approach, and each hearing reveals something new in the lyrics, the instrumentation, or both. You’re unlikely to hear a colder or stranger album this year – but try it on Halloween and it will work its magic for sure.