Record Reviews

Pavor Nocturnus

The Night Terrors add pipe organ to their Theremin-lashed workouts, making for an album both accessible and emotional, writes DOUG WALLEN.

What does The Night Terrors? music evoke for you? Previous M+N* reviewers have cited the soundtrack for the 1991 videogame *[Lemmings](’v=EF3vMAmEnsY) as well as ?vintage sci-fi/horror schlock? and ?stadium-scope electronica.?

Of course, that was before Melbourne Town Hall’s Grand Pipe Organ – previously used by the Midnight Juggernauts offshoot [Thematica](/news/4535998), among others – entered the picture. When it does, from the first seconds of the opening title track for Pavor Nocturnus, it adds a lugubrious and inevitably church-y new layer to the Melbourne band’s signature Theremin-lashed cross-genre workouts.

Adding that magnificent organ, however, has the potential to limit rather than broaden the Night Terrors sound. That’s because, like the Theremin, it’s an instrument that typically carries such narrow connotations. So it’s to the band’s credit that this album ranges so far and wide in terms of evocative cues. ?Delta Waves?, for instance, reminds me of Danny Elfman’s transporting Edward Scissorhands soundtrack – with ghostly Theremin filling in for the choir harmonies on gems like [?Ice Dance?](’v=eQ0jfCcUbj8) – but also of the over-the-top and chintzy LP I once owned of [The Electric Moog Orchestra](’v=PzE2Eq_kZEw) doing songs from Star Wars. Meanwhile, ?Gravissima? feels halfway to an electronic remix, and the bell-like sound in ?Blue Black? adds a novel and fleeting Christmas element. The title track’s drumming recalls an archetypal instrumental post-rock band, while the song also sneaks in a quick squeal of feedback at the very end.

But can this record appeal to listeners who aren’t well versed in, say, Dario Argento films and Surrender to the Night-era Trans Am? It might be a stretch, as The Night Terrors work so hard to make their sound a niche one, but the lead single ?Megafauna? certainly gives us hope. Flanked by Miles Brown’s funky synth and Damian Coward’s snappy, strutting drumbeat, Sarah Lim bends that old-world beast of an organ to near-disco purposes, as if soundtracking a rollerskate party in a Gothic cathedral. It’s not likely to storm Triple J, but it’s surprisingly accessible. Think of it as this band’s version of a party track, relishing its rubbery verve while Brown’s Theremin wails like a swooning disco siren deep in the grips of demonic possession.

Other tracks exploit the vocal-like characteristics of the Theremin too, such as the opera-singer-mimicking ?Asleep With the Bats?. More than a few people have reportedly asked if there are actually vocals on the album but, unlike the recent [Spiral Vortex](/releases/2001336), which had vocodered singing on one track, this is purely instrumental. Still, having that Theremin right up the front doing the arching, melodic work of a vocalist helps bring out the pop side of these compositions. While ?Asleep With the Bats? doesn’t hit as dramatic a peak as other tracks, it transcends being mere variations on a few key themes by highlighting an internal contrast between light and dark, menace and majesty. With its gurgling organ and starry synth, its splendour feels both ancient and intergalactic. Likewise, ?Kuceli Woke Up in the Grave? is satisfying enough in its locked-in interplay, but that little hook in the bridge opens up another door.

?With that lift-off can come an unexpected emotional payoff.?

The Night Terrors don’t simply acknowledge the kitschy appeal of what they do – they run with it, recording this album not just on that iconic organ but on Friday the 13th and then launching it on Halloween. The album title is even the Latin translation of their band name. Their songs can sometimes feel formulaic in a similar way, ending at a fevered pitch before the serene dawn of the next track, and the songs can seem somewhat hemmed in by their four- and five-minute runtimes. They could easily stretch out much longer for more epic, consuming effect, but they usually do still manage to achieve lift-off within that modest duration.

And with that lift-off can come an unexpected emotional payoff. After an album’s worth of stirring interplay and generous melodies, the closing ?Spectrophilia? threatens to steal the show. Despite not being as overtly funky as ?Megafauna?, its Theremin work pulls the heartstrings like a great pop ballad, taking us away into a reverie based on feeling as much as on thinking. It’s the most human moment here, and introduces yet another realm for The Night Terrors to pillage.


####?Pavor Nocturnus? is out now on gatefold vinyl – including limited transparent-blue vinyl – through [Twisted Nerve Australia](’c=4696419#!). The album launches this Friday (Oct 31) with a free, all-ages gig at Melbourne Town Hall from 8pm.