Call of Cthulhu: Sense Impacts
Release Date: 03/16/2015
Get it Here: Chaosium.com
I don’t review a lot of RPG soundtracks, but those that I have done have all been ones I would use with Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu game. Fans of Horror on the Orient Express might want to check out Train Ride Into Darkness or 1890 Train Station Platform. This time around I’m tackling a first party release from Chaosium themselves. Sense Impacts is a Kickstarter backer reward ($15.95 for everyone else) containing thirteen tracks by Chad Fifer who some of you might know from the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcraft. It is a paid members-only podcast, so keep that in mind if you want to check it out. Sense Impact clocks in at about $1.22 per track, which is on the pricier side of MP3s, especially for gaming soundtracks, so hopefully you got this one for free by being a Kickstarter backer. If not, read on to see if this is a purchase for you.
Each track has a short two word name in reference to some Lovecraft penned story. The first track for example is called, “The Call” and obviously is meant to reference The Call of Cthulhu. It sounds mostly of wind and some faint chimes in the background with a melancholy tune playing every so often. To my mind, it makes me think of Investigators exploring a Louisiana bog and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the creaking of a porch door and some (purposely bad) fiddling towards the tail end of the track. The last few seconds feature a noise of some hideous thingie which was a nice surprise. It’s a great way to start off the album.
“The Picture” is track two and is starts off with a gong (perhaps of a clock) before going into an almost happy piano melody. I’m going to assume this title is in reference to The Picture in the House, but I guess a case could be made for Pickman’s Model. Again, we see heavy use of wind effects, but also of a clock/metronome. It’s almost two songs in one as the tune on the piano changes at about the 2:35 mark. It’s very much a less is more track and worth using when characters are in a creapy old house, abandoned motel or other sinister interior location.
“The Horror” is next and the name is either in regards to The Horror at the Museum or The Dunwich Horror. It starts off with some shrill woodwind notes and feels like a full orchestral piece, put only for a few seconds as it gets eerily quiet after that. There’s a note or a beat here or there but much of the track is quiet interspersed with a noise to heighten tension. There’s a very quiet undercurrent playing but you can only hear it if you are really paying attention until around the 2:30 mark, when it picks up loudly. In many ways, this reminds me of the type of song you’d hear in an old Roger Corman Poe/Lovecraft film. This probably isn’t a good track to actually play to though since gamers will be listening to it instead of a description of the action. Well-made though.
“The Dream” is next and I’m not sure if it relates to The Dream-Quest of Unkown Kadath, Dream in the Witch-House or something else. This is another symphonic track that feels like it belongs more with a movie than as RPG background noise, but it is fantastic. It’s not creepy at all. It’s more fantasy/soothing in tone. It’s one of the longer tracks in the collection, coming in at five minutes. The first two minutes are really repetitive but after the two minute mark it gets a bit more sinister in tone while still feeling more fantasy than spooky. I was thinking Clash of the Titans while listening to the latter half.
Track Five is “The Haunter” in homage to The Haunter of the Dark. It’s a faster, track that almost reminds me of Darkwave. There’s a nice drumbeat in the background and something that sounds like a vocoder. There are lots of wind noises, which seems to be the predominant noise in this collection. About 1:40 in, you get some more instruments and again, it’s like Darkwave meets jazz in a nice mix. A fun track to listen to, but I’m not sure if I’d game to it. Maybe as the music in a seedy speak-easy or club during the Prohibition era.
Track Six is “The Whisperer,” taken from The Whisperer in Darkness. As you can imagine, we have a lot of wind effects in this piece too. It’s a good track for background when PCs are investigating something creepy, preferably outdoors. I keep picturing a farm. Other than the wind, there is little else until the 1:40 mark where you get a nice piano piece that keeps replaying. At about the 3:00 mark, you get an odd beat that sounds like a leaky faucet and a car horn meets synthpop.I wish the track had ended before this addition as it kind of sours me on the track as a whole and makes it the weakest on the album up to this point.
“The Case” is our next song and the name has to be a nod to The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Wind and brass to start things off. The wind fades into strings and the brass is very subtle and only a note or two, but it slowly grows louder and longer as the track continues. At about 0:50, the track adds in some old 50s horror movie tones and it ends up being another song you’d hear in a film rather than something you would game to. I do love the track though. In many ways the brass combined with the wind and strings makes me think of comedy-horror where a couple of buffoons are examining a would-be haunted house. Maybe Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein or Spooks Run Wild. The tracks has moments of seriousness (usually nothing but spooky wind) but for the most part, this is the most light-hearted track in the set. With a running time of over six minutes, it’s also one of the longest tracks.
Track Eight is “The Trap” which is an odd name as the only thing with the word trap in the title that I can think of by Lovecraft is The Trap which he co-wrote with Henry Whitehead. That’s a bit obscure, no? This track is wind and piano – something you should be used to by now. The same few piano notes are repeated regularly throughout the track, but at differing speeds and volume. I don’t want to say the track is dull, but it is pretty much the same thing over and over again for three minutes. I didn’t really enjoy listening to it and it wouldn’t be a good track to roleplay too, due to the piano notes rising and falling in volume constantly.
Track Nine is “The Doom” which probably came to Sarnath. This track is quite different from the previous ones. It has a MUCH faster beat and some great horn work. The track starts off with a creepy chant and just goes throws itself into what feels like excellent background noise for a climatic fight scene in a Call of Cthulhu adventure. There’s a bit that sounds like a snake handler/robe climber tune, so perhaps the track is for when you break up a cult gathering in Egypt or India in Victorian/1920s Coc? Either way, I loved the tempo and instruments. This was a really refreshing change from the previous eight tracks on the album which, while good, were in danger of making the album run together into one blob.
“The Cats” are next and this track obviously came to us from Ulthar. Surprisingly the track has more wind than meows. Music doesn’t really start until about 1:20 and it’s like a piano version of the same notes/chords we head in “The Case.” There’s not a lot to this piece and it’s up there with The Trap as the weakest pieces in the collection.
Track 11 is “The Night” and I honestly have no idea what this one is in reference to. It could be anything from The Night Ocean to The Nightmare Lake or even nightgaunts! At three minutes it’s the shortest song in the collection and to no one’s surprise it’s mostly howling winds at the beginning. Actual music starts about one-third in and it’s a good creepy piece for RPG exploring time. It sounds like there’s a bit of sleigh bell in it at times too, but very faint. This track reminded me of a beach for some reason. Maybe one with Deep Ones crawling out of it. Be warned though, if any track symbolizes the over-reliance on wind effects in this collection – it is this one.
Our second to last track is “The Thing,” which is probably hanging out on our doorstep. I loved this track from the second it began. A nice fast tempo. Yes, the wind effects are still there, but they are in the background compared to the first minute of fun, plucky strings. It reminds me of March of the Little Goblins by Adam Glaser. After that first minute ends, we get a more modern horror movie style track. There’s a faster piece and some nice percussion, but it is covered up somewhat by more wind effects. The whole piece is really good, but this is one where I wish the composer had left out the obsession with spooky wind noises as it would have been better without them. Not everything needs to sound like you’re in a hollowed out cavern.
The last song on the album is “The Shadow.” Whether it is over Innsmouth or Out of Time, I cannot say. Like many tracks in this collection, “The Shadow” is wind-heavy, both in effects and instrument. This is a nice sorrowful classical style track and it’s a good way for the album to end.
Overall, this is a pretty good album. The composer relies way too heavily on wind effects on every freaking track. It’s like auto-tuning for this album. The tracks are hit or miss as to how good they would be for background music to roleplay to, but as something to just listen to or having playing as you read a book Mythos related tome (or some fine fiction anthologies from our friends at Chaosium), it’s a pretty great album. The price is a little high for what it is, especially compared to other RPG albums/tracks, but it’s well worth listening to – especially if you got it for free by being a CoC Kickstarter backer.