Evil Empire

Midnight Syndicate scores its fourth sinister success.

One Hour Photo
Make room for the gloom: Midnight Syndicate is back.
Make room for the gloom: Midnight Syndicate is back.
For a man whose livelihood involves scaring the pants off people, the only thing truly frightening about goth maven Ed Douglas is his love of soft-rock cheeseballs Chicago. In the office of Douglas's plush Concord condo, you might expect a couple of skulls, assorted pentagrams, maybe a mounted raven. Instead, you'll find a very live, very loud parakeet, a neatly arranged desk amid bright white decor, and a wooden insignia of Peter Cetera's outfit. Not what you'd expect from a man whose group, Midnight Syndicate, trades in creepy soundtrack music. Then again, Douglas is making an increasingly comfortable living defying the expectations of others.

In 1998, when Douglas formed Midnight Syndicate with partner Gavin Goszka, few would have guessed that the duo would go on to sell close to 120,000 copies of its four CDs -- a staggering number, considering that each was independently released and distributed. Or that they would have their songs played on Monday Night Football and the Today show; make fans of such celebrities as King Diamond (who plays Midnight Syndicate's music prior to his concerts), Rob Zombie, and Hugh Hefner (who spun the duo's albums at a Halloween party); and have their music featured at Universal Studios Florida, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Sea World, and hundreds of other attractions across the U.S., making them the most widespread act in the haunted-attraction industry.

"They're extremely well known," says Mark Harvey, a California-based Halloween-music aficionado who runs 13thTrack.com, a website dedicated to such music. "They delivered soundtrack-quality stuff, and it wasn't the same old crummy disc that you buy at your local Wal-Mart, that has 60 minutes of bubbling and witches cackling."

Midnight Syndicate, with its classically infused soundscapes, complete with ominous organ and strings, clearly has upped the ante for dark, spectral goth. They've also made a miraculous leap from their own beginnings. When no labels or distributors were interested in putting out their debut, Born of the Night, Douglas and Goszka hand-delivered copies to stores throughout Northeast Ohio. Self-recorded and issued on the duo's own Entity Productions label, the disc went on to sell more than 2,000 copies locally, inspiring Douglas to begin the arduous task of establishing Midnight Syndicate's national identity. He targeted horror and novelty conventions, and called stores to pitch his wares.

"Every store has a code to describe what it does," says Douglas. "I found the stores where [Born of the Night] sold well in Cleveland, found out what their store code was, cross-referenced that nationally, and got a breakdown of all the costume stores, all the hobby stores, all the gothic music stores across the country, and I just called them. I remember going state by state. It took six months."

His work paid off. Soon, such chains as Spencer Gifts and Hot Topic started stocking the group, as did thousands of costume shops and novelty stores across the country.

Douglas has found success by targeting nontraditional markets. In addition to the goth crowd and fans of Halloween music, Midnight Syndicate has become a hit with the gaming community, whose members use Midnight Syndicate records as background for role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

"Their music is very well suited for gothic or horror gaming; many that play in those genre games will also like that style of music," says Marc Shayed, a writer for the gaming website www.gamingreport.com. "While running a role-playing game at a local convention [in Connecticut], I played one of their CDs, Gate of Delirium. Several of the players commented, saying, 'Cool. Midnight Syndicate.' It's apparent that their fame is spreading."

Indeed, the half-dozen boxes of Midnight Syndicate T-shirts that sit in the foyer of Douglas's home attest to this. They're being shipped off to Hot Topic, which recently devoted a section of its stores to Midnight Syndicate merch. The Phantasy Theatre will host a September 7 listening party for the band's latest, Vampyre: Symphonies From the Crypt, Midnight Syndicate's strongest starter yet.

All of this puts Douglas in an awkward position: The murky music he loves has left him feeling conflicted.

"I like being depressed," he says, clearly without reason to be.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Music News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.