Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wongraven - Fjelltronen

One of the masterpieces of dungeon synth. This is an equal challenger to all of Mortiis' work. The album starts of slowly; building upon itself, forming the scene, entering the landscape. Clean choir vocals sing in a rollicking Viking style, with a masculinity, stoicism, and grittiness that can only cause one to picture misty images of those ancient warriors rowing their ships at night, heading to England or mainland Europe to reap destruction.

And then it returns briefly to the quiet peaceful wandering. These songs don't quite call one to battle; they are almost more the hazy recollections of an old warrior, nostalgic and beautiful, with the stars brightly shining overhead. The atmosphere of the music really is like that of an old fireside tale, the kind that are thrilling and powerful enough to drive out the worst colds. A myth like this could only be woven by the most respected of the elder story-tellers, the one who wields powers of sorcery that would be both feared and honored. And so this very tale seems to have been imbued with his mystic powers.

Fjelltronen is such an incredible album because, not only does it contain, in every inch of it, the fiercely palpable atmosphere of ancient magic, but also it is musically complex and quite finely crafted. It is such a shame that this was the only Wongraven release, though I am much more happy with that state of things than if Satyr were to follow it with inferior material. Unlike much dungeon synth, the emotions vary greatly, often reveling in a hardy melancholy, then to an unknown darkness, then to the main adventurous theme that dominates the music, then to a cheerfully strange wandering, and the album ends with a triumphant conclusion to rival the very best metal in its affirmation of the value of sheer power.

Structurally this album is to be greatly admired, both in comparison to the other dungeon synth works which are very primitive in their structure, but also standing alone its structure should be recognized by all listeners as some of the very highest to be found outside of classical. The first track is the introduction and telling of first chapter of the story. The hero is brought out from a comfortable place and into a realm that is frightening and dangerous. In the second track, Over Ødemark, the hero wanders about that landscape. As if in an epic story he is confronting dangers and obstacles along his way, though he has to primarily rely upon his own strength to overcome them. The next song is similar, but instead of being a new obstacle, it is a sort of pleasant moment in between the howling winds. The hero stopped, perhaps at an isolated inn somewhere, and discovered a number of cheerful drinking dwarves. Tiden er en stenlagt grav continues the telling of the larger saga, backing away from the hero's lonely struggles and gives it higher significance and shows us a bit more about the world he's struggling within. Fra Fjelltronen concludes the music in the most beautiful way imaginable, such that no matter how many times I listen to it, I always find myself shocked and usually covered in goose-bumps.

Hearing the song Tiden er en stenlagt grav, one should immediately understand what dungeon synth is about. It's not about keyboards or Tolkien worship, it's about truly taking the listener to another world, one which either has not been experienced since a past we cannot recollect, or has never been experienced at all. Perhaps visualization is important to dungeon synth... Hear the music and try and picture the strange landscapes it takes you to; maybe that's the key to understanding it. It's always been something I took for granted, but no doubt that's not how people are accustomed to listening to music. All I can say is that, for the masterpieces of dungeon synth, the more effort you put into getting it, the more you'll get back in experiencing that world.

Fra Fjelltronen brings us back to the beginning of the story, but now with greater context. Suddenly we feel as if the hero of the tales has returned, and of course not only brought back something for the betterment of the tribe, but also has new knowledge of his own that makes him both wise and powerful. And the clean singing voice wraps it up perfectly, seeming to summon forth all the ancestors and all the lost battles and great victories that had been endured to bring the people to the point where they are at the telling of the story. But then it ends, with the chilling voice of some sort of a ghost in the wind. And a bell crashes, tearing us out of our trance and throwing us coldly back into the real world. This ending is done almost like a banishing ritual, thereby leaving the beauty of the music to be found only in that precious half-hour spent with the album, not allowing any of it to escape into the "real" world.

This album is much easier to listen to and can certainly connect more deeply with more people than Mortiis (who connects with many, but not on the level that he should). Most who listen to this album honestly will find that it has an almost supernatural ability to place them in a trance, and if they are not utterly moved by that ending, then I think they have no hope of ever understanding what this music is about.

If you only ever listen to four dungeon synth albums, make them Crypt of the Wizard, Fjelltronen, Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent, and Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Darkstroll - Frozen Forest

This release, being from the age of the computer dungeon synth composer, lacks the grittiness and sloppy playing that typically come with cassette tapes and physical keyboards. That does take from the potential "dungeon" atmosphere in the music, yet the clearness of composition in such a similar style gives this demo a different sort of sound than its influences, while wielding the same archaic synthesizer power that takes one into a visionary world of the artist. The release is called "Frozen Forest," and that is accurately depicted with the lightly drawn grayscale forest stream that haunts the cover. The atmosphere is of a similar nature, a bouncy jaunt through a nature-landscape of a lost age.

Where the music is lacking in spirituality, it makes up for it with lighthearted catchiness. It is not quite the retarded cousin of dungeon synth, which is renaissance-fair music, but it certainly comes close. Yet one still feels as if they are searching for something higher. It is not given the dignified quality that comes with music that is struggling to reach that greater mystic plateau, and yet it is unlikely the songs would be nearly as, well, pleasant to listen to if that were the case. Even songs such as "Into the Darkness" have a peaceful reassuring quality that contrast against the name, giving listeners the romantic idea that within the darkness is the pure beauty of fantasy. This is very similar to many of the deeper ideas conveyed in black metal, but the music itself lacks all darkness, and so that theme is a bit more difficult to grasp based on the music alone.

Otherwise this demo is nothing but a very relaxing work of dungeon synth that is not particularly ambitious or moving, but nice when one wants to explore a simple wilderness scene. After all, life is not only about struggles, heroism, and horrors. Sometimes one must simply relax and wander, appreciating the subtle beauties of nature surrounding them.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mortiis - The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost

It is a brave step to make an hour long demo consisting of only a handful of different riffs. One is at first captivated by the strange atmosphere that erupts from these such simplistic melodies. It seems to be continually trudging onward to someplace unknown. A person unfamiliar with the work will be immediately shocked by how often these few riffs repeat themselves, but after one has listened to it several times in its entirety, it instead becomes a meditation upon lost ruins and misty visions. It will quickly fade from one's immediate perceptions, as the listener drifts into a trance.

The low quality of the tape and sloppy playing both contribute to the feeling that this song truly is both ghostly and forgotten. It seems that Mortiis somehow predicted even so far back that this work would be just the mysterious prize a curious dreamer would be most excited to find in his search through obscure music. It something wholly inaccessible to the common listener, both in terms of discovering and listening, and yet for those who are patient and willing to get lost in the strange hypnotic reverie, the reward is an experience of something both magical and horrific.

The ghost is no doubt from an age lost to both our world and our myths. The ghost would not wander about the ugly places of the day-to-day; like all ghosts it would avoid living humans, except for those brave enough to enter the crumbling ruins of the tower, the darkness beneath which the ghost haunts eternally. And perhaps, to that poor soul who ventures into such a cold and decaying place, the ghost will whisper secrets, so quietly that he wouldn't be sure whether it was the voice of that forgotten spirit, or the steadily waning sanity of the dreamer who shivers in the dreary tomb.

What might be the secrets of the ghost? Perhaps it whispers of the weird magic it used to wield in the life that it's not sure it ever lived, or perhaps it whispers of how that tower was rotting long before it arrived, already filled with forgotten spirits that have since faded to nothing but a fleeting scent on the air... or perhaps it whispers of the black and endless horrors that lie beyond that crumbling stone wall, the madness that no curious dreamer ever predicts, until it is too late and they are consumed by the despair of the infinite abyss.

This is the true way of dungeon synth, an ancient place of darkness in which dreamers choose to sit and meditate, that they might get but a vague taste of that elusive something that is somehow so far beyond mere art, and always seems to get a little further from grasp the closer one gets to it. I encourage none to listen to this song, to visit the haunted ruins of the Long Forgotten Ghost. This is a place of despair, and if one adjusts to it and begins to feel a bond with that ghost whose songs are so mysterious and so distant from the stuff of life, then one will find that before long it is they that eternally haunt that musty crypt.