Sunday, June 12, 2011
Gothmog - Medival Journeys
We enter the album through gritty barbaric violence, blood dripping from a sword. This synthesizer sound is perfect for dungeon synth. The first song of this album is one of the clearest shining examples of the genre (and yet entirely unknown). It is thick and heavy with ancient decadent brass voices, while timpani drums pound a marching accompaniment, the remembrance of brutal battles fought in ages past. It revels shamelessly in the dirty rotten medieval fantasy, without any sugar-coating or apologies for its spiritual-level indulgence in what most would see as embarrassing nerdiness.
This demo tape is my favorite of the truly obscure dungeon synth works. Truly there are hidden gems out there, and this despite the lo-fi tape quality and occasional performance hiccup, is the height of structural professionalism one could expect from the genre, and yet sacrifices absolutely none of its obscure atmosphere through doing so. What I mean by this is that in listening to the work one will almost never find themselves bored, thinking it too repetitive, and likewise one won't feel as if the next note is going to be obvious and expected, as can often occur due to the many of these dungeon synth artists being self-taught and not particularly experienced or talented with their instruments from an objective perspective.
The songs seem to vary between exciting medieval fantasy battles and quiet solitary dreams of the mystical past, the two strongest themes of dungeon synth, and yet they are both handled well, sound entirely fresh, and can pull one back into that particular beautiful dark inner landscape over and over without the demo losing its power.
It needs to be mentioned again how well the sound of the synthesizer works here. It is, in my mind, the utmost essence of the dungeon synth sound. The keyboard is clearly vintage, and all the instruments bear that nostalgic quality making them resonate on a level coming from the past, giving power to the ancient themes. Complementing the precise choice of instruments is the recording quality: it's degraded and foggy due to being a tape, and yet every note is heard with clarity and a soft texture, which is certainly preferable to the sharp hissing or over-amplification at the other side of the lo-fi spectrum. And along with instrument choice and sound quality, the performance itself is obviously not programmed, giving the music life even though it seems so ancient, synthetic, and distant. Life with the synthetic foggy quality makes things dreamlike, rather than simply alive, or simply robotic.
The greatest thing about this demo is its sheer listenability. It does everything right in terms of nailing the sound, atmosphere, and tone of dungeon synth, without sacrificing the simple enjoyment of sitting down and listening to it again and again. Some works in this style only function well when one makes a large effort to be in the right state, a sort of trancelike distance from the sound, where you experience the atmosphere fully without focusing on the music itself; this demo is not like that. It is simply enjoyable to listen to (which is arguable when it comes to the last few songs, as they tend to drag), but one still experiences the atmosphere of the spiritual fantasy more greatly than most of the less listenable dungeon synth works.
This demo is wonderful, and is by far one of my favorite dungeon synth works, which is why it's such a shame that the artist didn't go on to do more under the Gothmog name. However, the obscurity of the demo makes it that much more wonderful and atmospheric, and would not be so unknown had its artist slowly gone downhill and then eventually started making shitty techno music. As it is, this is a defining dungeon synth release, and I personally feel it should be at the front of the pack representing the large amounts of wildly obscure dungeon synth tapes of projects that never broke through. That is not to say however, that because the artists never became well-known or made official albums that they failed, as not "breaking through" is almost representative of dungeon synth itself, which is lost and hidden within black metal's obese shadow. I wish for it to stay there, so that dungeon synth can be magical like the shadowy black metal underground of the early 90's, but that it won't grow into a fat tumorous girth like the black metal of today.
Posted by Andrew Werdna at 5:40 PM