Thursday, April 1, 2021

Soporific Sorcery - Sarcophagus Symphony II (2010)

There is a valley in a distant land, and standing far below those drifting sands, a dead forgotten pharaoh dreams in endless slumber.  Surrounding the sarcophagus sits an assortment of funerary paraphernalia, all the appropriate magical talismans and treasured artifacts from his life lived so many centuries ago, and it is through that ancient magic and those undisturbed burial rites that this king remains conscious in his physical mortification, a ghoul forever wandering the sprawling halls and cluttered chambers of his monumental tomb, a seat fit for a living god, and continuing to honor that divinity in death.  It is only as you stumble through with your torch that the sacred stillness is finally broken and you find yourself face-to-face with the being itself, dead but still permeated with some powerful alien force fully lost to the knowledge of man.  With not a single spell of protection having been placed on your vulnerable spirit, you find yourself immediately succumbing to the curse, and you are possessed.  You are no more the humble archeologist, but now become the living god-king of the last undiscovered tomb, and there you remain for further untold centuries in a state of eldritch lichdom, content to gaze endlessly at the unlit stones by which you are buried, seeing all that was or ever will be, at one in sacred undeath.

Coming out in 2010 and being dubbed “torture chamber music,” it seems that with this album Soporific Sorcery was deliberate in his attempt to faithfully raise the ghost of “dark dungeon music,” and had even conceived of it as a distinct genre a year before the term “dungeon synth” was even introduced.  I think that connection is quite obvious because there is no other reason to refer to this music as a “torture chamber” except as a reference to “dungeon,” and in fact I would say it is more light and whimsical than most dungeon synth that had been released up until that point, by no means tortorous.  To my ears it borrows most of its sound from Crypt of the Wizard, sharing the same sort of rubbery synth timbre, whimsical moods, bouncy pizzicatos, and short, circular melodies.  The actual song structures however seem to pull more from the two Mortiis albums prior to that one, with 10+ minute tracks that build slowly and repetitively, putting the listener into a trancelike state as they proceed through the epic journey.  So I’d say for anyone who is a fan of Ånden som Gjorde Opprør, Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent, and especially Crypt of the Wizard, this album is definitely worth a spin.

The sheer length of the album might be a bit challenging.  Clocking it at nearly an hour and a half, and being fairly static in its mood, I generally find my attention wandering at some point with every focused listen, and rarely am able to listen to the whole album in one sitting.  I think it probably would have been better as two separate 45 minute albums, but it works perfectly as background music or by taking a break at some point halfway through and returning where you left off at some later time.

My guess would be that these notes are programmed via midi rather than actually performed, because I never once noticed a mistake or off-timing, but my ear is not the best for that sort of thing and I would not be surprised to learn this artist is simply a perfectionist in that regard, because there is still a genuine organic feeling of life in these orchestrations that is not typically shared by albums that forego any keyboard performance in the recording process.  Despite the minimalism and repetitiveness, the composition is always developing, never stuck on the same riff for more than a handful of repetitions without a melody changing or a layer being added or removed. 

I cannot tell whether this is a synth, keyboard, or even a soundfont, but these are classic textures that I always enjoy.  It sounds like a standard sort of PCM rompler, though I don’t feel like I’ve heard these versions of the “General Midi” template before.  These types of sounds are the heart of traditional DS in my mind and for me they never get old. 

It should be noted, all Soporific Sorcery’s albums have been free from the beginning, not even name-your-price, just straight-up free.  I respect this a lot, a clear-cut statement by the artist that they’re not doing it for the money in any way.  What’s even more interesting, I don’t think this artist cares much at all about people even listening to his music.  I don’t remember ever seeing him going around promoting his albums, and I’m pretty sure when albums are free rather than NYP on Bandcamp they don’t even appear under new releases for the genre tag (and this one isn't even on Bandcamp).  I hardly ever see Soporific Sorcery mentioned, and yet he’s continued on to release four more excellent albums since this one, the most recent being 2018 as of this review.  I love that.  That makes it fully-known that these albums are made purely for the love of the music, not for money or even reaching an audience, whether that be just for the pleasure of making it, or perhaps the artist craves this particular sound so much that the only way he can hear more of it is by making it himself.  Either way this is the sort of radical creative individualism that I’ve always wanted to think of DS as embodying.  But of course the predictable downside of that approach is that such material is difficult to discover and rarely receives the appreciation it deserves, so make sure to check it out.

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