Review Summary: "i thought it was a joke at first too"
I think this is the best dungeon synth compilation I’ve ever listened to, mostly because it’s the only compilation I’ve ever listened to, but also because it works as a perfect midpoint between a spectrum of artists separated by geography, personality and taste in music. But clearly, there is a throughline: a love of the arcane, clandestine, histrionic. The synths are unsurprisingly blanketed by dust, tonally consistent with the meek flicker of a neglected basement light, and some of these melodies are so theatrical they may have earned a dismissive snicker if not for the sense of menace that lurks just beyond their veneers.
Kilkreath does away with the veneer entirely. Aal rek…
is that stalking silence. It’s the first song to suggest something sinister closing in on the periphery. The synth bass dominates, shaking the frame into darker territories. It coheres smartly, because these are territories where the likes of Crypt of Zivuthrax and Knaveslayer sling their trade -- tinkering and exploring tones and structures that build momentum (see: Cyclonic Firestorm
) and/or engender childish inquisitiveness (see: The Gardens of Nekrasis
) in equal measure. Both sides of the coin are admirably lost in thought, which is the one consistent aspect of this weird and wonderful mosaic: each mind a curious one, excited by what-ifs and why-nots.
Which, I’d wager, is why the adage “dungeon synth compilation” is both erroneous and unfair, so I guess apologies are in order. My Dearest “Pale Pest”: I’m sorry the umbrella term neglects Yeti Breath’s
propensity for wide open spaces (it’s “winter synth” after all, if the billowing wind wasn’t already a dead giveaway) -- the literal antithesis of a dungeon’s claustrophobic dampness. To “WerifesTVCeria”: please don’t begrudge me the misnomer -- the waves of dark ambient that dominate your track are quite affecting in a stealthy kind of way, and the track distorts in its latter half both naturally and beautifully.
In a way every piece here is a distillation of the artist’s definition of the word “experiment”, united primarily by a love of the fantastical and obscure genres that harken back to peasants, torture devices and rampant dysentery. For a style that would normally evoke isolation, loneliness, The Vexing Grimoire
is entirely communal, and thus in parts catches the listener by surprise. Phalaenopsis’ introductory marching snare does little as a brief for the darker palettes on the comp; instead he employs the glockenspiel in order to frame his few minutes in the limelight as a strangely celebratory sojourn. It’s the perfect choice for an opener, or maybe a horrible one, or actually it doesn’t matter -- TVG ignores considered sequencing because the appeal is in jumping from one musician to the next, connecting the dots between them to form quite the inviting little freakshow.
Forgive the digression. Although it might seem contradictory at first glance, The Vexing Grimoire
is a panoptic view of dark and dingy corners -- places where you wouldn’t think collaboration actually exists. We’re both voyeurs, you and I, to an assortment of in-jokes manifesting as sad, drooping, droning synthwork, interspersed lovingly with clichés (of course there’s a wolf howling at one point, I love it) and homages to past works. This ragtag group of creators have commandeered this very particular aesthetic, building shrines to its history in distant corners of the globe. I would spare some time to worship, but as I am a filthy heretic, I’m instead playing this music over a game of Dark Souls and marvelling at my genius. Thanks.