Thursday, January 26, 2012

Abandoned Places - Lost Paths Remembered in Dream

I want to make this clear, from the beginning of the review, since I plan to wax eloquent about it, that I do not like this album. I apologize for saying this, since I think this album is a sincere and compelling exploration of the dungeon mood. In fact, on my first few listens I was honestly conflicted as to whether this is actually dungeon synth. It is. It is medieval, lo-fi, fully synth, minimalistic, still entirely musical, and the themes are clearly about escapism, although to a place this genre has previously seldom explored. It is, so far, the most "dungeon" sounding album I've heard within the genre, in the sense that it evokes hopelessness and dread like no other. I apologize that it's been so long since I've done a review, however the reason is mostly because I've had a hard time wrapping my head around this work and coming to an opinion that does it justice. Yes, I've said I don't like it, but that is not to say it's a bad album, only difficult and strenuous to the extreme. Many might say they enjoy climbing mountains, but few would say they enjoy imagining medieval torture in great detail. I'm afraid that's what we have here; it is the music of a literal dungeon, but to discount it on that basis seems absurd, since that is, after all, the name of the genre.

The beginning is fascinating in its dissonance, truly delving into the grimy depths of a medieval fantasy. Still, when we arrive to songs like "Thorwal," we realize this is an endurance test, which I’m not so sure is a bad thing. After all, most beauty sticks out primarily because of contrast from prior experience, and perhaps painful horrific ugliness should be beautiful in a strange way that we've yet to come to terms with. Is that not, after all, one of the goals of dungeon synth, to delve into the blackest and darkest depths and find the beauty within? The problem is, this album does little in helping you, the listener, to find the beauty. I think that's where the main problem lies, in that it's almost all dissonance and ugliness; there is practically nothing to hook the listener into the fantasy, apart from occasional moments in a couple songs. It's entirely up to the listener to find the beauty in the ugliness.

And so it makes me curious, is the goal of dungeon synth to make the fantasy of the grimiest depths of dungeon synth beautiful? Is it to specifically show the listener that these concepts can be profound? "Caves of Anbari" is almost like an oasis in this album, performing that perfect goal, while providing a safe haven against the pain and suffering that the listener will encounter before and after that track. It's hard. It's hard as hell. But I want you all to listen to it. Treat it as a journey into the darkest depths of the foulest crypts, where your very soul is in danger, where your mind is at risk of never returning.

This album is almost the complete opposite of the last one I reviewed. While that one might've suffered slightly from a consistent mood of "epic wandering," this one suffers from a consistently "horrific" feeling (which is much more trying on the listener than the former). It would be useful in a roleplaying game, visiting various dark caverns and tombs, however, for the everyday listener, it doesn't provide the emotional satisfaction one might receive from the artists with asterisks on my dungeon synth list, for instance.

In terms of the production, the instruments are spot on. Each one has a very "dungeon synth" sound and quality, which is one of the reasons it's been so hard to dismiss, and I'm sure lovers of the pure sound of such synths would agree with me. The performance seems to be, from my ears, entirely midi, which makes it sound quite a bit more lifeless, possibly fitting the mood of torture, however I think this album would've been benefited by human performance rather than programming.

I have little more to say. If you have the bravery and endurance to explore the blackest realms of dungeon synth, here's the link: