Full disclosure: I know fuck-all about dungeon synth. Less than fuck-all, actually – much to my chagrin, it’s only within the last couple of months that I learned that the term wasn’t referring to acts like Perturbator or whoever it was that did the soundtrack to Stranger Things. Once I learned of my mistake, I found someone who was willing and able to write a dungeon synth installment of our “A Beginner’s Guide To…” column, mostly because I want to know where to start.
I normally wouldn’t begin a review by admitting something like that. In this case, though, I think that sort of context is necessary, because I’m approaching one-man project Acheulean Forests and his new EP The Enchantment with no frame of reference for this style of music outside of the two Burzum records Varg recorded when he was in prison. So on the one hand, I can listen to the record with fresh ears and no preconceived notions. But it also means that this isn’t going to be my usual type of critical review – instead, it’s going to be entirely personal.
And why even cover it when I know fuck-all about dungeon synth? Because Pacific Threnodies is releasing the cassette, and their first two tapes, Nan Elmoth’s Void Serpent and the At Dusk/Sacerdos split, are both the shit. Whoever the dude is behind the label, I trust his tastes.
Okay…now that we have all that out of the way, let’s talk about The Enchantment. According to the notes on PT’s Bandcamp page, the music is inspired by early 20th century Australian illustrator of children’s books Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, particularly her 1926 collection Fairyland. In fact, it’s her artwork that adorns the album cover, and it’s a pretty good representation of the music within. For the most part, this is a whimsical record, parts of which definitely sound like they could have been composed on a child’s toy piano. That probably sounds fairly twee, and songs like “Fairy Wings,” and “The Waltz of the Faerie Princess” do traverse a lot of the same musical ground as a band like Belle and Sebastian, but that only accounts for a small part of the record’s overall feel.
The tracks that I prefer on the record either sound like something from the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack (which is my favorite video game of all time), like “Mystical Woodlands of Sorrow” and “The Waltz of the Hobgoblins (Realm of Hobgoblins),” or have a more cinematic quality about them. “Mystical Forests of Eternity,” which might be the highlight of the brief record, and “The Witches Brew” both have darker elements about them, the results of which play like something from the score of an Ingmar Bergman film about woodland denizens filmed in some alternate universe. There are also places, specifically on “Fairy Night,” that have a slightly gothic aura about them not unlike something from a Zola Jesus song.
So all told, even though I may not be well versed (or versed at all) in the genre, I like The Enchantment quite a bit. Acheulean Forests makes music that’s playful without being completely lightweight, and I can see myself returning to the record fairly often when my ears need a break from all that lo-fi kvlt black metal I’m usually listening to. As an introduction to dungeon synth, it has definitely made me curious enough to seek out more.
The Enchantment will be available on cassette on October 27 via Pacific Threnodies.