If ever an album’s title gave away exactly what you were about to hear, this is it: Druadan Forest’s Dismal Spells From the Dragonrealm is one-hundred-and-ten percent gloomy, ritualistic hymnals dredged from a dark fantasy epic.
The four compositions (their long-form, loosely-structured nature makes calling them ‘songs’ or ‘tracks’ inappropriate) on the album all follow a similar formula: minimal percussion, repetitive melodic theme, and incidental atmospheres with some texture and spoken word poetry overlaid on the whole. All in all, textbook examples of the dungeon synth genre experimented with by the likes of Burzum and perfected by Mortiiis in the ‘90s; a genre that is seeing new interest and new musicians, and even the aforementioned Mortiis is dusting off his leather and troll makeup to perform his old albums in live settings. In brief, this isn’t black metal, it isn’t goth or darkwave, and it most definitely isn’t your average ambient mixer – but it shares common elements of all these as it binds together sweeping sonic portraits of darkness, despair and dread.
In this regard, Dismal Spells From the Dragonrealm (pre-order a copy here) presents a departure from the history of Druadan Forest: originally a cinematic black metal project (albeit one relying heavily on keyboards, rather than guitars, as the weapon of choice), this one-man Finnish project (the side project of V-Khaoz of Vargrav, to be precise) has since discarded all black metal trappings in favour of the purely synthesised, wholly atmospheric methodology of dungeon synth. And it works. While prior releases were unfairly compared to Summoning (probably on the basis of the Lord of the Rings mythology informing much of the thematic content), the styles of the two acts are too different for a comparison to be justified. Dismal Spells From the Dragonrealm is not just beautiful music, but also evocative, conjuring images of simpler, more martial times when nature and magick firmly held sway against the forces of industrial advance.
“Enthralled by Majestic Winter’s Eternity” illustrates perfectly the cinematic, sweeping nature of Druadan Forest’s music.
Suffice to say, Druadan Forest is not metal in the traditional sense: but its inherent darkness and looming atmospheric presence make it an excellent choice for an alternative immersive metal experience than an active participation one. Intellectually, Dismal Spells from the Dragonrealm is not just suited to a roleplaying soundtrack or other fantasy mood music, offering something of a mood-shifting experience, but emotionally, the lure of dungeon synth is much more of a niche market than black metal or any of its many subgenres, making this album a hard sell. Having personally been a fan for some time, Druadan Forest gets a vehement thumbs-up from me, but your average battle-jacket-and-beer metalhead won’t be as easily convinced.
Dismal Spells From the Dragonrealm Track Listing:
01. Unsung Spell of No Solace
02. Enthralled by Majestic Winters Eternity
03. The Seizure of Power in the Luminous Lands by the Hands of the Stalking Fiends
04. No Stars upon the Black Sea of Macrocosm
Run Time: 01:12:17
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Record Label: Werewolf Records