Album: Melkor’s Dungeon- You Meet in a Tavern…
Label: Weregnome Records
Release date: 03/06/2022
Music often provides the listener with a means of escaping the harsh circumstances of their reality. Music can take us away from the monotonous drudge of the daily routine or the harsh canyons we are forced to traverse in order to just eke out a simple living to grand, beautiful worlds full of wonder and adventure. Escapism is an essential component to the modern life, and art is our best medium for a healthy expression of escapism, but sometimes reality can be too harsh to ignore. To hear stories about mad rulers committing crimes against the innocent is one thing, but to see it play out in real time is a whole different experience. It’s sobering, to say the least. And from our far off lands untouched by conflict all we can do is watch and spread the word, point a mirror at the hideous machine ravaging the land of Ukraine.
In times like this, banding together as a species to support a people defending themselves and their freedom is the least we can do. As unsavory as it might be to pull away from the conflict in the real world and escape into a fantasy, this release does so for a good cause. The proceeds for this album will be going to the international Red Cross to hopefully provide relief in Ukraine. I’ll be judging this album based off of its musical merits alone for this review, but please do keep in mind the cause that this art is supporting.
Here we have a delightfully simple premise that recalls the anxious fervor that builds in the chest of dungeon crawlers the world over upon hearing the all too familiar words “You meet in a tavern”. The anticipation of new adventures to be had and magical loot to be discovered, of perilous traps to be overcome and horrific creatures to be slain (or to befriend if it’s that sort of campaign) are all conjured by such a humble beginning. This collection of artists were given the prompt of each creating a story of their own starting with the shared phrase “you meet in a tavern…” and from there begins a compilation of auditory journeys and sonic quests.
Each artist brings a unique flavor to the overarching narrative template, starting with the soft and somber “Fell, Fox, Fen” with its drowning reverb and stretched notes. This is followed up by the uplifting tavern yarn “Drink up Compatriots! We Ride at Dawn” with its plucking simulated strings and delightful percussion, a true pre-dungeon dive anthem to prepare the party for the adventure to come. Darksol’s “Tale of the Frozen Bard” is a wonderful example of old school dungeon synth in all its 16-bit, beat thumping glory. This track is a true master class in synthesizer storytelling and a definite highlight of the first half of the album. Erang’s “Feast of the Night” gets the tavern patrons off of their benches and onto the dance floor with a beautiful, heart grabbing melody that will surely be hummed on the long stretch of woodland roads tomorrow.
Another highlight would be the deeply atmospheric “Of Flowing Mead and Glowing Embers” strummed to us by the ingenious minstrel Hermit Knight. A crackling fire accompanies beautiful strums and the faint chatter of fellow tavern goers before the pipes and drums come in to weave a tale of romance and chivalry in an age of endless adventures. This is followed by the wonderful “Old Roads, New Friends” by Runesong which recalls the intricate instrumentation and adherence to medieval folk traditions upheld by artists such as the venerable Guild of Lore. Directly after this track is a demonstration of the puff-chested yarn spinning that is known to take place over pints of ale with fellow adventurers. “Fireside Tales of Glory and Yore” truly lives up to its name as thunderous beats and triumphant fanfare paints us an image of the self-satisfied heroes conquering uncharted lands, foul dungeons and terrific sorceries.
What’s this? I think I’ve just heard something. Is that coming from behind the bar? Keep the music playing and whatever you do, don’t startle the patrons, I don’t want a panic to spread. I’m going to go investigate, it sounds like it’s coming from below us now…The night of merriment is broken up by the sudden thumping from below the floor boards; upon closer inspection we find the ominous track “What Lurks in the Cellar”. Its distant synth lead is accompanied by a low, insidious rhythmic counterpart that draws us further into the dust and murk of the forgotten space under the tavern. Water drips onto stagnant puddles and something is down here with us. The occasional clanking of glass and stuttering footsteps can affirm at least that. I think I hear breathing… It’s so dark down here, I can hardly see. Let me just light this lantern…
The album is currently available for streaming from the provided link and preorders for the physical release will be available until the end of the month. At time of writing, that gives us about 2 weeks to get our orders in. I would never use this platform to discuss political matters, I feel that to do so would diminish the value dungeon synth provides as an escape. But a just cause is a just cause, and especially when it is accompanied by such an amazing display of talent by all of these fantastic artists.