Written by: The Administrator
Welcome, dear read/traveler, to INTO THE DUNGEON, a new (and likely infrequent, if I'm being real) column dedicated to dungeon-dwelling music of the synth-y persuasion. While admittedly less than well-steeped in the genre and its conventions, I've found myself listening to more and more dungeon synth over the past few years. There's a lot of incredible talent and innovation in the space, but said talent all too oft flies under the radar, particularly when it comes to metal-centric sites/medieval townships such as ours. 'Bout time to extend the reach of the limelight, methinks.
Anyways, preliminary chatter out of the way: the topic of today's discussion is Sword of Hailstone, the excellent debut album by Minneapolis, Minnesota's own Desolation Plains. A notable aspect of this release is the companion RPG, which features some swell point 'n' click gameplay, plus some of the coolest fuckin' bandcamp code integration we slumbering scribes have ever seen. The music itself--the real focus here--is simply top-notch: everything I crave in a synth-laden experience is inordinately well represented. If you're questing for a soundtrack to adventure, Desolation Plains delivers in spades.
Inspired by the bitter isolation and cold of the midwestern winter, Sword of Hailstone is appropriately menacing without going too far off the rails into spooky country. The general vibe is crisp yet ominous, with bright glimmers consistently adding significant depth to the atmospheric backdrop. Sun dances on the snow, but the knowledge of the impending blizzard lurking over the horizon never quite allows the tunes herein a sense of unadulterated tranquility. Needless to say, it's a very nice balance, and one that reflects the triumphant peaks and dread-laden valleys of a successful fantastical narrative. For a taste, I definitely recommend taking "Over red river, under wood sanctuary" for a spin. While indulging in a single track is a bit like reading a chapter in the middle of a saga with no frame of reference, this is a prime example of the dynamic at play across the breadth.
Dungeon synth often feels repetitive given the intrinsic limitations of the genre, but Desolation Plains does a very good job at shaking it up. Take, for example, the fantastic "Pierce the flesh of my Oppressor", which breaks up the general fantastical/pastoral vibe with a space-y vibe that strongly recalls the quiet moments of the FTL soundtrack where one emerges into a lonely nebula. The drone-y "A solemn prayer as the ascent is made" makes for another interesting break from the formula: featuring church bells a-plenty, the overall atmosphere here is a little more gothic. It's these moments that maintain interest and keep the narrative truckin' along. Besides that, of course, they are great lil' tunes on their own merit.
Dungeon synth often doesn't come with a built-in storyline, but here, the companion RPG presents a clear-cut protagonist and voyage. While I often find it fun to invent characters and set them on an adventure according to the machinations of my own imagination, Sword of Hailstone presents the opportunity to live in someone else's invented world for a little while. Like unto any great form of escapism, this is an adventure that wholly succeeds at creating a little patch of adventure outside the bounds of hum-drum existence. Plus, the protagonist wields a zweihänder, and if that little nugget doesn't wet yer whistle, I dunno how to help.
In sum? If you enjoy dungeon synth and/or RPG soundtracks, this is certainly worth checking out. For that matter, if you don't quite get the appeal of dungeon synth and/or RPG soundtracks, Sword of Hailstone might just be the one to pull you in.
Desolation Plains - Sword of Hailstone was released May 7th, 2021.Find it here!And find the companion RPG app here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!