Written by: The Administrator
In my admittedly limited experience with the wide world of dungeon synth, there seems to generally exist a spectrum between light and dark, airy and foreboding. Y'know, sunny pastoral ambiance versus cobwebb'd gothic atmosphere. On Death Cannot Contain You, Lunar Cult perpetually toes the line between the two--and, all the while, a tangible sense of sadness permeates the whole.
This album marks an admitted change in sonic direction, a switch which is hardly unprecedented, given Lunar Cult’s documented tendency to draw inspiration from the ethos of NIN. Whereas previous works fit into the largely vacant category of chiptune-inspired-by-black-metal, Death Cannot Contain You leans entirely into synth-laden waters. While I enjoyed former efforts quite a bit, this feels the most cohesive, both in terms of narrative and aesthetic. Without further ado, then:
When talking about a genre that exists on the basis of a somewhat limited sonic palette, the focus inevitably becomes the emotion associated with and illustrated by the work in question. Sadness is the name of the game here, demonstrated most obviously in the form of overtly somber tracks such as "A Lonely Wind Blows Over an Unmarked Grave" and "The Stars Shone Through Their Body." These are a soundtrack for foggy midnight wandering and intense introspection. However, the album as a whole is built on the back of contiguity between the bright and the dour. Melancholic yet brightly lit tracks such as the stellar "Blood upon Stone and Snow" or "Empty Throne, Shattered Crown" serve to remind that sadness isn't always accompanied by gloom, doom, and a darkened backdrop.
It's a handy juxtaposition, and here, Death Cannot Contain You demonstrates that there is no romantic aesthetic or platonic ideal of sadness--it permeates even the sunniest of days. Emotional work doesn't need to show the most visceral emotional extremities, and Lunar Cult navigates this arena by creating something a little more nuanced. Thus, in the end, the album's overall message--that "defeat is temporary, all tyrants will fall in time, death is not the end"--shines through. There's something inherently and deliciously triumphant about Death Cannot Contain You. It's a nice perspective, particularly for those of us who tend to dwell in defeatism.
Thematic underpinnings aside, Lunar Cult truly excels at finding and lifting up beautiful melodies. Many dungeon synth artists rely heavily on the atmospherics to do the heavy lifting, but Death Cannot Contain You handily avoids that trap by making the melody, more often than not, the primary focus. The drums are present but sparse, providing a baseline of structure. As a whole, there's a wonderful delicacy at play--yet another nice contrast to the heft one might preemptively expect from an album with the tagline "play at night and/or when feeling sad."
If dungeon synth does nothing for you, I'm not sure this album will seem revelatory, nor a wholly distinct introduction to the sights and the sounds of the genre itself. But! If you, like me, find yourself occasionally strolling through the dungeons, Death Cannot Contain You serves as a delightful example of how much emotional and ambient perspective one can truly provide within relatively limited confines.
Lunar Cult - Death Cannot Contain You was released Feb 19th, 2021. Find ithere for NYOP!
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!