This review was originally published in January of this year. Moribund Kingdom's forthcoming physical release via Trepanation Recordings, however, is an occasion worthy of republication. Since the time of writing, my appreciation of this album has only grown, and it remains a frequent companion in the many, many times throughout the day where more extreme music simply won't do. Pre-order here! - Ed.
Written by: The Administrator
If you, much like the ravens lurking outside our drafty scriptorium, are on the hunt for something new and shiny, I'm happy to present an alternative from our standard fare. Today on the docket: a healthy platter of horror-tinged gothic dungeon synth, conjured from the mind behind the (equally stellar) Order of the Wolf. In this newfound context outside the underground black metal sphere, he goes by Spectral Child. Moribund Kingdom is the first haunted creation of this alter ego.
I like to think of Spectral Child's Moribund Kingdom as an alternate soundtrack to the horror-themed action games that (only partially, I swear) defined my adolescence. While it certainly isn't a sonic match to, say, the grossly high-octane riffage of the equally high-octane Painkiller series, the mood is similar. Consistently menacing, in a word. Frightening in a sincere sense--like if the more intense moments of the soundtrack to Amnesia were distilled and reproduced in synth-based form. That comparison, again, is a bit of a stretch, but the fact remains: there is something about Spectral Child that feels intrinsically attached to the world of video games wherein a lone protagonist braves a world designed exclusively to confound and cause harm.
As one might expect, haunting melodics abound. It's a fluid combination of airy gothic melody with a droning organ's inherent weight--which, all things considered, keeps the entire affair nice and balanced. Take the opening to "Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends," which presents plinky single notes over a stoic foundation of drone. As it builds, grows, swells, and takes the odd moment to rest, this entire track demonstrates Spectral Child's ability to maintain dynamism and interest. Lengthy closer "Death Dirge" is another prime example--from the church bell intro to the multi-layered synth-y climax, this track presents an atmosphere riddled with intrigue.
But Spectral Child isn't all ethereal, as a generous application of drill-esque percussion keeps Moribund Kingdom quite well grounded. While it seems as though the repetitive march of the snare should get a tad overwrought across the breadth, it really doesn't. Avoiding boredom in the doldrums of synth is perhaps Spectral Child's most admirable trait--especially so in the context of an album that does indeed repeat melodies and motifs with the kind of regularity that one might encounter in a multi-stage boss fight. While some may find the repetition to be, well, a little repetitive for taste, I'm of the mind that these similarities result in a comfortable cohesion.
This is music that makes you look over your shoulder with unfounded certainly that something lurks close behind. In this sense, it lends the dungeon synth genre a little emotive spark and weight that--in this particular scribe's humble opinion--it all too often lacks. Scary music is scary because it implies you aren't alone, that the very atmosphere should be considered a threat. Moribund Kingdom succeeds enormously at delivering this ambience. Arched ceilings, cobwebb'd gargoyles, and the undeniable presence of malevolent souls. In a word: spooky.
While the current of this emotional and sonic theme runs fast and deep throughout the album, highlight track "Batten Down the Hatches" may just be the best representation of ominous cold sweat and heart-pounding dread. But standout tracks are a pretty negligible concept here, as the entire album is worth your while. In sum? If the synth-ladden waters are your speed, Moribund Kingdom comes highly recommended.
Spectral Child - Moribund Kingdom was released digitally Sept. 2019, and will be released on cassette via Trepanation Recordings on Oct. 30th, 2020. Pre-order here!
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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!