You know what’s great about Tolkien inspired dungeon synth? Besides pretty much everything? That the themes and the melodies are relatable to someone who has read or watched Lord of the Rings, someone who has really experienced the world of Middle-Earth. The things we hear in dungeon synth are the musical translations of the words that we, myself very much included, hold so dear. Balrog has been one of the best projects for that sort of “translation” and their album “The Ringwraiths” focuses in on an area of infinite fascination on my part.
I knew that the album was going to be good before I even listened to it. I usually don’t talk a lot about the aesthetics of the album but rather the music. I can make exception in this case. The artwork for The Ringwraiths is what you’d expect: the nine Ringwraiths arrayed as they were in The Lord of the Rings films, hooded and cloaked in black with ancient, evil blades held aloft. Yet there is something more in the image. There is no color, something unusual for a Balrog album cover, and that starkness translates directly into the music. It’s murky and shadowy, the further the Ringwraiths are in the picture, the more shrouded they are in the mists. The Nazgûl were a major point of fascination for me both in the movies and in all the books so having an album devoted to them with artwork that is truly evocative of what they were is perfect.
The music is, too, what one should expect when dealing with the Nazgûl subject material. Balrog displays their knowledge and understanding of them with the music. It’s both grand and noble yet at the same time the music is old, decrepit, and full of dread. It reminds the listener of who the Ringwraiths were before they became what they are now and how they descended into the Shadow. It’s not a sympathy for the devil kind of attitude, more a “this could have happened to you” attitude. The music is a mixture of horror soundtrack and epic fantasy, exactly where the Nazgûl sit in Tolkien’s legerdemain. The sound is both orchestral and minimal in nature, Balrog allows the atmosphere to build with each song so the music doesn’t have to rely on an overproduced sound.
My favorite track in the 21-minute opus has to be the cover of “Knives in the Dark,” which was my favorite track in all of The Lord of the Rings Soundtracks. I’ve heard it done a million different times and none of them have really captured the feelings and emotions the way the original did. There was something in that original track that is just so connected with that scene that, for me, the music is more powerful than the images themselves. The music, the horns and the chanting, took on a life of their own that corresponded more and more to what I had always envisioned in that scene rather than the one I was given (though I certainly loved it in the film). Balrog, using just a synth was able to nearly capture that same spirit and emotion. It didn’t quite reach the same heights as the original but it has certainly come closer than anything else I’ve heard before. I didn’t catch the name of the song at first but as I started hearing themes I intimately recognized I became excited, stopped the track, and started it over so I could listen to the entire thing again with a very clear mind. It’s the highlight of the album for sure.
That is not to say that the rest of the album is boring or skippable. Not at all, each song is created in that same spirit. Each song on the album is connected to that music and delves deeper into the themes found in the books. Balrog has perfectly translated all those images I would see when I read the books the first time. The thrill and the terror all mixed together. You cannot ask for a better album than The Ringwraiths when you want something Tolkien inspired. You simply can’t.
Listen and support!