What happens to you when you listen to a soundtrack? Even if you haven’t seen the film that the music correlates to, you can feel the action and emotion of the film. Images, based on the covers of the soundtracks and the ethnic sounds of the albums themselves, fill your head and the movie, whether it’s the right one or not, begins to play in your head. You are taken away from your current place in space and time and you are allowed to visit somewhere else. I never really thought of dungeon synth as soundtrack quality music, even the best orchestral sounds just didn’t reach that level of complexity and nuance. To no fault of their own, I should add. Dungeon synth just wasn’t designed to do that; the music can take you away, it has range of emotion and melody, but the music simply doesn’t have the range to cover a film soundtrack. I used to think that. Then I listened to Fall of the Horned Serpent by Medhelan and all those preconceptions and ideas went out the window.
A few stray thoughts on the album first. One, Grimrik is one hell of a producer, half the cinematic atmosphere is due to his talents and his ear for what sounds truly good. Two, being from Italy but still being able to capture the atmosphere of a Celtic epic is impressive. Three, a lot of people are calling this the standout album of the year for 2016 and retroactively, I can’t disagree with them. There is a spirit in the music that insists the listener pay attention. Four, the artwork and logo make the music seem much more ancient, almost beyond recorded history; it’s sharp but at the same time it’s very open to interpretation.
Soundtracks were my first foray into music. I still have tons of Howard Shore (the music of the Lord of the Rings films are the only things above reproach), Hans Zimmer, and James Horner soundtracks in the back of my mind. I moved forward from them but I’ve never really left them behind. It’s left a craving for atmospheric, storytelling music. Fall of the Horned Serpent isn’t about any story in particular, the disclaimer on the artist’s Bandcamp page tells us that much, but that doesn’t stop the mind from formulating a story on its own.
The horned serpent is fairly prevalent in Celtic and Nordic mythology, being fairly synonymous with a dragon. But this is not any “horned serpent” this is “the” horned serpent. The fall of such a creature can be seen as both a reason to mourn and a reason to celebrate. The music on the album can be seen in either way. The music, with its epic sweeps and mournful melodies, runs the gambit emotionally. The music puts its hooks into the listeners minds and allows for infinite possibilities to occur. The music has an ancient yet noble feel to it, in the same way an Arthurian story has an ancient feel but of an indeterminate period. The themes of Fall of the Horned Serpent are ancient but universal, they aren’t beholden to a single time period. Nor are they bound to a single culture. Despite the music being largely Celtic or Anglo Saxon in appearance, there are enough variations within with musicality and instrumentation to make the music appear universal.
The music of Fall of the Horned Serpent, too, could be seen as a purely fantasy narrative and that would make sense. The “universal” themes suddenly take a life of their own, instead of being tied to a particular cultural sound, they instead are the defining features of a brand new culture that exists in the minds of the listeners. The possibilities are endless as the music still covers the complete emotional spectrum.
Whether you see the album as the tale of a knight fighting against an ancient evil, a battle between two warring tribes, or you see the entire album as a metaphorical, symbolic piece, there is no denying that Medhelan has created something very special and very powerful. Fall of the Horned Serpent is cinematic music at its best. I think this album could hold its own against actual film soundtracks and in many cases I think it would come out on top. Seriously, give this album a listen and tell me I’m wrong.
Listen and support the music!