Blending dark ambient and dungeon synth, no matter how many time I hear it done, will never be an easy task. While they are two genres with a lot in common, combining the two so that they work together seamlessly will always impress me. It might not be hard to do it, but as with all good music, it’s difficult to do it well. Making a story, a narrative, out of the miasma of sound and music is even more difficult. Dungeon synth is one of my favorite genres because of the stories that the music tells. There are hundreds of albums and hundreds of stories, not all worthy of listening to but those that are, are amazing. The Order of the Dark Age is another project I found while readying myself for Dungeon Synth Appreciation Month; I wasn’t sure of it because of how prevalent the dark ambient soundscape was but once I really listened to it, I was captivated. Even though the album, The Dark Age Echoe – First Chapter, came out in 2011, I felt this release could not be overlooked this month.
Some stray thoughts on the album first. One, this will be the second album that I’ve reviewed from the Dungeon Lore Foundation label, they are excellent purveyors of minimalistic ambient synth, even if they don’t seem to be overly active in their releases. Two, initially the misspelling of “Echoe” bothered me, I can be a bit of a grammar Nazi now and then, but that shouldn’t get in the way of allowing the music to tell its story. Three, the first time I listened to the album it was raining outside which added a very cool effect to the rain sounds on the album itself, a bit of natural surround sound if you will. Four, at just over an hour and a half, this is an album that truly deserves the title epic.
The Order of the Dark Age, before listening to this album, was a complete unknown to me. Before I review I like to do a little research on the band so I have an idea where they are coming from, their themes, etc. I could find comparably little information, but that’s how it often is with dungeon synth. The music exists in one or two places and that’s it. The project, and the genre, are shrouded in mystery and shadow. I was highly impressed by the way the sounds of the winds and rain melded with the sounds of the keyboard, bells, and drums. It was very cinematic that way, a very minimalistic cinema where the imagination of the listener does most of the work and the music itself merely shapes the scene.
The album is certainly long enough to be the score for an entire movie, so what is that movie about? It is undoubtedly medieval with heavy gothic traits with track titles like “To the Dead Lands,” “Grey Fog Phantoms,” and “Secrets of the Black Forest.” The slow, mournfully dreary tones of the keyboard against the howling winds is very reminiscent of the Transylvania we are used to seeing in classic horror films. Truthfully at any moment I would not have been surprised to hear Christopher Lee’s deep haunting voice doing a narration. While that didn’t occur, the power of the atmosphere was great. It lay thick and heavy on the listener, influencing everything they could imagine and picture in their minds as the music trudged on.
There were a few instances where the music itself almost became black metal, the sounds were cacophonous and unruly but those moments didn’t last very long. While they didn’t stand in complete contrast to the rest of the music, they do stand as important points in the narrative however, whatever the listener-protagonist choses that narrative to be. The black metal-esque elements represent a clash of some sort, whether that be a pitched battle, a violent death, a screaming match that leads to war, is up to the listener.
This album was clearly designed to be the first in a series of albums that told a very large story overall. However, I can’t find any “chapters” beyond this first one. It’s a little disappointing because the pessimist in me thinks that maybe the artist lost interest but the hopefully, enthusiast fan hopes that the music is simply taking a long time to write and create because the artist wants to make the music perfect. Either way, we are left with a lot of material to chew on and interpret. A closer look at the album will begin to reveal characters and places that exist within this gothic, depressive world, factions and creatures and legends form as the music thunders on with the wind and the rains. An entire world exists within the album. It’s worth the hour and a half it takes to listen. Trust me.
Listen and support the music!