We all love a good King Arthur story right? It’s not just my obsession with the legends and the mythology of the era that makes me see parallels everywhere, right? Well even if it is just me, I can’t help but love the darker side of the Arthurian tales. Movies like “King Arthur” and the upcoming “Legend of the Sword” films are attempting to make the stories gritty and hyper realistic but they will never fully succeed in doing so. The movies attempt to be both historical and fantasy and they fail to be either because King Arthur is a character and a theme beyond both of them. It may be impossible to portray the characters in the Arthurian legends in film or in books (though that will never stop me from trying) the way they deserve. So what is there to do? Well this is a music analysis site so it shouldn’t be a leap to guess that I think music is the best way to go. Drochtuarach, a project of out the land of Arthur himself, just released (literally two days before this review) a new album called Vespers of Prideful Scorn. Even if Arthurian themes and topics were not the goal of the album, I would say that they succeeded brilliantly.
First though, of course, some stray thoughts on the artwork and such. One, the title of the album, and the titles of the songs for that matter, has such a strong black metal vibe I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a companion album out there that recreates all the songs in an atmospheric black metal tone. Two, the logo for the project might be simple but it’s elegant and efficient, much like the Middle English era that the music seems to emulate. Three, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Drochtuarach and while I don’t know exactly what the name means (both literally and figuratively) I intend to find out!
The album proper has some great ritualistic, cathedrallike sounds. The music echoes, creating an enormous atmosphere. Even though the music has a very sharp gothic edge to it, there are some lighter elements to the album. Overall, yes, the album is very dark and dreary and melancholic, representing the reality of the time period. Again I don’t know if that’s what the artist was going for when he created the music but it’s what I, the listener, felt and saw. The Middle English period, the literature at least, was not nearly as dark and foreboding as the literature in the Old English period, works such as Beowulf, but it was not all cheery. The Arthurian legends really took root in this period, one theory I’ve heard is that it was a Norman invention to stir up anti-Anglo-Saxon sentiments amongst the native Britons but again that’s neither here nor there. My point in that massive digression was that the music in Vespers of Prideful Scorn were not as dark as an album covering the mood of the Old English period might have been but it’s not nearly as bright and hopeful as the Middle English period would have had the readers think. The music on Vespers of Prideful Scorn is an honest, realistic (possibly hyper realistic) look at the period. There was still war and death and disease and oppressive religious regimes that targeted people and kings that butchered other kings for no more reason than they wanted something the other had.
It’s in this sort of atmosphere, one where nothing was really okay but everyone pretended that it was, that the attitude of Vespers of Prideful Scorn is born. The irreligious, misotheistic attitude that is plain to see in song titles like “Eyes Like Dying Stars See into My Witch Heart,” and “Mournful Souls Inside Broken Stones.” The antireligious themes play in a crazy contrast to my Arthurian interpretation of the album. I’ve never been happy with seeing Arthur as a religious character, despite all the literature trying to pigeonhole him into that archetype. While I never saw him as an antireligious figure before this album, I saw him as a warrior, as a violent fighter whose motivations never had anything to do with religion or faith. Vespers of Prideful Scorn uses a lot of black metal tropes and archetypes to twist the vision of Arthur that I had. He’s not evil but he is a more brutal, sinister figure than I’ve ever seen him.
The album achieves this by creating vast, dark landscapes with shadowy towers and occultic effects against a minimalistic synth score. With folkish themes, the landscape is made real, sharp. The shadows normally made by dungeon synth are darker on this album, they have a sinister feel them. Vespers of Prideful Scorn is a damn brilliant album, carefully crafted and engineered. The beauty of the album lies in its bleak outlook. The world of the album is beautiful and vivid, yet behind everything is the possibility of something dark. Was the album about Arthur? Likely not but as the listener-protagonist here I felt an immediate link between them. Whatever you find in this album, be it Arthur or anything else, you find a grim yet beautiful world that is worth exploring.
Listen and support the music!