In my opinion, to be considered a classic album (of any genre), the artist must be both a master musician (or musicians) and an expert storyteller. Either one is great on their own but it’s only when those two elements are combined that an album truly has a chance of standing out from the crowd. Even in a genre as small as dungeon synth, the table can get quite crowded. Some musicians go for unique approaches to creating sound (like Deathbard’s Toymaker album) others go for long form storytelling (like all the works of Argonath and Chaucerian Myth). Others, though, focus all their energy on creating a sharp, crisp sound with fascinating lyrical elements and a damn good story. Thus, is Trogool. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Trogool a few months ago until the release of Beyond the River Skai but now that I’ve heard the album (more than two dozen times now to be sure) I can’t believe how it flew under the radar for me.
I began listening to Trogool around the same time I was listened to Voormithadreth so for better or for worse the two projects are linked in my mind. They both represent the best that the genre of dungeon synth can offer and they both offer unique insights in the world of Lovecraftian mythology and music. They represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in my opinion though, with Voormithadreth occupying the lo fi traditional and raw sounding dungeon synth and Trogool representing the higher level, orchestral sound. As I said, both are masters of their craft and the inclusion of both in my library makes my library that much better.
The first few times I listened to Trogool I had no idea that the music was Lovecraft, more precisely Lord Dunsany. That was my fault though for not knowing the subject matter what I was listening to (always know the background of what it is you’re listening to). When two plus two finally equaled four in my head it was as if fireworks went off. Before Trogool I had heard two styles of Lovecraftian synth: one focused on horror synth, using lots of dark ambient techniques, and the other was the lo fi traditional but melancholic synth of Voormithadreth. Trogool opened a world of fascinating possibilities for my mind. I’ve been wanting Lovecraftian music that felt more orchestral, and now I have it. I’m not the only one that hold Trogool in such high esteem either; Verminaard, a highly respected artist in his own right, joked that with Beyond the River Skai there was no more need for anyone else to create dungeon synth and played at deleting all his material. I don’t know if Trogool is that good (is anyone), but damn is Beyond the River Skai not one of the most entertaining albums of the year.
It opens with “The Gods Dreamed Marble Dreams” which has such an air of nobility and adventure that I couldn’t help but get swept away. You have horns, percussion, choirs, strings, and bells that all melding into a melody that fells like it was ripped from Richard Wagner’s dreams. I won’t say this is dungeon synth’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” but I won’t not say it either. The track is majestic and it sets the stage for the rest of the album. It’s a tower track that leads the listener away from their comfortable zones to the great and mysterious realms the earth has to offer, places forbidding and treacherous but nevertheless filled with wonder and excitement.
Nowhere to be seen is the brooding horror so often associated with Lovecraft. There’s a darkness behind all the music yes, a sinister presence (especially felt in “Seven Hundred Steps”) that interweaves itself into the background but overall the album is too theatrical, too bombastic to be dragged down by the normal terror that Lovecraft exudes. I, for one, love this because it’s easy to find Lovecraftian works that are brooding and dark and sinister to the point of absurdity but it’s very hard to find Lovecraftian works that focus on the wonder of the wider world, the utter differentness that he has to offer. Not everything has to be dark and foreboding.
While the album is orchestral, using a vast array of instrument sounds, Beyond the River Skai never feels as though the theatricality is bogging it down. Each instrument plays a part, even if just for a song or a measure. Everything is put in place perfectly.
Trogool is vastly entertaining. Beyond the River Skai represents the myriad possibilities within the genre. It’s is grandiose and orchestral; the music is sweeping with vast and lush atmospheres. Beyond the River Skai takes the listener on a journey. It doesn’t just entertain for an hour and then leave. This is not dungeon synth filler, this is like a hearty steak dinner, though with Lovecraft it might be more appropriate to call it a seafood feast. It’s meaty and rich. The album also feels like it’s the first (or maybe second) act in some larger, grander opera that I just haven’t realized yet. I hope I’m right because that would be fucking awesome. If not then well damn Beyond the River Skai is still a bloody amazing album that I’ll probably be raving about for a long time to come.
Highlights: The Gods Dreamed Marble Dreams, Street of the Pillars, Lands behind the East
For Fans Of: Verminaard, Barak Tor, Medhelan
- The Gods Dreamed Marble Dreams
- The Wanderings of Roon
- Three Golden Dreams and a Silver Key
- Seven Hundred Steps
- Wharves of Porphyry
- Street of the Pillars
- Their Thrones for the Spider to Spin on
- Lands behind the East
Beyond the River Skai was released independently through Bandcamp on March 1st, 2017