Albums based on books are pretty common. At least half of the dungeon synth album I’ve listened to are based on Lovecraft, Tolkien, or someone else’s literary works. Black metal and dark ambient are the same, taking cues from literature to craft an engaging and exciting album. Each looking to find some nugget or perspective that has been done to death already. Keith Richie, an artist that doesn’t really fit into any solid category, released an album called Gunslinger in May that blends dark ambient and electronica with good old dungeon synth. As you may have guessed, it’s based on the epic Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I think it’s no coincidence that I found this album when I did, mere months before the release of the movie. Whether by algorithms or by divine intervention, I have not been able to stop listening to this album. When I’m cooking, when I’m driving, when I just need some sound to fill the space around me, I’ve gone to Gunslinger.
Gunslinger (Fully titled Gunslinger – A Journey to the Dark Tower in Music: Vol. 1) has nothing to do with the upcoming film, rather taking all the cues and inspirations from the book series, as it should. The music, while cinematic and theatrical, feels more like the soundtrack to a book than to a film (those exist by the way, look at Shadows of the Empire). The pacing and flow of the album is much slower than a film or TV show soundtrack might be. The songs are longer and take more time to develop their themes, but because of that extra time the music is rich and full, an atmosphere you can only get from reading the books.
I’ll admit up front, I haven’t read all the Dark Tower novels yet, I read them in fits and spurts and right now the well is dry, odd considering the movie is coming soon. However, I know enough about the characters of Roland, Jake, Walter O’Dim, and Susannah to understand the themes and motifs displayed in the album. I’m breaking my own rule when I say one ought to read the written material before engaging in the music or visual material but it can’t be helped at this point.
Gunslinger is a damn good album that mixes dark ambient, field recording samples, and some good old synth work. I hesitate to put a genre on it, not for fear of overanalyzing but for fear of miscatagorizing it (a mortal sin in my world). I will go out on a limb, however, and call it Cinematic Dark Ambient, the sort of music one might find at Cryo Chamber, but with more actual music involved.
The album follows, more or less, the plot of the Dark Tower series, seeing everything in this album through the eyes of Roland, the titular Gunslinger. I was surprised to find that the music shies away from the fantasy or horror tropes found so readily in the series (apart from “The Number of Your Fate”) and instead focuses on the characters and their emotions and memories. Like a soundtrack themes pop up in different songs when different characters or events are taking the stage yet each time a theme is played it’s altered ever so slightly as the characters change from one scene to the other (at least if the writer is good at his job).
The musicianship on this album is amazing. I would have believed this was created by an enormous host of musicians, not one man. The playing is tight and the music is well written, each instrument that comes into play is given its time to shine and add to the overall experience. Everything I’ve learned over the last year or so about dark ambient and dungeon synth music has helped me appreciate this album more than I would have. I grew up on soundtracks so I was bound to love this anyways but because I can pick out elements of dark ambient or drone or synth it makes the music feel that much more real to me, I can feel the music more deeply because I have a greater understanding of how it’s created and what sort of work goes into the making something like this.
On his Bandcamp Page, Keith Richie calls the soundtrack an “Original Notion Picture Soundtrack.” I must say I love that, maybe that’s what I’ll call his style of music, I still haven’t decided. Such a work is harder because you have no other medium to aid you in your journey. The musician must rely on the listener to understand what the story is about and where it is headed and the listener, conversely, must trust the musician to tell them that story so they can understand the journey they are undertaking, if either fails in their respective “missions” then the whole album and the concept and story therein fails. Gunslinger succeeds. I think I can go so far as to say that the soundtrack to the movie must be Oscar worthy for me to think this shouldn’t have been used in its place.
Normally, for non-anthology or compilation albums I don’t go into depth on the specific songs but I need to make an exception for this album because there are some songs on here that are quite literally the best I’ve ever heard. Jake’s Theme is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, a slow single piano and a violin playing to an empty space. I Remember How They Danced gets me every time as well, despite having heard the song nearly three dozen times now.
Music that affects the listener and the creator so profoundly, as the Gunslinger has affected me, is more than just music. It’s evolves into something more, some like a state of mind. Listening to Gunslinger not only connected me to the world of Stephen King in a deep way, but also the mind of Keith Richie and the way he crafts such emotional and heartrending melodies. Having listened to this album I feel as though I understand his mind a little, Gunslinger does what a good album must do, act as a door into the souls of the listener and the creator. Remember lads, there are other worlds than these…
Highlights: I Didn’t Ask to Be Here/Jake’s Theme, I Remember How They Danced, Slow Mutants/There are Other Worlds Than These
For Fans Of: Sabled Sun, Flower for Body Snatchers, Voormithadreth
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- Life for Your Crop
- The Interloper / Tull Is Dead
- I Didn’t Ask to Be Here / Jake’s Theme
- The Kitchen and the Gallows
- The Number of Your Fate
- I Remember How They Danced
- The Test and the Key
- Slow Mutants / There Are Other Worlds Than These
- Seven Cards / Let There Be Light!
- The World Has Moved On
Gunslinger was released independently through Bandcamp on May 1st, 2017