Music and folklore go hand in hand, even in the multicultural, globalistic world we live in today. Music is one of the foundations of folklore. Folklore is in turn one of the foundations of music. They, quite literally, go hand in hand. However, as time has gone by, music has branched out to other things, and told other stories. Dungeon synth, in my opinion, is one of the perfect musical mediums in which to tell folkloric stories. Unfortunately, only a handful of artists really delve into folklore to inspire their music. I hold nothing against those that look to fantasy for inspiration. That’s not what this review is about. I applaud everyone who creates music, but what I want to do is call those that haven’t created something to create something, create something folkloric and amazing. Each time I listen to Argonath, I’m reminded why I want more folkloric music: because when done well it’s better than all the rest. There’s been a twofold reason I haven’t reviewed Argonath’s last few releases though. One, it’s hard to objectively review your own music (I hope I’m not revealing any big secret revealing that CIPMorgoth is the man behind Argonath), and two, how to I be objective when reviewing my partner’s work? The conundrum went on until he had three releases that I needed to review. With the release of the third, The Great Hunger, I bit the bullet and decided, objective or not, I needed to review them. Rather than write three separate reviews and taking up far too much time, I’ll write about them all in one review. Don’t worry though, I can still tell you everything you need to know about them. So, the question remains, are they worth buying? Let’s find out.
First up we have Journey to the Otherworld, a collection of unreleased and experimental tracks, showing the listener exactly how Argonath’s first release, Lugnasad, came into being. That being said, don’t look at Journey to the Otherworld as a compilation album or a collection of demos. It’s not. This album has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment, story narrative, and visible musical evolution. All the songs, save Honour in Death, are related to Irish and Celtic mythology in some way. They aren’t necessarily a complete and coherent story but the sounds of Ireland are heavily present on the album without really announcing itself as Irish. In a similar manner to its predecessor, the music is organic and as you listen it dawns on you that the music is Irish rather than beating you over the head. That’s how I felt at least, others might have had different experiences. The album is solid with lots of good moments, themes, and melodies. That being said, it’s still a very raw album in terms of production and editing. There was an instance here and there (particularly at the very beginning) that we get notes and sounds that are completely unrelated to the actual song. The sound is not quite as clear and melodious or grand as Lugnasad, but it does have a more intimate feel. Despite some of the album’s flaws, I still think Journey to the Otherworld (note not Underworld) is worth the price of admission. It’s not as strong as the releases that follow but I’ll be damned if it’s not a worthy part of the collection.
Highlights: Honour in Death, Leaves of Samhain
Journey to the Otherworld was released independently on Bandcamp on March 7th, 2017
Second, we have Argonath’s best album to date: The Cattle Raid of Cooley. This album is a beast, at nearly two hours long. Thankfully, dungeon synth seems to be the only form of music (save classical) that can last that long and not grate on my patience. The Cattle Raid of Cooley represents, to me, Argonath’s shift from a normal dungeon synth project that presents its material as a collection of sounds to a very good one that can create an amazing narrative. There are a couple of moments where the action, as it were, is a little bogged down, but overall, I felt like the hour and forty-five minutes it takes to listen to the album is well spent. The album tells the story of the Táin, an epic Irish tale feature Cú Chulainn. I won’t go too deep into the actual narrative of the album here, that’s something best saved for the album itself to explain, and a little research on the listener’s part. The Cattle Raid of Cooley is an amazing tale though, one of the few epic tales we have left in Irish folklore. Argonath did a good job picking this particular story and recreating it. The album, a little raw here and there, is the best Argonath has done thus far. The story is engaging, the music is emotional, swelling here and there to emphasis its points but not being overly insistent. The Cattle Raid of Cooley would make the hound of Chulainn proud. This is the album you must unequivocally buy.
Highlights: The Ambitions of Queen Medb, The Death of Ferida
The Cattle Raid of Cooley was released independently on Bandcamp on May 25th, 2017
Lastly, comes The Great Hunger, a highly experimental album. The narrative component of the album is tragic, terrifying, and something that as an American I have difficulty fully understanding the gravity of: The Irish Potato Famine. We all have heard of it, at least I hope so, but the real pain and tragedy of the event is lost on people now. What albums like the Great Hunger do for us then, is to remind us. It reminds us in a way we don’t want to be reminded. The pain and desolation are right up front. The Great Hunger is an uncomfortable opus, it’s the kind of album we need though to remember our history. The sound of the album adds to the uncomfortable factor. This is Argonath’s dungeon noise album. It’s chaotic and, well, noisy. I’m not a huge fan of dungeon noise but I do see its value when used correctly. Argonath uses the noise aspect to create an atmosphere, and damn what a depressive atmosphere. Overall the album isn’t as strong as The Cattle Raid of Cooley but the atmosphere is better and the narrative is on par. Even if you aren’t into the dungeon noise off shot, it’s worth a try.
Highlights: Blight, Coffin Ship
The Great Hunger was released independently through Bandcamp on July 10th, 2017