Old Tower – The Rise of the Specter

The name alone would tell you that dungeon-synth is one of the cheesiest genres out there – medieval soundscapes emulated via lo-fi synths that wouldn’t be out of place in old 90’s RPG videogames. At first encounter this rather nerdy aspect can make the genre seem like the “special” cousin of truly eerie dark ambient and industrial, but once you get past the over-the-top aspect of it all it’s a great genre that’s thick with a variety of different bands creating great atmospheres, albeit mostly with a lo-fi MIDI based sound. The Netherlands’ Old Tower are anything but lo-fi or over the top with cheesy soundscapes, this is some of the best produced, most atmospheric and well intentioned dungeon-synth I’ve ever heard. Doomed synths and grim atmospheres make them a standout in the scene on their debut album The Rise of the Specter.

Two pieces at just under fifteen minutes, Pt.1 and Pt.2 make for a good length for this sort of music, long enough to make use of the minimalist intentions without outstaying their welcome. As mentioned before, the production is excellent, a world away from some of the lo-fi MIDI keyboard sounds of other bands, the well textured layers sounding closer to some of the Nordic ritual ambient bands in Draugurinn and Forndom by way of Arcana, and of course Mortiis. It has a cold and eerie feel to it throughout from the low pitched synthesized choral sounds, over layers of cold synths sounding like a biting wind, with a tribal sounding drum beat sounding in the background. It’s eerie and minimalist, with a ritual sounding march to it from the drums, and slowly evolves with a change in melody and textures to the synths, and the beat moving in and out over the song length. It evokes images of lost and dusty castles obscured in forests during the biting cold of winter nights. Dark energy resonates from these synths, with the choral sounds reminiscent of Arcana, the ritual percussion of Draugurinn and the layering of softly droning synth textures. Synthesized brass and choirs provide the drama while the softer textures keep the atmosphere hypnotizing and atmospheric.

A vibrant and constantly evolving sound which is paced perfectly inside it’s thirty minutes makes for a perfect length, and an album that goes instantly up there with the best of the dungeonsynth albums. No cheesy keyboard plodding to be found, just genuinely eerie, well produced and atmospheric dark ambient.

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