Mists of Darkness – The Lightless Lands MC Trapdoor Tapes 2019
Well this is certainly a blast from the past. Originally self-released in 1995, Mists of Darkness were a one-man ‘dungeon synth’ project from Australia, and contextually speaking, The Lightless Lands was produced in an era well before ‘dungeon synth’ even existed as a descriptive genre tag. Yet at the time of its original release, material of this type was very much an offshoot of the underground black metal scene and the growing crossover into underground post-industrial music (via artists and labels such as Mortiis and Cold Meat Industry).
Noting that this tape can today be described as ‘dungeon synth’, some comments need to be made regarding the current micro-trend of this style. With the endless raft of new acts seemingly cropping up, of all the new material I have heard, the greater majority sounds over produced with a ‘jolly’ or ‘twee’ slant (i.e. in a ridiculous medieval way), where the end result sounds akin to poor man’s role-playing game/ computer game music. Equally the production of much of the current era ‘dungeon synth’ is often too clean and lacks a lofi charm that a murky production can bring. In short there seems to be a real lack of understanding of the obscure and atmospheric elements which should ideally underpin the sound. But enough of that rant. Obviously Mists of Darkness are one of the few projects of ‘dungeon synth’ that I can still appreciate.
The Lightless Lands features four tracks (or ‘acts’) with a run time around 33 minutes. The track titles themselves allude to creation and description of a world unique to Mists of Darkness (i.e.: Act 1 Journey To The Lightless Lands & Act 3 The First Vision Of The Lightless Lands), which places the concept in a dark fantasy type realm (also of note, the cover images gives a nod to Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film version of The Lord of the Rings). From a listeners’ perspective, the first thing of note is the sound, which is crude and lofi to the point of making early Era 1 Mortiis recordings look decidedly high fidelity. Yet it is the crude sound which actually embellishes its dark and obscure atmosphere. Compositionally the tracks are generally composed with low bit-rate computer generated droning loops, which are further layered with singular toned melodies, programmed ritual percussive patterns and other sporadic computer-based sounds which emulate lightning, thunder, windstorms, waves lapping at shore and shrieks of unidentified beasts. The overall crude sound clearly shows the sonic limitations of the equipment this was composed and recorded on, but again the muffled sound of the recording on tape format functions to provide a grey hued atmosphere which adds rather than detracts. Thus, despite its clear limitations, there is still an ingrained level of darkly atmospheric charm.
If ‘crude’, ‘obscure’ and ‘lofi’ are descriptors for dungeon synth which spark interest, further investigation of The Lightless Lands is pretty much mandated. Although personally having owned the original tape since its original release way back in 1995, it is great to see Trapdoor Tapes have reissued this to give this underground obscurity greater prominence.