The ambient hut: Invgarr

The Hopeless Resistance of Emberdrin’s Army

As if endeavouring to elevate the aesthetic standing of archetypically traditional dungeon synth, Italy’s Ingvarr attempt to bring greater depth and nuance to what is otherwise thematically well trodden ground for the genre. Dungeon synth prides itself on – and presents as absurd because of – it’s allowance for weighty conceptual material lifted from the fantastical, historical, or mythological archives. It is both a source of pride and impenetrable irony that the means by which it expresses such lofty subject matter is through music not only humble in raw content, but proudly synthetic in origin.

As a contemporary addition to the canon, Ingvarr’s ‘The Hopeless Resistance of Emberdrin’s Army’ fits within a marked trend toward more ambitious orchestration and compositional symphonics within the genre. The means are still decidedly artificial, deploying a host of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion to render these pieces of basic but not unartistic orchestration.

Balancing the near limitless possibilities afforded by today’s home recording setups with the rigour of adhering to dungeon synth’s proudly DIY aesthetic has proved to be beyond Ingvarr’s many contemporaries however. A brief survey of comparable releases will find an overwhelming and monotonous array of cinematic string tones, lumpy orchestration, and a cacophony of swelling crescendos with little narrative architecture to justify their placement.

In this context ‘The Hopeless Resistance of Emberdrin’s Army’ deserves to be singled out for its restraint as much as its rich arrangement. Sure, Invgarr throw enough epic string textures around to satisfy the most adventurous fantasies of the adolescent gamer. But this is offset by a marked intuition for the subtle craft of contrast, tension, and earned finales via patient builds. Eerie choral textures, choppy percussion, passages of restrained textural deployments, all serve to elevate the more bombastic side of Ingvarr’s musical desires.

It should also be noted that Invgarr displays an acute awareness of the raw musical qualities of different synth patches and how to deploy them for greater effect. For instance, a rich string sound with abundant depth and overtones works best if articulating melodic or harmonic material and not as an ambient backdrop, the latter of which tends to overwhelm the mix with informational clutter. Or that whilst pizzicato strings work well as accents for a pre-elaborated sonic profile, when used solo they can build tension, and perform a dual function as self-conscious percussive accompaniments to legato horns or brass.

These are basic but effective choices that grant this album a great deal of extra mileage than it would otherwise have. So expressive is Ingvarr’s melodic character on ‘The Hopeless Resistance of Emberdrin’s Army’ that we are almost tempted to remove the dungeon synth tag altogether, along with its charmingly comedic connotations, maybe instead labelling this fantasy/medieval ambient as some practitioners in the field are wont to do. Whatever the descriptor, any tourist from the borders of metal will find a satisfyingly complete musical picture to sink their teeth into on this release when taken against the current competition.

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