A Hunter’s Delight
Frost Clad embody so many of dungeon synth’s internal contradictions it’s actually rather difficult to keep track. ‘A Hunter’s Delight’ positions itself as a reverential dedication to the simple pleasures of the hunter gatherer, via self-consciously naïve cover art in the aesthetic of a children’s fairy story, and a small clutch of gentle, tentative pieces of minimalist dungeon synth. The music itself pivots on light staccato flourishes and simple interweaving looped melodic lines as opposed to washed out orchestral patches or bombastic brass.
The centre of the mix is kept remarkably stark. This leaves the light refrains that delicately prance across each track looking remarkably isolated. They sing into the emptiness all around them. Thus in this regard Frost Clad have thoroughly achieved their aim of encapsulating the ghostly wildlife that inhabits the planet’s Northern climbs, and the tribes of people that once stalked their migrations.
Heavy on concept, light on execution, this album is the reason people are both repelled by and attracted to this genre. The atmosphere is undeniable, the sweet naivety of it oddly addictive. But one cannot help but notice the dearth of substance across these gentle tonal poems. The pieces set the scene wonderfully, encased as they are within the philosophy of minimalism, it would be entirely inappropriate to wish for greater musical activity. But it seems that Frost Clad are unsure of how to advance these broad ideas into a richer artistic expression.
If we were to be charitable, and read “beyond” the music, the obvious fact is that this artist just wanted to write some light ambience inspired by remote hunter gatherer peoples, the extra-musical implication being a yearning for those lost skills, wildernesses, and lifestyles that speak of a blunt simplicity so lacking in the complex nexus of contemporary existence. But then we come to the wonderful contradiction at the heart of a lot of dungeon synth. The means by which this is expressed is through midi banks, synthetic instrumentation, modernist approaches to cyclical melodic flourishes…or riffs, there’s even a piano sound on the track ‘The Hunt Master’, artificial of course, but an artificial rendering of an instrument that embodies everything about the music of civilisation; mechanistic, ordered, complex, and physically static, indicative of communal fixity, weighty and difficult to move, ill fitting for the fluid mobility of hunter gatherer communities.
Now this may be a worthlessly tangential reading of ‘A Hunter’s Delight’. The album knows what its origins are in physical reality, born of synthesizers and all too modern interpretations of the past. Much like black metal is aware that for all its anti-modernist raving it is after all a product of post war capitalist production. But here the naivety is brought into even sharper relief. Not just a childlike re-imagining of lost people’s, places, and practices, but a re-imagining in the most risk-averse, straightforward manner possible. The life of scarcity, immediacy, and craved for simplicity that Frost Clad pay homage to is rendered in the most tentatively fragile of lights, one step below romanticisation, boxed off in idle adoration. Or to put it in more general terms, the very essence of a guilty pleasure.