The ambient hut: Drunemeton

Recital to the Shining Moon

Breaking with dogma somewhat (and in 1996 no less), Drunemeton attempt to exert a degree of organic musicality across ‘Recital to the Shining Moon’ by sincerely engaging with the alleged neoclassical lineage of dungeon synth. An album constructed almost entirely from piano licks, but one that deploys organs, orchestra hits, and cheap string sounds to great effect, the lo-fi cassette rip quality gives the music the look and feel of an old recording of a classical concert or the grainy, gothic charm of German Expressionist films. A ghostly ambience positions itself between the listener and the recording, lending it a degree of distance, slipping over the material like a cloak of etherealism.

Drunemeton take their revelries in dungeon synth’s self-imposed limitations in a strikingly different direction to many that followed. The piano sound may be cheap, the interchanges between string punches and interweaving arpeggios a little hammy, but what comes to the surface regardless is the latent organicism beneath these cheap aesthetic flourishes. There is real musicianship here. The piano is played with an unrestrictive rubato that gives these pieces their sense of freedom and drama. Crescendos are real and earned, the music has a non-linear and unpredictable flow, the emotional core does not limit itself to mere program music as is so often the case with dungeon synth. There is an improvisational play that keeps one engaged.

That being said, despite the obviously intimate knowledge that Drunemeton has with classical theory, the pieces themselves seemed to be caught in a constant overture. On a technical level it bears many hallmarks of Romantic era piano music, but structurally it sticks closer to a looseness and spontaneity of delivery that brings it closer to modern iterations of neoclassical as expressed through artificial or electronic timbral means. One might find the constant fraught state of the music, the high drama, the ceaseless builds to crescendo with little in the way of stabilising connecting threads a little exhausting, or stylistically hard to swallow (the near comically theatrical string attacks and blast-beat of orchestra hits on ‘The Dancing Frost’ is borderline avant-garde).

But if one situates ‘Recital to the Shining Moon’ within the thread of black metal adjacent ambient music of the 1990s onwards, it stands as a remarkably fresh, lively, and imaginative work. One that integrates the prized naivety and fantastical atmospheres of dungeon synth with technical ability and musical knowledge that are put to use in their communication of substantive and oftentimes challenging musical ideas.

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