Frostfall by Mountain Realm (Review)

Inspired by classic/retro RPGs, Simon Heath’s dungeon synth is no less evocative than his work in Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun.
Frostfall - Mountain Realm

Simon Heath knows a thing or two about creating haunting, evocative soundscapes, both as the founding member of Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun as well as the proprietor of Cryo Chamber, one of the most prolific and respected ambient labels around. It therefore comes as no surprise that his recently launched Mountain Realm project is plenty evocative in its own right.

But whereas Atrium Carceri conjures shadowy dark ambience and Sabled Sun imagines a bleak sci-fi future, Mountain Realm is inspired by classic role-playing games (both computer and pen-and-paper). Indeed, Frostfall, along with last year’s Grayshadow Ruins, is the perfect soundtrack for those D&D sessions where the party explores the gloomy ruins of an ancient civilization, makes their way across the treacherous crags of a barren mountain range, or delves into the deepest, dankest caverns with nothing but a torch (or light cantrip) to guide their way. (It doesn’t hurt that Cryo Crypt’s artwork resembles that of vintage RPG manuals.)

As befitting the dungeon synth genre, Heath’s sonics are simpler, less polished, and more lo-fi than those heard in his other projects. His synths sound like ancient relics and artifacts shaking off the dust of time. But when combined with the occasional field recording and a melodicism faintly reminiscent of Joy Electric’s own medieval experiments on We Are the Music Makers, Frostfall possesses a quality that in its best moments — e.g., “Whitebark Forest,” “Brother,” “The Seers Laid” — proves quite elegiac and otherworldly.

I enjoy dungeon synth because, for all of its fantasy/RPG trappings and aesthetic choices — which stem from black metal’s strident lo-fi sensibilities — there’s something delightfully un-pretentious about it. The genre’s best — which, in my book, certainly includes Mountain Realm — have an earnestness and lack of guile that makes it all the easier to surrender one’s imagination to their gloomily fantastical compositions.

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