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Keys of Orthanc have released quite a peculiar album, all things considered. The band has a had a steady output of yearly music since their inception in 2018 and predominately played atmospheric black metal with hints of epic and ambient tendencies. However, amidst the MMXX plague and in between black metal releases, the two-piece black metal outfit decided to record and submit a pure ambient/dungeon synth album, fully recorded solely with keyboards. This came to me as a genuine surprise, discovering the album through Bandcamp’s metal section. After clicking play for the first time, I was delightfully greeted with some excellent, albeit a bit dry, dungeon synth. The genre is one I’ve had prolonged interest in, and Keys of Orthanc provided me the opportunity to listen to my very first dungeon synth album.
To begin with, the influences of the band are very much apparent and lend themselves to creating rich atmospheres in some of their songs. ‘Unfinished Conquests’ like the bands two other albums, all take inspiration from the mind of J.R.R Tolkien and his immaculate tales of fantasy and epic journeys. The album is lined and composed with a multitude of synthetic horns and brass, fashioning semi-dynamic melodies that alter between motivating marches, climbing triumphs, dastardly cave crawlings and everything else you associate with medieval trials. A standout track that does an amazing job of painting a true dungeon synth experience is ‘The Dragon’s Lair’. The track lulls you in with the sound of wind, then shifts to the sounds of a wary, minimal drum line, accented by the intimidating sounds of a dragon’s growl. It’s the exact kind of song you’d have on during a D&D session and is heightened by the album’s charming production. Every instrument, melody and sound effect reverberate as if it were recorded within a dark, dank dungeon, with the sounds echoing throughout the mossy walls. However, while the sound of the album is great, and the atmosphere is encapsulating at times, some aspects hold it back.
An issue I kept running into with the album was the style itself. ‘Unfished Conquests’ has several hints of styles that work for and against it. The biggest flaw in this department is how minimal it is at certain points. The music is never truly dynamic enough to feel like it’s telling a story, or at the very least, keep me interested in some tracks. The first track has the same, continuous martial drum pattern during the whole track. It never changes tempo and only has a small variety of keys to keep it from entirely boring. There are glimmers of hope, with the bizarre, almost synthwave like arrangement of the keyboards and their descending melodies, acting like a falling glitter of sunlight in a dark land. The album relies heavily not only on the melodies it can construct, but what it can construct them with. Another great example is the album’s second track ‘Never Forgotten Heroes of the Ages’. The rainy and damp intro, leading into the song’s strange yet endearing beat, all to the tune of murmuring horns and hammer strikes. Fortunately, my complaint of minimalism is limited to tracks 1 and 3, mostly because track 3 goes on for way too long, and the first track is meant to situate the listener.
For what it is, ‘Unfinished Conquests’ is a great album for Keys of Orthanc fans to listen to while the band works on their next black metal album. It shows that the band is willing and wants to provide fans with content, even if it isn’t what they expect, and I must respect that. And on its own, it still works as a firm ambient album, slow in some places but imaginative in most others. Out of the five tracks, at least one is bound to wrap your mind in the album’s cold fantasies of triumph, battle and victory.
Release date: July 24th, 2020
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