It begins with little more than a series of pinprick little notes. They are sharp and almost like the melody of a child’s lullaby, but tense and staggered. Something pulsating rises up underneath. Percussion signals the ritual. It is an omen of things to come (and so is this). Let the deep horror come marching forth into the light.
Spectral Child waste little time making it apparent how much they owe to horror film score in Moribund Kingdom, a bold collision of John Carpenter, dungeon synth and gothic soundscapes. It’s more eclectic than dungeon synth is typically known for being, and haunting in more ways than one. Take the opening cut ‘An Omen of Things to Come’. It swiftly sets up a gothic atmosphere with images of dilapidated mountainside castles springing to mind immediately, but also evokes gothic romance with the startling tender bridge later in the track. Lesser artists might have lingered too much on the horror and not the fleeting beauty and happiness.
‘Batten Down the Hatches’ could be called cheesy with its eccentric Halloween vibe, but is too catchy to deny. By contrast, ‘Existential Dread’ sounds precisely as its name implies, clawing forward with taut and unnerving movements. Rather than the cheap plonky keyboards many probably first think of when reminded of dungeon synth, Moribund Kingdom is full of gorgeously realized sounds, somehow managing to evoke older horror fare with transparently modern-sounding synths and techniques.
Certainly tracks like the gargantuan thirteen minute closer ‘Death Dirge’ or some of the creepier early cuts will catch the ear first, but it’s the tender moments that most impress. ‘Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends’ is perhaps the best piece here, a stirring and melancholic song with just a dash of hope mixed in, a light from within the recesses of this very old and dying place that’s been evoked from the start. In light of how 2020 has gone so far, that’s something that many would do well to be reminded of, that even in the dark and fantastical realm that Spectral Child conjure there is something beautiful and hopeful still living there.
Moribund Kingdom is being re-released on cassette on 30th October by Trepanation Recordings and can be ordered here.
Words: Brett Tharp