Generally speaking, dungeon synth is a genre that doesn’t do a lot for me. Too often it wanders off in an unfocused direction, or is let down by recording equipment that cannot possibly match up to the grandiose vision of its creators (a problem that plagues most genres when they try to achieve something bombastic and truly epic). It can be more successful when presented as background music, but once engaged with, the atmosphere and aura soon crumbles. As such, A Long Way Home by German artist Forgotten Pathways feels like something of an anomaly, in that it’s a dungeon synth record (or medieval ambient, as sole member Cedric Hommel also describes his music) that can be given close attention and still stand up strong, and possesses an unusually bright, vibrant sound, full of life and wonder, whilst also still possessing an undercurrent of darkness.
Drawing from old German fairy tales for initial inspiration, A Long Way Home certainly possesses a character that is beyond the ordinary. Indeed, to describe it as dungeon synth feels as if it is selling the music short – such a description usually implies a bleak murkiness, but A Long Way Home is more reminiscent of a forest with sunlight filtering through the trees. The sense of life that radiates throughout is undeniable, and is one of the most appealing aspects of the record. That’s not to say it is without darkness, though – where there is light there must also be shadow, and those old fairy tales possessed more than their fair share of cruelty and evil. “The Tomb Of A King” is a prime example, with haunting melodies and unsettling rhythms telling a tale of things better left untouched. Likewise, that it never goes for full-on bombast and pomp is to the credit of the album; there is something earthly and rooted about A Long Way Home in spite of its many symphonic moments that, in less skilled hands, would come across as tacky or amateurish.
This brings me on to another of the key strengths of A Long Way Home. Whilst the song titles themselves hint at stories and build a grand picture of a different place and time – “The Evil Queen”, “To New Shores”, “Her Frozen Palace” – it is the music that so successfully conveys the stories that Forgotten Pathways want to tell. It is only fitting that an album which looks back to old tales and legends passed down through the ages – prone to differing interpretation and variations – manages to tell stories in its own way whilst retaining the spirit of what it wishes to convey. It feels perfectly legitimate to consider it within the context of traditional folk music and storytelling – taking tales and music passed down from earlier generations, inherently tied with identity and belonging, and creating one’s own interpretation of it.
If one were to find flaw with the record, it’s that A Long Way Home does not always quite succeed in casting you under its spell, and that at 58 minutes it can feel like a fairly long album. But, this is more down to approaching the album in the right mindset and environment than anything the album does particularly wrong. Given time and space, A Long Way Home is a gripping saga of ancient tales. Credit also has to be given for the stunning artwork, created from linoleum cuts of 19th century drawings that not only fit in with, but enhance the atmosphere and effect of A Long Way Home. It speaks of a complete artistic vision, where every aspect is given thought and care. That all comes through in the album, making A Long Way Home appealing even to people – such as myself – who don’t normally care for such music.
A Long Way Home can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp; CD and cassette versions can also be purchased through Forgotten Pathways’ website, with the cassette version (limited to 100) including bonus tracks.