Italian independent label Dornwald Records have unleashed a dark monstrosity with their Forest Of Thorns compilation. It’s an excellent release, a whopping sixteen tracks, big enough to rival Godzilla, drawing artists from around the globe into its spiral of leaves.
An eerie, dark sunshine settles over the music: one shrouded in a perpetual eclipse. Starting off in the 20’s and 30’s with some very-old-school sounds, and a hauntological reminiscence among a curtain of cobwebs, the compilation acts as a signpost pointing to the label’s upcoming direction, which on this basis will lean more towards evocative ambient soundscape and dark experimentalism, shifting between the alarming, the nightmarish, and an ethereal, reverential calm.
As listeners, we visit a séance, which is receiving a supernatural visit itself, as well as being privy to recordings from mediums and their “encounters” with the other side. Authentic or forged? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because the atmosphere twists into a dark web from which no escape is ever possible. Dornwald call it ‘dungeon synth’. Think the inescapable dungeons in Fatal Labyrinth on the Sega Genesis, where you’d have to start all over from the beginning if you ran out of HP. It’s that horrific. The record also sidles up to industrial, experimental, and dark ambient.
The path on the cover photograph leads to a medieval hermitage in the Ascoli Piceno’s province, which has natural arches of branches, giving all who walk through a sensation of being entangled by the forest.
The path…is also a symbol of decadence and abandon, due to the fact that the mentioned hermitage has now been left in ruins by human disregard for the jewels of the past.
The compilation entangles the listener, too. Gloomy sounds sweep over the listener. The branches stretch their thin, sharp arms like a malignant Treebeard, scratching against clothing, ruining expensive shirts. Voices, either apparitions or people who have lost their tour guide, appear in between the branches, covering everything save for a pair of staring eyes. Shuddering, cavernous beats hide lurking terrors, and the atmosphere wouldn’t seem out of place in a horror film; Lustmord levels of darkness. There are elements of dark fantasy, too, with equal amounts of wonder and danger, bringing to mind something like The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. Tinkling bells offer a view of an enchanted place, a sprinkling of magic…but this place doesn’t seem to care for your welfare. This ain’t The Hundred-Acre Wood, but neither has it been totally shunned. Travellers still walk its paths, albeit alone.
Old bells toll in the ancient, nearby town. Over the years, what was once perhaps a chapel has been brought to ruin, with only a couple of heavy, misshapen stones acting as reminders and physical remains. So come, walk into its arms, its circular vortex, separated from all else, severed from the times and the passing years.
It won’t bite. Much. (James Catchpole)