Keys of Orthanc
Dush agh Golnauk

per the Lord of the Rings wiki compendium, Orthanc is the black tower of Isengard where resides the corrupt wizard, Sarumon.  Keys of Orthanc are an atmospheric black metal band whose identity is firmly obvious, belonging to a near endless metal museum wing of bands using the formative Tolkien universe for which to base their music.  I’ve mentioned in other reviews how incredibly over-mined this is in metal. So why proverbially rap readers upon the head with my most petrified and magical staff, blathering doggedly on about Dush agh Golnauk?  Well…read the continued infernal blathering to follow (translated from Rohirric so you can read it in this realm).

Personally, the Lord Of The Ring theme won’t perk my interest.  At least not alone.  Dush agh Golnauk came up some afternoon where I just let Youtube’s algorithm have at it (Sometimes you just have to live and let Sauron, am I right).  Naturally, when you do that, Sauron inevitably plays a bunch of ludicrously overstuffed epic black metal.  Most of which is produced in worship to his own fantastical malevolence (quite narcisstic, Sauron).  None the less, at some point my attention was alerted for what seemed an interesting reason to me: Keys of Orthanc pulled back the dragon’s reins on their songs.  In the way that a good soundtrack stirs a viewer’s reaction and enhances a scene, but doesn’t distract from it. Instead of a bombastic glut of layered audio tracks all pushing, pulling, and wowing the listener through symphonic exhaustion, Keys of Orthanc’s music unfolds in measured reveals of detail the way world building does in the best of fantasy literature.  All of the touchstones one expects of this brand of black metal is there but played more so in the pocket, making for a flowing album where the listener might suddenly find themselves whisked into the arch of.

The restraint, whether the band consciously writes with that intent or it’s a natural outcome, does them nothing but favors.  Turns out it’s not a matter of consciousness, however.  Just that they’re from Quebec Canada.  The French heritage is certainly a factor.  Separated by a vast ocean, and 150 years since under French authority, the connection is unbroken.  Black metal from this province always has a subtleness.  No matter how necro or bleak the band goes for there is an unmistakable air of sophistication, or ‘refined arrogance’, if you will.  The interplay between synth melodies and guitar riffs tasteful and fluid.  Rolling passages of anticipation release cause an emotional entanglement like that of two dragons free falling, twisted in struggle, mutually releasing each other moments before earthly impact, then fleeing to regain strength but ultimately returning to continue the fight in cycles.  Their respective riders on the ground waging a simultaneous battle of concentrated magic.  Keys of Orthanc do the job of pulling you into the drama classic stakes of good versus evil.  Credit in part goes to their pacing from the ominous but pleasant fantasy-synth intro of “Satum”, the beautiful yet dangerous allure of “Ringwraiths”, and through to grand finale “The White Wizard”.

The album features various valleys and peaks but all of them seem to serve the story which gives the whole album a sense of purpose, or utility.  For instance, “Ringwraiths”, and following track “Witchking” feature awesomely campy, otherworldly vocal additions that must serve to mark a certain place in the story.  “Mor Gashnum” begins with melancholy distorted guitar utterances before a sudden all-in mid-paced dirge.  I imagine the whole Gandalf squad hiking intently through the highlands into winding mountain side paths; the final push to destiny.  “The White Wizard” begins a with bright, majestic guitar riff and cymbal accents that move to a darker storm front as the song really starts, double kick plodding with greater urgency and an alternating mid-paced to half speed part builds tension before starkly breaking form into a full black metal blast.  At 4:14 soaring synth lines steal the show as the story lunges into epic conflict at the site of the monolithic Orthanc fortification.  Truly a Dolby 7.1 surround sound section of the album.

Rather suddenly the battle resolves and the “Outro” emerges as minor variation of intro “Satum”.  Credits figuratively begin to slowly scroll in the mind’s projector but, processing the emotive peak I just went through, I’ll be sticking around until the production company’s logo appears and lights slowly come up.  Dush agh Golnauk makes for excellent popcorn fare as Keys of Orthanc condense what would be a 3 hour film into a neat 35 minute album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mars Budziszewski
June 5th, 2018


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