Shadow of the Raven
Nox Arcana, 2007
Where would Goths be without Edgar Allen Poe? America’s doomed dark poet surged Old World gloom toward the mind-sick horrors of a dawning modern age. Poe’s ripe terrors have inspired artists, filmmakers, musicians, and absinthe-swilling game designers. It’s no surprise, then, that RPG soundtrack artists Nox Arcana have based this album off his work. And it’s also no surprise that — despite deliciously Goth intentions — they fall far short of Poe.
Joseph Vargo and William Piotrowski have carved out an entertaining geek-culture niche by recording soundtracks for fantasy reading and roleplaying games. Their efforts — especially Blood of the Dragon and Darklore Manor — evoke the charming cheesiness of 1970s Halloween albums and 1980s barbarian flicks. If you like this sort of thing (and I do), Nox Arcana provides fun background music for RPGs or bouts of fevered emo poetry. That said, their efforts lack depth, originality, and insight. Nox Arcana crafts dark fluff but little more.
This superficiality seems especially glaring when wedded to Edgar Allen Poe. Despite his purple prose, Poe uncovered the most disturbing contours of the human condition. The minor-key synthwork and creeeee-peeeee sound effects of Vargo and Piotrowski sound ludicrous when combined with titles like “The Pit and the Pendulum” or “Midnight Dreary,” and are downright laughable on tracks like “The Black Cat” and “Darkest Hour.” The latter features Nox Arcana’s signature drawback: ponderous voice-overs that are supposed to sound spooooky but wind up siiiiilly. This device bookends the album, opening it with a faux-Poe lament, then closing with an excerpt from “The Raven” and a premature burial play that have been stuck into an otherwise silent virus track… a gimmick, incidentally, that I’ve hated since the 1990s. Guys — if you’re reading this, please ditch the voice-overs — they detract from both music and mood.
The music itself makes a fun soundtrack for rainy afternoons and Call of Cthulhu marathons. Standout tracks like “Masque of the Red Death,” “Lenore,” “Melancholia,” and “Legacy of Sorrow” meld spirals of Gothic organ and chanting choruses with pealing bells and slicing flourishes of violin. Most of the voices and instrumentation, however, is synthesized, robbing this Shadow of the impact it might have had with more organic instruments. So musically, Shadow of the Raven is competent but not inspired.
The truly Poe-etic madness of Elend or Diamonda Galas is missing from this album. I enjoy Nox Arcana, but Poe they aren’t. Folks craving Gothic witchery may be amused, but I doubt they’ll feel fulfilled.
RATING: 2½ Broomsticks
This review first appeared in newWitch #18