When you break almost every rule of a genre you ostensibly belong to, you need to keep the connection going somehow. Dungeon synth project Digre deviates from almost every standard of the young genre (which, by the way, was honored with its very own Bandcamp piece yesterday). Rather than RPG:s, Fantasy or traditional black metal themes like occultism and nature romanticism, Digre is founded upon Orthodox Christian beliefs and traditions. The choice of “instruments” are also different from all other bands in the genre, with the possible exception of Moaning Shadows. Using 8-bit emulation, Digre sounds more video gamey than any DS act actually based on video games, so that this becomes more a point of difference than one of commonality.
One thing, if nothing else, Digre seems to have in common with its many young dungeon synth companions: prolificity and a high release tempo. It was not even a month ago I had the pleasure to review Martyryxan, and already a promo-copy of the already available sequel lay downloaded upon my hard drive.
The Way of a Pilgrim begins with what can only be described as a medieval/orthodox version of the first moments of the original Metroid for the NES. Deep, Famitracker generated bass notes are soon complemented by lighter, melodic, equally Famitracker generated melodies. The stage has been set for yet another epic of Orthodox Christian Chiptune Dungeon Synth (God, I love writing for Archaic Triad). The liner notes for this second effort do not explicitly mention any musical source material, and it is a fair guess that a larger portion of the music here has been composed by Digre himself, rather than transcribed and arranged from choir books. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the utilization of Famitracker can but force comparisons to various Nintendo Entertainment System classics from the days of yore.
Chiptune and other 8-bit NES-influenced music usually draws more or less consciously on the soundtracks of games like the Mega Man and Castlevania series. The almost (though not literal, as Digre has explained elsewhere) liturgical melodies of Digre invite other references, though. The most obvious ones I can dig up from my childhood NES memory library would be Faxanadu, Shadow Gate, Swords and Serpents and perhaps especially Wizards and Warriors. Additionally, on the fifth track, there is what somewhat improbably sounds like an intentional tribute to MAD Magazine based game Spy vs. Spy. In all these cases, the game music is slow, non percussive and longingly melancholic. When Digre is around, there is no rock’n roll, even by proxy.
The concept of the album is clearly explained on the release page: it is based on a manuscript found in Mount Athos monastery in 1860, detailing the pilgrimage of a Russian mendicant. He travels towards Jerusalem, visiting inns and churches on his journey, interacting with various people, all the while developing spiritually. Indeed, the concept is not entirely dissimilar to a Fantasy story, except it is largely historical and has a very different mental framwork than your average Sword and Sorcery yarn.
The Way of a Pilgrim is yet another great piece of dungeon synth art from Digre. The album is available for digital download for a measly 2 Euro from Digre’s Bandcamp page, and severely recommended. We’re going to need physical versions of this, folks.