Album Title: 
The Old Labyrinth
Release Date: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Review Type: 

Some might recognize the name Ian ‘Mully’ Mullinger from his assistance with Vallenfyre (at that time, this band also included members from Brujeria, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride). Others might know him from the EBM / Dark Techno / Synthwave project Electric Dragon. Yet recently, I.M. (Ian’s artistic name for this new project) also started a new outfit, Caerdroia, which is named after an ancient maze or labyrinth in the fields, used for ceremonial dances.

This new Yorkshire-based project delves in spheres of Dark Ambient, Medieval Folk and Dungeon Synth. For the first release as Caerdroia, I.M. did choose the title The Old Labyrinth, which does refer to the project’s moniker – and referring as well to the multiple-diversified sonic approach, being that old (especially Welsh) labyrinthian structure, where rituals took place, as perfect metaphor for the varied (yet very cohesive) compositions. Anyway, the result is, as said, an extremely varied yet intensively coherent adventure, with keyboards (like the post-archaic Casio SK-1) and voices, Soma Terra synths, field-recorded additions (plus voices), percussions and additional strings (such as violin).

There’s a very limited physical edition, being a cassette-one, but it’s almost sold-out. At this time of posting my review, the physical editions might be gone (and sorry, but I got one of those, because I was prejudiced). It does (did) come with explicit artwork from Ukrainian artist Serhiy Krykun, referring to the obscure, ritualistic and occult content of the aural essence behind The Old Labyrinth.

Since about each piece floats in comparable yet stylistically different spheres, I will give a brief description on each of them.

The Marsh Phantoms (02:32): this piece starts quite victorious as from the start, with some down-tuned synths, the sound of crows, and militant drums. Soon things evolve, expand, painting heroic visions that are as bleak as they are ominous. This is the kind of old-schooled Dungeon Synth that narrates about glory and doom…

Frozen Plateau (04:14): … goes on in the vein of the opening track, yet with a richer instrumental palette and a more nostalgic approach. The long-stretched synth-lines are modestly injected with additional sounds (like the sound of galloping hooves and blowing wind) and some eerie effects. Somehow the first half gets surrounded by a veil of magic and epicism, while the second part fades back into coldness, integrity, doom. Here too, the multiple layers of keyboard harmonies reveals multifarious levels of beauty and intrigue.

The Cursed Ship (03:57): … brings a rather medieval approach during its first half. It creates a vision of a distant light beneath a grey mist, smoothly balancing in between blinding darkness and illuminated revelation. It’s mysterious, even mythic and enigmatic, caressing a certain connectedness with Mater Terra and the spirits of nature. Yet as from half of the track, things turn much darker, almost frightening. The use of many drum beats evokes a sense of martial strength, while the ominous synth-melodies have a hypnotic and belligerent effect.

Flooded Halls (03:48): more than before, a hint of Lovecraftian Ambient seems to crawl out of a forgotten void. Creepy loops, eldritch noises, post-industrial field recordings; it’s a precarious adventure that dwells beneath the surface. There’s a continuous evolution, like a lurking fear moving closer, step by step, slow yet inevitable…

A Skeleton’s Tale (04:20): with this track, Caerdroia enters the mysterious worlds of Nordic Folk / Norse Music. Mouth-harp, shamanistic melodies, mesmerizing strings, throat singing, ethereal choir chanting, ritualistic percussions; this epic wanders around in ancient woods, narrating about ceremonial practices, accompanying the listener through an intrinsic journey of concept and rite.

Plague Procession (03:07): ... starts very obscure, with those church bells, ritual drum beats and gloomy synth-lines. After two minutes, dreamy strings join, adding a sense of wonder, followed somewhat later by another low-toned string-section, delving deeper into the pit of man’s fate, before trespassing reason and mind with that disturbing (yet well-thought) grand finale.

Offer Blood, Offer Flesh (03:53): here too, asphyxiating obscurity and bewitching doom are the main theme. Many beautiful yet truly ghostly and ghastly layers of keyboard-driven craft, assisted by reverberating beats, open a portal to a forbidden dimension. This track also comes with creepy blackened voices, which are both haunting and wretched, bringing forth a spectral atmosphere.

The Embrace Of Spectres (03:40): compared to the doomed former composition, this one is little more organic and energetic, yet at least as claustrophobic. Electronic and metallic details, crackling and noisy additions, lunatic loops and importunate textures, it makes The Embrace Of Spectres the most daring, and most frantic track on this album.

Forgotten Graves (02:54): … opens mesmeric once again, with analgesic synths at first. This evolves into a richer context, with pushing percussions, abundant strings / synths (with quite some variation), and blackish vocals.

Lower Ritual Tunnel (03:28): as from the start, the kinetic energy leads the listener on an adventure of marvel and volition. Uplifting drum patterns act like an unstoppable drive, while an amalgam of eerie synths, additional noises, provoking whispers (I think) and other percussions cover this dynamic spine into a dreadful corpus.

Charnel Pit (03:34): … is a hymn of symphonic power, with these vigorous orchestration, ethereal wind instruments / percussions / chimes, a naughty hint of Winter Synth, and sinister soundwaves. The addition of wretched voices and macabre strings (violin or cello toward the end?) adds a level of darkened mystique.

Give Thyself Back To The Sea (03:14): this some is the most intimate and moving one, in essence based on almost esoteric choir chants with both male and female voices. This gets interspersed by field-recorded samples, like waves on a (Welsh?) shore, and appended by doleful and aggrieved key-harmonies.

The Old Labyrinth is one huge, epic aural voyage through obscure, ceremonial and spiritual spheres, creating a sonic galaxy of awe, apprehension, risk and phenomenon. Each listen creates new insight behind the many aspects that characterise this strongly diversified recording. As for now, it isn’t but a first effort by Caerdroia, yet I do hope it is not the last one! Recommended!