Sunday, April 2, 2023

Disharmonic Wake by Funeral Circus

Dungeon synth has gone ways on its current surge. It is no longer constrained to the tunnels but it comprises almost everything below and above ground in its themes, so it is quite remarkable to find something that is unlike anything else in the genre. Disharmonic Wake by Funeral Circus is the most deserving of the word "unique" than anything else that I have listened to or passed over. There are already many dark catacombs, adventuring quests, a handful of grandmas, albums of birds, critters, places and stuff, but nothing quite like this one.

I imagine its concept something like this: picture a children's book. By its nature, the characters and places are self-contained and everything out of its immediate scope doesn't exist. Everything that matters to it is already within, and has utmost importance, for if you were to take a described element out of it, it would derail the small cosmos. Now, picture furthermore that this children's book is a fun one; one about a circus. You have the ringleader, the animals, the clowns, the public, laughter and amazement, popcorn and candied apples, Giggles the chimp and Ruffian the lion. The story is always the same and each day is just like the last one. Now, what if in between readings one of the clowns died? What if he was the main character? This is what appears to be happening here.

Being a circus, the main synthesized instrument is a calliope that plays throughout the album.  Rather than playing in its universal cheerful tones, it is now toned down to play the mournful goodbye to the one deceased. At some point or other we hear clapping or heavy raindrops; I'm unsure which, but any of the two works. The tracks takes the listener from the initial realization of irreparable loss, to the funeral, to the procession to the burial ground, to the sadness of Gargantua, which might be a star elephant or the circus strongman, to the burial proper. It has taken me a long while to realize the built-in paradoxes in both "funeral circus" & "disharmonic wake", but maybe the kernel for the whole project arose from them. Appropriately, the album has a sonorous ovation to the departed near the end.

The cover art deserves a word or two. If you haven't seen it, there's a figure in an upright casket in motley attire. It doesn't look too pleased at its state, but seems accepting. Around it there are other figures bewailing the passing of the defunct as if something really bad, beyond the measure of a single person's death, had just happened. Understandable, up to a point, but by now the scene has turned really weird: the surrounding figures are all naked... and have no eyes. A serpent descends from above. Did I mention the skulls that litter the floor?

Regardless of the paradoxes (a clown shouldn't die, a calliope doesn't belong to funeral) and cover art, this album is pleasantly coherent and uncreepy: it does what it is set to do and doesn't get distracted by other ideas nor does it overplay its hand. In the end, it shows that a wake can be disharmonic and do it right.

I'm really curious what the cover artist and composer wished to convey. I learned about this project and album from the Dungeon Synth Zine (which I plan on not reading anymore of it until they remove the unexplained sigil from the cover or something), but know of no interviews. There's been only this album released so far, but an upcoming one may be on the works as there's a tiktok video telling so. The artist appears to be active on other music genres as well. Despite being a fine album, being reviewed on the zine and having memorable logo for the project, a crying clown, Disharmonic Wake has been criminally overlooked by the fans since its release. This one well deserves a listen for its unusual take and the future cassette release that has been alluded to (if it hasn't happened yet): I know you are out there- you record label owners that are always on the hunt for new material- why not lend a hand? But above all, from the fans this album needs more love.

Update 6/3/23

Turns out that Disharmonic Wake isn't as unique as I thought. There's another 'Clown'  project that even predates Funeral Circus by a month or so. Pooter the Clown has a different scope, but thought I should mention it.

In it, Pooter is shown that either a) he has some serious troubles in his life; or that b) he has been kidnapped by an underground tribe of goblins, forced to perform for them (with the occasional day off) and his attempted escape.


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