So this is gonna be kind of a weird review, as I’m going to be saying two very contradictory things. Point 1: this is one of the best places to start if you are getting into dungeon synth, period. The most universal answer to the age old “where do I start?” question when getting into dungeon synth has always been “Depressive Silence II”, followed often by “if you don’t like that don’t bother with anything else”. And while I generally agree with that, I think it’s a little disingenuous to imply you can’t possibly start anywhere else.
The biggest reason people recommend DS II is mostly because it is by far the signal most famous dungeon synth release ever, and arguably the best. However what most people don’t think about is that it’s actually not a great introduction to the genre as a whole because quite frankly, not too much other dungeon synth sounds like DS II. As a whole, that album is in a style and class that is for the most part, on it’s own in terms of dungeon synth history. Whereas album the likes of Erang’s Another World Another Time, Summoning’s Lost Tales, or Secret Stairways Turning Point (Enchantment of the Ring is better, but Turning Point is most standard and a better introduction to the genre as a whole imo) are all albums who’s sounds can be rightly applied to a large portion of the genre’s content, which makes them overall better introductions.
The Vale of Ruined Towers falls under this category, and honestly in terms of modern albums, I’m probably recommend this as a starting point to people around 8/10 times, maybe 9/10. Nothing here is extraordinarily challenging, while putting forth all of the cornerstones of the dungeon synth musical sound in one relatively short package. If you don’t enjoy this, I really think you won’t enjoy any dungeon synth, you can’t really get more quality and basic than this. And to a degree, I’m glad albums like this exist. While Dungeon Synth is known for it’s absurd experimentation and high variance in not only quality, but musical ideas, having artists and albums that serve as a rock and base for the genre’s existence ensures that no matter how long people make dungeon synth, there will always be a place for music based on the roots. I think that’s what keeps genres going all these years, as we’ve seen with black metal in particular.
That said, I think this album’s value drops greatly when you’ve heard something like it before, or really have done repeated listens to it. I think Sequestered Keep is generally an overrated artist as a whole (although still decent), and while I definitely think this is his best effort, I can’t help but think his value as an artist stops at “good entry point”. For as damn well as the formula is executed here, dungeon synth is one of those genres that needs something extra to sink your teeth into, or some kind of unique variation to really stand out and enjoy on a deeper level in my opinion.
This is a good album and I would highly recommend this to those unfamiliar with dungeon synth as a whole, but seasoned listeners should probably save themselves multiple listens and just enjoy it once for what it is.