Dead Man’s Hill - Spirits [Steinklang Records - 2010]'Spirits' is the seventeenth release in seven years from Dead Man's Hill, the solo project of Belgian musician Bart Piette. Wearing its heart on a sleeve bearing a busily montaged selection of forest, flames, ghosts and ghoulish masks, the track titles appear to be suggesting a fantastical flight from a 'Road to Sweet Waters' leading to encounters with the Antichrist, the Spirits of Nature and an alternate reality no less, before returning home.
And the music couldn't be more immediately fitting as a marching soundtrack that takes the listener from one fighting fantasy episode to the next. Using a fixed arsenal of well-established, interchangeable musical cues and instruments, 'Spirits' eight tracks, spanning just over an hour, each plot digital martial rhythms and choral sound banks over synthesised strings and brass fanfares peppered with the odd whispered voice, sword slice and eerie swishing to convey the rousing and propulsive pomp of the fantasy genre, be it a Hollywood movie or RPG console game.
Indeed, tracks like 'And the Spirits of Nature' or the opening 'Road to Sweet Waters' are so familiar thanks to the current success of this genre that one is immediately placed not in an otherworld of elves or orcs, but in a cinema seat as the opening credits of the latest Harry Potter, The Mummy or Tolkien-based movie smoothly appear and dissolve. But whereas Hollywood can afford orchestras to add power to its hackneyed orchestrations, Piette's digital soundbanks, although sequenced with a professional, even romantic, touch, sap the grandeur from the anthems. Consequently 'Spirits' feels itself like library music for the computer games industry, heavy in action but light in ideas.Russell Cuzner