Lately, John Darnielle’s output — both as the creative leader of The Mountain Goats and as an individual entity — has read like a laundry list of his interests: full-length concept pieces about wrestling and goth culture, a collaborative podcast about his most beloved songs, and a couple novels for good measure. Now, we have another look into the inner workings of Darnielle’s life with In League with Dragons, a 12-song album due out in April about the beloved tabletop role-playing game/lifestyle Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s small wonder that Darnielle hasn’t already crafted an album about D&D, given the extensive mythologizing and cult status that surrounds it. The album’s lead single “Younger” reads like a shadowy, rollicking mini-epic, and ends on an unexpected, but wholly awesome saxophone outro — the sort of instrumental backing you’d want to commence a hero’s journey. He brands it “dragon noir.”
Darnielle writes about In League with Dragons:
This album began life as a rock opera about a besieged seaside community called Riversend ruled by a benevolent wizard, for which some five to seven songs were written. When I’m focusing on a project, I always distract myself from the through-line with multiple byways, which are kind of like mini-games within the broader architecture of a long video game. As I worked on the Riversend stuff, weird noir visions started creeping in, probably under the influence of Leonardo Sciascia (a Sicilian author, he wrote mysteries) and Ross MacDonald’s The Zebra-Striped Hearse, which a friend from Port Washington gave me while I was in the thick of the writing. I thought these moods helped complicate the wizards and dragons a little, and, as I thought about my wizard, his health failing, the invasion by sea almost certain to wipe out half his people, I thought about what such a person might look like in the real world: watching a country show at a midwestern casino, or tryout pitching for an American League team years after having lit up the marquees. Finally, I wrote the title track, which felt like a drawing-together of the themes in play: rebellion against irresistible tides, the lush vistas of decay, necessary alliances. I am earnestly hoping that a new genre called “dragon noir” will spring from the forehead of nearly two years’ work on these songs, but, if not, I am content for this to be the sole example of the style.
(If you’re a player, or a Mountain Goats fan, Darnielle is hosting a premiere event with the creators of Dungeons & Dragons Monday afternoon on Magic: The Gathering’s Facebook page.)
In League With Dragons is out April 26 on Merge.