Theatre of Mystery
It is 2017 and I’m trying to figure out this puzzle. To remain in this dungeon synth scene that I have invested time and written articles about, I had to be one of the people who got these tapes. I also hate puzzles and to purchase these mystery tapes I have to solve one to get to the purchase page. There are trees on the screen and I have to click the right one and if I don’t I get sent back to the beginning. Why could I not have chosen a different micro genre to get into with less puzzles.
The first eight (tapes) were acquired in the same way, following clues hidden around the Path of Silence website, digging far enough to get to the secret page. Again, these were released in sets of two. After eight releases, things were growing faster than expected and it seemed that people were finding The Order too easily. I changed course to take things more offline and started a physical mail order operation where people would receive an order form and send back cash payment for the tapes. This new puzzle was a bit more elaborate. One would still have to find the hidden page through the typical means, only now they were met with a password request. The password could only be gleaned through a very obscure prose email sent to those who signed up for the new Path of Silence email list. After passing that, they were prompted to email a key phrase with their physical mailing info. If the phrase wasn’t included, they were rejected. After some time, they’d receive the order form in the mail. If I received order forms from those not on the list, they were rejected. To tie all of this together with another blanket of difficulty, everyone with knowledge of the label was sworn to a vow of secrecy: “do not mark the path, let others find their way.” Everyone had to find everything on their own. This exclusivity made it rather hard for some, but this was part of the journey.
There are many things unknown about Order of the Weeping Willow and all of it is because of design. The Order was a secret tape label which ran from 2017-2022 and operated through virtual word of mouth. These tapes could only be acquired by knowing about them and then journeying through an elaborate series of puzzles which over the years became more complex and cryptic. Its artists were secret (even to other participating musicians) and its consumers were asked not to talk about the details. In return one would get a tape of music that was almost designed for them. It was a pin or crest that would serve as their only memento into a clandestine club.
The Order was a sub-project to Path of Silence, a slightly less secret but still esoteric label which shipped their tapes with physical objects which represented the artists work. Path of Silence is still operational and so is Malfortune Discs, a similar label which does DIY CDr releases. The Order was an early and extreme example of secret labels whose aesthetic can be seen in recent DIY labels like Verdant Wisdom, Lost Armour, Stench Ov Death, Ithildin Tape Production, and Windkey Tapes. All of them use the absence of details and promotion as a part of a production to be performed in the age of information.
The secrecy of the label extended to the artists themselves. All projects lived and died with The Order, meaning they could not release music with said project elsewhere and could not reveal their identity. In some sense this is the curse of being a member of The Order, that their work was destined to remain in obscurity.
When I would post pictures of my tape collection users would comment with emojis of trees as some sort of secret language identifying themselves a part of the arcane fraternity of users who were around at that time and place.. These tapes were not mentioned by name but rather the “things which should not exist.” Buying mystery tapes by inputting your payment into a form which looked like you were going to get scammed was fun in 2017. This was a game for dungeon synth artists and fans who passed the time on forums and chat groups by making things up and playing pretend. If any genre was ready for a secret label it was dungeon synth in 2017.
Dungeon synth is a unique genre in that it has an accelerated history due to it always being online. There seemed to be a race to see who could be more obscure and mysterious in an already mysterious genre.Consequently experiments, projects, and wild productions could be arranged and coordinated. Dungeon synth was a genre which was already primed for an aesthetic of mystery and buying mystery tapes was perhaps the coolest thing one could do at this time and if you did you were a part of this group and a part of something. You were even sworn to a vow of secrecy if you were able to buy a tape. It was a sense of belonging in a group of strangers. It even had a cool name. The Order sounded like something straight out of a high fantasy novel.
In my mind, The Order already feels like something in the past. It’s grown fairly large and it’s difficult now to operate it in the clandestine way I’d prefer. It’s also come to be outside of the current scene’s cultural purview in some regard, and while secrecy and mystery has always been part of The Order, I think it’s merely a romantic notion to let it slip away in silence. It deserves to be archived in some capacity. In it’s death, it’s released upon the world as a permanent memory. This feels proper. Let it end in tears.
From the start, The Order was about exploring obscurity in a genre already marked by its niche audience. The music from projects named Witch’s Pointy Hat, Circle of Protection, Elf Magic, and various entries of “Unknown Artist” was less about the music and more about how much an entity could be pushed into unbeing. These were not projects that were suppose to exist outside of these tapes. Dungeon synth thrived in hidden places on the internet, The Order was just about bringing that concept to its extreme conclusion.
The Order existed in a time when enough people were discovering dungeon synth that rather than make music that was accessible, musicians and fans were intentionally throwing up more fog to obscure themselves. The Order, which included its creator, participating artists, consumers, and onlookers were engaged in a conceptual performance and any ephemera which came out of it were souvenirs of the experience. The tapes from The Order, despite their extreme rarity, also are sold occasionally on Discogs for around 10$. There are not collector’s items because of the lack of information surrounding the project. It is a label which exists in memory and occasional articles by fans.
The Order was an interactive performance you engaged in and even though you were just buying a tape, you felt like you were finding a hidden doorway behind a bookshelf by pulling a seemingly mundane book. This was all done on a computer where you had access to knowing anything you wanted to but suddenly you find yourself at a locked door and urged to solve a puzzle. The Order’s manifesto or any concrete reasons are as cryptic as the process in which you went through acquiring the material. Even talking to its creator I am still unsure of actual reasons for doing what they did. I can,at best guess and wait to be corrected. This is the second draft of the article since the first one I was incorrect on many things.
Nothing has made it to the digital realm, no. In one sense, being all analog created a barrier to sharing the music since one would have to rip the audio from the tape which is cumbersome, but the adherent’s vow of secrecy has prevented this regardless of the format of the release.
To this day none of The Order’s releases have made it to a digital platform. They are not located on Bandcamp nor are there any rips of the tapes which were sold from 2017-2022. By all accounts this label only partially exists and as the years grow on its only anchor to this world are the memories of the people who were around at the time. Perhaps this is the only article written ont he subject.
To mark the end of the label, Malfortune Discs recently released a CD boxset of material including unreleased music from projects. This is the most comprehensive collection from this label ever which has been released. Even I was unaware of it until emailing the creator to discuss a potential article in the future regarding this subject. The Order’s creator has said they are relinquishing control of the music and wherever it ends up is out of their hands.The legacy of this label was born in secrecy and is ending with begrudging acknowledgment.
Perhaps this music will end up in the digital sphere one day by way of a new fan who doesn’t know the history surrounding this label or more realistically doesn’t care about the games people played on the internet. Perhaps these undisclosed number of CDs will never be sent to the digital sphere and live forever in the physical realm to be another secret memento from a time long gone. Maybe this boxset will renew interest from new fans of the genre into older things that they initially missed. Perhaps no one will care. Nothing is known as these types of projects are sometimes as much a part of the public as it is the creator. It seems to have died the same way it once shortly lived as an obscure entity in a obscure genre of music.
It is 2023 and I am refreshing the Path of Silence page to buy a box set. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to be on since I have no idea how many copies are being made. It could be 100 or 10. I have no idea how much it is but I have made amends that I am doing it for this article. I hope it’s not too much. How am I supposed to write and be knowledgeable about this subject without getting the collectors edition of this series?
Kaptain Carbon is the custodian of Tape Wyrm, a mod for Reddit’s r/metal, Creator of Vintage Obscura, and a Reckless Scholar for Dungeon Synth.