In the last installment of Black Celebration, I mentioned that I was going to be giving Dungeon Synth its own spin-off column called Dungeon Crawl. Well…here’s the inaugural edition of that column. Before I get into the music though, I want to give a shout-out to the Dungeon Synth group on Facebook – if this column sparks your curiosity about dungeon synth and you want to delve a bit deeper, they’re a very welcoming and friendly bunch, and a lot of the musicians I’ll be talking about in this column can be found hanging out there, posting links and talking gear…
If you wish to join us on one of our crawls, send promos and/or links to [email protected]
DEORC WEG – Decrepit Rituals of the Mind
On the off chance that you are a newcomer to Dungeon Synth, one of the things you’ve probably noticed is that there’s a huge overlap between the black metal audience and the DS audience, even though the two genres don’t seem to have much in common except their respective fascinations with Tolkien and/or Lovecraft. I don’t really have an explanation for why, aside from the genre having roots in the Second Wave Norwegian Black Metal scene – Mortiis was in Emperor for a while, and Varg’s prison albums still have a considerable influence on the scene.
That being said, some DS artists do have more of a black metal ‘atmosphere’ to their music than others, and I’d put the UK’s DEORC WEG near the top of that atmospheric list. His latest offering Decrepit Rituals of the Mind – his twelfth release in a little over eighteen months – actually reminds me quite a bit of A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors-era Xasthur. It’s certainly depressive in the same way that Malefic’s music was back in his demo days, and the ghostly dialogue buried just far enough in the mix that I can’t make out a word of it gives it the same spectral feel. Those elements, coupled with the more prominent use of percussion than you’ll find in a lot of DS, make DEORC WEG a pretty good starting place for those setting off on their first dungeon crawl…
Erythrite Throne – Crystal Tears of the Immortal Witch
Saying that DS artists tend to be prolific is a bit like saying rain tends to be wet. Crystal Tears of the Immortal Witch is already the second release of 2019 for Toronto’s Erythrite Throne, and a third one, Mournful Cries from Obsidian Towers, went up for digital preorder earlier this week. Crystal Tears has more of an ambient/drone feel to it than either Fleeting Voices Under the Deathmoon’s Embrace, his first 2019 release, or the preview track from the forthcoming album – both of which have more of a black metal kind of atmosphere. It’s still plenty dark though, with song titles that wouldn’t be out of place on a vampyric black metal release. There’s going to be an incredibly limited run of 13 copies of this on cassette sometime in the near future, and I don’t know why I’m telling you all this before I’ve gotten my hands on one for myself…
Farozon – Blås I Krigshornet
Blås I Krigshornet (‘Blow in the Danger Horn’) is sort of out on the odder, more experimental fringes of Dungeon Synth, even though it’s working with some familiar tropes. According to the notes on Farozon’s Bandcamp page, the Swedish artist recorded the album “in a desolate cabin, far out in the woods, during cold winter nights in the end of 2018.” My guess would be that the album has some sort of narrative structure to it, as it covers quite a bit of musical ground. In fact, the first time I listened to it, the shift from dark opening track “Hin Håle Festar Loss” to the almost humppa sound of “Trollkakas,” I thought I’d accidentally set my playlist on shuffle. That’s not to say, however, that the record is a schizophonic sort of affair – those two songs represent the most drastic stylistic contrast on the record.18+ minute closing track “Den Sega Godnattsagan” is the clear highlight on the album, which unfolds like the soundtrack to a short film that I would really like to see.
Also: Google Translate tells me that Farozon translates to ‘Danger Zone.’ That’s badass.
Guild of Lore – Winterstead
Guild of Lore is a newer project, with Master Ingsmith having just released the project’s first album back in December. It’s a damn good one, too. An example of what’s come to be known as ‘winter synth,’ Winterstead is crisp, Medieval-sounding DS with a nice amount of variety from one track to the next. Highlights include the epic swells of “Snow Shielded Giants” the slow, deliberate “Woodsman’s Charge,” and the somber “A Fireside Tale,” but there really isn’t a weak moment on the entire record. Debuts don’t generally come much better than this, and I am very eager to see where Master Ingsmith takes the project next. Since there have already been teases about it in some of the DS Facebook groups, I don’t imagine I’ll have to wait very long to find out. Also…if someone wanted to put this out on cassette, I wouldn’t be the least bit upset about it.
The IXth Key – Winter
I’ve not been able to find much of anything online about The IXth Key aside from the fact that the project is French and it released a pair of EPs over a four-day span at the end of January. Dark Ages, the second of the two, is heavily distorted, old-school DS that may be something of an acquired taste for folks. The two song Winter EP, on the other hand, is some absolutely gorgeous, minimalist synth with warm melodies that belie its chilly theme. There’s something very calming about this record, and I’ve been very tempted to put it on when I’m meditating but I’m more than a little bit afraid that doing so would relax me to the point that I’d end up falling asleep. Perfect for those moments when you need a quick bit of aural stress relief.
I don’t know if anyone has coined the phrase ‘dungeon prog’ yet, but if they haven’t then allow me to do so right now – The Ever-Turning Wheel is easily the proggiest DS record I’ve ever heard. The PNW-based Mors Certa takes a remarkably narrative approach in her songwriting, with each of the album’s two epic, labyrinthine tracks almost having the feel of a radio drama. I wouldn’t even want to imagine how many layers there are in these recordings, or how long it took for the songs to come together – and I don’t have to, because I’m actually working on an interview with the mysterious, cloaked woman behind the project right now. So with that in mind, I don’t want to add too much more here, except to say that in addition to the music here being nothing short of brilliant, Mors Certa also has one of the best logos I’ve seen for a DS project – second perhaps only to An Old Sad Ghost.