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Dungeon Crawl Reviews

Dungeon Crawl, Vol. II: In Which Our Raiding Party Becomes Two

It’s only the second installment of Dungeon Crawl, and we’ve already had to double the number of writers on the column!

Okay…that would probably sound a bit more impressive if there’d been more than one person writing it from the start, but whatever – why get hung up on details? Here’s the Big Picture: there’s a metric fuckton (real measurement) of tremendous Dungeon Synth being released right now, and the fantastic response from within the DS community to Vol. I underscores how little coverage the genre gets despite its overwhelming popularity 

I’m not exaggerating when I call it ‘overwhelming,’ either. A couple of weekends ago I actually spent close to three hours trying to preorder tapes from a label I won’t name, lest someone mistakenly think I’m throwing shade (I’m not – pinky swear). Their website crashed pretty much the exact moment the preorders went live from the traffic that all came swarming in at the same time. If that’s not overwhelming, then I don’t know…

So starting with this edition of Dungeon Crawl, our raiding party stands at two: Senior Editor Clayton T. Michaels (Character Class: Thief * Alignment: Chaotic Neutral), and n00b Kalee Beals (Character Class: Ranger * Alignment Chaotic Good)And if you want to have a spot on a future Dungeon Crawl, send promos and/or links to [email protected]

Arcane Cavern – Sorcery of Chaos + Traveling By Torchlight

Canadian project Arcane Cavern makes Dungeon Synth of the sword-and-sorcery variety, inspired by authors both well known (Robert Jordan, Robert E. Howard) and slightly more niche (like Cthulhu Mythos author Lin Carter and Lovecraft biographer L. Sprague de Camp). However, The Chaos Mage doesn’t make the sort of medieval synth one might expect – there’s a lot of variety over the course of these two releases, both of which saw limited cassette releases from Malum Arcana and Les Fleurs du Mal before being released digitally earlier this year. Much like the Mors Certa album I mentioned in the first column, there’s a definite narrative quality to the songwriting, but across shorter, more self-contained songs. The downloads also include some elaborately designed .pdfs that tell the story behind the albums. (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “Forming the Party”

Berghof – Fount of Life (Hellhammered Media)

I’ve been on something of an ambient kick lately, and even though the Pennsylvania-based newcomer Berghof isn’t quite that chill, there is a very pleasant minimalist quality to Fount of Life that keeps me coming back to it, especially early in the morning. According to the notes on Bandcamp, the record was “conceived, written, performed, designed and released in eleven hours on the eve of the Lunar Eclipse on January 20, 2019,” which is pretty fucking impressive by itself – given that genesis, I’d  likely be into this even if it were simply a record full of ambient washes of sound. Instead, Fount of Life has almost an improvisational feel to it, though I expect that’s likely only partially true. Either way, this is an impressive debut and I hope the project doesn’t end up only being a one-off. The next lunar eclipse is in July, right? (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “The Thawing of the Mountain Pass”

Coniferous Myst – High Above The Timberlines Of Jerall

Coniferous Myst encapsulates so much of what makes DS such an interesting genre: its uniqueness, its DIY spirit, and its ability to transport a listener to another time and place. High atop the snowcapped Montanan Rocky Mountains from which he calls home, Coniferous Myst creates what he terms “True Mountain Synth” by recording his performances live in the freezing cold. He even leaves in any mistakes he might have made in the process in the name of authenticity. High Above The Timberlines Of Jerall was released by Castle Wall Records in November, and if you missed it then, don’t make the mistake of sleeping on it now. Coniferous Myst suffers through the pain of frozen fingers and numbing cold to gift us with 16 minutes of stellar, lo-fi winter synth, and one of my favorite releases in the last year. (Kalee)

Favorite Track: “As My Blood Freezes To Tangled Coniferous Roots Below”

Crag Forge – Forbidden Crag

Crag Forge essentially is an ambient record, and it’s a fucking gorgeous one at that. I’ve been unable to find any information about this project anywhere online, but there’s both a deep chill and a sense of drama to the music that reminds me more than a bit of the black metal that comes out of Québec. This is music for ice-walled caves and chilly mountain passes but on relatively calm (but still foggy) days. I strongly advise spending the couple of dollars to download it, because the three additional tracks are definitely worth the expense. Now if we could just get a version of it on cassette (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “Fortress of the Eyries”

Dumathoin – The Cold Blessing 

“If it’s Finnish, it must be Satan” said probably no one ever, but someone really should. When Finnish black metal bands shriek about the devil, I’m inclined to believe them, and the same cold black flame that lights the way for the Finnish black metal underground burns in the music of Helsiknki’s Dumathoin. This is Dungeon Synth of the dark, symphonic variety, and even though the notes say that it was recorded in June and July of last year, The Cold Blessing is still plenty fucking…well…it’s cold. It’s also got just enough of that black metal production quality – not quite lo-fi, but occasionally sounding a bit blown out – to make my inner black metal dude want to throw the horns while very slowly nodding my head along with the hypnotic, droning rhythms. (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “The final winter”

Mortuary Chapter – Three Levels of Torment

Occasionally, I’ll make it a point to explore the newly released section of the dungeon synth tag on Bandcamp. I’m often pleasantly surprised by what I find. Stumbling upon Mortuary Chapter was definitely a pleasant surprise, despite the gloominess of their work. Three Levels of Torment is three tracks of bleak, funereal dungeon synth with heavy black ambient influence. It’s dreary, but not difficult to listen to. On the contrary, the simple yet lush synth parts woven about Three Levels are genuinely fun to listen to. And the slightly overdriven bass lines overlaid throughout the EP give it an almost raw black metal feel, which only adds to the pleasure of listening. This short collection left me wanting much more.  Not much is known about the artist behind Mortuary Chapter. The only tidbit of information I could find is that the project is based in Seattle. But what I do know is Mortuary Chapter should not be missed. (Kalee)

Favorite Track: “Hell”

Örnatorpet – Hymner Från Snökulla (Nordvis)

Hymner Från Snökulla is Swedish project Örnatorpet’s fifth full-length since debuting with Midvintersagor in February 2018. So basically…that’s an album every other month. Yeah, yeah…I’d be skeptical because of the whole ‘quality, not quantity’ this as well…but the fact that Örnatorpet is signed to heavyweight Swedish label Nordvis – which is also home to my favorite neofolk duo Ulvesang, as well as more incredible black metal bands than I have space to name – should put any of those doubts to rest. There’s a very classic feel to the style of dungeon synth that Örnatorpet plays – a definite throwback to the early 90s and the Era 1 Mortiis records, but cleaner and crisper in execution. Wintry, majestic, and absolutely wonderful. (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “När Gnistrande Snöflingor Falla – I”

Turambar – Beyond the Walls

Hailing from the ‘Great Wight North’ (aka Vancouver, British Colombia), Turambar is a project with a fairly minimalist sort of sound, (I told you that would be a theme from me this time around), but with a much more dramatic – or perhaps even cinematic – flair thanks to the droning, dark ambient elements that form the spine of each of the three tracks. Well…it’s actually only supposed to be one track, but because Bandcamp, etc. . Anyway…for some reason, every time I listen to this I imagine Drizzt Do’Urden riding across a vast plain in the surface world on a moonless night. (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “Lamplighter’s Lament”

Whispering Mirrors – Grammaticon

If you’re looking for what some might call “old school” dungeon synth, then look no further than this enthralling release by Whispering Mirrors. Hailing from the murky woods of Northern California, this mysterious artist going by the name of Van Whisper conjures up carefully crafted DS in the “classic” style. Recently released through Ancient Meadow Records, Grammaticon is a throwback to the origins of the genre, and a journey through the darkest depths of the dungeon. You’d be wise to bring a torch, although the spells spun by Van Whisper threaten to snuff out even the brightest of lights. (Kalee)

Favorite Track: “A Light! Amid Smoke and Ruin”

Zundmarazkhulshilkin – Iklaladrân

Confession time: I am not much of a Tolkien fan. I know, I know…we all have our crosses to bear. I bring this up simply because I had no idea that Iklaladrân is Dwarvish, and I spent longer than I’m going to admit trying to find a translation – I think it’s ‘winter,’ but I’m not positive. I still have no idea what Zundmarazkhulshilkin means or if that’s Dwarvish as well, but I digress. Despite the wintry art and Dwarvish origins, and with all due respect to the ungodly fucking clever self-description of the music as “Noxious Ambient Eminations and Post Proto Dungeon Synth” (I very much NEED that on a -shirt, preferably long-sleeved), there are a lot of moments on the record that make me think more of the Shire on a lazy sort of day. Ambient and understated, Iklaladrân almost feels more like soundscapes than proper ‘songs,’ and that’s fine by me. Since Bandcamp notes that this is ‘Part 1 of the Dror Cycle,’ I’m hoping Part 2 appears soon. (Clayton)

Favorite Track: “Lai Sanzadkh”

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