On previous editions of Down into the Dungeon, Masterlord laid the groundwork and Karhu expanded on the subject. Both writers shared their knowledge of the sacred tomes, and I believe it is high time for another quest into the Dungeon. Ready your swords, axes, bows, spell books and dice. This time you face a Boss.
For many of us around the Toilet, Masterlord’s article was our first exposure to the mystical music genre that is Dungeon Synth. At this time I was still lurking around the toilet so I listened in silence and kept my thoughts to myself. The concept entranced me. Castles, dungeons, swords, magic and mystical lands were all subjects that I enjoyed thoroughly, and the music conveyed this atmosphere eloquently. After reading the article and listening to the songs, my interest for Dungeon Synth was seeded, but only in recent months (a year after the first article) has the plant come to fruition. I do not claim to have the vast knowledge of Masterlord and Karhu, just a deep interest in this small niche of synth-laden music. Therefore, I will forego the history lesson today and just share some tunes.
Below are some newer releases that I have spent time with and find to be magnificent specimens of Dungeon Synth with varying styles and nuances.
Barak Tor – Silent Passages and Hidden Realms
Barak Tor is a project created as an homage to fantasy board games such as HeroQuest and the Dark World Trilogy. In doing so the artist utilizes more High Fantasy tropes in their music. The songs have a feeling of grandeur, employing majestic melodies and triumphant drumming to solidify the soundscapes. Barak Tor also emphasize their work with longer running times, allowing for full and complete ideas to prosper within singular songs.
Edoras – Lands of Shadows
Lands of Shadows depicts the dark realms of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a theme that is quite relevant in Dungeon Synth. The use of dark and murky synth tones help to convey the gloomy atmosphere that one might experience when walking through the barren land of Mordor, Saruman’s evil fortress at Isengard or the anguishing bleakness of Shelob’s lair.
Рабор – Источник
Источник is perhaps the most fairytale-esque album being covered today. Each song is interwoven with sounds of nature creating an enveloping atmosphere of trees, birds, sprites and fairies. Stylistically, I would compare the album’s tone to that of a John Carpenter soundtrack. Imagine, if you will, Carpenter working with Tangerine Dream on the revamp of the Legend score. That sound in your head is close to what this album represents, fantasy balanced between lightheartedness and darkness.
Sequestered Keep – Might of An Ancient Tale
Sequestered Keep is a name many are familiar with and rightfully so. Might of an Ancient Tale, the artist’s 4th* release this year alone, displays some of their strongest songwriting yet. With the brash drum intro of “Chain Flail War Ritual” the listener is thrown headfirst into the thick of battle and let loose into the world this artist paints. What follows are tales of wonder, somber laments and soundscapes of grand construction. A standout of the album is “In My Medieval Dreams”, a solemn piece that allows the listener a glimpse into the artist’s heart and their longing for an ancient time.
Skarpseian – Fragmenter Av Trolldom
Skarpseian’s third release is a dark and traditional sounding Dungeon Synth album (even including a Burzum cover). There is a certain low fantasy aura surrounding it, adventurous yet ominous and brooding. Musically there is repetitiveness to each song on the album, but Skarpseian’s ability to write haunting and memorable melodies does not allow the listener’s mind to be lead astray. Instead, the audience is allowed to let the music flow around them while they envision wondrous scenes of battlements and forests.
Splendorius – Moernvar
As the artist’s name would suggest, this album is quite splendorous. In fact, I would go so far as to say that instead of Dungeon Synth, this would be better suited as Palace Synth, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Elegant harpsichord tones adorn this album, resulting in an astounding and distinguished atmosphere. That being said, the Dungeon does come through on a few haunting tracks such as “Ghorgul’s Infernal Tower” and “Witch on a Roll.”
Thangorodrim – Taur-nu-fuin
Thangorodrim carry high their Dungeon Synth banner with a truly masterful piece of work. Within moments Taur-nu-fuin sweeps the listener away to the far reaches of Middle-Earth. A well-balanced use of drumming and orchestration, coupled with intermittent spoken word passages and even a vocal performance by the artist, pushes this album into fantastical atmospheres. With every listen I become more entranced in its emotional breadth and substance. The album artwork also takes a moment to remind us of Dungeon Synth’s background in Black Metal, and that while currently the two are sonically very different, there is a mutual respect and admiration between the genres.
*since writing this article Sequestered Keep has released a 5th album entitled Dawn of Battle