Down Into the Dungeon with Masterlord

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You wouldn’t be too far off in pinning raw black metal as the pinnacle of basement music dorkery, but you’d still be off. There lies a hidden doorway leading to more secretive and cloistered depths. I can show it to you, I guess. Give that inhaler a good huff and follow me.

I speak of Dungeon Synth. The music of torchlight flickering across dead stone halls; of wandering through millennia-untraveled paths; of seeking abandoned places; of puffing unknown years of settled dust from the face of an old tome, and of the ancient magicks within it; of kissing any semblance of social aptitude goodbye forever and ever, amen. The term itself is a relatively modern identifier, not fully established during the birth of this very particular style of dark ambient (though Mortiis did refer to some of his early tapes as “dark dungeon music”), but used now in reference to it and the modest following it inspired. The gist of it is this – using a pretty-much-nothing-but-synthesizer approach to create a fantasy soundscape out of atmosphere and medievalist melodies. Essentially, it’s an entire genre based on one of two approaches: 1) the soft intros, interludes, and outros you’d find on early black metal albums, or 2) the soundtracks to old DOS RPG games. Before you go running for the door, know this: Joe “Nerdcrusher” Thrashnkill™ listened to my whole spiel without cramming my body into a single locker (the dork even copped to liking what he heard).

It emerged alongside second-wave black metal in the early 90’s. Håvard “Poopy Dreads” Ellefsen bailed on Emperor because black metal wasn’t scoring him nearly enough chicks, and he thought he might have more luck forming Mortiis and pioneering a sub-sub-subgenre that would eventually serve as background music for D&D marathons. Satyr of Satyricon formed Wongraven and Knjaz Varggoth of Nokturnal Mortum formed Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra in 1994. Rob Darken of Graveland started Lord Wind around the same time (though their grouping with Dungeon Synth is debatable). Varg Vikernes recorded Dauði Baldrs during his all-expenses-paid stay at a spa in Tønsberg in 1995. The list goes on.

I won’t go into detail about the defining works here – not today at least – but I strongly urge anybody harboring even a faint curiosity about this sort of thing to check out some of the albums that helped lay the genre’s groundwork:

 

 

Even now that it’s its own thing with its own following and its very own Bandcamp tag, dungeon synth remains curiously bound to its mother-genre; musically, aesthetically, and ideologically. Many (but not all) dungeon synth artists still embrace black metal’s surface conventions. Face paint, spikes, black-and-white forest promos, and illegible logos aren’t at all uncommon, and some album covers still very much recall those of early black metal classics. Lo-fi audio is integral. Ideology carried over, too. To many, dungeon synth is the embodiment of a critical tenet, once important but now long forgotten by black metal – the obscure; the enigmatic; the “underground”. To many, it is the last precious, unexploited kernel of mystique hidden between the rolls of black metal’s bloated, commercialized corpse. In truth, if they knew I was writing about it on the World Famous Toilet ov Hell, they’d gather together, attempt to form a circle, realize they don’t have enough bodies to form a full circle, settle for a semi-circle, then try to cast spells on me. And that’s okay. As metalheads, I think we all understand the allure of obscurity to some degree.

I love this stuff. That said, navigating the genre is like doing a scavenger hunt in a fucking minefield. At night. Blindfolded. It won’t take you long to realize that anyone can buy an antique synthesizer at a yard sale or borrow a Moog from creepy Uncle Leeroy’s porn basement then record themselves rolling their face across it, but good dungeon synth does exist. It’s the kind that effortlessly evokes far-off lands – strange places and strange times. The kind that paints a striking picture with simplicity and takes you somewhere distant, or nonexistant. For any interested parties, I’ll list just a few of my current favorites:

 

Myrrdin – Glomung Ofer se Weald
“Black Albion metal / soundscapes for mediaevalists, neolithics, and blood rituals.”

Name your price at Bandcamp.

 

Erang – Within the Land of My Imagination I Am the Only God
“I make dungeon synth and medieval fantasy music mostly inspired by my own nostalgia about places, people and events of my past, forever lost… My music is very intimate, mostly influenced by books (the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion), old fantasy movies (Willow, Conan, Dark Crystal,etc.) and role-playing games from my childhood (tabletop & video games : Zelda, Secret Of Mana, etc.)”

Name your price at Bandcamp.

 

Lord Lovidicus  Kyndill og Steinn
“Personally, the mindset that suits dungeon synth for me is surrealism, or detachment from reality. My mindset while listening to this genre is one that wants to escape the world for a little while and explore lands of creativity. Visualization and imagery are very powerful for me.” [source]

Name your price at Bandcamp.

 

Abandoned Places – Return to the Palace of Mirrors
“The harmonic palette I’m most interested in working with for Abandoned Places is highly chromatic but still tonal. I often (not always) find purely diatonic or modal music cloying to listen to and unfulfilling to write. I chose to make the music dark… and befitting my conception of ‘dungeon music’ or music for a harsh fantasy realm.” [source]

Name your price at Bandcamp.

_________

That’s all I’ll subject you to today. If for some reason you happen to want more recommendations, the topic of Dungeon Synth may make a comeback with the help of Nordling Rites ov Karhu, who I recently discovered is a fellow dork with bad taste.

(Photo VIA)

  • Dr. Dubz

    I’m going to check out Erang based purely on the Zelda comment.

  • Scrimm

    I love the header image. Castles>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. I want to like more of this stuff than I do, I’ll check some of this out and hopefully I will.

    • Dr. Dubz

      Hey, if you’re ever driving through southern Colorado, you have to go visit Bishop’s Castle.

      • Scrimm

        Cool Thanks for the rec! I’ve really been wanting to go to Colorado lately. Heck I’ve been wanting to move there.

        • Dr. Dubz

          This place would be perfect for playing DnD and listening to Dungeon Synth: http://www.bishopcastle.org/

          • Scrimm

            That looks awesome. If I was super rich I would so build my own.

          • Dr. Dubz

            Rumor has it that the state has been trying to take possession of it for years.

        • Dagon

          Colorado is ranking fairly high among states I’d like to move to.

          • more beer

            I love living in Colorado.

        • more beer

          Colorado is a pretty awesome place to live.

          • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

            Oh shit. I take it you’ve heard of or been to Kvlt Brewing then? Since you seem to like beer and all…

          • more beer

            Do you mean Trve Brewing? If you do than yea plus Black Sky. There are 2 metal breweries in Denver.

          • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

            Yep that’s the one. I just knew they used the “v” in their name. How are their brews? And can you mail them all to me?

          • more beer

            They brew good beer. I like Black Sky a little more I really like their Brutal Truth Imperial Stout. It`s Denver there are a ton of really good breweries. As for mailing them I don`t think they would make it to the post office. They don`t tend to last very long in my possession. Trve is about a block away from my girls place. My best suggestion is to plan a trip To Denver. I`ll meet you for beer.

          • more beer

            This was one tasty beer Sinister Minister from the Arvada Beer Company. 11.9% abv. I couldn`t even taste the alcohol. It was such a pretty beer I had to take a picture of it.

      • more beer

        That`s 2 and half hour ride for me I`m gonna go check that out. Thanks mr. president.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Hohensalzburg, Austria

      • You know everything. What version of Encarta you runnin’, robot?

        • CyberneticOrganism

          I hunted Sarah Connor here for a few days. I didn’t find her.

  • MSD, Erang sounds amazing. Also, excellent write up!

  • Rolling for damage…

    You’re a damn nerd.

    /Nailed it.

  • Tyree
  • Mother Shabubu III

    I want to make a meta black metal band where it’s legit music, but the band imagery and lyrical content is just like goofy shit, like BDSM black metal as a parody of DSBM.

    • Reichsmarschall Dean von Steel

      Carpathian Forest have been doing this for two decades. A lot of over-the-top ridiculousness and tongue-in-cheek aesthetics. Have you ever checked them out? If not, they might be what you are thinking.

      • Mother Shabubu III

        No, but I’m gonna look them up.

        Sidenote: Damn…my “good” ideas are always taken or being done.

  • Mastahlord showed me this one when he first brought up Dungeon Synth. I thought it was pretty rad.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkhKrB-EMD0

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
    • Zeke… or Isaac; whatever

      Yes, I remember this too. Was this Fenriz also? I’m pretty sure it was someone well known.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        Yup, Fenriz.

  • Zeke

    I have a tape with that Wongraven album on one side and Storm (Fenriz) on the other. It’s buried in a shoebox in my old bedroom in my mom’s house. I remember somewhat digging Wongraven when I was like 14 and stoned reading LOTR or something; Storm was too much for me, even back then. Nowadays if I’m ever in the mood for the ambient black metal vibe I just listen to Ulver or the ambient tracks on Filosofem. It’s much higher quality and the nerd factor is somewhat toned down.

    • Zeke… or Isaac; whatever

      For some reason I also bought an album from Aghast which I think was Fenriz and Samoth’s wives. I remember that being particularly awful. I’m pretty sure I only listened to that like twice. I imagine it was an import too, so it was probably $20 wasted.

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    dungeoun synth—-“america doesnt dungeon synth”
    all 3 at once–full vol
    https://youtu.be/HCUzHnVeI10

    https://youtu.be/SwYN7mTi6HM

    https://youtu.be/boiXc3xjUJc

  • IronLawnmower

    Listening to that Mortiis one while I do my bands tape cover. V.nice shit.

  • JWG

    Erang in particular suggests that if I explore this subgenre any further, I may legitimately call myself a “dungeon crawler”…

  • Uncle Leeroy (Jenkins) basement.

    *nerd giggle*

    • How are you liking The Gentle Storm? I love it more each time I listen to it….

      • i read a very bad review of that album on HBIH. i’d like to hear your rebuttal (if you don’t mind, that is)

        • Yikes. That is a terrible review. I feel like it is bad form to say “all the songs blend together” when, lets face it, almost all metal can “blend together” on the first, second, and third listen! But whatevs. It took way more than 3 listens to pick up on all the glory in each song – which as I mentioned- holds true for a lot of metal music.

  • The Beargod

    Two guys ended up writing about Dungeon Synth on the SAME week. What.Are.The.Odds.

    • KJM

      Jon Benjamin FTW.

  • Ferris Mueller

    I prefer more Tibetan Monk chanting in the background during my torch-lit dungeon crawls.

  • I am glad Disqus finally fixed the whole comment clicking problem that would take you to the top of comment page. That was terrible

  • Guacamole Jim

    The Masterlord’s articles always satisfy me in a way few things can. I also dig this music. Win win.

  • Fodt til a Herske was my simultaneous entrance and exit to the dungeon. I think I always liked Mortiis’s ridiculous batwitch schtick more than his muzak.

  • Dagon

    I love this stuff as well. Only now was I able to read your article, though. Great stuff.

    You had me laughing hard af at the spell casting semi circle.

  • Max

    So, does “Tomhet” from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss count as a dungeon synth song? I would have assumed it isn’t computer-gamey enough, but I’m a novice at this. (Sorry – I’m only 1st Level at this.)

    If it does, well that’s rad. Decades after getting that album and wearing it out years ago, I still listen to that piece quite regularly, in and outside of my dungeon.

    In fact, more recently I got myself an expensive pair of headphones and heard something I hadn’t before: You know the closed high-hat cymbal pattern that comes in towards the end of the second movement? Well, that’s actually present in the mix much earlier, VERY faintly! I suspect it was meant to be completely muted but wasn’t because of adjacent track leakage on the tape or something. Rad.

    • Dr. Dubz

      What does the Max dungeon look like?

      • Max

        Key:
        1) The practice dungeon. Here is where I jam.
        2) The lounge dungeon. Here is where I eat breakfast while throwing Disqs of metal wisdom into the e-ther.
        3) The bed-dungeon. Note severely unkempt bed.
        4) The mirror of the bed-dungeon, casting a spell of nerd-selfery.

        • Dr. Dubz

          You have lovely curtains

          • Max

            They are actually bedsheets from a cross-country train called “The Overland” (a sort of Australian Orient Express) which my mother converted into curtains for me back when I moved out of home. In the bottom photo you can faintly see the logo written down the side of them.

        • It’s Max!!!!

          • Max

            Greetings from Rand McNally, where the toilet water flushes in the other direction!

        • Stockhausen

          Maaaaax!

  • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair

    I’m surprised you mentioned Mortis and dark dungeon music without mentioning Vond!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-iP1iVso10

  • J.R.

    That Lord Lovidicus gave me Golden Sun vibes.

    Synths definitley have a place in black metal, especially since the appeal of BM (for me at least) is its atmospheric-ness, and synths let you add all sorts of zany sounds and tones and whatever whatever. I will now post Caladan Brood music bc synths and I like them.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPVSAgL2AaI

  • Virgil the Ghost Poet

    I like Mortiis.

  • CT-12

    Just got off work after pulling a 12+ hour shift. Needless to say, I’ll have to get back to all these posts of the day, but thanks to everyone for taking the time to write them!

    • Max

      I hope you earned some reasonable $ for that stint!

      • CT-12

        I wish dude; it used to be whenever we had these days we’d make overtime pay, but our management is fucking cheap as hell now and will probably just give us a half day some time this week. Blows, but I appreciate the sentiment man!

  • Stockhausen

    I’m only 6.5 hours late, but, uh, you know, pretty cool. Proud of you.

  • Dumptruck Full Of Nose Hair
  • Pingback: Dungeon Synth: bedroom dreaming - Stranger Aeons()