This Year in Dungeon Synth: MMXVI
Welcome, once again, to the dungeon! Join Kaptain Carbon and myself as we spin tales of our favorite Dungeon Synth offerings from the highly productive year that was 2016.
Now, some of you are probably wondering, “Boss the Ross who is this Kaptain Carbon guy? And why should we listen him?” Fret not, for Kaptain Carbon is a man of his word, fellow dungeon-dweller and keeper of sacred tomes. You may read his bountiful works on Hollywood Metal, where he covers a wide range of topics including Dungeon Synth, Heavy Metal and Tabletop RPGs. Towards the end of last year, he confronted me about pooling our resources and creating a combined effort in illustrating our top 10 favorite Dungeon Synth releases of 2016. Naturally, I was more than happy to oblige. The result is as follows. Here, we have 5 picks from myself and 5 picks from Kaptain. “But Boss the Ross!” I can hear you say, “that is only 5 picks from you. You promised a top 10 list!” To that I retort, do not worry because at this very moment on Hollywood Metal you may find the completion of our list. Ten more fine cuts from the underbelly of synth music. Enough of my ramblings, on with the music!
Thangorodrim – Taur Nu Fuin
I have talked about Thangorodrim multiple times here on the Toilet since its release and it even showed up as #3 on my album of the year list, so it should come as no surprise that it is my number one Dungeon Synth album. More than any other album here, I feel that Taur Nu Fuin simultaneously creates music that is deeply rooted in the origin of the genre and looks towards the future. For further explanation just hit the play button and thank me later. –BtR
Skarpseian – Fragmenter Av Trolldom
Skarpseian’s third release is a dark and traditional sounding Dungeon Synth album with an adventurous yet ominous and brooding aura about it. Musically there is repetitiveness to each song on the album, but with Skarpseian’s ability to write haunting and memorable melodies, the listener begs for the moments to last longer each time. I find myself yearning for longer running times for songs after each listen. Gloomy forests with murky flowing streams and overtrodden, rock-strewn roads to battle are among the many settings that you will find yourself encapsulated within as you take the journey of Fragmenter Av Trolldom. If this does not credit the artist enough as a doyen in the art, they have paid tribute to the Dungeon Synth masters of old and included a seminal cover track on par with the original. –BtR
Medhelan – Fall of the Horned Serpent
“A Celtic fantasy tale. The events are entirely fictional and open to interpretation.” is the only descriptor noted on this album’s Bandcamp page. And truly, nothing else is needed. Fall of the Horned Serpent is a brilliant undertaking within the Dungeon Synth movement. Matteo Brusa, the man behind this project, encapsulates so perfectly the worldly influences that are found in this genre. Crisp and clean synths, strings and horns will send the listener through a guided tale of Celtic myth. Accompanying each song are short poems depicting the different aspects of the story from a solitary protagonist’s viewpoint and characters he encounters. Ranging from triumph to sorrow, “Fall of the Horned Serpent” is a wide-ranging piece. –BtR
Fief – II
Originally, this spot was meant for Fief – I, but during the creation of this list Fief snuck in a second release. Somehow, some way, they were able to top their debut release. It is unfathomable that an artist could release such a stellar performance and somehow, within the same year mind you, blow it out of the water. This is meant as no disrespect to I, but simply as an adoration for II. There is an essence of magic to be felt within an album such as this. Whereas I felt like a midsummer’s day walk through a medieval village, II takes the listener beyond the gates and into the illustrious countryside to explore peddlers, dragons and wizards. Tales are spun and stories told without a single word uttered, the listener only relying on delightful song titles and whimsical synth music; this is absolute bliss. –BtR
Erang – Our Dreams are Made of Dragons
On this, Erang’s 13th album, the artist took a step back to release a piece reminiscent of his early works. By keeping his compositions simple and orchestration minimal, Erang eschews the High Fantasy topics and elements he had been building towards musically with past albums for a return to the dungeon. Here we find adventures, dragons, troubadours, witches and trolls nestled quietly into their own unique synth environments. This album is highly enjoyable and allows the listener’s mind to wander and daydream while keeping them deeply rooted in the magic within. –BtR
Chaucerian Myth – The Canterbury Tales
Perhaps one of my most played cassettes this year was Chaucerian Myth’s The Canterbury Tales. This is probably true since the packaging for this came in a charming 8-sided tape collection boxed in something that looked like a religious audiobook from the 80’s. I feel that Chaucerian Myth was talked by many during 2016 and to be honest, this record is deserving of all of its praise. For a record over 3 hours of hypnotic dungeon synth which regales the listener with every section of Chaucer’s classic work, I can see no other album so deserving of attention. When I look back on 2016, it will be marked by an insane amount of tapes and the slow moving pilgrimage destined for something greater. –KC
Barak Tor – Silent Passages and Hidden Realms
Question: What to do with artists who have multiple works throughout the year? Answer: Talk about the more recent and then tell everyone to start at the beginning. Barak Tor only had two traditional releases in 2016 along with a compilation and a fantastic split with Rævjäger and Splendorius. Both records from Barak Tor (Silent Passages and Hidden Realms & Wizards of Morcar) came out in the same month leading to around 40 minutes of traditional dungeon synth cloaked in grayscaled covers and even bleaker music. The ancient court of Barak Tor conjures distant memories of a world long cast in shadow as its 4 gargantuan passages urge the listener to take long trips inside forgotten mines. I feel that Bark Tor’s releases were underrated in 2016 or maybe just because I enjoyed them so much compared to everyone else. Whatever the case, Silent Passages and Hidden Realms is a wonderful place to begin your journey backward through time. –KC
Faery Ring – A Kingdom Beset by Despair
Faery Ring, in my opinion, was a sleeper of an album compared to the amount of talent and draw it could have for people. With both dark and atmospheric delving as well as light and orchestral sauntering, this English artist mysteriously released one of the best albums of the year with a cover which captures both extremes of its music. Much like the chilled winds of spring, Faery Ring brings both dreamy warmth and bracing darkness. This is an artist I hope to see more of in 2017 just because we only got one release in 2016. –KC
Sequestered Keep – Magic Amidst Falling Leaves
Do you remember what I said about starting with the most recent and working your way backward? Time to get serious guys and girls. Magic Amidst Falling Leaves is Sequestered Keep’s final release of 2016. It is also his seventh. In total, Sequestered Keep released 4 hours and 21 minutes of music this year in a series of records which never seemed to be slowing down. My choice to include this album comes with the footnote that all of Sequestered Keep’s records deserve equal attention as the series is perhaps what is truly great about this year. Much like an episodic storytelling session, the journey of Sequestered Keep through landscapes of sound and imagination could be thought of as scores for the coolest dungeoncrawl ever. –KC
Verminaard – Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm
Verminaard’s debut, for me, encompasses everything I love about the genre. From the bedroom charm to the deep-seated obsession with fantasy, Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm may not be the most professional sounding record in 2016, but it is certainly one of the most genuine albums in the community from an artist proven to care about the craft and journey through old ruins. The lo-fi odyssey on this EP exudes fascination and wonder in exploration as it climbs to astounding heights and descends into dark depths. Add to this a fine LP that was just released and one can see an artist on their way for wonderful things. –KC
I would like to thank Kaptain Carbon for being such a rad dude and good friend over the past months, I look forward to working with you again. Be sure to check in at Hollywood Metal for the remainder of my list and the beginning of the Kaptain’s. While you are there, check out some of his other great articles and tell him “hello” from the Toilet. Cheers!