Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gvasdnahr - Through Mists and Ruins

Distant, triumphant, and majestic, this record wanders the cold realm of fog in a mood that well-captures the feeling of epic melancholy. In that way, it is most reminiscent, to me, of Mortiis' "Født til å herske," cold and detached, yet glorious nonetheless, certainly a fitting mood for ruins in the mist. It is undoubtedly escapist in its goals, going directly into another world and allowing us to follow, if we are able. There is little warmth and accessibility in its presentation, but that simply comes with the nature of dungeon synth, sometimes more strongly than others; one must simply learn to appreciate the exploration of the music as a place rather than a story, and it is in that way you can come to understand what this genre, and especially this album, are about.

I've wanted to review Gvasdnahr for quite some time, considering he is one of the currently-active musicians in the style, and so the timing of this recent album's release was quite fortunate. The artist offers it as a free download as well, so there's no harm in trying it. While this project is still fairly new to me, and for that reason I'm unconfident in asserting any overly strong opinions about it, I'd still say this is his best work so far.

I'm not sure what Gvasdnahr's recording methods are, however the precision leads me to believe that it is programmed rather than performed, which serves to also add to its coldness. The synths are all appropriate and familiar-sounding, for anyone that has listened to much of this genre, rarely exploring the sound of ugly or lo-fi synths, however it still most definitely has the "dungeon synth sound." The composition is similarly solid without straying into neoclassical territory, a respectable feat for this genre.

This record asserts the stoic strength of the individual, a single man alone in a vast, empty wilderness. It absolutely takes more than one listen, and maybe even a few drinks to understand. This is a record which acknowledges the pain and strife in navigating this world of emptiness, and yet it acts as a soothing medicine, invoking the old concept of wyrd to provide strength for the individual man attempting to live in this world, keeping the noble, forgotten values in his heart despite the suffering it causes. Or perhaps it is a complete fantasy… perhaps these ideas were never "forgotten" values from the past, but rather they stem from some other place, a new place of fantasy yet to be fully explored, which can provide meaning and context in this land of emptiness.

I must reiterate, this album takes multiple listens to grasp. I am fully dedicated this genre and, to be honest, I was still somewhat turned off during the first few listens. As I'm writing this now, it must be my third or fourth listen, and it's entirely different than the first two, and very engaging. It's been too long for me to remember if this was the same case for Mortiis, however I know it’s the same case for Til Det Bergens Skyggene, and so that leads me to believe that many of these artists are unique in a way that makes for difficult initial comprehension. Give this album time and several listens and I really believe it will grow on you, if it hasn't grasped you from the first.

Anyways, this artist deserves more attention, especially since his works are offered freely.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lord Wind - Atlantean Monument

The sun rises on a pagan age. Millennia ago, in a pristine, idealized Hyperborea, ancient gods commanded mighty warriors to fight in strife and battle, for honor in both this world and the next. Lord Wind escapes to a place of ancient warfare and statuesque mythological icons, which rise, towering out of the fog, moss-covered yet still glorious despite the wear of countless centuries. In this Atlantean world we encounter mysterious ruins brimming with arcane secrets and foul beasts of ancient legend, witches, chimeras, dragons, medusa, etc., all deadly perils that can only be surpassed with raw steel. Here a fantasy, that is so belittled in our time as being 'childish' or 'immature,' is embraced in way only reminiscent of ages long lost to time, where our 'ignorance' meant that these magic and barbaric worldviews that gave so much meaning and significance to our lives were not compromised by rationalism.

Embrace the old gods! That is what this album seems to proclaim, in a masculine voice supremely confident and unapologetic. Very much like an Atlantean monument, this record seems to be something completely outside of our modern understanding, in that the escapist fantasy bears practically no self-consciousness. In tone, it doesn't see itself as a record of the modern age, yearning for what might've once been, or perhaps should be in our ideal biological nature, but rather it seems to be a work created by someone from such world, with absolutely no comprehension of this one we live in. And then, the fact that these are clearly synthesizers making up the entire work might seem ironic to us, but the artist is unaware or uncaring, far above such trivial things, far too noble to acknowledge the weak, insecure 'irony' that dominates our era. Synthesizers are simply the best route, in this age, to seek the lost truth through music.

Rob Darken is well-known for his Conan-esque battle hymns, which dominate both this Lord Wind project as well as Graveland, however I'd argue that his vision appears in its most pure form in this album, the pinnacle of his efforts thus far. It's more deep and spiritual than any other Lord Wind album, which previously hardly strayed from the mood of simply fighting in some ancient pagan warfare, and it is certainly not bogged down by the angsty testosterone of black metal, such as his Graveland project. Here, Darken's most romantic vision of a pagan fantasy landscape is realized and illustrated in a way that is the most successful with the least genre obstacles; the musical form of dungeon synth, which might not have many listeners, is nevertheless far more suited to exploration of alternate realms within the imagination, which is what I think Darken most wants to do, but lingers within black metal simply due to the larger audience.

Like all dungeon synth, and very much like a "monument," this album seems cold and lifeless, an ancient ruin bearing only the imagined memories of an idealized past. We are only viewing this world from a great height, where we can never get a clear sense of individual lives, and certainly not feelings. We can only imagine the people that might've built such glorious structures and try to sense the wonder and splendor one might feel in early civilization, at having waged battle with nature and begun to succeed in glory against it, and then sought out the horrific beasts that lurk from within its darkest corners, in order to combat them with a mighty blade and pure faith in heroic bravery, and likely, heroic death.

It would be hard, giving it one's full engagement, to not be swept up by the majesty of this record. It seems to be paradoxically both grandiose and modest, a stoic honoring of the heathen deities that once reckoned every aspect of our lives as innately 'barbaric' creatures, creatures now temporarily taken out of our natural pagan environment and thrust into an alien world of modernism. But here, in dreaming through art, we can recollect our true existence that we were denied, a fantasy into which we can escape, and perchance seek once more...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Secrets of my Kingdom, by Mortiis

The Written Word of Dungeon Synth, Part I

Dungeon synth did not emerge out of nothing. Mortiis admitted in interviews that he was inspired by fantasy novels, and Burzum's influence from Norse mythology and Tolkien is well known. It's no secret what tremendous influence Tolkien had upon black metal, and it is from that specific place in black metal that dungeon synth grew out of, so to speak of the genre without mentioning its literary connections would be a tremendous disservice to it. In fact, its entire substance is based around evoking fantastic images unique to the listener's mind, and as one hears those strange atmospheres, it seems they practically beg to be written. As one would expect, there's far more written work out there that parallels the dungeon mood than just The Lord of the Rings. For that reason I will be making occasional posts that deal with certain works I've found to almost come from the same mysterious horizon as this music.

"It feels like what I have created was created a long time ago... And has been recreated by my spirit, or perchance my spirit has awoken at last, to create what was always meant to be...
I can see the castle clearer now, and the paths that lead to it, though they shineth but dimly."
- excerpt from Emperor of a Dimension Unknown

The single most important written work to this genre, apart from Tolkien's material of course, is probably unknown to most of its listeners. Mortiis, shortly before abandoning the vision for industrial/pop music, published a collection of poetry and prose that he had been writing throughout his Era 1 period. The leather-bound book was published in 850 copies by Earache, and was called Secrets of my Kingdom. Clearly this work was to Mortiis' music what The Silmarillion was to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, proving what many listeners likely suspect, that Mortiis' fantasy was truly a fleshed out world rather than a general concept.

It's unfortunate that this book is so difficult to come by (and expensive), as I feel it often does a better job of expressing Mortiis' vision than the music itself, and certainly gives the listener a much larger context in appreciating it.

Is the writing good? In terms of the actual craft, it wouldn't stand on its own next to "respectable" literary works. There are grammar and spelling mistakes everywhere and it is filled throughout with a hokey, pseudo-Old English wording; however, all of this should be easily forgiven by one who understands the music, as these things cause the writing to be charming in the same way that lo-fi recording quality and lack of musical knowledge/experience affect dungeon synth; it is that shoddy, natural, instinctive approach to creation that reminds the reader that the art they are appreciating is real, that it originates from a place of pure inspiration. And like the music itself, the weakness in technique proves to be no obstacle in allowing the ideas themselves to surge forth, dead serious in the romantic escapism, with a pure, naive faith in one's personal vision that so often seems to be found in the artwork of undeniably young and "immature" creators.

"Somewhere, out there in space and time... The endless dreamscapes lie... And many a soul of a dreamer will forever stay... To gather strength and wisdom...
For here wander always the spirits of dreams, the all-wise, all-knowing... For what reveal not the dreaming mind?"
- excerpt from Dreamworld

A few full samples from Mortiis' obscure tome can be found here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Til Det Bergens Skyggene - Til Det Bergens Skyggene

Til Det Bergens Skyggene's self-titled cassette is like listening to a mirage. This world is a desert for the soul, and with this work we hear strange glimmers of hope, and although we recognize that it is entirely insubstantial (like a mirage), the sense of longing for that hazy Eden grows. It is a blurry window, through which we see the lost plane of existence where we were meant to live. Perchance we are seeing through the very veil of death, which is why it sounds so terribly cold and alien. Perchance upon journeying out of our dying bodies we will leave this time of mankind's apocalypse and will once more return to the sacred circle of infinite. That's what this work seems to promise as I hear it. It is nostalgia, not simply for some music from the 90's, but rather for the very core of spirituality that all mankind is thirsting for in this age of chaos.

I must admit, it took several listens for this work to really click for me, but with each one my appreciation grows. At first I thought that there weren't enough instruments playing harmoniously and it was too improvisational, but now I realize that every note was intended, and when the hazy keyboard voices are limited to only one or two, that is not due to any kind of naive musicianship, but rather the clear goal of loneliness in sound.

Considering that the release is essentially new as I write this, it is apparent that the musician entirely understands what dungeon synth is about. In terms of capturing the lo-fi magic of vintage keyboards and recording methods, this work has found a perfect voice. To give one an idea of the sound, I'd say the closest relative would be Burzum's ambient work, very spiritual but perhaps not quite as atmospheric as those artists coming out of the Mortiis camp.

These songs sound to me like unanswered questions, which is undoubtedly why my appreciation of the work has come on so slowly. As is the case with nearly all great dungeon synth, the seemingly simplistic songwriting obscures a deep complexity of emotion, delving into an inner world that seems to have branches that go deeper than mere music can convey. It's quite difficult to explain, but right now I sense in the music something very powerful and ancient, like some pagan stone monolith. In fact I'd say all these songs sound very much like discovering a stone circle in scarcely-trod forest. Both seem simplistic, and yet if one were to take the time to sit down and try to feel from a deeper part of their being, they might begin to see a barely perceptible glow, perhaps from some fairy realm that our people have long lost contact with. I'm beginning to believe that dungeon synth is an attempt to reconnect with that indescribable presence within this modern day. I think it's something entirely outside of our ordinary experience, and I'm not sure it could ever be fully forgotten, since it might truly exist in some way that none of our objective science or logic can explain.

Then again, maybe it is simply mankind's instinct to seek magic (even if it is impossible). If so, I also believe that ignorance is bliss. If we're wrong, well, let's simply ignore the possibility that we're wrong. In that way we can create a new myth, for mankind cannot live without one. This is our chance. Support dungeon synth, especially active artists such as Til Det Bergens Skyggene, and let us work to build a new spirituality that is not some simple new age nature worship, nor frivolous morality, but rather the pure magic of the unspeakable other. We cannot underestimate the power of thoughts. We are deeply affected by things that are real, such as instinctual urges connected with survival and reproduction; it makes sense it terms of biology that we would feel such things deeply, but what does it mean when we feel things of fantasy on a similar level of intensity? Does that validate the fantasy? Does that make it real in some way that no institution of mankind can yet explain? My answer is yes.

Needless to say, I greatly look forward to any future releases from this artist.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Forgotten Pathways - Shrouded in Mystery

What have we lost of that mysterious other world? Where would we find ourselves if we took those forgotten pathways? Would only desolate crumbling monoliths be there to meet us, or will we find that the realm of Faerie still exists, but has simply been left behind by a mankind which has gotten lost in a forest much more menacing than any monster of the ancient fables?

Dungeon synth is an attempt to rediscover and walk these inner pathways, which might lead us into the mystical sacred realms somewhere in the collective unconscious, a place of nymphs and sorcery. Whether the artists of this genre are successful depends on whether they have assisted the lone listener with his explorations of the imagination. This is art not for the masses, but for those with the mind of a storyteller, those that can give atmospheric music genuine life with their mind's eye.

Here what we see is another rotting kingdom, functioning on some kind of order put in place long before, now grown quite weak. Forgotten Pathway's demo, Shrouded in Mystery only brings us to the point where we can see the misty twilight that marks the boundary between here and the elfish realm, and blurry in the distance, that fabled landscape itself. We can picture what was lost, what that fantastic realm might hold. And what it truly does hold we can never know because what we have lost is the mystery itself. Our gods, elves, and myths reside in the realm beyond, yet with no mysterious land behind the hill for us today, existence is more meaningless than ever. Most find satisfaction in truths we can objectively believe in, and that was the start of science, to find answers that we can trust for certain. Science ignores all that which can't be handled in objective testable forms, pretends that other states of consciousness and realms of existence are an illusory fluke of biological machinery, but living beings were not meant to live life objectively.

There is no ultimate truth. Science is failing us. Bring us back to the glorious dark ages, where God and gods were physically present in the skies, where other lands were alien planets, where dragons might be found nesting deep in the dark forests, and where the struggle for one's life was a daily quest rather than just a fantasy. This is what dungeon synth seeks to restore, even if just for a brief moment. Only in the most terrible decay and darkness of the inner landscape can we find the lost mystery, and art can only bring us there if it is an isolated journey with a mind embracing the degradation as the inherent quality of lost things.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cintecele Diavolui - The Devil's Songs

Brown and degraded, lost in a decadent luxurious mustiness of endless life, The Devil's Songs, the lone release of Mortiis' side-project Cintecele Diavolui, is a foray into the atmosphere of the vampire. Instead of Twilight or Nosferatu however, this vampire experience feels much more distant, spiritual, and contemplative. The hunger is ever-present, and the world around it is a melancholy meditation, in a realm where the ticking clock of mortality doesn't exist, and one can live only by their hungers. Like many stories of the undead, and particularly vampires, this seems to be about a creature who is out of place in the modern world. Nobility, noble ignorance, and mysteries in the darkness will always remain, immortal like vampires, but in the modern world they are mere monsters. All of Mortiis' early work is about embracing these decayed dreams, and likewise that is the very nature of this entire genre he played a major role in pioneering. Here the vampire is embraced in a very pleasant jaunt through the cobwebbed passionate mind of the most dignified of the undead.

The music makes major use of the organ, and is much more bouncy and whimsical than the material under Mortiis' main moniker. In some way it manages to be both cheerful and melancholic, like the mind of a cynical world-weary dancer. In that way it comes across to those of us raised on the darkest music as some of the very rare songs that are both honest about existence as well as upbeat and fun.

This was one Mortiis project that never saw enough material for the vision to be fully realized though. One can understand it, from listening to this EP a number of times, but what this could've become was an entirely unique drunken funeral circus, and this albums reveals the road. Perhaps the vampire realized that he was actually mortal, or perhaps he just became hungry and so had to pretend to be a human so that he might mingle amongst them and gain sustenance, or perhaps he never was able to feed and the vampire died; either way, Cinetecele Diavolui never saw another legitimate release. In that way it is like many other dungeon synth works: nobody appreciates them, nobody lets the projects grow, not even their creators. And why would they? It's pride in personal fantasies entirely removed from reality. It's affirmation of the isolated loner, a loser with grand dreams but nothing keeping him from dying in the streets like Kuranes. At least black metal provides the illusion of unity with others, meaningful purpose opposed to madness, simply because you are not alone.

It's no wonder then that the fantasy of the vampire would appeal to the dungeon synth maestro. If only, if only... a man could only drink blood and then live eternally seeking out that impossibly illusive dream that he knows could only be found in unlimited eternity. Everyone wants to live their life in the best way possible, but few would advocate years of simple dreaming. And so the music fantasizes, as dungeon synth always does, and this fantasy is dreary and brown, like the moth-eaten abode of that ancient pale creature, but also it is passionate and carnal, feasting while sighing about hopeless road ahead.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gothmog - Medival Journeys

We enter the album through gritty barbaric violence, blood dripping from a sword. This synthesizer sound is perfect for dungeon synth. The first song of this album is one of the clearest shining examples of the genre (and yet entirely unknown). It is thick and heavy with ancient decadent brass voices, while timpani drums pound a marching accompaniment, the remembrance of brutal battles fought in ages past. It revels shamelessly in the dirty rotten medieval fantasy, without any sugar-coating or apologies for its spiritual-level indulgence in what most would see as embarrassing nerdiness.

This demo tape is my favorite of the truly obscure dungeon synth works. Truly there are hidden gems out there, and this despite the lo-fi tape quality and occasional performance hiccup, is the height of structural professionalism one could expect from the genre, and yet sacrifices absolutely none of its obscure atmosphere through doing so. What I mean by this is that in listening to the work one will almost never find themselves bored, thinking it too repetitive, and likewise one won't feel as if the next note is going to be obvious and expected, as can often occur due to the many of these dungeon synth artists being self-taught and not particularly experienced or talented with their instruments from an objective perspective.

The songs seem to vary between exciting medieval fantasy battles and quiet solitary dreams of the mystical past, the two strongest themes of dungeon synth, and yet they are both handled well, sound entirely fresh, and can pull one back into that particular beautiful dark inner landscape over and over without the demo losing its power.

It needs to be mentioned again how well the sound of the synthesizer works here. It is, in my mind, the utmost essence of the dungeon synth sound. The keyboard is clearly vintage, and all the instruments bear that nostalgic quality making them resonate on a level coming from the past, giving power to the ancient themes. Complementing the precise choice of instruments is the recording quality: it's degraded and foggy due to being a tape, and yet every note is heard with clarity and a soft texture, which is certainly preferable to the sharp hissing or over-amplification at the other side of the lo-fi spectrum. And along with instrument choice and sound quality, the performance itself is obviously not programmed, giving the music life even though it seems so ancient, synthetic, and distant. Life with the synthetic foggy quality makes things dreamlike, rather than simply alive, or simply robotic.

The greatest thing about this demo is its sheer listenability. It does everything right in terms of nailing the sound, atmosphere, and tone of dungeon synth, without sacrificing the simple enjoyment of sitting down and listening to it again and again. Some works in this style only function well when one makes a large effort to be in the right state, a sort of trancelike distance from the sound, where you experience the atmosphere fully without focusing on the music itself; this demo is not like that. It is simply enjoyable to listen to (which is arguable when it comes to the last few songs, as they tend to drag), but one still experiences the atmosphere of the spiritual fantasy more greatly than most of the less listenable dungeon synth works.

This demo is wonderful, and is by far one of my favorite dungeon synth works, which is why it's such a shame that the artist didn't go on to do more under the Gothmog name. However, the obscurity of the demo makes it that much more wonderful and atmospheric, and would not be so unknown had its artist slowly gone downhill and then eventually started making shitty techno music. As it is, this is a defining dungeon synth release, and I personally feel it should be at the front of the pack representing the large amounts of wildly obscure dungeon synth tapes of projects that never broke through. That is not to say however, that because the artists never became well-known or made official albums that they failed, as not "breaking through" is almost representative of dungeon synth itself, which is lost and hidden within black metal's obese shadow. I wish for it to stay there, so that dungeon synth can be magical like the shadowy black metal underground of the early 90's, but that it won't grow into a fat tumorous girth like the black metal of today.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wongraven - Fjelltronen

One of the masterpieces of dungeon synth. This is an equal challenger to all of Mortiis' work. The album starts of slowly; building upon itself, forming the scene, entering the landscape. Clean choir vocals sing in a rollicking Viking style, with a masculinity, stoicism, and grittiness that can only cause one to picture misty images of those ancient warriors rowing their ships at night, heading to England or mainland Europe to reap destruction.

And then it returns briefly to the quiet peaceful wandering. These songs don't quite call one to battle; they are almost more the hazy recollections of an old warrior, nostalgic and beautiful, with the stars brightly shining overhead. The atmosphere of the music really is like that of an old fireside tale, the kind that are thrilling and powerful enough to drive out the worst colds. A myth like this could only be woven by the most respected of the elder story-tellers, the one who wields powers of sorcery that would be both feared and honored. And so this very tale seems to have been imbued with his mystic powers.

Fjelltronen is such an incredible album because, not only does it contain, in every inch of it, the fiercely palpable atmosphere of ancient magic, but also it is musically complex and quite finely crafted. It is such a shame that this was the only Wongraven release, though I am much more happy with that state of things than if Satyr were to follow it with inferior material. Unlike much dungeon synth, the emotions vary greatly, often reveling in a hardy melancholy, then to an unknown darkness, then to the main adventurous theme that dominates the music, then to a cheerfully strange wandering, and the album ends with a triumphant conclusion to rival the very best metal in its affirmation of the value of sheer power.

Structurally this album is to be greatly admired, both in comparison to the other dungeon synth works which are very primitive in their structure, but also standing alone its structure should be recognized by all listeners as some of the very highest to be found outside of classical. The first track is the introduction and telling of first chapter of the story. The hero is brought out from a comfortable place and into a realm that is frightening and dangerous. In the second track, Over Ødemark, the hero wanders about that landscape. As if in an epic story he is confronting dangers and obstacles along his way, though he has to primarily rely upon his own strength to overcome them. The next song is similar, but instead of being a new obstacle, it is a sort of pleasant moment in between the howling winds. The hero stopped, perhaps at an isolated inn somewhere, and discovered a number of cheerful drinking dwarves. Tiden er en stenlagt grav continues the telling of the larger saga, backing away from the hero's lonely struggles and gives it higher significance and shows us a bit more about the world he's struggling within. Fra Fjelltronen concludes the music in the most beautiful way imaginable, such that no matter how many times I listen to it, I always find myself shocked and usually covered in goose-bumps.

Hearing the song Tiden er en stenlagt grav, one should immediately understand what dungeon synth is about. It's not about keyboards or Tolkien worship, it's about truly taking the listener to another world, one which either has not been experienced since a past we cannot recollect, or has never been experienced at all. Perhaps visualization is important to dungeon synth... Hear the music and try and picture the strange landscapes it takes you to; maybe that's the key to understanding it. It's always been something I took for granted, but no doubt that's not how people are accustomed to listening to music. All I can say is that, for the masterpieces of dungeon synth, the more effort you put into getting it, the more you'll get back in experiencing that world.

Fra Fjelltronen brings us back to the beginning of the story, but now with greater context. Suddenly we feel as if the hero of the tales has returned, and of course not only brought back something for the betterment of the tribe, but also has new knowledge of his own that makes him both wise and powerful. And the clean singing voice wraps it up perfectly, seeming to summon forth all the ancestors and all the lost battles and great victories that had been endured to bring the people to the point where they are at the telling of the story. But then it ends, with the chilling voice of some sort of a ghost in the wind. And a bell crashes, tearing us out of our trance and throwing us coldly back into the real world. This ending is done almost like a banishing ritual, thereby leaving the beauty of the music to be found only in that precious half-hour spent with the album, not allowing any of it to escape into the "real" world.

This album is much easier to listen to and can certainly connect more deeply with more people than Mortiis (who connects with many, but not on the level that he should). Most who listen to this album honestly will find that it has an almost supernatural ability to place them in a trance, and if they are not utterly moved by that ending, then I think they have no hope of ever understanding what this music is about.

If you only ever listen to four dungeon synth albums, make them Crypt of the Wizard, Fjelltronen, Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent, and Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Darkstroll - Frozen Forest

This release, being from the age of the computer dungeon synth composer, lacks the grittiness and sloppy playing that typically come with cassette tapes and physical keyboards. That does take from the potential "dungeon" atmosphere in the music, yet the clearness of composition in such a similar style gives this demo a different sort of sound than its influences, while wielding the same archaic synthesizer power that takes one into a visionary world of the artist. The release is called "Frozen Forest," and that is accurately depicted with the lightly drawn grayscale forest stream that haunts the cover. The atmosphere is of a similar nature, a bouncy jaunt through a nature-landscape of a lost age.

Where the music is lacking in spirituality, it makes up for it with lighthearted catchiness. It is not quite the retarded cousin of dungeon synth, which is renaissance-fair music, but it certainly comes close. Yet one still feels as if they are searching for something higher. It is not given the dignified quality that comes with music that is struggling to reach that greater mystic plateau, and yet it is unlikely the songs would be nearly as, well, pleasant to listen to if that were the case. Even songs such as "Into the Darkness" have a peaceful reassuring quality that contrast against the name, giving listeners the romantic idea that within the darkness is the pure beauty of fantasy. This is very similar to many of the deeper ideas conveyed in black metal, but the music itself lacks all darkness, and so that theme is a bit more difficult to grasp based on the music alone.

Otherwise this demo is nothing but a very relaxing work of dungeon synth that is not particularly ambitious or moving, but nice when one wants to explore a simple wilderness scene. After all, life is not only about struggles, heroism, and horrors. Sometimes one must simply relax and wander, appreciating the subtle beauties of nature surrounding them.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mortiis - The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost

It is a brave step to make an hour long demo consisting of only a handful of different riffs. One is at first captivated by the strange atmosphere that erupts from these such simplistic melodies. It seems to be continually trudging onward to someplace unknown. A person unfamiliar with the work will be immediately shocked by how often these few riffs repeat themselves, but after one has listened to it several times in its entirety, it instead becomes a meditation upon lost ruins and misty visions. It will quickly fade from one's immediate perceptions, as the listener drifts into a trance.

The low quality of the tape and sloppy playing both contribute to the feeling that this song truly is both ghostly and forgotten. It seems that Mortiis somehow predicted even so far back that this work would be just the mysterious prize a curious dreamer would be most excited to find in his search through obscure music. It something wholly inaccessible to the common listener, both in terms of discovering and listening, and yet for those who are patient and willing to get lost in the strange hypnotic reverie, the reward is an experience of something both magical and horrific.

The ghost is no doubt from an age lost to both our world and our myths. The ghost would not wander about the ugly places of the day-to-day; like all ghosts it would avoid living humans, except for those brave enough to enter the crumbling ruins of the tower, the darkness beneath which the ghost haunts eternally. And perhaps, to that poor soul who ventures into such a cold and decaying place, the ghost will whisper secrets, so quietly that he wouldn't be sure whether it was the voice of that forgotten spirit, or the steadily waning sanity of the dreamer who shivers in the dreary tomb.

What might be the secrets of the ghost? Perhaps it whispers of the weird magic it used to wield in the life that it's not sure it ever lived, or perhaps it whispers of how that tower was rotting long before it arrived, already filled with forgotten spirits that have since faded to nothing but a fleeting scent on the air... or perhaps it whispers of the black and endless horrors that lie beyond that crumbling stone wall, the madness that no curious dreamer ever predicts, until it is too late and they are consumed by the despair of the infinite abyss.

This is the true way of dungeon synth, an ancient place of darkness in which dreamers choose to sit and meditate, that they might get but a vague taste of that elusive something that is somehow so far beyond mere art, and always seems to get a little further from grasp the closer one gets to it. I encourage none to listen to this song, to visit the haunted ruins of the Long Forgotten Ghost. This is a place of despair, and if one adjusts to it and begins to feel a bond with that ghost whose songs are so mysterious and so distant from the stuff of life, then one will find that before long it is they that eternally haunt that musty crypt.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra - Midnight Fullmoon

One enters a mystical forest and wanders dreamily. Thoughts drift in and out, the silent spaces carried by an unnoticeable thread of melody alongside the sound of ambient vintage keyboard effects such as water, wind, birds, and horse-gallops. This is the awakening of the ancient spirit, the long and pleasant meandering into the dreaming woods. One can sense that this place is confined despite its fantastic atmosphere, as if these woods exist in the darkness of an unconscious mind, one who has, for a brief relieving moment, forgotten the pain and suffering of the waking modern world. This is music best complimenting a creative activity, wandering contemplation, or some other imaginative distraction, as the music is too repetitive and dull for the foreground of the mind.

With the raining darkness the music takes on a more sinister edge, as if the dreaming woods have suddenly grown darker, and one senses hungry eyes peering in from the shadows. A heartbeat is heard in background, reminding the listener of his mortality, threatening him for daring to tread so deep into the inner realms. Possibly it is a warning to the dreamer, that if he continues through the dank lonely realm of 'dungeon synth' that he runs the risk of getting permanently lost, his sanity melting under the raining darkness.

Then the triumph comes in, and one feels they are in control of the place. The honor of the explorer, as he has comes to understand the strange fantasy around him... and yet those momentary feelings of triumph always seem to fade off into uncertainty. The wanderer has faced the darkness, and feels that within it they are given supernatural power, like the figure of Dracula, lord of the dark, the decaying, the dead: the lost nobility that remains proud despite being cold and lifeless in the black and musty castles, lit by moonlight.

And then we are given a glimpse of sorcery, strange and dark magic. It has a chaotic sound that makes satisfying use of the old synths, and one can certainly picture colorful spells exploding in the exotic chamber of some half-mad wizard. The musician was clearly experimenting with the magic sounds of 90's keyboards in the same way that a magician would experiment with the strange incantations and recipes found in a discovered grimoire, sometimes fitting the music of the character, sometimes exploding dissonantly and destroying what order is to be found in such a cluttered, relic-strewn abode.

Algol's Black Lights seems to be descending deeper into the psyche of the dreaming hermit, to the point where space and supernatural archetypes take larger form than the pictures of the dungeon fantasy. This is the dream within the dream, an atmosphere too strange to get a strong handle on. It's a weak experiment, not conveying the thick fantasy of the overall vision of the album with as much success as the other songs. Likely it was just a filler, added to reach the magic number of seven that completes the album. It is tolerable and easy to ignore if you listen distantly, but its weakness will be readily apparent to any close listeners. Perhaps it could function as a reasonably well-done interlude, causing the listener to lose his atmospheric bearing and thereby refresh his palette.

With the dying sun, we see the ending of time, the ending of the dream, the exit that all must take. It is a simple goodbye to both life and the fantastic inner worlds that can be created through it.

The majestic flight takes a somewhat more real-world stance, utilizing the image of "burning churches" in its title. Fleeing the churches ablaze, into the land of Oriana, is a statement of escaping the real world, or at least the real world that has been created through modernism. It is a clear decision that the morality and symbols of modern man do not satiate a longing spirit. Sanctuary can no longer be found in the house of God. In fact, it is the world created by those that live under God's roof that has sent us fleeing into the darkness of the inner sanctuary, the dream-fantasy, the only place where real magic still exists. And so the churches are burnt, literally or metaphorically, and we flee into new lands, literally or metaphorically, all that is certain is we cannot stay in the world of common man in the 21st century, in the dehumanizing land of a million granite phalluses honoring Jehovah and his dollar.

Overall, the album is a very good example of standard dungeon synth. It is lo-fi, made up entirely by vintage keyboards, is shrouded in obscurity, has strong themes of fantasy, and is driven entirely by atmosphere. It is not the best dungeon synth by any stretch, and it really doesn't do much that is new, but it has captured the vision perfectly, and contributed to the rather small catalogue of this unknown music in a way that could only be done by someone who truly understands what it is about.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mortiis - Keiser av en Dimension Ukjent

Mortiis' Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent is a journey into a fantasy world that accurately conveys the full extent of a young man's spiritual escape. It is the most successfully realized vision of the early years of Mortiis; afterward he would go on to much shorter and more whimsical musical ideas, and after that something completely different (and much more commercial). I'd go as far as to say that this is Mortiis' most spiritual work.

The theme is decay. This is clearly noticeable in the presentation of the VHS music video for the song Reisene til grotter og ødemarker, where we see prolonged images in a black-and-white landscape that change at a slow (epic?) pace in a manner matching the music, almost like a minimalist version of Koyaanisqatsi. The ideas are long and repetitive, utilizing a cheap synthesizer and the occasional amateurish choir voice by Mortiis himself. The timpani drums pound in slowly accompanied by a proud corpulent brass ensemble (by far the most noticeably cheesy instrument). The "cheese" is immensely important to the purpose of the music, the primitive quality of the sound creating an atmosphere of dank castles, removing it from all mainstream music, giving it the same "necro" feeling that would make black metal powerful, though in an entirely different quality.

In Reisene til grotter og ødemarker the music is structured in two voices: one is a distant observance of the landscape, and the other is a close-up view, to the point that we see all the ugliness. This latter style is particularly interesting, sounding like the musical mind of a maniacally disturbed tyrant. We can almost imagine the eyes of such a creature, spinning about in its skull with the madness that comes from limitless power. This is the sound of decay and the sound of dungeons, an entirely unique atmosphere that you will find in no other music, and yet it is profound when it comes to its conclusions, rising out from the dungeon and up to the top of its tower, where it views the horizon of its vast and glorious kingdom.

Beneath the bleak and decadent exterior, there is a beauty. This is where Mortiis is the most profound and complex. The rot on the surface hides a romantic longing for something far beyond the experience of the everyday and describable, very much like black metal, but without the angsty pimple-ridden testosterone. We can sense that this fantasy world of Mortiis has been given much thought, and is far more vast than these notes could ever convey. We sense that this is a place in which a disillusioned man has retreated into a fantasy that has gone several steps beyond escapism and into the realm of genuine spirituality. Could someone live their life as a monk, but instead of reading and thinking upon the bible in their meditations, could they fill their mind and soul with some very personal fantasy? This is the very edge of escapism that Mortiis presents to us, but few will recognize it as such. This is taking fantasy to a level of seriousness that your run-of-the-mill LARPing nerd would scoff at. This is fantasy as religion.

I believe that with this and the previous two Mortiis albums, he was trying to create a new lifestyle in the same way that black metal became a lifestyle. It might seem, on the surface, that he was unsuccessful, gaining only a couple vague statements of praise from people who were entertained by, but hopelessly misunderstood his artwork. Yet his ideas have not gone unappreciated by at least this one humble reviewer, who was permanently changed by such works, despite its reputation (or lack thereof).

The second song, Keiser av en dimensjon ukjent continues the journey into this secretive fantasy world. The English translation is "Emperor of a Dimension Unknown," and it certainly suggests the feeling of a god, using the intellectual tools granted to us humble apes in the age of modernity, to escape the painful world we live in by creating a new one. Outsiders across the globe create their own lands in D&D games, in writing, in thought, but does anyone recognize how profound this is? We are monkeys, yet we can imagine alternate dimensions. Mortiis revels in that idea, and provides a soundtrack for his listeners to meditate upon their same power, to view the fruits of their imagination (assuming the medieval fantasy is relevant to their creativity, which for most nerdy white males it will be).

The music is about another world. If one does not have the power of imagination to summon forth in their minds the image of an alternate dream-dimension then they can never hope to understand this music. This music is about atmosphere, and those who listen for atmosphere alone are a rare breed, requiring a certain level of imaginative force that would probably hinder them in day-to-day life: a spiritual sense of the fantastic that would send them fleeing from the real world into one more beautiful (even if it is significantly darker).

Dungeon synth is not for the common man. This is not something you hear once and simply understand; this is a whole universe of unique thought. Mortiis did not make this to earn fame or money, he made this solely for himself. But for those who can share such a vision, it is a masterpiece of indescribable profundity.

Dungeon Synth

Dungeon synth is the sound of the ancient crypt. The breath of the tomb, that can only be properly conveyed in music that is primitive, necro, lo-fi, forgotten, obscure, and ignored by all of mainstream society. When you listen to dungeon synth you are making a conscious choice to spend your time in a graveyard, to stare, by candle-light, into an obscure tome that holds subtle secrets about places that all sane men avoid.

I shall do my best to make you, gentle readers, aware of this genre. This genre that only attracts the most tortured of outsiders, those who long for the forgotten magic of the dead, to remain forever in the shadows of decaying tombs.