Friday, December 13, 2013

Mixtape 02

DStapeA2 (pure dungeon synth):


01. Taur Nu Fuin - The Mountain Path
02. Undiscovered Moons of Saturn - Drowning in Magellanic Clouds
03. De Occulta Philosophia - Seventh Poseidon's Siren
04. Septic Flesh - Mythos (Part1 Elegy, Part2 Time Unbounded)
05. Капiшча - Калі ўвахожу я ў лес
06. Enid - Satan and Candida
07. Lord Lovidicus - Flying Past Extrasolar Wonders

DStapeB2 (free from genre constraints, at least related to dungeon synth in spirit):  

01. Pogo - Tunnels (Howl's Moving Castle Remix)
02. Amber Asylum - Riviera
03. Utred - Armorial Beast
04. Ultima IV - Intro
05. Arcana - Like Statues in the Garden of Dreaming
06. Midnight Odyssey - As Dark and Ominous as Stormclouds
07. Ice Ages - Eternal Sleep
08. Shadowgate - Entryway
09. Dimmu Borgir - For All Tid
10. Gail Laughton - Lemuria 16,000 B.C.


Two quite impressive albums from a new label called "Deivlforst Records," from the bands Arath and Murgrind.  Free to stream.

Also I forgot to mention in the last "updates" post, but Taramis is another new artist I'd only recently discovered and so not gotten a chance to really talk about yet.  But I recommend checking it out, if you haven't already.  Very powerful stuff:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Forgotten Times - Forgotten Times

In the heart of an icy forest stands the silhouette of a man, a lone wizard in meditation, as still as the dark surrounding trees, compelled to do nothing but sway to crystalline winds.  All around the scene float mysterious colors, spirits of departed magic, wisps of the essence, long since fled from our sterilized world.  

This is some extremely pure dungeon synth from Mexico, released some months ago.  It doesn't introduce anything new, but it nails the traditional dungeon aesthetic.  The synths sound straight from the early 90's, rich and raw digital orchestral tones, letting the full ugly colors of the patches shine through to great effect.

The tracks primarily wander over a static mood, slightly changing the riffs here and there to keep the listener interested in the surrounding scene, but never providing much conflict.  So in that way it should be primarily listened to as background music, a palpable ancient atmosphere to guide one's concentration.  The mood is typically one of romanticized loss, which is evident in the artist's name and track titles, focusing on the forgotten, the fallen, the final, and the twilight.  Night descends for the last time, leaving one only with fading memories of the day to cling to as they progress into the darkness.

I'm not very enthusiastic the piano is used in "Enchanted Dreams Waltz."  Piano in dungeon synth is generally fine, as is sentimentality, but when you mix the two it becomes a bit sappy sounding.  It doesn't ruin the song, and it can be appreciated in and of itself, but I think it's a good way to indicate the line between nostalgic yearning and sentimental camp; most of the album falls into the former category, but not this track.

A real guitar is introduced into the mix in the fourth track, "The Final Battle."  Normally guitars quickly detract from the dungeon sound, bringing the cosmic synths back down to earth, however here, very minimally playing the backing chords undistorted, it strongly complements the concept of pure dungeon synth.  So clearly one does not have to use all synth to be true, but probably does need to compose with a synthesizer sensibility.  Vocals are introduced in the last track, "Twilight of Forgotten Times," and while they are quite fitting for the genre, being ghostly whispers, they are a bit loud in the mix.  But it's definitely on the right track, going for vocals which serve atmosphere first and foremost.

While this isn't a great album, it's a very good one for a debut.  A close comparison in mood, I think, would be Depressive Silence.  It has that thoroughly 90's digital sound, with that perfect amount of wear and decay, and is fairly consistent in its atmosphere of mystical nostalgia.

It can be downloaded for free (or a price of your choosing) here:

A Few Updates

Since the list is now gone, from now on it probably wouldn't hurt to do some basic updates on new(ish) stuff that I haven't had a chance to address yet. 

Here's a few relatively recent albums that are worth checking out.  Hopefully I'll be able to review at least a few of them in the near future.

Abandoned Places - Giantlands
Foglord - New Realms and Forgotten Lands
Lord Lovidicus - Kyndill og Steinn
Aelvar - Portals of Decay

Also, there are now short samples for Til Det Bergens Skyggene, Yearner, and others on the Voldsom label website, for those who might've read the reviews but never had a chance to hear the music.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Erang - Another World Another Time

The cover is fitting for this album.  It's emotionally raw.  

The synth tones are varied and explore different lo-fi qualities.  Some tones are expansive and clear, some almost analog sounding, and many are crisp and distant.  This also gives it a full and layered sound.  The beginning of "The Great Castle's Gate" is a particularly striking moment, a very atmospheric melody and patch to convey that scene, a sense of towering stone grandeur.  Care was given to seek out beautiful and classic-sounding dungeon textures.

There's not just variation in the tone qualities though.  There's many different styles at play, ancient and mysterious, tranquil and beautiful, nostalgic and sentimental.  Erang is just as wistful here as ever, and confronts the themes with even more openness.  That's what I mean by emotionally raw.  It's more honest and direct, which can be draining at times, but then tracks such as "Vortex" are a gorgeous break from that reality (as well as yet another variation in style).  

The compositions can be complex, almost verging on neoclassical territory at times, so this makes for an engaging listen.  While it is still, like most dungeon synth, best as a background to mental wanderings, a person focusing more closely on the composition will find a noticeable attention to detail.  That said, the album still uses a standard amount of repetition for the genre, guiding the listener into a trance eventually, after he's come to appreciate the beauty of the surface-level details.

There's a lot of Burzum influence here (which is never a bad thing, as long as you don't count anything post-Hliðskjálf).  It's noticeable on a number of tracks, however it's especially clear in "Forever Lost in an Endless Dream," which seems like a direct nod to "Rundtgåing av den transcendent."  These moments are well-done, but are brief and distinct to many of the other styles featured on this record.

 Despite all the unique details and variations, it still manages to sound very much like an Erang record.  While there's nothing wrong with expanding on a vision, I have to say that I don't feel like this record is breaking any new ground that Erang itself hasn't already covered.  If you didn't enjoy Erang's previous material, I don't think Another World Another Time will change your mind, but it's a solid and arresting gaze deeper within a familiar vision.  Definitely worth listening.

It can be streamed freely, or purchased for $2 here:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mixtape 01

This post is a bit different from the usual content on here.  I decided to use the various tracks publicly exposed on youtube to put together a dungeon synth mixtape of sorts.  The first playlist, the "A Side," is pure dungeon synth.  The second, the "B Side," goes beyond dungeon synth, but is generally related in some way.  I may veer completely off-course for the B-Sides, here and in future playlists.  For both sides I try to mostly focus on stuff I haven't already covered on the blog.  I'd like to do more of these in the future, so I hope you guys enjoy the selections.

DStapeA1 (pure dungeon synth):

01. Heidenreich - Todeswunsch / The Prophet's Sacrifice
02. Ilmarin - Dance of the Elves
03. Erang - The Lonelyness Of The Stone Giant
04. Wojnar - Untitled
05. Olgerd - Eldar's Forest
06. Gvasdnahr - Seier
07. Evilfeast - Ode to a Rising Fullmoon
08. Soulside Eclipse - Cave

DStapeB1 (free from genre constraints):

01. Golden Axe II - Castle Gates
02. Mort Garson - Solomon's Ring
03. Nokturnal Mortum - Black Moon Overture
04. Perfect Dark - Carrington Villa Hostage One
05. The Days Of The Trumpet Call - I Saw No Temple In The City
06. Pogo - Dungeon Heart
08. Limbonic Art - Arctic Odyssey
09. Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows - Question(s) Beyond Terms (Who Is Confronting The Impossible?)
10. Osamu Shoji - 宇宙空間
11. Carpathian Forest - The Last Sigh Of Nostalgia
12. Lorn - Diamond

Friday, November 8, 2013

Til Det Bergens Skyggene - Vandringen II (Lynnelandskap)

What genre is this?  It's not pure dungeon synth, however its dungeon synth moments are powerful expressions of the mood.  I'd say it probably falls back more with the traditional electronic/ambient of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and the rest of that crowd, however it is out place there as well.  I'd say in fact it doesn't belong to any particular genre.  You can describe aspects of it by referring to other genres, but it seems to me to be merely an expression of synthesizer darkness, chaotic and gorgeous and melting into itself like wax.  

It is not an easy work.  I'd say the first "Vandringen" was easy by comparison.  However, I feel all that is required here is multiple listens, to familiarize oneself with the riffs and structure.  On the first listen one feels very disoriented, since it rarely repeats, often uses dissonant melodies, and seldom offers a familiar tone or expected transition.  In that way, perhaps you could say that it's avant-garde, though I think on further listens one will find that this release lacks the sense of frivolity and whimsy that typically accompanies that descriptor; there seems to be an ultimate serious vision here.  It can't be described in words (why bother making it in music then?), but I can say that it is quite beautiful.

This tape seems to acknowledge the pain of life, particularly for those sensitive outsiders drawn away from reality and into the inner fantasies.  But this work encompasses both aspects of that picture, the distress as well as the escape, providing a depth of conflict often lacking in dungeon synth.  This conflict stands in stark contrast to the serene beauty of other moments, the low expansive pads steadily beating with life, the soaring synthetic trumpets ushering in the emperor of sleep.  It is incredibly earnest and convincing in all of these emotions as well, the genuine spirit speaking quiet whispers of what is within, without pretense or mask.

It's quite hard to tell at any moment whether what you're hearing was carefully practiced or improvised.  Every note seems to be in its proper place, and yet there is almost a dreamlike sense of spontaneity.  Alongside this is the rough sound, the lo-fi tape quality, the handcrafted analog-sounding synth tones, the severe limitation and obscurity of the material, etc.  It is authenticity incarnate.  

And the textures here are often breathtaking.  It is clear that much thought went into every tone, and I'm guessing that much of them were manipulated extensively by the musician himself, since they have such a distinctive timbre (or perhaps I am just not as familiar with the sounds of analog synths).  Either way, these tones are lush and warm, even when the music descends into the coldest, blackest depths, we are comforted that at least it is still alive.  It sounds rubbery, malleable, and organic.  The occasional vocal effects causes me to sometimes wonder whether what I'm hearing is a synth or a man's voice manipulated through effects.  And then I even wonder if I should even distinguish between the two.

I recommend it.  It can be purchased here:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Retiring the List

The era of my list, in its current exhaustive incarnation, is now over.  I will probably replace it with a list of what I consider to be quintessential dungeon synth records, the best ones to start out with, or simply the ones that I feel deserve attention, but I will no longer be an archivist of ds.  That was originally part of the intent, but that was when I thought that this was essentially a dead genre, and that there would be a point when I'd have to barely update it at all.  Clearly that's not the case.  But my main goal with the list was merely to establish what I considered this genre to be, and I think it served that function long ago.  The right people are all in pretty solid agreement on what this stuff is.  Of course there was also the value in it that allowed folks to discover obscure and forgotten works, however I think that is better served through an organic process such as reviews.  That way, as well, people won't be bombarded by a massive amount of forgettable redundant slush.  Just because something belongs to a genre doesn't mean it's worth listening to.

More personally, it just takes the fun out of it for me.  I'm beginning to get uncomfortable spending most of my dungeon listening time drawing lines in the sand.  I'm too biased, not a particularly great authority (in terms of black metal scene experience), and it takes me too long to properly digest records.  Also, it has become easy for me to just toss truly notable albums on the list and think that my job is over, without giving it a review or saying any words on the album at all.  Without the list I'll feel more obligated and enthusiastic to give these works their deserved attention.  And I'll feel more free to speak my mind, to be more critical about albums, since I won't feel like an official representative of dungeon synth, a spokesperson persuading the uninitiated.

Besides that, it is just somewhat presumptuous for one person to act as an arbiter for a genre.  Everyone should be deciding what does and doesn't count as dungeon synth.  So anyone is free to take the list, change it in any way (or not at all), and post it anywhere.  I don't need any credit.  I'm going to delete it from the blog in probably a month or so.

I feel more comfortable stepping back from this position now that other voices are speaking on the style.  If you're unaware of them:

Dungeons of Darkness Magazine - I mentioned this a few posts back.  It's great work, a more traditional zine format.  There's a lot of in-depth content and it's absolutely worth checking out.

The Dungeon Grimoire - A new blog that popped up a few months ago, with a writer who seems to have an endless well of enthusiasm and is quite prolific in his posting.  Very good stuff, and covers a wide territory.

Dungeon Synth Facebook - To be honest I haven't been keeping up with this page, and stumbled on it again in the process of writing this post.  It looks like something that we all should be keeping up with.  

Dungeon Synth VK - This is the Russian dungeon synth community that has been around a while now.  It is a bit difficult for English speakers to navigate, but it's well-worth using one of the internet's free translation programs, since it has by far the most content of any ds page.

Winter Synth - Not many posts or very active, but what has been posted is high quality and covers a neglected gap in the black metal related ambient genres.

Asmodian Coven - Doesn't have a dungeon synth focus, but often posts very obscure and hard to find (or even discover) works in the style.  Was around long before my blog, and should be a cornerstone for anyone into obscure black metal-related music.

I know that the list was probably the main attraction of this blog, so perhaps I'm shooting myself in the foot.  But anyways, without the list taking up my time (or more like avoiding it), I should be able write here more regularly.  I intend to post around this time every week from now on, so be sure to check in.  

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fear Through Eternity

Fear Through Eternity from Merdumgiriz on Vimeo.

This film, just released by Merdümgiriz and Emir Toğrul, strongly has the dungeon spirit.  It is for this film that the album by Yayla, also titled "Fear Through Eternity," was made.  The closest thing I could compare it to is the music video for Mortiis - Reisene til grotter og ødemarker, however this is even more experimental and minimalistic.  It definitely requires patience and an open mind, however I feel that if you give it your time then you'll find it to be a powerful and rewarding journey.

If you would like to purchase the film, or just find more information about it, you can do so here: 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lord Lovidicus - Forgotten Ruins

The feeling of reward in this album is very strong.  One gets the sense of staggering heights, awe-inspiring vistas, and a dark perilous journey.  The album is slow-paced, structured like a grand legend, and has the majestic melodies to make it all work.  The moments of trudging discomfort act as a powerful contrast to the plateaus of clarity and conquest.  In the way it travels from darkest depths to greatest heights, it gives the listener a sense of vertical travel, which matches well the themes suggested by the song names, "The Mountain Stronghold Shrouded In Fog And Shadows," and "Scaling The Crevasses Of Fyrelight Cave."

This is not an easy record.  From the get-go we feel the tension of uphill ascent.  This album might be following the early Mortiis structure, but its progression is so much more towering.  Permeating the album is an impression of dualistic movement, between difficult struggle and breathtaking visions.  There is all the mood of ancient magic, of mythic castles and rotting tombs speckling the landscape like gravedust.  But then in contrast to that gravedust is the veil of night, and the stardust dotting the firmament overhead.  This is where I hear the vocals in track one… a glorious height out of all dungeon synth.  Lord Lovidicus experimented with the two thirty-minute track structure of Mortiis, and seems to have immediately grasped it.  One feels like they climb to such heights that they gaze on the realm of the gods.

It is strangely thematic.  The return to certain melodies after a long while gives it the feeling of a journey.  I've wondered for a while whether longer track-lengths might suit the ideas of dungeon synth better than the standard black metal lengths they currently have.  I feel like this work validates that.

This album isn't perfect, however.  There are moments that do drag a bit, and the repetition can get a bit wearisome when the ideas aren't particularly striking on their own.  But for the most part the slow moments function more as a brief rest, for the contemplating mind to reflect on the strange paths it has taken, before rising again to otherworldly panoramas.  It will require patience from the listener (even as a ds album), a willingness to allow the music to, at times, fall to the background of one's present thought.  It is minimal in this way, somewhat detached, but this detachment just highlights the moments of exhilaration and wonder more strongly.  But that said, the album might be a bit on the long side, especially for one that relies on simplicity and repetition so strongly.  Also, the sound of the synth tones, while pleasant, are somewhat standard for the genre, and don't stick out much.  Everything is pretty clean and well-produced, I'm guessing a product of software.  It also seems, to my ears, that the compositions were programmed rather than performed; I'm not sure whether the coldness of this technique adds or detracts from this album, although I personally prefer the more rough and organic performances most of the time.

So, while I feel there are several weaknesses in this record, it still holds up as one of the best dungeon synth albums this year.  It went back to the roots, invoking the sprawling structural quality in Mortiis that is often overlooked in recent expressions of the dungeon style, and it did it to great success.  It's enthusiastic about the vision, almost a call to arms.  The only lyrics to be found on the album, toward the end of the second track, really say it all: "Come forth.  Burn your darkest flame.  The answer lies ahead." 

It's free, and I strongly recommend checking it out.  It can be downloaded here [link from the artist's youtube page].

Friday, August 9, 2013

Brief Update

This is not a proper post, but there are a couple things I'd like to bring up that I think will be of interest to dungeon listeners.

Firstly, it's been brought to my attention that someone has produced a dungeon synth ezine, called "Dungeons of Darkness."  The first issue is well-done and has lots of content, including interviews with Erang and Lord Lovidicus, so I strongly suggest checking it out.  It can be downloaded here:

Secondly, I released a new album under my dungeon synth project, Valscharuhn, not too long ago.  I feel that it explores interesting territory, though is a lot less focused than the previous album.  It can be downloaded here: (and please don't pay unless you just have money to burn).

Lastly, and this is somewhat off-topic, but I wanted to express my enthusiasm for the Oculus Rift.  If you're unfamiliar with this, it's essentially a new technology that is gaining a lot of momentum right now, a virtual reality head-mounted display that actually delivers on the promise.  I received my "developer's kit" (even though I'm just an enthusiast) a little over a week ago, and it's led to some of the most astonishing experiences I've had, and this is only with demos and retrofitted software.  "Dear Esther," for instance, was overwhelmingly beautiful.  It really does feel like you're in a separate dreamworld, and I think this will change everything in terms of immersive, atmospheric art.  For anyone who is into gaming or just what a strange future we'll be heading into, it will be worth your while to research the topic and keep an eye on its developments.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Skarpseian - Skygge Slottet

There is a castle.  It is overgrown, looking like a rotting stone log jutting out of the ground, once an independent lifeform, now decaying into the earth.  But there is human life here yet: simple, traditional, natural life.  They are people who also sink into the decay of earth and ages, like a rapture for ancient nobility, a slow process of being warped and twisted by the machinations of time.  We are whisked away for the length of this album, possessed by the ghost of that lost castle.

This is another release which comes from Russia, where the interest in dungeon synth seems alive and well.  This is an album which gets the formula exactly right, but also introduces a very distinct and unique vision of dungeon synth in the process.  You almost feel like you're there, amidst the cold, rotting stones.  You can sense the terrible, horrific things going on in the immense torture chambers below, and feel grateful each day that you have food, a bed, and are not condemned to those depths.

But though this might be the castle of a tyrant, a decaying fortress sinking into the earth, there is still great majesty and regality here.  I think this is particularly present on Targenur.  The great string tone almost sounds like castle gates going up and down.  You feel the immense and glorious display of power this is, coming in off the wild trails of nature into a legendary fortress of pain and order.

My first listen of this album, I was initially put-off by what I perceived to be another "noble savage" kind of dungeon synth record, one that is simple both in voice and vision.  However, I quickly learned that Skarpseian is one of the exceptions channeling this level of simplicity.  From what I can tell, this is a calculated minimalism.  While such a thing is not uncommon in dungeon synth, what is unique here is that it seems both self-aware and also pure.  What I mean by this is that it feels authentic.  It doesn't feel like it's intentionally "dumbed down," but rather that it's conjuring these ancient feelings in a way that is simply primitive: a direct, straightforward voice.  A hard feat.  Though the voice is straightforward, the message and atmosphere are cyclical and spiraling inward into oblivion, a hazy stupor of life that fades before it's even realized it'd begun.  It is an atmosphere with immense depth.

The sound of the synths here are brilliant.  Each of them seems to embrace the ugliness and uniqueness of discarded sounds from decades past.  This allows for both the immediate feelings of decay, as well as seeing the flowers and mushrooms that bloom from such a process, the spirit of forgotten history.  Skarpseian has a wonderful ear for which tones have something to offer apart from being vintage, that they each have their own beautiful unheard voice, and the artist expresses them very raw and confidently.  This has a tremendous effect, making the work seem both primitive and distinctly noble, naturally a perfect vibe for the concept of a "shadow castle."

And something must be said of the album art.  I'm personally not sure whether it's new or old, well-known or original, but it fits fantastically with the sound of the music.  It has all the misty atmosphere, the overgrown/decaying quality, the cold-looking land on the horizon, the tinge of greenish-brown earthiness, and the two black figures on the bridge, completely opaque, showing the presence but insignificance of human life in this vision.  All the major points in the music can be found by studying this art while listening, which should be the ideal goal of album art.

I've listened to this work a handful of times already, and it's grown on me more each time.  This is an album which is very focused on the vision, and because of that it's able to go much deeper than most dungeon synth I've listened to.  This album might rival some of the best, assuming it holds up on further listens.  

I strongly suggest checking it out:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dungeon Lore Foundation - Chapter I: 'King in the Mountain'

On the horizon lies several noble firs, a thick layer of fog, grass wet with morning dew, and a slowly approaching army of medieval warriors.  Here one will find glory and nobility, castles rising strong from the cold grounds of the north.  Here we find a vision of the medieval that is alive and strong, thrusting ourselves in the midst of that ancient scene.

Compilations are a rare thing in dungeon synth, and I'm not sure the genre is very well-suited to them, however in the case of this album it serves a pretty good purpose, which is introducing us to a number of the currently-active Russian dungeon synth artists, particular those associated with the VK dungeon synth page (who are the ones that put together this compilation).  Since compilations are varied by their inherent nature, I think this review would be best served going track-by-track.

The first track, Saga About Old Sword And Forgotten Glory, is very clean and tight, folky, epic, with war drums, battle samples, a shrill flute, and a heavy consistent brass.  It seems to glorify ancient battles, and has a strong underlying pagan feeling, to the point of being almost reminiscent of new age music, but I think it's subtle enough to just add a bit of a unique flavor to a decidedly dungeon synth track.  It fits the theme of the album as well.

The next track is on the opposite spectrum of dungeon synth: cheap keyboard, very little reverb, and sloppy playing.  This one is more along the lines of ponderous medieval melancholy, similar to Født til å Herske.  A sparse, foggy landscape of isolation and yearning.  This is the familiar sound of a lone, melancholic dreamer wandering amongst cold plains and decrepit ruins.  Not bad, but doesn't really explore any new territory.

The third track is glorious and naturalistic, really does convey the feeling of some noble creature or spirit soaring over a landscape and amidst the clouds, seeing the trees, mountains, and castles in the vista below.  It doesn't seem to go anywhere though, more like a brief glimpse into this animalistic experience.  I'm almost reminded of Nest.

The fourth track is repetitive, bright, and ancient.  Really strong sense of nature and sunlight, like a pagan daydream, but not that hokey renaissance-fair type paganism, the real thing.  Unique sort of atmosphere here, really visual and serene.  Over repeated listens this track has grown on me strongly.  The artist has a good ear for the level of minimalism best suited for daydreaming and being immersed in the atmosphere.  Not a very dynamic song, but very effective at giving the listener a sense of place.

The next track, Dungeon Ghost, is a bit repetitive and simple.  Feels somewhat like a mantra of some sort, a small single line of runes carved into a forgotten stone.  Feels like it's attempting to represent the impenetrable past, a past which is entirely alien to us today, incomprehensible even in its simplicity.  That said, while it does have an effective atmosphere, I think it's an atmosphere a bit too simple to repeat as often as it does.  It should either be more dynamic or half the length.

Merlin-Sorcerer's Awakening is interesting, bombastic and fantastical, perhaps leaving dungeon territory a bit.  It seems like this song is attempting to be a bit more symphonic, with a quite dynamic composition, however opposite the previous song, it seems to move much too quickly to ever let the listener explore the atmosphere on his own.  I think dungeon synth necessarily needs to be a bit more detached, not engaging the listener quite so directly.

Sunrise Over the Mountain Forest feels somewhat uninspired.  It's tracks like these that make me wonder whether musical experience is a hindrance in making dungeon synth.  This artist seems to have quite the traditional musical ability, however I sometimes feel that this leads to a "by the books" approach, which can act as a crutch.  Or perhaps the vision being expressed just doesn't resonate with me so strongly; that can very well be the case here, since it is one of bright sentimental serenity, an atmosphere which I personally do not value much. 

Return to Erebor is very cool.  It is synthy, with quite a few spacey patches, mixed in with the familiar medieval ones.  Like many of the tracks here, it is heavy on the percussion, but that's not a bad thing.  It makes the track quite powerful in this case.  A whole album of this sort of material, I would question whether it is "pure" dungeon synth, but that's irrelevant since it's interesting and original.

The last track is very vast and final, with a hint of menace, a sense of things coming to a final pass.  Great for an ending.  The lack of a riff-based structure and percussion make it seem a bit unrooted, compared to the sound of a lot of ds, and that works really well here and it still really has the dungeon tone.


The unifying theme of this album is of the mythic element of a king/hero who is hidden away, before arriving out of the darkness into the light of day.  That feeling is conveyed pretty well here, and if the planned nine albums pan out, I'm guessing it might be approached as the traditional hero cycle, which might make the whole collection of works a very unified and powerful vision of dungeon synth.

Overall the album seems pleasant but unfocused, bright and ancient.  It has the strong Russian pagan vibe to it, but without descending into any reenactment-festival type sounds.  It's not a "must-listen," however it does a great job introducing a lot of the modern Russian dungeon synth projects, particularly those associated with the VK dungeon synth page.

It's fascinating as an original dungeon synth compilation, giving many short differing glimpses into that other world of fantasy dreaming.  My issue with it, however, is that I think dungeon synth requires longer forms to come to a cohesive meaning.  At best I was only able to get a sense of what was being communicated, rather than the complete vision.  I think that comes down to this genre being about individualistic expression.  I'm skeptical whether this can ever be fully realized in compilation form, however I'd love to be proven wrong.  In any case, it's definitely a good way to learn where to delve further with these very talented artists.

Check it out, it's free to download:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Interview with Curwenius of Mitternacht

Andrew: To start, though you've had several impressive dungeon synth epics since back in 2002, many readers might be unfamiliar with your material.  How would you describe your personal vision within this style of music for those who have never heard it?
Curwenius: Mitternacht’s first album (“The Desolation of Blendenstein”) was highly influenced by symphonic black metal keyboards, Summoning, dark ambient and, of course, Mortiis.  My aim was composing music with a lot of instrumentation, alternating passages of fast percussion and melancholic moments. After composition, it was a natural process to complete the music with a fantasy storytelling.
The second CD ("The Raise of the Secret Cities) followed the line of the first one with a more symphonic instrumentation component, keeping the storytelling.
The third release ("8 Visions of the Time Pilgrim") was totally instrumental, delegating in the track titles the concept of the album. There is a fourth album already composed and recorded, in which Mitternacht would return to the fantasy storytelling along the concept of the CD. Release date has not been scheduled yet.
Andrew: Your first two albums contain the vocal narration of lofty fantasy events, but this element is missing in the third.  Do you feel that dungeon synth as a genre is a good avenue for atmospheric storytelling?  Do you think it might be somewhat like opera when utilized in that way?  And is that storytelling quality diminished at all when it is purely musical, such as your third album?
Curwenius: Dungeon synth is perhaps the most adequate ambient genre for storytelling, even without lyrics. You can tell a story only with track titles: the composition of each track should be climactic enough to take the mind of the listener to the place you want to take it; being purely musical could impact (or not) in the quality of the storytelling. Of course, adding lyrics always lets you expand the story. But not the kind of storytelling in opera: I think that in opera the story has much more preponderance over the music, and the music (beautiful or not) becomes a tool for a theatrical piece, under my point of view. I understand that is not the common opinion about opera.
Andrew: I notice that your third album, "8 Visions of the Time Pilgrim," based on the song titles, seems to be dealing with historical themes, essentially covering primordial earth until World War II, but channeled through a fantasy lens.  What are your thoughts on contemplating history with a fantastical mindset?
Curwenius: When I was conceiving the concept of this album, I wondered what could be the impression of mankind's behavior for a completely external observer. Of course, that impression could not be good. And, what if that observer could watch different moments of mankind's history? That is the reason for the album title: "8 Visions of the Time Pilgrim". That "pilgrim", an external observer (a fantastic creature, a space traveler, whatever), would testify the rapid movement from mankind against nature to mankind against mankind. That was what I tried to explore with this concept.
Andrew: What are your thoughts on the relation between fantasy and the real world?  Is pure escapism a noble path?
Curwenius: I don't consider fantasy to be escapism. In fact, they are even antagonist concepts. Fantasy, in an artistic context, is the most daring way of facing reality. I mean, the fantasy in art allows people to face their most feared feelings, situations, and monsters, and for "monsters" I'm talking about the self's dark side and the others'. After the artistic creation, those fears and monsters would take shape as werewolves, nightmare creatures, evil spirits, forest goblins, and so on, in a sublimation process.
Hedonism, addictions, consumerism, snobbery: under my point of view, those are the real forms of escapism.
Andrew: Do you make this music mainly for yourself or for others, and why?
Curwenius: I make music for my own enjoyment and for others to listen. I think the joy of making music cannot be completely fulfilled if there is none to listen it. It's like writing a story that is not going to be read by anyone.
Andrew: What is your typical composition/recording process, and what equipment do you use?
Curwenius: When I want to start a new work, usually the idea of the concept and the composition line appears simultaneously. Once I've started, perhaps the initial idea is discarded and replaced for another one that I could consider better. That counts for the concept and for the music.
So, when the structure of the theme has a clear shape, then comes the process of making melodies and choosing instrumentation, keeping in mind if this track would include lyrics, sound effects, voices or all of them. Now, with the composition finished, it starts a process of correction that could modify (deeply or not) the track. After that, I finally record the music.
For recording, I've utilized my own digital studio (not expensive but useful), including a specialized audio card and a midi keyboard. Also I use some well-known PC based recording, mixing and midi tools.
Andrew: You're certainly the first South American dungeon synth artist I've communicated with, and as far as I can remember at the moment, the only one I know of.  How do you feel your locality in Argentina influences your taste and creativity?  Was it through the internet that you were able to familiarize yourself with this style, or is this sort of music present in your local metal underground?
Curwenius: I think my locality has no direct (positive or negative) influence in my musical taste. I've listen most metal genres since I was very young, always looking for more existent subgenres of this music. Eventually, I met dark ambient. I was always more attached to keyboards than guitar and bass (I like both anyway), despite my metal roots, so Mortiis, Pazuzu, Die Verbantenn Kinder Evas, Dargaard were real findings to me, and by 2000 I've decided to start my own project, Mitternacht.
At this point I must make an acknowledgement to Furias Records. First for letting me easily reach many titles of every underground music genre, most of them very difficult to find here and, after that, for taking the chance of releasing my albums. That was just before the internet explosion, at least in my country. Since then, internet has been an incredible source of valuable information (just like your blog).
Andrew: What are your religious and political stances?
Curwenius: I'm not a practicant or a churchgoer, but I'm a baptized Catholic. I think religion is a good thing for the human intellect (therefore, for his life), in spite of the fact that they have been presented, religion and intellectualism, as antagonists.
Regarding to my political instances, I'll just say that I don't like politicians and I think that politics and ideologies are bad things. I've heard that just saying that is making a political statement and having an ideology. I disagree, I believe in good deeds made by good people, not in a platform of ideas. Instead of politics, I like to think of civic-mindedness.
Andrew: Do you have any concern for whether the internet will harm this style of music, since it seems to have found somewhat of a home online?  Do you think shining a light on the darkness might break the spell to some extent?
Curwenius: If I correctly understood the question, no, I'm not concerned. In opposite way, I think that Internet is a great channel of diffusion for this style of music. This is a way that could lead more labels to take the chance of releasing albums devoted to this genre. Thanks to the Internet we can discover without delay that a musician, no matter in which country they live, has composed a work that we not only like, but would buy also. This interview and the way we got in touch is a perfect example. I was thinking that dungeon synth styled dark ambient music hadn't found a specific group of listeners, but I've found your blog, and thanks to your blog, I've discovered a lot of dungeon synth projects, some of them superb, and I must say it's encouraging to me for composing more and more music, exploring more and more deeply this and other genres of dark ambient music.
Andrew: Are there any final words you'd like to add?
Curwenius: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking into account my work, for considering it involved with dungeon synth music, for giving me this space for expressing me and finally for your initiative and your great work in the dungeon synth blog.
I hope more labels, in the future, take the chance of releasing alternate subgenres like dungeon synth.
Andrew: Thank you very much for your kind words and for speaking with us.

You can purchase the albums from Furias Records, where one may also find Curwenius' pagan black metal project, Heulend Horn (sample track).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mortiis - Ånden som gjorde opprør

A great purple mystery looms high, a vast stone temple stretching into the starry sky.  A foggy shroud clouds the mind of the wanderer as he stumbles through a strange landscape filled with ancient towering monuments, rotting tombs, fearsome beasts, and unholy necromancers.  It is a place for lost spirits, where the unknown is not some abstract concept, but rather a permeating experience of the world.  One meanders through, over, and under this setting of dreamlike beauty, simply soaking in the primal grace of each new vision.

Of course this is one of the defining masterpieces of dungeon synth, mandatory for anyone claiming to have interest in the genre.  It is very similar to "Keiser av en dimension ukjent" in style as well as tone.  It has gone through two different artworks, the first being a purple landscape with several shots of Mortiis in his famous troll mask and attire.  The second cover for this album, implemented first in 2007, is my personal favorite of John Bauer's artwork (whose fairy tale paintings were also used for "Keiser av en dimension ukjent" and "Crypt of the Wizard").  I'm not familiar with the tale associated with the illustration, however the contrast of darkness, magic, and a sort of bright mystical innocence is perfect for the music here.

This is an album that one must get "caught in the flow" for.  It's a cosmic stream upon which a young entity is drifting.  Sometimes it is slow and majestic, with colorful, sparkling visions to behold on either bank, but at other times one hits the rapids, a grand medieval skirmish.  It is an album perfect for daydreaming, which I personally consider to be the primary mood dungeon synth caters to.  It is so magical because it gives the listener the power!  It is not its own fantasy world, so much as providing a set for contemplation, where the listener can build their own fantasies (the exceptional art of it is connecting to the listener in a parallel way that allows such daydreaming).

The music, of course, is simplistic.  It uses the same vintage synthesizer found on all the Era 1 Mortiis albums.  It seems, and one can read from interviews with Mortiis himself, that he did not know how to "properly" play the keyboard, but if ever there was evidence that grand artistic visions could be created through raw inspiration, it can be seen here.  Many might be capable of performing this work, and its formula is a relatively easy one to follow, but very few dungeon synth records reach such majestic heights.  Though it is quite similar to "Keiser av en dimensjon ukjent," the primary difference is that it is more adventurous and not so introspective.  Mortiis just explores the mystifying inner fantasy land he has created, and is not questioning "why?" or reflecting so much.  This work is much more about being in awe of this realm, content to wander about it, taking in all of its atmosphere and wonder.  It seems more fresh, green, youthful, and colorful than the two works preceding this, as if a grand magical kingdom started to bloom, a spring to the winter that was "Født til å herske" and "The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost."

The (translated) lyrics of the second track go as follows:
Many years have passed since the tyrant - the guardian
of all keys and the master of the time-walls
was spit out. By a weak human she...he
was not loved by the elements of nature.
Neither earth nor water was held high by him,
he hated the nature, the earthly unknown
In this Mortiis is possibly taking a stance on dreams and fantasy.  One is "spit out" into a world of biology and instincts, pressured to fit within a certain framework of his fellow mammals, and yet, that "tyrant" might feel another calling... And so the dungeon synth dreamer takes up his skull-topped staff and wanders into the unknown world within, isolated and lonely, but able to experience the magic of lost ignorance.  Nature will contradict those instincts, the logic of which goes "mimic your brethren, reproduce," and yet he heeds the call of the unearthly realm, behaves quite contrarily to all his instinctual urges and the examples around him, and so the archetypes of nature curse him in their own way, its robotic children shunning that "master of the time-walls."

It is possible that these instincts would've been "natural" in a pre-civilized world, the dreamer becoming a shaman of the tribe through a symbolic death of the individual, and yet in the chaotic torment of modernity we are now experiencing, dreamers seem to fall through the cracks.  With nobody to seek their message, and no avenue through which to satiate the urges of the longing spirit, the dreamer must choose to either relent and give in to the tsunami of progressing civilization, or fight back and feel the full force of the "hate of nature," the repugnance and misunderstanding of the surface-dwelling men.

But this album is far from simply a philosophical confrontation against modernity.  In fact, it is an outright avoidance of that confrontation, recognizing the impossibility of victory, not even knowing the specific entity with which to wage battle.  It is merely the call for the escape, beckoning one toward the mystical visions within, the only place where true meaning can be found.  But this is not right either, it's not simply the call for escape, but also the gateway into the dreams of that grand decadent kingdom, one in which the listener is God, tyrant, and pilgrim.  It might destroy the earthly man who wanders that weird, forlorn trail of dungeon synth, but on that journey he will experience sights of profound obscurity, seen by few other mortals.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Yearner - Winternight

This cassette is cold as hell.  For that reason, I think this work might be fitting for the term "winter synth" as well as "dungeon synth," even if it is not quite as minimal and nature-focused as the works in the former category.  Despite its obvious themes on winter, it still feels more like observing a biting-cold landscape from within the similarly freezing tower, where a weak fire provides you with just enough warmth to live; by this metaphor I mean that the style of composition rarely descends into pure repetition, droning, and sound effects, as most of the "winter synth" albums tend to, so musically it is perhaps more firmly in the ds category.  Anyways, this is not too important.  What matters is the effect that the music creates.

It is extremely lo-fi, with vintage synths, xeroxed cover art, and, most noticeably, a very crusty recording quality.  This tape feels like something one might discover buried under the snowy ground, deep in the forest and surrounded by overgrown runes.  It is resistant to appreciation due to the recording quality, repetitive and primitive melodies, and the track "Obscurity," which seems to be pure dissonance.  This feels to be representing the harshness of a northern winter, the easy death if one were to lose their way.  But like a northern winter, there is a grim, fearful, and awe-inspiring beauty about it, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the harsh distance between the man and the icy forest, the listener and the snarly lo-fi synth cassette.

Winternight pushes you away.  It resists interpretation, it resists the visceral comfort of good production, it even resists a consistent and relaxing listen.  Under normal production values these melancholy melodies of stoic fate would be lush and beautiful, and so they still remain, but as the tape hisses at you, it's more like being in a blizzard and seeing a noble wolf walking alongside a mountain in the distance; it would be glorious, if not for the distracting threats of the surrounding icy chill and the creature itself.

To be more specific about the music itself, the closest comparison might be Hliðskjálf, though that's a bit of a stretch.  There aren't any particularly realistic tones here, mostly just strong, shimmering synth tones, crunchy in some places, ethereal in others, but still sounding distinctly dungeon synth.  It's about twenty minutes long, with a few-minute interlude of dissonance in the middle of the five tracks. 

On a more critical level, despite this work being very good, it’s not as great as his latest Til Det Bergens Skyggene release, Vandringen I (Skoglandskap).  I think the lo-fi quality of the tape and the dissonant track distance the music a bit too much for my tastes.  Naturally I think there's a line for how far the lo-fi effect should go, which is like anything, such as reverb or bass volume.  The amounts work differently depending on the music.  Here, I think it's right about on the line, where the recording quality starts to define the work without ruining it (and by define, I mean contribute a large amount of the aesthetic meaning, where it would mean something quite different without it), although in this case I think it goes slightly over, and the work would've benefited from a somewhat clearer production.

Anyways, this is still a very powerful release, definitely on the upper end among the various works in "the list."  A powerful and unique vision, and though challenging, it's rewarding.

Winternight can be purchased here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Erang - Tome II

Initially, I'm struck by a feeling of the lullaby.  It might be the sound of crystals, but it's also reminiscent of music boxes.  This emotion has been a theme I've noticed in these two Erang albums, one which I feel is rarely so openly confronted in dungeon synth, though always present, which is that of innocence.  Often it is through the naiveté or youth of the artist, however in Erang's case I sense a definite self-conscious element to these choices, which is why it is able to be so up-front with its exploration of the fragile weakness of nostalgia, rather than shielding it in dissonance or putting the focus purely on the fantasy.  In that way, when it comes to expressing the emotional qualities behind dungeon synth, I feel that Erang is one of the most honest artists. 

When we get to tracks such as "The Road Goes Ever On," we hear a sad farewell to things past, though with the feeling of a happy acceptance of the ongoing nature of life.  It is very reminiscent to me of when Bilbo makes his journey to Rivendell in the Fellowship of the Ring, not intending to ever return.  It is a full and beautiful understanding that one has to let the past go in order to truly move forward, though with a smile and a tear in the eye, as one looks back for a final time before proceeding onward into the next phase of one's saga. 

My favorite track on the album is "People of the Crystal Cave."  This might just be my own personal enjoyment of the whimsical, but there is something purely magic about this track.  It seems very fey-like, having both the majesty and silliness of elfland. 

It is clear that Erang has a love for the old synthesizer tones, and is eager to explore them with a respectful ear.  It might seem a strange parallel to draw, but I often feel similar moods as to when I listen to Boards of Canada.  It might lie on a completely different spectrum in terms of style, but the mood I find is often on the same thread.  By this I mean that both manage to tap into a certain feeling which seems, in my opinion, to come natural to the synthesizer as an instrument, and that is the vague sense of beautiful memory, a sort of bittersweet nostalgia; this specific feeling isn't found merely in composition, but in a way that could only really be expressed with certain sounds of the synth.  A more specific point I'd like to mention in regard to the textures and recording style is that there is something quite striking about the end of "Ruins of a Lost Underwater Kingdom."  I don't know whether that was a mistake that was kept due to its peculiar effect, or an intentional trick, but it sounds gorgeous, absolutely fitting the mood of the track and the idea of its name.

Erang descends in and out of the darkness at various points in this album, as he did in the last. reaffirming the point that things will not end well, that despite the beautiful moments in this world, we all meet the darkness eventually, the one that sits behind each and every one of us constantly, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  In Erang's choice to do so, however, he explores the full landscape of the fantasy, giving us a powerful contrast, increasing the intensity and understanding of all the various realms.

I'd say the weakest track on the album is "Dancing with an Evil Soul."  It seems somewhat out of place and distracting.  I compare it to "Wood's Lullaby" in the previous album, just not quite resonating with me or causing my imagination to be piqued.

Overall, it's a subtle and surprisingly powerful album.  Erang is an interesting artist, whose works seem to sound slightly better every time I hear them.  I hope you all will incorporate his albums into your regular listening schedule, because I think you'll find them quite rewarding.  Though I would not go so far as to call Tome II a masterpiece of the genre, I will still give it an asterisk in the list, to say that I both love it and that it represents the epitome of the dungeon synth sound, while still being very much unique and exploring uncharted territory.  I hope that Erang continues with his work, and continues to reach into those obscure and nostalgic atmospheres.

Tome II can be streamed for free or purchased for $2 here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some things...

I apologize for the lull in activity.  I have no excuse, so I'm not going to attempt make one, however I will try to get back to posting something every week or two. 

Despite my lack of posting, I've still been adding things to the list during this time, largely thanks to helpful hints from the very active fellows behind the Russian VK dungeon synth page here:

There is a new blog created by Balbulus (who has also let me know about a lot of ds works that I've missed).  It is based around that close parallel style of music to dungeon synth, which is the more droning, texture-focused, and compositionally minimalistic synth music that I've referred to as "nature" and "ice-landscape" music.  He dubbed it "winter synth" and appropriately gave his blog the same name.  It is a genre which is just as neglected and unknown as dungeon synth, which I unfortunately lacked the time or personal interest in the style to address myself.  So far it seems very promising, and I think any dungeon synth fan will find it to be very interesting and deserving of support:

For anyone that was interested in more Til Det Bergens Skyggene releases, including "Vandringen I (Skoglandskap)," which I've reviewed and found to be one of my favorite new releases in the genre, they have recently been given a wider production by the artist, and can be purchased from him here:

Also, I've just been told by the man behind Abandoned Places that he has a new album out, and if my recent productivity in posting on here is any indication, it might be a while before I can give it a proper review.  So I figure for now it's best to just let you guys know that it's out:

That is all for this quick update.