What’s happening dungeoneers? The dungeon synth scene is steadily growing and many good releases are available, but I’m a bit behind so some of this may be olders stuff but methinks good enough to still share, with Frost-Rimed Iron, Toadlickers & Criptadel, Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver and Forest Shrine.
Header image is a picture of the cosy tea house in the gardens of Château de Courances in France, near Paris in the forests of Fontainebleau. I photographed this in July 2021.
What’s happening in dungeon synth?
I did notice that lately there’s been a growing level of attention from non-niche media for dungeon synth. Mostly, they place it in the corner of retro-nerdism, like dungeons & dragons and video games, but I think it overlooks the complete zeitgeist of which this movement is a part. Dungeon synth definitely fits the craving for the mysterious, the limited, the tangible, but it is also different from people buying retro-consoles and getting hooked on boardgames. It’s not like a beer with the flavor of the week, but more like a whisky that required extensive aging to be ready to drink. Certainly, that zeitgeist fuels its popularity, but its seed was planted years ago.
That’s me meandering about, here’s some music for you while you think that through.
Frost-Rimed Iron – Blood Oath
Defender is the spirit behind Frost-Rimed Iron, and he has already released three instalments of his epic dungeon synth saga. The last of the three demo’s, which means next we can expect a series of albums by the artist. Clean, epic sounds great us and bombastic computed drum sounds complete the tapestry. There’s a hint of mystery and far-off places to the music on this 17 minute tune, titled ‘Blood Oath’ (Sworn to Avenge). All in all, the Conan-like vibe is strong in this one.
Soundwise, ‘Blood Oath’ follows in the steps of ‘Northern Raids’ and ‘Heroic Death’. Heavy on the atmosphere, with little playfulness strewn throughout the song. There is not much development to be heard on the three EPs, only here and there Frost-Rimed Iron manages to sound a bit more free from the confines of traditional dungeon synth. This final release comes closest to the steady, compact and atmosphere-driven sound we are most familiar with. I feel there could be more to it though, so looking forward to those albums.
Origin: Unknown Label: Self-released
Toadlickers & Criptadel – Tabernaculum
The mighty ruiners of pleasant nights in taverns return! Toadlickers and Criptadel teamed up for this wild all-nighter of subterranean mayhem. Toadlickers are a mysterious entity from Goblin town, whereas Criptadel hails from the unlikely country of Argentina. Together, they’ve woven together a wonderfully folky, albeit burpy, series of immersive, repetitive bar stool songs. And what I mean by repetitive here is not the endless meandering often heard in dungeon synth, but the typical aspect of classical folk music, where repetition serves as a low threshold to partake in the festivities.
The intro takes us down a dark alley on ‘The Troll Alley’, where a dirty little door takes us down to the underground where we set to party on ‘Tabernaculum’. ‘Goblin Feast’ takes its time next to build up, but after a few minutes, we hear a waltzy, rocky, bumpy tune emerging. But here comes the catch; if you are looking for a record that is as rowdy and crazy as the Toadlickers debut, this isn’t it. In fact, even ‘the Last Drink’, which could potentially be the most insane tune there is, never really lives up to its potential. And that is fine because it makes the music a bit more… normal. That’s just not as much goblin as I would have enjoyed, though. Still, cool release.
Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver – In the Kingdom of Fog
Some artists are just asking for it you’d think, with this overly foggy release by what I gather are 3 artists from the United States. It’s funny, but it takes away some of the majesty that is put out into the world on this release. I mean, I feel a strong Final Fantasy vibe on the opening track by Fog Castle, titled ‘Dreams of Mist’. Promises hidden behind a veil of… well, you get the picture, but the power of suggestion in the music is tangible. The second track, ‘Sanctuary of the Gemcarvers’ feels more subterranean, yet offers plenty of space for the listener to let the imagination run free. Foglord takes us around the corner with a darker sound, more gloomy and introverted on ‘Light in the Mountain’. It relies more on repetitive phrases and droning sounds, like glittering caves in the depths. ‘The Essence’ sticks to that formula, or slowly flowing, key-drones.
Fogweaver wraps up the party with three tracks. The music is more fragile and small. ‘Werelight’ is as sparkling lights, in the palm of your hand, slowly and carefully unfolding themselves. Its gentle, trickling sound takes you to a wholly different place again, with a more magical, open vibe. I guess you can listen to this music and hear different things. For me, there’s the tranquillity of the forest, the beauty and silence of caves, but as in the description, I can also find the mountains in there. Fogweaver just brings it all home with ‘To Call Upon the Fog’ and ‘Aihal the Silent’.
Origin: United States Label: Fableglade Records
Forest Shrine – Secrets of the Forest
The act Forest Shrine appears to be a side project of Werendia, a Swedish music outlet for A. Virdeus. The act has been prolific in autumn 2020 it seems and the last release was this one which I will therefore focus on. Two songs with a total playing time of 30+ minutes then. I can hear hints of Burzum’s ‘Hliðskjálf’ in the music, which demonstrates the ability to entrance, but also offers moments of wonderful tranquillity. Certainly, there’s also the incessant beat on the first part, that I associate with Summoning, but let’s not make this a name tagging contest. By the time those drums truly start driving the heat, the sound has changed from its languid notes to something much more urgent and pressing.
The second part of the recording holds pretty tightly to that formula, yet feels more subtle, darker, and brooding. The drumming is more subdued, less pulsating. Yet the repetition remains and takes all the time it needs to build the song up to its crescendo, leaving room for a lull here and there, but always ascending. It makes this release so captivating and dreamlike.
In recent years, the Dutch black metal scene has shown a number of prodigies. Young acts with a fresh approach to the iconoclastic genre, with little regard for purism and conservative views. During Roadburn, you’ve already been able to sample their wares throughout recent editions, but this year on Roadburn-Saturday (13th of April) they will unleash their full creative force with Maalstroom in the Patronaat.
Maalstroom, which translates as… well, maelstrom, is a cooperative piece, especially done for Roadburn, with band members from Terzij de Horde, Fluisteraars, Turia, Laster, Verwoed, Grey Aura, Witte Wieven, Verval, Nevel, Project Nefast, Svartvit and Hadewych. During the day you will first witness rituals by a number of these bands, followed by the commissioned piece itself. We had the pleasure to ask O. (Turia, Iskandr, Galg, Nusquama and others) and C. (Witte Wieven) about the project, the group of artists and what we can expect at Roadburn 2019.
How did the whole Maalstroom concept take shape? O: Maalstroom sprung from an idea that Walter proposed. He felt that there’s a lot happening creatively with a group of relatively young bands and musicians, who are all creating ‘black metal’ in their own image. He then contacted Johan van Hattum (Terzij De Horde, red.) to address and connect a number of people with the question if they considered it possible to create a unique piece of music together for Roadburn and perform that during this edition. This happened last summer and obviously we were all interested.
It’s an enormous honour and privilege if a festival of such importance and renown gives you full confidence and the liberty to do this, even though it’s a young group of musicians. So we’ve been working on it ever since. Conceptually it is, at least to my eyes, a non-linear narrative about the conflictive nature between the monotonous life in a small town and the chaotic upheaval of living in a city, including all conflicting emotions this brings.
How do you even start realising something like this? And was the group of involved artists determined from the start? C: Working with a larger group of musicians is obviously not the most practical format during writing, so we formed smaller groups and duos to start working on the core ideas of the piece, which we later connected. We found our inspiration in a fictional tale created by the more literary minds in our company. Based on musical ideas, we gathered some additional musicians to complete the formed groups. These are all people from the Dutch black metal scene, who are now involved in the execution of the piece.
New release by Laster:
Who exactly is involved in the project and how did you work on connecting the separate pieces of the performance into one? And do I understand correctly that part of the group has created it and part is involved purely for execution? C: Some members of Turia, Terzij de Horde, Fluisteraars, Laster, Verwoed, Grey Aura, Witte Wieven, Verval, Nevel, Project Nefast, Svartvit and Hadewych are involved in Maalstroom. I think in the end, we’re all contributing to this project in a creative manner, whether that’s musically or visually. We did invite some guest musicians, of whom we are convinced they fit in well with this piece. Some people have been appointed to really watch the whole and the tension throughout the piece, though we took each other’s work into account during writing. This has worked out pretty well and I believe the four parts of the piece flow together seamlessly.
All of this actually sounds like it requires some serious project management. How do you get all of this coordinated?
O: Yes, this was indeed quite some project management. That’s of course always the case with bands, but on a smaller scale. Some people take the lead in planning and coordinating, others are more involved with the contents and musical execution. It really requires a lot of talking, meeting, and organizing.
Could you share a bit more about the theme and how it all connects?
O: As C. explained already, we started from a sort of narrative, a text that was written on beforehand by a couple of members. The musical whole follows this as a non-linear narrative, which makes it easier to make choices in music and visual design. More might be announced beforehand, but I would prefer not to give away too much at this point. The continuous theme is the process many of us have experienced: moving from a smaller village or municipality to a larger city or instead, moving back. The peculiar interaction between the boring familiarity of the known and the overstimulation of being in an anonymous mass. This may sound a bit pretentious now, but I think it will be pretty recognizable when it is combined with the lyrics.
Recent release by Grey Aura:
Was the choice for Patronaat one you made or was it simply practical?
O: After Walter initiated this project, it was pretty soon clear that this would take place in the Patronaat. That’s the choice made by Roadburn, so it’s not like we asked for it. But obviously, this is something we are quite happy with: it’s a beautiful and intimate venue and it will be the last time Roadburn uses it. That makes it an even greater pleasure for us to be able to play there.
Now, Roadburn has a pretty open-minded audience that appreciates innovation. Is the response positive to the project elsewhere, for example in the black metal scene itself, which is not always as tolerant of innovation?
O: The response we’ve received has been supportive and positive, at least everything that I did hear about. The project consists of people who’ve released plenty of records and played numerous shows, so the connection to the black metal scene would appear evident. It is important though to state that we do not intend to represent the Dutch black metal scene in any way. We’re not ‘the definite product’ or ‘best of’, but a group of artists that follow their own artistic vision. If people feel that this music should be different, we can only encourage them to pursue their vision. But a backlash? I don’t think so. C: I feel the same way. The project is definitely not meant to be a showcase of the Dutch black metal scene or to be representative of it, but rather intended as a performance that shows a new branch of the genre.
I would like to ask you what connects you as a group, apart from the project and playing a form of black metal. What are your common grounds?
C: I honestly can’t put my finger on what our ‘common grounds’ are, but I think we all have a knack of experimentation within the music. Whether that’s in sound, song structure or themes, and unorthodox instruments. O: I think it’s what C. says, that we mostly find each other in the far corners of what can be called black metal. There are the clear black metal elements, such as tremolo picking and blast beats, but also influences from psych and post-punk show-up. This open attitude enables us to be pretty liberal in our creativity, even though some of us only just met.
I mentioned the black metal scene before, and whether intended or not, Maalstroom is affecting its definition. How could you capture what black metal is or what it means in this context?
O: Black metal is very important as a musical tradition to each and every one of us. Most of us have grown up listening to it and each is active in the scene in one way or another in the Netherlands, which I think is currently a very healthy scene. I don’t think Maalstroom really shapes or impresses on that genre in any way. Apart from, maybe, the fact that these are all young bands with individually different approaches to the genre. If you happen to follow some of these bands for a longer period of time, you’ll probably appreciate it. And if you don’t, you should probably see something else. We’re not there to fill in anyone else’s expectations or direct them, that conformist idea conflicts with what black metal means to me.
As artists, you mostly knew each other before you started. Has working together and finding inspiration changed something in this group? Do you inspire or influence each other in some way?
O: The cooperation is working very well so far. I think that in itself is an inspiring way to bring people together. In the end, we’ll be getting on the stage together and everyone will do their part to make this a special occasion. That ensures a connection and I’m certain this will persevere after Roadburn as well, even though it was already there before. If this will take other shapes or forms in the future, time will tell. C: I really enjoy working with this group. It has really helped me find a lot of creativity within this project and I’m really proud of the piece I’ve been a part of, musically and thematically. What I can say about that is: expect something atmospheric. We’ve all experienced each other’s creative process, so I expect some of us will explore this further, perhaps in a different form, after Maalstroom.
Will Maalstroom be a one-time thing?
O: This project will be a one-time affair, because it’s a massive challenge to turn this into something beautiful for Roadburn. I think that will be enough…
Can you maybe share a little bit of what visitors can expect during Roadburn?
O: What visitors can expect is an hour of high-quality black metal, approached in different forms but very consistent in itself and with the style of music the joint bands represent. At least, that is what we strive for. The rest of the day is very self-evident; all Dutch black metal bands, one after the other. The rest visitors will have to see during the day for themselves.
So what about the Maalstroom beer that will be available at Roadburn?
O: I’m afraid I can’t say much about the beer yet, as I haven’t tasted it yet. But the brewery that made it, Nevel, produces numerous fantastic beers so our expectations are high. It’s made with herbs grown locally, so in that sense, it connects to our background: from the villages and towns to the big city from the farmlands to the cups of Roadburn visitors. Pretty cool.
What acts do you hope to catch during Roadburn?
O: Personally I’m really looking forward to seeing Triptykon with a full orchestra, Pharmakon, Have a Nice Life, and Peter Brötzmann. C: I would love to see Molasses, Anna von Hausswolff, Heilung, Lingua Ignota, Treha Sektori, and Craft. But of course, I’ll be heading to see Drab Majesty for some dancing, yet mostly I will just enjoy what I run into.
Distance may make the heart fonder, and when it comes to Svarrogh this seems to be the case. Multi-instrumentalist Dimo Dimov has been living in Germany for years now but returns to his native Bulgaria with his main project Svarrogh frequently. It’s not his only project, but perhaps the one closest to himself.
After a long time, this year finally saw the release of the latest record of Svarrogh, titled ‘Aether’. A record out of time and out of its time, but that’s in many ways what the band is all about. It’s the 6th full-length in the band’s 20-year existence and a true work of art for those who love pagan metal or folk metal with deeper levels.
Dimov is also a bit of an expert on paganism but turns out to not be a blind follower of stories from our past. His views are quite critical, in fact, spiced with realism and a sense of wit as I found out. We talked about his work, blending metal and folk, retracing your past and, most importantly, how to treat that past when we think it must have been better back then. Thanks to Dimo for his time and honest answers.
History, Folklore, Svarrogh
My first question would be, how are you doing and how has this pandemic been for you. Has it affected your artistic endeavours?
Hello! I am doing quite fine, but yes, the pandemic has affected plans for concerts (but not for Svarrogh, as we don´t have a live line-up, it affected the gigs of my other projects Alto Lago and 16 Strings Under) as well as personal travel plans very much.
Moreover, the administrative restrictions to combat the pandemic have proven that art and culture is very much system- and life relevant, and not just a “nice-to-have” side phenomenon of society. We need culture and art, otherwise, our life´s are reduced only to a very existential, almost survivalist form of being.
You released ‘Aether’ in February, I assume the follow up didn’t go as planned. Can you tell me a bit about his album and its creation?
The album “Aether” has been a long journey so far. I started recordings in 2009, then followed some turbulent years, Svarrogh also even seized activity – and finally, I decided to mix, master and release it in 2020, and to finally close this old chapter.
It is actually quite different than any other Svarrogh album. On the one side it goes back to the Folk/Black Metal roots, but also
merges the Neofolk/Post Folk phase (if I have to use categories), so it somehow closes the circle logically. Overall the production sounds raw, even after having put a lot of effort in the mix and especially in the arrangements of many different instruments, such as the drums and piano. Interestingly, this album contains much less Tamboura which is typical for Svarrogh and has been used extensively on every record since (and also on gigs).
Overall the release is a real relief. My ambitions to be recognized are however not very high and I am not part of a scene or community at all. I just want to do music for myself and when the feedback is good, I can´t complain. Many leftover ideas of the album were channelled 2012 into a side project called MoonOrchard, containing instrumental compositions, but they can be linked semantically and atmospherically to “Aether”. Because the music industry changed dramatically in the past few years, a digital release was primarily aimed for, however, a limited edition of 100 copies has just been printed and is available.
What can you tell me about Aether, and the stories shared on that record?
Aether is a conceptual album where everything revolves around a very aetherial, surreal and atmospheric perception of nature and natural mysticism combined with folkloristic motives and the amazing poetry of Ezra Pound creating unexplainable, naturalistic, eerie landscapes (somewhat Nietzschean as well) where you have to sleep with lynxes amid a moon orchard, where elm trees are from iron and marble or where the sun is dragging her stars among time and space – as Ezra Pound stated: “Moth is called over mountain, the stars are not in her counting. To her, there are just wandering holes.”
But in the same way, it is also a surreal depiction of Slavic mythology where you have a being like the firebird, where eerie forest creatures are trying to deceive your spaced out cognition and where apples are treated as gold treasures. So yeah, the lyrics are quite psychedelic although I am not a stoner dude.
On your earlier notion of culture: culture, to me, is a word that embodies much. I think. It’s an organic part of our ‘living together’, but also of where we come from. What is your view on this? And why is it important to you to share, through your art, the Bulgarian/Slavic culture?
Sorry, I was thinking in much simpler terms, in fact, your first argument was right. I mean, culture in its artistic, metaphoric, metaphysical, crea(c)tive and educational form. I didn’t mean culture as anything related to ethnicity or a nation. It is not important, I just view it as interesting to share my views and interpretation of Bulgarian history, ethnography and music, due to nostalgic reasons and to represent (in a way) a kinda under-represented nation, that is not very famous with its true beauties.
And of course, to present new paths of musical expression, by modernizing certain folkloristic elements and even creating some sort fusion with other musical styles coming back to your statement “where we come from”: Yes, I think it is in our very nature to seek identity (be it in culture, music, fashion, whatever), and especially in a very confused and globalized world, heritage and traditions play a very important role to a healthy personal identify development, but in the same time discarding the politicization, backwards mentality and right-wing romanticisms.
I like your notion of culture. Though I understand how you used it in the first answer, it made me immediately think about how it so much is a part of us organically. How it shapes us and is part of our daily lives. Hence my question. Your interpretation echoes how Einar Selvik often explains his work as not romanticizing, nor reviving the past, but taking lessons and inspiration from it for today. Is that your approach to Svarrogh too?
Yes, I like the explanation also. You have to keep in mind, that neopaganism and any yearning for a past that you have never experienced may come from the inability to cope with the modern world which itself, of course, is a confusing and disappointing (but then please give back your higher life expectancy and central heating). However, this inability reoccurs in almost every generation since the beginning of time. People who are dissatisfied with the present are either progressives or the opposite, and if you put them in a time machine 1000 years back, they will be still unhappy. People seek for peace and liberation, which is something that they don´t have and this is where romanticism and critique to the modern world start. But you can´t hide in your basement and read backwards ideology such as Julius Evola over and over again. To put it in very simple terms, Svarrogh itself, of course, was very different when I was younger and was engulfed by self-given constraints that had to fulfil a sort of neopagan romanticism, but now it matured and it acts even more as inspiration and as a bridge between timeless folklore and modernity. Especially Bulgarian folklore and mythology are very inspiring as they very often blend seamlessly with nature and i want to capture this specific yearning and folkloristic tragic which is rooted very deep in the Bulgarian soul, which had to bear a lot of suffering, hardship and scarceness. But on the other hand, folklore has always a fantasy or dream world aspect to it and acts as a temporary escape from everyday life.
On Metal Archives, I fond listed that you are inspired by Slavic heathenism, Bulgarian folklore and Tengriism. These are topics I know little about. Do you consider your this pure inspiration for your art or is your art a vehicle to share about these topics? And could you tell a little about these things? They are not well known to me and I’m interested in your view on these.
Tengrism is an Altaic, Mongolian religion whereas Tangrism is the naturalistic religion of the Proto-Bulgarians between the 6th and 9th century before Christianization. I was always very fascinated by the first Bulgarian (Danubian) empire which is a multicultural fusion of southern Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians. The difference is that the Slavic pantheon is polytheistic and can be somehow compared to the germanic or nordic one (Perun vs. Thor, Svarog vs. Odin, this, of course, may come from the Varyags) whereas Tangra itself is the ancient and eternal sky (the sky, not the sun plays the most important role) and embodies more shamanistic and ritualistic forms. However, I am not a neopaganist, nor is Svarrogh´s music. As I stated, I use these themes to create atmosphere.
So, just to get some clarity on this, the original religious views are much more in line with harmony with nature? It’s often hard to see that in the Germanic/Nordic pantheon and mythology, as the stories are now told through the lens of Christian writers. But I do know the Baltic pantheon is really very closely related to nature and the philosophy of it focuses very strongly on balance and harmony with all these elements. Embedded in daily life so to say, of our ancient ancestors. Is that how I should see it?
Maybe, I assume so. I am not a religious nor a very spiritual person, I just think that this earth has such amazing beauties, lakes, mountains, forests, meadows which are very related to our yearning for peace and liberation. Svarrogh also doesn´t have any religious aspect, if any, then rather a symbolist one related to folklore (which has pagan elements). And music can resemble feelings and thoughts which you can find in nature, by a particular atmosphere, for example, the Tamboura, reminding you of shepherds and meadows, guitar riffs which sound and smell like wind, rain or misty mountain valleys. Also, moving to Germany in 1992 as a child, created a sort of vacuum and nostalgia, that I tried to fill with Svarrogh ever since. A big inspiration has always been the Rodopi mountains in South Bulgaria, I really recommend you to visit this place that can be a journey in time. Germany itself offers also amazing landscapes (the Alps, Rhoen Mountains, Black Forest, etc.) and maybe a part of my mentality is already German in a sense.
When we played in Lithuania in 2007, I totally understand what you mean. Baltic people are very rooted in their culture. I just remember the performance of Kulgrinda and their evocation of the son “Saulala Motula, uztekek uztekek”.
How does the form of inspiration work in your writing and recording process? Where do you start and how do you create music for Svarrogh? I’m also curious how you got into this kind of music and how you transition between folk and metal styles in your work.
Well, I started listening Heavy and extreme metal as a kid and then Viking, pagan and folk metal, when I first heard Nokturnal Mortum´s ‘Nechris’t, I was blown away by the fusion of very harsh black metal and gentle Slavic folklore. Now, I know that NM are just a bunch of pathetic nationalist idiots, supporting Ukrainian terrorists.
The music for Svarrogh usually starts with the basic song arrangement, chords and guitar riffs and I try to do the combination of guitars, tamboura and bass as polyphone as possible without getting lost in complexity. Tamboura fits very well with electric guitar and adds a very folkish taste to a rock or metal riff regarding the non-metal phase of Svarrogh, the songwriting was much more difficult because it was non–conventional for me and although the musicality was simpler on ‘Balkan Renaissance’ or ‘Temple of the Sun’, you have to play much cleaner, there must be more room and space tones and keep the rhythm section as simple as possible on those two albums, as well as later with ‘Yer Su’, the Tamboura was the most important instrument, on ‘Aether’ it has less focus
Yet, I feel there is a clear balance in your sound now and to me, there is also a very natural connection between folk and black metal. How do you feel about that?
Thank you, this has always been my intention, although Svarrogh had a clear neofolk non-metal phase 2006-2010. In fact, I feel that most music styles are very interchangeable if you break down the songs to their baseline (especially in simple chord progressions). It just the different instruments which add colour and define a specific style.
Also, you have mentioned NM and regressive use of tradition by certain entities. Yet, you have founded a pan-European pagan magazine. I am curious about your take on how paganism fits in our modern world in a positive and perhaps progressive manner?
Yes, I found a Pan-European pagan magazine named Svarga in 2009 (but then had to drop it after 3 issues due to lack of time) but I can do that just out of interest for specific themes without supporting regressive ideas or the “conservative revolution”. In my view, there is no such thing as paganism and it wouldn´t fit. I regard that as a very symbolist idea in order to: preserve nature and the environment as well as to be aware of history, folklore and traditions (which would be a big pity if they were lost). But that´s it. Nothing more.
About traditions, I agree it is a shame we lose them but sometimes they just lose their relevance. I think it is like that with everything. If it doesn’t fit our worldviews, like a quite uncomfortable celebration we have in the Netherlands, it is time to let go.
Lets put it very frankly: This world is very dynamic and change is very often inevitable. Thus, in a very generalized way, we have the two antagonist powers which drive humanity forward (in some way you can put here Jordan Peterson vs. Slavoj Zizek). So change is important, but we have to be careful that this change doesn´t eradicate valuable things that have a high value for our minds as humans. Also putting a pantheon above your head is just another “holding-to-something”-mindset (but everyone should do whatever makes them happy, I just speak for myself).
Take the Bulgarian Kukeri for example: In the last 20 years, this tradition (the masked rites for the welcoming of spring originating from the Thracians) experiences a boost in terms of social attention and interest. That´s great, and it is mostly accredited to the fact of economic and cultural recovery in Bulgaria.
On the other hand – many paganists (especially in the metal scene) deny (or don’t admit) the influence of Christianity in Europe. So when you want to go back to some pagan fantasyland you forget the fact, that Christianity shaped not only the European continent (in negative as well as in positive ways) but also our society and mindset. To put it short: I am a strong opposer of fanboy-ideology, either this or that like in a football game. Live is too interesting
to be one-sided, it is much more of a fusion. By the way, Tangrism was the official religion in pre-Christian Danube Bulgaria (681-865) and of the ruling caste, whereas the Slavic polytheistic religion was not suppressed (there is a theory of relatively good religious freedom in the empire), but pushed away from public life.
What can I say else, I am a geoscientist and not dogmatic about this topic. It´s just very intriguing.
What do you hope listeners take away from the music you release with Svarrogh? Like, I feel your motivation to create now comes from a deeper drive.
Very simply, I want listeners to enjoy the atmosphere. I don´t have the motivation to persuade others from my worldview. 🙂
Are you much connected to the scene in Bulgaria at the moment? Are there bands you recommend?
Not so much, but I have some good friends that play in bands that i like very much. For example Demonism (Black Metal), Voyvoda (Post Punk), Dimholt (Black Metal) and Corvus Records from Sofia who releases very interesting stuff. What I can recommend else is: Khanъ (interesting folk metal), Kayno Yesno Slonce, Vrani Volosa, Kayno yesno slonce (atmopheric ambient folk music).
What are currently your plans for the future (in a virus-free future of course)?
I am working on new material right now, live gigs will be anyway impossible. Also, I am working with my 2 bands Alto Lago (Stoner Rock) and 16 Strings Under (Folk) – there I hope it will be possible to play live in 2021, post-covid tour.
Do you maybe want to share a bit more about these projects?
Alto Lago exists since 2013 and consists of Max Marquardt (formerly in the German Pagan Black Metal band Helfahrt) and Raphael Schütze (also known from the German atmospheric band Tav). We play a mixture of stoner punk rock, somewhere between Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Solstafir and Motorhead.
16 Strings Under is a side project, mainly based on 2 tambouras, and is basically a mixture of Balkan Folk, Folk and Americana.
My final question is: if Svarrogh was a type of food, what would it be and why? ( I have been told this is a difficult question haha).
Uuh that’s though! It would be a roasted goose or something. Haha.
Is there anything I should have asked but didn’t you’d like to share?
We live in digital times and the physical releases on CD have completely lost significance. Nevertheless, we decided to release. ‘Aether’ on CD, limited edition 100 copies. But from now on we will move to vinyl for the future releases. That is actually growing again, good to see. In this regard, I am super old-fashioned and I don´t think that all music should be digital. Moreover, it is a jungle nowadays and of course, digitization simplified processes of recording (which is good! although analogue technique and tapes have a great sound quality, nobody wants to cut and glue tapes) and publishing, but that generated a flood of music as musicians somehow have a narcissist notion which drives them to share their music. And unlike printed books, CDs are dying, because you would still rather read on real paper (which is good for the eyes), but most of the time you listen to music from your smartphone, Spotify and so on.
Music is a world of visionaries, and some of them are wildly misunderstood or not even seen. Blame it on convenience or simple algorithms that guide us through the online wasteland, it does let a lot of great stuff go to waste. Call it outsider music if you will, but the most fascinating sounds can be found by those who look a bit deeper. Through thematic digging in online archives, through one of his projects, I found one of those exceptional musicians. Lovidalf Ranemmak VI is one of those projects that are hard to understand. Lovidalf is an individual, but to be honest it’s more an artistic entity… The man who created his very own music genre called Ordo Fantet.
Now, Lovidalf has many projects and for the sake of mystique, we shall refer to him by this alias here. Inspired by game music, but more so by a classical training in music and fascination for bygone times, he created a style that may be closest related to dungeon synth and renaissance music. And to provide a corpus to this style, he has started a range of projects so numerous that one would be challenged to list all of them (he insists he has no problem with that).
Lovidalf is convinced it seems, as I conclude from our interactions online, that his style is not particularly interesting. Neither is he. He is wrong, but it speaks about intent that he’s doing it all anyway, dedicating his life to a remarkable creation. I want to thank him for his time and hope that this interview will shed some light on his voluminous work. Enjoy!
As I had published this on Echoes & Dust I received some messages from the artist in question, due to a statement I made regarding the number of projects. I considered, based on his words, he would not have a full overview. He disagreed heavily with that tongue-in-cheek remark. Also based on a typo, the term ‘Fantet’ was exchanged with ‘Cantet. I hope to have rectified these here. I also would like to state that, going through many of the pages and identities of the artist, I have not been able to verify many of the statements made. Not only does the artist have many fictional identities, a lot of band members appear to be fictional too. Due to the elaborate nature of this invented narrative, I have some reservations about how ‘natural’ this is. I decided the music is worthy of attention.
Escapism, Ordo Fantet and Happiness
How are you doing? How has the pandemic been for you as a Polish artist abroad?
The pandemic was very epic for me. At the beginning, back in 2019, I had to leave France, back to my parents in Moscow. Also, I had to postpone many of my projects, because my studio was closed for quarantine. I am not allowed to be in my studio, but I am very much allowed to pay taxes on it… In general, I am bankrupt this year.
So, I’m particularly curious about your path towards the artist you are now. The person behind a variety of projects and a whole genre, if I may so. How did you get so interested in this style and medieval times?
I became interested in the Middle Ages at the age of seven or eight, when my grandmother brought me to her homeland in France. My grandmother has a dad from France (Aquitaine), a mom from Poland. In this story, there is a whole historical novel that stretches from the time of the Napoleonic wars. As a result, for the fact that my Polish ancestors fought on the side of Napoleon against Russia, they were arrested and sent into exile in Russia. So, my genealogy ended up in the land of bears and vodka. On my mother’s side, my German, Swedish and Finnish origin.
Therefore, as a child, I travelled with my parents to many places of their birthplace. I was in France when I saw ancient castles, especially Aquitaine, but not far from Paris there are mesmerizing, beautiful places.
Who are your musical inspirations? And what instruments do you actually play yourself?
In Poland, at the age of five, my parents sent me to a music school, violin class. A little later, I myself entered the classical guitar class, and from the age of eleven, I became interested in old stringed instruments such as gittern, viele, rebec, citole, medieval harp and all kinds of lutes. Now, I have dozens of medieval instruments in my collection.
When I found myself in Russia and transferred to a Russian music school, I became interested in orchestral classical music, especially the Russian school of the “Mighty Handful” represented by César Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. So at the age of eleven, I was already composing an incomprehensible symbiosis of medieval and orchestral music, which I later named Ordo Fantet.
I have always taken inspiration in music from books. At about 10 years old I began to write small stories and poems myself. And after reading a series of books by David Eddings, the Elenium, I myself have already invented my own fantasy universe, which was more like a real historical novel than, for example, Tolkien’s. By the way, I read Tolkien much later.
Regarding musical instruments, I don’t really like the word “multi-instrumentalist”, but I have to write it in the description, because it takes a very long time to list all the instruments I play;) My whole life is music, I wake up in the morning and instead of weights I take guitar or lute, or sit down at drums with tambourines … And then grab kettlebells and swords … ahaha
Ok, so tell me about Ordo Fantet. What is its musical origin and what is the relation to the dungeon synth genre?
Ordo Fantet is symbiotic. A symbiosis of medieval music and orchestral symphonies. Fantet can be in minor (sad) and major (funny). The main difference from other existing genres is the fantasy context. Both in music and poetry. There are huge differences from dungeon synth, or rather the only thing that makes Ordo Fantet in common with dungeon synth is the use of a synthesizer on some compositions. But mostly, Ordo Fantet is performed on live medieval and orchestral instruments. Plus, Fantet uses vocals, both growling and pure male and female.
How big is this genre? You told me that this is really a micro-genre, but what other artists should people check out for example?
The Ordo Fantet genre mainly consists of my side projects or projects with a girlfriend of mine, a minstrel from France. For example, if in a true Ordo Fantet, no electric guitars with distortion or other overdrive are acceptable, then we have projects where, for example, I mix symphonic black metal with elements of Ordo Fantet, or funeral doom. Most of the artists in this underground genre can be found by the #ordofantet tag for example on the same bandcamp.
You work with numerous alter egos, which fits with the roleplaying that clearly is a big inspiration to you. Is Lovidalf Ranemmak your primary one, and can you tell me a bit more about him?
As for my large number of projects, with my alter ego, everything is simple. Each of my projects contains some differences. For example, somewhere it is musically, somewhere it is pure ordo fantet, somewhere mixed with dark ambient, somewhere there is a lot of medieval folk, and somewhere it is only in a different conceptual approach. For example, will a dungeon synth on the Elder Scrolls, or other game universes. Or space synth, or the eclecticism of the 60s of America, etc. That is why I always create a new project for my new ideas. I’m a non-commercial, I don’t need all these bureaucratic contracts with labels, and other freeloaders, I work for music, not money.
And I object to sculpting a new genre on each album, like Mortiis, when he had dark dungeon music, and after that there was a pop disco for drug addicts;) I don’t accept that! Therefore, many, including my iconic ones, call me Alexander Dumas in the world of music, because he had an incredible number of books, and I have an incredible number of albums and projects! 😉 ahahah
Lovidalf Ranemmak VI is my main pseudonym, my main character. Here, too, everything is simple, Lovidalf is the name of one of the NPCs from the Elder Scrolls, from the very first part, which is called Arena, I received this game as a gift at the end of 94, from my first computer. Arena is my first love and the first RPG game in my life. Ranemmak, this is my mother’s transformed surname, Reinecke, in my made-up language (Kell-Galluish from my fantasy universe, the main dialect of the inhabitants of Fractria).
Going further on that, I feel by checking your socials, that your commitment to Ordo Fantet goes beyond music to a lifestyle. You seem to really embrace this identity in a day-to-day approach?
In fact, Ordo Fantet is just music, strange, incomprehensible to many, but it’s just music. But my way of life, yes, maybe it’s already epic! 😉
Maybe I’m crazy, but I live according to the principles of LCSO – (Le Chevaliers Scolastique Ordre) I live in poverty, I don’t pursue fame, I don’t do PR and advertise my work, I just live like a knight-monk, I do reconstruction, sword fencing, I write books and music and play computer games. I don’t need rich apartments, a cool car, I don’t have a car at all, for that I have a gorgeous collection of swords and musical instruments, and this is quite enough for me for my happy life. I’m an escapist.
Which games do you primarily derive inspiration from?
About computer games. Until 2014, I just adored The Elder Scrolls and the entire universe. But after working a little at Bethesda as a writer for lore, I realized that a lot would change in the future game and I didn’t like it. Therefore, gradually, very slowly, I began to work on my role-playing game, which will be in my fantasy universe – Codex Draggriffe.
You make a lot of music, so how does your creative process look like and what is your way of determining what fits into which project best?
I write music every day, practically I record only when the material is going to be a full or mini album. It all depends on my mood and state of health. Here, the thing is that earlier for the cover of my albums I had to ask permission to use the art I liked, now from January 1, 2020, when my parents presented me with a graphic tablet, I have been drawing covers for my already released albums.
So now, I draw a lot, although I don’t know how to draw, and the last time I painted was at school. Although, at school, my knights and dragons liked a lot …
I understand you also produce black metal and other types of music, what other projects are you working on and what is currently your primary focus?
Black metal, but not all. For example, for me this genre was the personification of non-commercial and original music. Unfortunately, today this genre has turned into a pile of dung, with its posers and merchants who write music not for the sake of music, but for the sake of populism and money. Unfortunately.
I, on the other hand, stick to rawness and originality in my black metal projects. Landmarks for the black 90s, when there was still gunpowder …
You also frequently address your writing. What sort of writing have you one and where can one find your work? Do you consider your music and writing a ‘united piece of art’?
Yes, my music comes entirely from my books, my universe. But, at first, I still tried to write in French, when in my childhood I lived with my grandmother in France, but later I gave up this idea, because I wrote with a lot of mistakes, to be honest, and now I do not speak French very well, although I know German well and Latin. At one time, I was very fond of studying the Old French language, as well as Hochdeutsche Dialekte. Now all my books and stories are written in Russian and Polish. I still have to print, there is not enough money for this, sponsors are needed. But I myself read my books on my YouTube channel.
You also mention a lot of cooperative works, for example with Swiss musicians on the project Trobar Clus. Do you travel a lot or how do you realize this sort of projects? Can you tell me about your collaborations?
Trobar Clus is one of the projects in which I am introduced as a session musician. In fact, I don’t have as many projects in metal music as it might seem. I can name it.
Sci-fi Black Metal with the eclecticism of 60s America: The Proggs
Ok, so my biggest question is how you maintain all of this. All the pages, all the socials, all the projects. Like, how do you get the time for all this?
I don’t have enough time. Therefore, I have a work schedule for every day. I have not officially worked for a long time, as is customary for normal people. In my life I worked as a music teacher at a state music school, I was also a teacher at home, for a long time I worked in music stores, where I sold classical musical instruments as well as guitars and synthesizers. I even worked for Bethesda, the one that produced the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games.
Now, I will never go to work for the “owner” who has the right to humiliate you, having only the status of the employer, but not the name of the crown or the rank of lord, in Russia, unfortunately, the law on employment is very clumsy, and there is a lot of injustice with regard to payment wages and working day. Therefore, I put all my savings into my studio. Unfortunately, for a year now, my studio has not been working, and now I have really very difficult financial days. Nevertheless, I compose music, drink cheap wine, write book material, wave a sword in the forest and play various role-playing games, I am happy in my own way! 😉
What are the future plans for you as an artist?
I have plans, all the same that have always been. Compose material, for books, for musical projects. And I will continue to draw covers for my albums. I have a lot in my book, taken from medieval and renaissance poetry. Including Dutch legends like Vrouwtje van Stavoren or Beiaard and Grutte Pier! But basically, my main character is a knight monk, his guardian angels in the form of generous hares and Reintje de Vos! 😉 ahahah
If Lovidalf Ranemmak VI was a dish, what would it be and why that?
As for the dish, I can’t even think of anything. But I really love venison meat on a fire under wine sauce with garlic and a lot of French oak wine !!! ;))
Thank you Guido Segers! For your attention to my unpopular person. For your interview.Take care of yourself from any illness, all the best!
Life sometimes catches up with bands and writers alike. Automb split up shortly after this interview was completed. Danielle Evans is continuing with a solo project, named Stridskvinna. Serge Streltsov has started his own band, named Selfgod. Yet, the album ‘Chaosophy’ stands as a great record, unfortunately without a follow-up in the future.
Black metal is and always has been a genre revolving around the darker themes. Dark has many faces and by now we should know better than to consider the dark evil because some forces in the universe just are. Automb sees this clearly and pays homage to one of them on their album ‘Chaosophy’.
Without chaos there is no order and vice versa, it’s one of those facts of life we sometimes forget. Without restrain, there is no freedom either. Yet, limitations of our time hit bands hard and Automb is one of those. Their album is an absolute gem and worthy of recognition, but without the ability to tour and promote a record, not much happens. Luckily, I received a copy of the cassette release through Knekelput and discovered the powerful, yet compact and focused sound of this band. Originally a side-project next to Necrophagia for band member Serge Streltsov, now the band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the focus of him and comrade in arms Danielle Evans, supported by drummer Scott Fuller (MorbidAngel, Annihilated).
Even better, they were willing to answer some of my questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks to Serge and Danielle for their time.
Automb and the Laws of Chaos
First, how is Automb doing and how have you been treated by the global pandemic? Did you have many gigs fall through or did you manage to salvage something from this period?
The pandemic has been tough for us the same way as it for any other band. We had to cancel tours, but luckily got to play 2 gigs during it. Other than that it’s been a very slow year for us. All the time went to writing the new album.
How did Automb get started and what are your musical backgrounds (and how did you arrive in the realm of black metal)?
Serge: Automb was originally supposed to be my black metal side project back when I was playing guitar for Necrophagia. I had all this material that was basically ‘too black metal’ for Necro and plus I always played stuff like that prior to Necrophagia.
I started playing guitar at 13 and drums at 16. I’ve been into metal since I was 8. I got into black metal in my mid teens after being into Death Metal for some time. It was the next logical step. Then years later me and Danielle wanted to make our own band so all the pieces fell into place. After the passing of Killjoy and Necrophagia being done, Automb became a full-time project.
Danielle: I started playing the guitar when I was 9 and fell in love with it. Then in high school, I went on to play in a program called “School of Rock” that had students learn classic rock songs and then perform them together at shows, which was awesome. That really gave me the confidence I needed in my guitar skills, as well as vocals. Then in college, I received a minor in music and learned tons of theory and classical guitar. Then in my second year of college, I met Serge and we formed Automb. I got into black metal in high school and Automb was the first band I was ever in so it was the first time I actually played black metal, aside from learning covers prior to that.
This year, you’ve released the fantastic ‘Chaosophy’ album, following the 2018 release of ‘Esoterica’. What happened in the time in between in ways of band development?
We wanted to progress and improve songwriting. Our goal was to focus on the aggressive side of the material that was successful on ‘Esoterica’. The objective is always to outdo the previous record. So we focused on the things we do best.
So, tell me about this album; its concept, creation, recording, warts and all?
The idea was to focus on the darker side of spirituality in this concept. We wanted to focus on one side rather than representing many points of view like on the previous record. But yet still within this concept which is ‘Chaos’ we got to include interpretations from many different cultures, For those of you that heard Dissection’s ‘Reinkaos’ know what we’re talking about. It’s our pagan take on those ideas.
Recording took place in two studios. Me and Danielle recorded in our home studio and Scott worked in his. We live very far from each other – he’s on the whole other side of the country. So it wasn’t possible to work physically together. We worked through demos and phone calls mostly.
One change is your label, how did you end up at Witching Hour productions and how’s that been for you?
Once our time was up with our previous labels we decided to seek a new one and Witching hour ended up being the best option plus we were already fans of the label and the bands that are/were on it.
You’ve also ended up releasing Chaosophy on cassette at Knekelput Recordings, which is what I have in my possession and it looks great. How did that come to be and are you pleased with the result?
We originally thought our previous cassette label was going to release but they went out of that sort of business and couldn’t do it. So we started looking around for the best cassette label we could find. After reviewing our options, Knekelput ended being the one. We were blown away by their cassette designs and thought it was very unique.
You draw inspiration from various traditions and cultures, you’ve said in other interviews. Can you tell me a bit about what you look for and maybe share some examples of ideas or philosophies you take with you into the songwriting of Automb?
Basically what we said in the previous question. Chaos philosophies from many angles of the world. Left-hand path side of paganism.
When I look at the lyrics, I see many cultural/religious references. In a way, it feels like a cultural-religious smorgasbord. How do you approach the process of using all these in your work and what is your method of gathering information? Are you avid readers?
A lot of it was stuff from commonly known mythologies from different cultures. Slavic, Germanic, Hindu, Egyptian etc. We are definitely big readers and researchers of all things ancient. For this particular record, it was focused on the destruction of the worlds and all creation and how those said cultures viewed that. Some songs are based on certain deities which happen to be gods of death and destruction. From a spiritual point, it was just a collection of Chaos Gods. There’s definitely a certain left-hand path Cult that follows exactly that. A lot of that is covered by, once again, Dissection. Who influenced that particular concept a lot and this record is dedicated to the memory of Jon Nödtveidt.
Your logo represents organic/natural forms, which were strongly represented on your previous album, yet this seems to be slightly different on ‘Chaosophy’. Is that still a part of your inspiration and in what form?
Everything we do is interconnected. The logo represents the world tree Yggdrasil and its roots which one of them is in Ginnungagap ‘Chaos’ There’s no Chaos without life. The logo represents life and death. Which in the songs ‘Trishula’ and ‘Ragnarok’ on the new record we talk about renewing the creation through destruction. Another meaning of the logo is the name Automb in general. It is a combination of the words ‘Autumn and tomb’ which represents the season of death that is Autumn. But it is a temporary death from which everything returns renewed.
There has been much ado in recent years about ‘female-fronted’ as a term to define certain bands. That has seen a major shift (for the better I think) where we stop segmenting in that way, how do you feel this has changed? And are there still struggles with acceptance for you as an artist?
Danielle: I personally do not mind that title so much because it is just a reality. A female-fronted band is still more rare than another band with all guys in it, which has usually been the case in metal, especially extreme metal. I think it becomes an issue when that’s the focus or the only reason why people listen to us. If a band is female-fronted and good, then awesome if there are male fronted and good, then awesome. It should not be completely about the gender of the vocalist, it’s about the quality of the content.
I very much enjoyed your album, so I’m curious what future plans there are, like tours perhaps across the pond? Obviously, as soon as this global pandemic allows us a semblance of normality.
Glad you enjoyed it! Right now we are in the works of doing a live stream. Besides that, we are also working on album #3 and yes once the pandemic is over we are going to tour. We already have plans for a North American tour to start. But obviously, no one knows when it’ll be allowed so everything is mostly ideas. For Europe, we already had a festival appearance rescheduled for summer 2022.
I enjoy asking this final one: If you had to describe Automb as a dish, what would it be and why?
We have no idea haha. Never thought of that before!
Another round of the dungeon synth sounds currently haunting the chapel, the forest, the ancient ruins. This time, the epic journey to ‘Persepolis’ with Tir, cruising the ‘Deep Form of Cosmic Signals & Psychonautic Sphere of Nothingness’ with Aldebaran’s Nebulah, checking in on Castellan on ‘Demo III’, and have a bite with Stuffed Crust on ‘Sacrificial Slice Upon The Blackened Stone’.
Let’s enjoy some dungeon synth.
Dungeon Synth Digest
Tir – Persepolis
Tir never seems to be truly satisfied with his work, and ‘Persepolis’ is once more a Redux version of an earlier release. Building on the carcass of ‘The Vanished Civilization of Xattoth’ (recently released on cassette by the ever-impressive Heimat Der Katastrophe label), Tir takes us into the shadows of the past. Clocking over 57 minutes, this is truly a journey. Tir doesn’t use an overly rich amount of sounds but relies on strong melodies en good sound. You can instantly feel this as the rhythm of ‘Daemon of Desert (Ahzi)’ swells. The music is sonorous, deep and slow, never going to briefly over what it has to say to you. I like to compare the music of Tir to breathing, as it waxes and wains with a patience, that feels particularly organic and natural.
Yet, there is also a melancholy in the sound. Certainly, a song like ‘Summoning Alborz’ has a more pressing urgency and tension to it, and ‘Righteous Viraz is even playful, but at its more pensive moments Tir feels like reminiscing. The extended version of ‘The Stone Thrown From Cinwad Bridge’ and ‘The Song of the Cosmos is Heard from Persepolis’ are illustrative of that. The record is diverse, that is definitely true. It can lean towards lighter sounds, with a classic notion, on songs such as ‘Empire of Stars’, or dwell in darkness that feels like black metal. Particular shout-out to the contribution of Varkâna on ‘Forgetten Prophecy’. This is a masterful record, full of atmospheres, places and ideas to wander through, to get lost in, to forget yourself in… among the ancient, crumbling stone of Persepolis.
Artist: Tir Origin: Turkey Label: Brilliant Emperor Record
Castellan – Demo III
There is a lot to like about Castellan. For one, the music is great, but I also love how the music is packed up into adventure modules. Dungeon synth is about nostalgia for imaginary places, and D&D references to embody exactly that. This story is about princesses, dragons and a once peaceful green valley. I don’t need much more. Castellan uses that 8-bit sound, which I particularly enjoy. There’s a level of abstraction to the games of those eras that fully activates the imagination. Music does a lot to make that feeling resurface, particularly opener ‘Doom of the Savage Kings’. Majestic, yet basic, with those regal, clean synth tones. I just love this sound. The cavernous notes on ‘The Illusion of the Decapus’ for example, are monumental. Oh, so just to be clear, you get two versions of each song. One ‘clean’ and one 8-bit. Both ‘sides’ are great, this rules.
Aldebaran’s Nebulah – Deep Form of Cosmic Signals & Psychonautic Sphere of Nothingness
You can always wonder if things are or are not dungeon synth. I guess Aldebaran’s Nebulah isn’t but that doesn’t stop me from including it here, because this is my blog. Also, I think it has become abundantly clear that dungeon synth is an umbrella term more than ever, and encompasses a broader concept. Wintersynth, goblinsynth, comfy synth, why not space synth. And with further ado, this record from Poland. I get Berlin School vibes from this set of synthy drones and astral projections, which are also a bit Jean-Michel Jarre of course. There’s something creepy in the music, it’s that obvious prelude to darkness in the depths of space, where one last signal can be traced from a lost vessel. Some fool goes to investigate because… don’t they always? We hear the pulsations of the astral depths, the soaring sounds of planetoids moving by, the droning of an approaching ship. It’s a magical journey to the great cold beyond. Synth has many dimensions, and so does space, greatly conveyed on this strong release.
Artist: Aldebaran’s Nebulah Origin: Poland Label: Vicious Mockery Records
Stuffed Crust – Sacrificial Slice Upon The Blackened Stone
This record is pretty much what I would imagine if you particularly labeled it ‘American-Italian Dungeon Synth’ and that’s fine. It’s wacky and wonky as is vividly illustrated by opening track ‘Willy’s wacky pizza party’. There’s some black metal stuffed into this, but that’s what you get when the pizza stays in the oven too long I would assume. I do not approve of stuffed crust by the way, I find it the most abhorrent addition to a food that is good as it is. It just didn’t need that, you know? Anyways, the second track has a bit of that black metal screaming, but still feels very comical due to the sounds. It’s not a serious record, you got that right? But it does blend the stuff nicely together, as ‘extra cheese and good times’ really embodies that comfy synth sound in turn. The constant changing, yet consistent pizza-focus is in itself admirable. A song like ‘pizzazzzaazzz’ could just as well be from some forest synth group, that’s how well done it is. My favorite is the secret bonus track, ‘gabberoni pizza’, with some true gabber beats. YES!
Artist: Stuffed Crust Origin: USA Label: WereGnome Records
I’ve been a bit down in the dumps for a few weeks now. Physical pains, high-stress levels, emotional imbalances… The works. It’s been a tough year and I feel I’ve held my ground for a lot of it. But becoming a parent wasn’t easy, particularly the start of it and the first months. Changing jobs in the middle of it was not beneficial either, and severe high standards for myself are an added bonus. I guess at that point, you can hit the floor hard somewhere, at some point, at some time. I feel lonely a lot, misunderstood, inadequate… It’s been hard. I miss the validation, I miss the warmth, I miss the community.
And at the same time, I have everything. I have a fantastic wife and daughter, a great new job, and kind people around me. But I find it harder to reach out, to stay connected, to have the interactions that inspire, motivate and energize. Seeing some good folks this weekend and the last has been particularly wholesome. And I know it’s going to be OK. It’s Roadburn time, and that’s been a happy time. But I’m struggling with my depressions a lot, and that’s just something I want to set down in words. I don’t think I have anything new to say here. Depression is not a big flag, it’s not something people see. It’s not uncommon either… But it’s a struggle against the irrational, a fight with yourself, it makes little sense but it is there.
So why does Roadburn matter? Well, three years ago, I was also fighting myself. It was all too much, and Roadburn seemed too daunting. I put my ticket for sale online and dropped out. And then Walter got in touch and asked if it would help me to just visit for one day… I did; it was fantastic, cathartic (Une Misere, Cul de Sac show), wholesome. It was then, and there I realized how much a part of me this has become. This music, this world. I’m very grateful to Walter for that. I’ll keep trying to contribute to the festival, even if it means writing pages full that don’t get used.
This year, I contributed to the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. 5 Years going strong now. I sent in the wrong file for one interview, so that was a mess. My essay didn’t make the cut. It’s here for you to read. I hope you enjoy it, and I miss and love everyone.
The essay itself is a little more upbeat than where I’m at now. JJ tried to get it in the zine, but you know… things. Or maybe it’s not good. It’s here anyways.
Gather the tribe
What a year… Never thought I’d be getting ready for an online festival season, let alone my second, but here we are. Locked down, boxed in, we’re all just men and women in boxes thanks to the big C. Personally, I had an adventurous year, where my daughter was born, and the situation gave me the luxury to be at home more than ever and spend it with her in those precious first months. Yet, there’s an itch you cannot scratch. Live music is not something your living room sound system can ever reproduce (note to self: finally buy a sound system). Bathing in the sound, being submerged in the atmosphere and basking in the aura of a band giving it their all on stage…
Yet, what we saw last year and again and again is beautiful; people coming together, embracing music in whatever limited capacity they can. But more so than that, it’s about togetherness. Gathering the tribe, to hear the war drums and dance (certainly, at times, fairly peculiar) tribal dances in a yearly ritual of heaviness. Man, I wish we were in Tilburg in the Weirdo Canyon right now. I have this thing I always do at the start of Roadburn. I get to the festival, and the first show I go see, I just stand by myself, usually on the balcony. I have a cup of coffee (I can’t tell you why it has to be coffee), and I slowly shut down all the regular processes in my head. There’s a state of quiet and peace that comes over me. And then, I switch on to the music, and it swells and envelops me. I’ve called it ‘my Roadburn feeling’ before. It’s the best.
So as I write this, I’m sitting in my home office, a.k.a. my home… It’s been a year, and I’m surrounded by cassettes I seem to have stockpiled over the last months. It’s mostly dungeon synth; I’m now a devotee to the dungeon cult. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up here. There are unplayed records on the table, next to baby toys and half-empty coffee cups (one appears warm enough still). I guess that’s what you get if you don’t have that hard reset every year, right? Let’s hope this is the last wait and that even though it’s online, we get a little whiff of that real Roadburn feeling. The tribe must gather again. Soon.
So back to now. I am OK, or getting there. But this Roadburn thing matters. It’s about coming together, and for me, it is about being ok with myself. Loving the things I love and embracing that which gives me joy. Never let go, always be you. Let’s connect.
Band: Ossaert Origin: Netherlands Label: Argento Records Style: Black metal
Ossaert is spawned by P. from Zwolle and is an entity that is simply and essentialistic black metal. I don’t really know how else to start this write-up, it’s not complicated and mingled stylistically. Debut ‘Bedehuis’ arrived early in 2020 and it’s already time for the follow-up, this time accompanied by W. on the drums.
The bones of ‘Bedehuis’ are still there, but ‘Pelgrimsoord’ embodies a next step in the development of the project musically. Richer, more dynamic and perhaps more aggressive. Let’s be frank, a bio of a band like this doesn’t reveal much, nor does it really manage to stand out from many of its ilk. In the case of Ossaert, I’m certain more of the story will be revealed in the future. If you like to know what the name Ossaert hails from, for example, look to Dutch folklore.
Submitting to the dark
Four songs, 40 minutes of music, it appears that there’s a dense slab of black metal here to be discovered and it starts off vigorously with ‘De Geest en de Vervoering’. The spiritual themes in Ossaerts’ work are obvious, the titles referencing Catholic concepts. After some sacrimonious chanting a wall of distortion unleashes the dark. For me the driven sound, with haunting melodies woven into it, is typical for a particular brand of black metal from the east of the Netherlands. True to the origins of the genre, upturning the Church’s own, with all the elements that make us love this genre.
Ossaert doesn’t fear some clean vocal chants either, so these are packed in there. The sound swells, creates air, instead of compressing into itself on ‘De Val en de Beroering’. I relly like those vocals, as they just twist the grimness around to something beautiful. I’m not saying black metal should be easy listening, but it increases the impact of the harsh vocals. The atmosphere conjured by Ossaert is often mesmerizing, hazy like a chapel where you almost choke on the incense. You can hear it in the foundation of ‘De Nacht en de Verdwijning’. A song that is more driven and forceful.
‘De Dag en de Verschijning’ is than the climactic end of this record. A full showdown with ascending walls of riffs, clawed hands as the screams are turned towards the heavens. Pure fucking darkness. Yet, Ossaert is not one dimensional I found. Certainly, the sound harks to a traditional interpretation of black metal, yet it also embraces the atmospheric strongly in a ‘no frills’ kind of ways. There’s sincerity to this record, which makes it all the more strong and convincing. Modern, yet true.
Music is what connects us from the far ends of the earth. No community embodies that as strongly as the dungeon synth community, which interacts through online platforms, enabling acts from far away places to emerge. Varkâna is one of those unlikely acts to find on your path, experimenting with dungeon synth and its cousin dark ambient to create sonic experiences from his homeland Iran.
Now, the freedom to make music is different in some places. Varkâna may hardly deal with themes and subject matter that is controversial in the Persian realms, yet creating music is an act of rebellion in itself I found out. We spoke, at length, about dungeon synth, the underground and his own projects (find out more here).
Dungeon Synth from the Persian Realms of Djinns and mysteries
First, how did you get in touch with dungeon synth music? And what was it that made you fall in love with it?
My first exposure to Dungeon Synth was Mortiis, I used to be an avid Black Metal fan and it was around 8, 9 years ago that I stumbled upon Mortiis and Summoning of course as a teenager and I just fell in love with the way it sounds and the amazing use of synths, I remember I always wanted to hear more keyboard and synths in Black Metal and here it was the perfect creation.
Later on, I found DepressiveSilence and fell in love with it immediately, Forest of Eternity is definitely one of my favourite DS tracks of all time and a huge influence to me, alongside Paysage d’Hiver‘s Die Festung the use of synths in that record is just mesmerizing.
What I love about Dungeon Synth is first of all the amazingly supportive community which I’ve not seen in any other scene, also as a musician I always looked for a platform to make a certain kind of ambient ritualistic music and I think that would be impossible without incorporating Dungeon Synth elements. There’s this thing about DS that makes it distinctive from any other genre, the fact that this wide range of sounds from video game music to dark ritualistic drone music unifies under the same banner as Dungeon Synth is just amazing and it’s something you don’t always get when dealing with other genres.
Ok, based on your answer I want to back up a little because I hear a lot of conflicting stories about music accessibility, censorship and metal from Iran. How available is extreme metal to you and how much freedom do you have to create your own?
So let me put it this way. You need a VPN-connection. A lot of stuff is censored here and if you use your regular connection, it just doesn’t work and you get nothing. There’s that, but once you have VPN you can use Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music… Whatever. You can’t buy music though, you can’t do that. You can pirate music though, and listen to it and that’s still good.
When it comes to making music, you can probably get away with it. You can’t release music though, especially if it’s extreme metal. You can’t have a gig like play live music. You can record though, there are many studios. These are home studios because there is a massive underground in Iran. It ranges from hiphop to black metal, but it’s all underground because it is not allowed. Yet, you do it anyway, because you don’t give a fuck.
You mentioned the singer of From The Vastland, who left the country due to a lack of freedom (ed. though not listed in the question, I mentioned my interviews with From The Vastland and Avarayr). He is right, freedom doesn’t exist here. You’re constantly exposed to propaganda and surveillance. But it’s not like 1984 here, they are not constantly on top of you. You can still make your music in your own house. Most artists I know do it this way, which is why all my projects are either duos or solo projects. It’s hard to get a band together.
What is it that defines dungeon synth for you, as in if the style had borders, where would these run?
There’s a couple of things that make dungeon synth what it is and are inseparable from the genre. The first one is the extensive use of synthesizers and keyboards which the familiar atmosphere of the genre is shaped around that. The other thing is the DIY aesthetics that are all over the place.
Musically, to me, anything from the 90’s RPG video game soundtracks to OldSorcery and Varkâna is considered Dungeon Synth although I wouldn’t consider Varkâna pure Dungeon Synth, it’s something more like post Dungeon Synth (of course that’s not a term) but you can get the general idea.
To me, original pure Dungeon Synth is DepressiveSilence and Mortiis and then comes stuff like OldTower which is newer but it’s definitely still Dungeon Synth. I have no opinion on the new Comfy synth stuff that recently appeared, I haven’t really listened to it.
But yeah I think Dungeon Synth is really a vast genre and isn’t limited to just a few things like other genres there’s really no defining exactly what is considered Dungeon Synth although it’s easier to classify some stuff than the others.
Where does it originate from and can you tell me a bit more about what it is that makes this genre so compelling to you? What is its charm?
As you may know, dungeon synth has roots in black metal and dark ambient. This happened in the late eighties and nineties, like Mortiis. There’s also this label from Sweden called Cold Meat Industries, which signed acts like Mortiis and Aghast. They had a significant impact on forming the genre. And Burzum, the first two albums Varg recorded in prison are also are very big.
What is compelling to me… As a teenager, I listened to a lot of folk and metal music and when I found out about dungeon synth, I was blown away by the way it sounds, artists like Depressive Silence and Mortiis. Not just because it was medieval, but because it’s the only synth. The atmosphere the synths create is something so different to anything else. There is other medieval music you can listen to, but none has the charm that dungeon synth music has. It’s very graphic, and you can picture yourself in its setting and it seems it is meant to be that way.
You’ve mentioned community. I’m curious about what makes the community so special. As I’ve been a member of the Facebook group, I’ve noticed for example that it sort of ‘self polices’, but in a democratic way. It has its little upheavals, but everyone is very involved and the focus is also very much on being non-political.
The great thing about the community is how close everyone is to each other, everybody supports each other’s projects and are willing to do all they can to keep the genre going.
Also, I think everybody tries their best to keep the drama to a minimum but of course, it’s inevitable at some points.
The DS scene uses the possibility of online in combination with that small scale. There are clear ‘boundaries’ on what fits in and what doesn’t. Or do you feel that’s a wrong assumption? I mean this in both genre stylistics as well as things like politics and ideology.
In terms of politics and ideology, I think you will find that artists’ beliefs vary like in any scene (such as hardcore punk) and I’m sure there are artists and fans out there with some unsavoury beliefs, but they wouldn’t be accepted into the wider community of the scene like most DS artists. For the most part, it’s about the music and the general atmosphere we want to portray/embody. Honestly, DS has no agenda in terms of a united opinion on politics or political ideology. The community is open to all kinds of people and is very open-minded, freedom of expression is generally encouraged and artists’ interpretation of what DS is, or can be, can vary greatly like any genre.
Well, in terms of the music, I think it’s a positive thing that the music is filtered and the community is mainly focused on the actual genre. In the case of the next topic, I think being “PC” is a new trend in media that you can see everywhere with the DS community being no exception. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I’m not in a place to say but that doesn’t make it necessary for individuals and artists to be an advocate for such destructive ideologies as Nazism. Naturally, many only want to cause controversy and stir the pot and don’t actually subscribe to the beliefs they “promote” in actuality.
When you discovered all this music, how did you convert it to something that is your own? You’ve had quite a few projects going, most notably Varkana, which taps into something distinct.
I have lived in Iran for my whole life, so naturally, I have been exposed to Persian folklore, mythology, traditional music since birth. Thanks to this, I feel like it subconsciously influences my music, most notably Varkâna. I use thematically Persian elements in my album/song titles and themes, but this just flows naturally from within me without being forceful. I have always listened to a wide range of eclectic music, so I have drawn inspiration from everything from film scores, Mortiis and Depressive Silence, early electronic and synthesizer music, hardcore punk, shoegaze, post-rock, classical music, synthwave and so on. Similarly to how my “Persianness” is expressed in my music, my music taste also presents itself in my music very organically and the influence is most definitely the foundations of my music.
Had dungeon synth in some ways helped you to explore your ‘roots’ if I can use that word? And how did you figure out in what way you could implement them in your music?
I must say that I was always a massive mythology nerd and read about Persian mythology, history and Zoroastrianism well before I got into DS. but for me, DS and Black Metal are the most fitting ways to incorporate all these readings and concepts into music.
To me, it seems that what you put into the music thematically will dramatically change the way music sounds. Most DS is originally heavily reliant on Tolkienesque, western high-fantasy and RPG’s, so to me, there’s a different flavour to your music. I would argue it’s similar with black metal, where the feisty Norsemen or Celt fantasy (I even heard a Viking metal band from Tunisia) has been sort of played out. How do you feel about the idea of bringing something new to the genre and shifting the frontier as a way of saying?
Well, personally I really enjoy the fact that my music is unique and this approach to DS is not commonplace. But also there are some people who believe this is inferior (especially Cosmic Terror) to the original sound that you’re expecting to hear when you have DS in mind. Again one should keep in mind that DS is a cluttered genre as I mentioned before so it’s kind of hard to keep track of what “true” DS is.
I would like to ask you something more about which different projects you’ve got going on now and what each of them is about.
I’d say Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family and Beam Keeper, but SAF and Beamkeeper are kind of on hold right now and Varkâna is my main project. I’d say Varkâna is a form of extreme transcendental music that relies heavily on being “Iranian” and delves into Iranian mythology and theology. SAF is a more modern approach to black metal and shoegaze and is heavily influenced by Surrealism, Space and our very own existence and at last Beam Keeper is a form of appreciating the 80’s films and music.
With Varkana, you’ve just taken a different turn with a Lovecraft inspired record. Where’s the connection thematically there?
Well, I always really liked Lovecraft and his writings and I thought maybe I can turn them into a Varkâna album, I felt like the atmosphere would be perfect for a new and different release something that still sounds like Varkâna but it isn’t, thematically to me this is the most experimental Varkâna album and I don’t think anything like this is gonna happen any time soon. But musically there’s new stuff coming that I think will appeal to both new and old Varkâna fans.
How would you define dungeon synth, if any definition can be made?
In my opinion, Dungeon Synth can be found in many things (film scores, retro video game music etc) as long as there is a certain feeling, sound or aesthetic quality to it. It is not so much about there being a checkbox per se, but more a general ‘vibe’ or atmosphere.
This means that there is a great deal of creative freedom allowed in the genre, with little to no pigeonholing in what defines something as being DS or not. There are all kinds of Dungeon Synth being made all the time in different themes, from Dinosaurs to Space for example.
Looking at contemporary DS, you can see a lot of growth and expansion in terms of the different branches of the genre, There are noticeable differences in the subgenres within, with the original medieval/ dark ambient sounding DS, rooted deeply in Black Metal only being the starting blocks. Many acts don’t even subscribe to the traditional notion of BM style DS, and nowadays more and more fans are coming to the DS scene without prior interest or exposure to BM. Over time, Dungeon Synth has changed from an offshoot of Dark Ambient and Black Metal into its own distinct genre with its own intricacies and varieties within itself.
What future plans do you have currently as an artist? And are you willing to shed some more light on those hinted-at releases?
Well, I’m currently recording a new atmospheric black/doom album with Eve Hodgkins of Eternal Obsession on guitars and some other musicians including my old friend Harpag Karnik, the album is thematically similar to Ahrimanic Chambers and Rite.
If Varkâna was a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
This is a very tough question, I think it would be Persian but something that’s a bit more westernized haha. Like some sort of chicken kebab maybe?
Band: Dödsrit Label: Wolves of Hades Origin: Sweden/Netherlands Genre: black crust ‘n roll
The project that is now Dödsrit may have started in the forests of Sweden, when Christoffer Öster created it, it has now more or less become a Dutch affair for 75%. With members of Morvigor, NuclearDevastation and Destructo in its ranks, it’s become a full-fledged metal machine, blending black metal coldness with a hard-baked crust sound and heavy metal sensibilities. In short, it’s tasty as fuck.
‘Mortal Coil’ is the third album of this international outfit and it is a prime piece of metal destruction. The bio reads a little dramatic, this album representing the world in flames, the hell they call home. I think metal can do with some drama and theatrics, it’s after all not fucking punkrock, is it? I like punkrock though, but it’s simply another beast. Ok, pointless chatter, let’s go to the music.
Burning the fields with Dödsrit
The sound of Dödsrit is more of a journey, as the songs drag on and on. This is not a bad thing, since it nicely blends aggression with the richness of atmospheric passages. In its desperate nature and forlorn feeling, the sound is like everything is burning behind you. The world is indeed on fire, and hope is racing away from you. ‘The Third Door’ is a song full of story, and as one of the four, a great start of this record.
‘Shallow Graves’ takes it up a notch with epic guitars, roaring vocals and some of that melo-death grandeur. I noticed here how well polished this album sounds. Not to demean any of it, because the production quality is essential to really make you feel those hooks and riffs. In that sense, it even has a bit of that Dissection/Immortal vibe going. The title track is even more accessible, though it’s got that dragging sound going too.
I suppose ‘Apathetic Tongues’ kinda knocks it out of the park after that. Nothing else to say honestly. In many ways, Dödsrit fits the mould of the more new-school black metal bands, like Downfall of Gaia and ilk. Wide space in the music, bursts of energy, a little hybridization between genres, atmosphere… In four excessively radio-unfriendly songs, the band just drags you along. It’s got a bit of everything that makes this music good; it’s catchy, furious, melodic, yet still full of grit.