Category Archives: Review

Dungeon Synth Digest V – Goblins, fog, forest and iron

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 OathFrost-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 – TabernaculumToadlickers and Criptadel

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.

Origin: Goblin Town/Argentina
Label: Self-released

Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver – In the Kingdom of FogFogweaver Foglord Fog Castle

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 ForestForest 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’sHliðskjálf’ 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.

Origin: Sweden
Label: Goatroom Productions

Dungeon Synth Digest: Castellan, Stuffed Crust, Aldebaran’s Nebulah, Tir

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 – PersepolisTir - 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 IIICastellan - 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.

Artist: Castellan
Origin: Norway
Label: self-released

Aldebaran’s Nebulah – Deep Form of Cosmic Signals & Psychonautic Sphere of NothingnessAldebaran's nebulah

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 StoneSTUFFED CRUST

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

Roadburn Time, Redux (and after the event so…)

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.

Ossaert – Pelgrimsoord

Ossaert – Blackness from  blackness

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.


Dödsrit – Mortal Coil


Band: Dödsrit
Label: Wolves of Hades
Origin: Sweden/Netherlands
Genre: black crust ‘n roll

Swedish-Dutch Destruction

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, Nuclear Devastation 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.

Winterblood – Finsternis


Band: Winterblood
Origin: Italy
Label: Kunsthall Produktionen
genre: Winter synth, polar ambient

The lonely, frigid wastes

Winterblood is not a name I had on my radar this far, but releasing work on Kunsthall Produktionen peaked my interest. The label is after all home to none other than Paysage d’Hiver, a cornerstone act for wintery, brooding darkness. And don’t we love darkness here at the Stranger Aeons offices in a dark Lovecraftian corner of the world? Who is to say, little uprising of the great old ones here. Anyways, more on Winterblood.

Winterblood hails from Italy, from the city of Florence which the more literate may associate with Boccacio, Dante Allighieri and Machiavelli. Others may think of sun, pizza and wine, which is also fine (rhyming and stealing here). The project is by Stefano Senassi, who racked up a total of some 29 releases to this point. Inspiration comes from the north, the cold, the wintery… This he unleashes on ‘Finsternis’, the latest effort from his hand that is now available on vinyl.

What first strikes me is the droning nature of the sound. What comes close to it for me, is the music of Kalameet, another winter-inspired artist who manages to paint vistas of frozen prairies. Winterblood goes further, into snowy wastes where one gets lost who is not careful. Snow blindness lurks as you stumble through the ongoing gale. Is it entertaining? Not so much, I mean, ploughing through the snow on aclear night when you know your heating is functional is fine, but the endlessness Winterblood offers is an immersive experience of sonorous booming sound, that drowns out the world.

And that for a full hour if I’m not mistaken, even a bit longer. The numbered tracks are just offering you a reason to get up and flip the record, but the best is to just turn off the lights and curl up. Sink into the eeriness, which becomes a bit bass-like on the second half of the total. That is the second slab of vinyl, crusted with ice. Look, I’ll not recommend you get this if you like summer, but if you like sounds that emulate the polar night, this is for you.

Dungeon Synth Digest: Forest of Orthanc, High Mage, Knife Wraith, Speedway and Mystiska Skogen

It’s been a while and some of this DS Digest has been rotting on the shelf and that’s a shame. There’s some releases I was pretty keen on in the dungeon synth corner, and I guess some of it is more synthwave… But check out below for Forest of OrthancHigh MageKnife WraithSpeedway and Mystiska Skogen music.

May your save rolls always be blessed.

Header image: Belgian Monument in Amersfoort. Forgotten monument to a forgotten war for the Dutch, built by Belgian refugees from the First World War, who were interned in the neutral Netherlands. 

Forest of Orthanc X High Mage – The Wandering Mage of the Spellbound WoodForest of Orthanc X High Mage

A split release in dungeon synth is something new to me, but a welcome concept. It feels, to me as the listener, even more so as a collaborative effort., Forest of Orthanc, from Colorado, takes care of side A with whispy, light tones, and a solid foundation of low tones. The cavernous effect is achieved through an echo, that sounds like dripping. Calm, yet it is as if we are awaiting something. Some darkness to descend upon us. It’s very bare, yet highly immersive on songs like ‘Mildew’.  Forest of Orthanc feels, as far as I experience it, much more earthy and grounded. Truly dungeon synth-y, whereas High Mage has an iridescent quality to its sound, instantly audible on ‘Discovering the Edjewitch’.  The sonorous synths are covered with a haze of distorted noise as if you’re listening to them through a rainstorm at times. It makes the whole vibe of the music feels more ambient, like a field recording with an organic feel to it. Particularly on ‘Unbinding Ancient Texts’ this is very distinctly true. What is surprising is how flawless the transition between the two artists feels. This release feels like a ‘whole’ story, which makes it extra cool to listen to.

Artist: Tower of Orthanc / High Mage
Origin: USA
Laber: High Mage Productions

Mystiska Skogen – Den Förtrollade Gläntan

Mystiska Skogen –
Den Förtrollade Gläntan

For the Swedish Mystiska Skogen, nature holds the mysteries. But it also would appear that this is a dark place full of foreboding threats and grand stories if we listen to ‘Den Förtrollade Gläntan’. A record that allows you to taste the dew on the leaves and feel the fog hit your face on an early morning in the forests. Eerie synths, and pounding rhythms guarantee tracks like ‘Bergatron’ come on slowly and captivate you fully within moments. No sound elements are wasted or embellished in this song, each minute detail has an effect. From the flowing waters to the flourishes on the keys. That changes when we get to ‘Solbärgingen’, a track that swells to a majestic scale. That’s what I like best in more fantasy-oriented dungeon synth, it’s the ability for the grandeur and force I enjoy in my reading. It’s in that minimal use of elements, much as I know it from the Burzum ambient records. Mystiska Skogen successfully creates that same feeling.

Artist: Mystiska Skogen
Origin: Sweden
Label: Gondolin Records

Speedway – DeathblowSpeedway

Speedway is Hank Richardson, an artist who uses technology from the eighties to create immersive synth-scapes. A perfect fit for his RPG, titled ‘Deathblow’, which accompanies this release. Pretty awesome stuff, so you get a game and a soundtrack that sounds wildly accurately eighties. Musically, it may sound simple, but the tunes contain a lot of referential emotive movements and song-referential elements. After listening to this bad boy for the whole day, I’m siked about this gang-war-landscape, where I imagine Mel Gibson riding around in true Mad Max fashion. But you can also dance to it, so that’s all the good stuff you want from a dungeon synthy synthwave release, right? Let’s roll the dice.

Artist: Speedway
Origin: United States
Label: Heimat der Katastrofe

Knife Wratih – Adventure Module 1: Into The Undercity DungeonKnife Wraith

It’s hard to grasp what’s coming to you when you visit the bandcamp page of Knife Wraith, but the music speaks for itself. Game-soundtrack inspired dungeon synth, with a high level of creepiness. I particularly enjoy the cavernous, lofi sound that sort of boxes in the music. And yes, there’s sounds that I recall from playing my ancient Commodore 64 as a kid. Those crashy sounds, and blips and beats, fantastic. What makes Knife Wraith so awesome to me is the fact that the music speaks about all the things that embody my personal eighties nostalgia. I miss that simpler time and it’s like this artist just caters to my needs. Particularly enjoyable is ‘VI – Fighting The Bleak Clacker’. Don’t even know what it is, but I want to roll for initiative. It’s a ruddy shame that this is not out yet on one of those DS/wave labels.

Artist: Knife Wraith
Origin: Germany
Label: Self-released

Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron

Eternal Champion

Band: Eternal Champion
Origin: USA
Label: No Remorse Records
genre: heavy ‘sword raising’ metal

Raising swords and raising hell

I am not entirely sure what I find so alluring about Eternal Champion. It may be the reference to Michael Moorcock’s work, but it may also be its hyper-retroism of classical heavy metal. Or simply the sensual artwork, that you particularly see in the bygone era of muscular fantasy heroes with scantly clad ladies (rarely without powers of their own). Perhaps it’s the mixture of all these elements that makes it stand out. Fact is: Eternal Champion rocks. 

This is the second full-length for the band from Austin, Texas. Comprised of members from the band Sumerlands and War Hungry, the line-up is completed with vocalist Jason Tarpey from Graven Rite and guitar player Blake Ibanez (how awesome is that for a guitar player’s name) from Power Trip. And they perform with a sword held high, without becoming an uncomfy cheese-fest like Manowar. Don’t be like Manowar… For many reasons. Ok, let’s drop that line of thoughts. 

Cleaving through the night, like thunder, hooves will split the ground – ‘A Face in the Glare’

We’re immediately off with massive riffs and this bad-ass Tom G. Warrior ‘Ugh!’ but we move on to a sound that I feel has a lot of Cirith Ungol in it. Vocals that stand out remarkably, but fit the soaring nature of the sound that pulsates with power. That being said, it’s not Manowar posturing, but some true storytelling as you can hear on ‘Skullseeker’. Conan-esque, yes, but that’s good stuff as well so nothing to complain about here.

What I find most enjoyable about this record, is that I don’t know how to make it seem like anything else than what it really is. Tough old-school heavy metal, full of sharp guitars and thundering rhythms. It’s not complicated, but executing this style correctly is a challenge.  Eternal Champion does that on tracks like ‘Coward’s Keep’, which thunders on with strong melodies and soaring vocals.

I would almost say that if you do not like Eternal Champion, you most likely don’t actually like metal, But hey, that would be a heavy statement. I mean, you could not want to bang your head to ‘Banners of Arhai’. But I sincerely hope that’s due to injury or a compromising situation, because the song definitely deserves it. SO, once more to close this story: Hail Eternal Champion!

Conrad – Exu​.​21: Voodooesque Nightshades, Her Embrace & His Alluring Ways

Conrad is a beast from a more dark place than you might think. The band hails from Barbados and is Kadeem Ward’s brainchild, a.k.a. Emdeka Anubis. After almost a decade of silence, the band ploughs on with this new release, titled ‘Exu​.​21: Voodooesque Nightshades, Her Embrace & His Alluring Ways’, an endeavour that displays a remarkable development in the band’s sound.

Originally, the band had multiple members, but it would appear that Emdeka is going at it solo for now under the Conrad banner. Barbados is not a place known for its metal connection and scene, so there’s a lot to unpack here. For this, I recommend reading the interview. Here I want to focus on this remarkable mixture of psychedelic music and black metal darkness.

Into darkness with Conrad

I don’t want to lump Conrad in a specific whole, but the way strange rhythms fluctuate through the hazy sound is fascinating. I can only think of Burzum actually, as using the texture of the sound itself in all its dissonance to create something new. I ‘d like to particularly refer to ‘Reinos Pt. II: Cruzeiro (Cross)’, the third track on the album. Yet, it is far from the only track in the Conrad maelstrom of distorted guitar sounds and cryptic drumming. The long-ass tracks (they are really long) are also filled with psychedelic loops, that remind me of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies on the last record. Hallucinatory is the best word I suppose. I can taste the incense.

The record is a ritualistic one, paying homage to entities like Exu and Pombagira, who are key in the Afro-Brazilian cult of Quimbanda. Emdeka was inspired for this series of sonic sketches (because to me, that’s how they feel) by the teaching of Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold. You really feel that vibe on the repetitive, droney ‘Reinos Pt. IV: Cemiterio (Cemetery). But even the more metallesque songs, like the following ‘Reinos Pt. V: Almas (Souls)’ keep that ritualistic vibe going. It’s a testament to the strength of the music that each expression feels wholesome and connected to a larger idea.

If you are looking for traditional black metal, steer clear of this album. If you like your darkness to be like a starlight night in the Caribbean where voodoo rights are performed in the firelight, this is what you need.

Lóndrangar – Lóndrangar

Lóndrangar awakens from its slumber

How lovely it is to discover new dungeon synth artists emerging from a country not particularly well known for its imagination. It’s ok for me to say this, as it concerns an artist from the Netherlands itself. I’m not sure what it is – our lack of wild places, the country’s flat nature, or a simple disconnect with the mysteries of our past. All of these seem to be well part of the Dutch condition, yet here and there magic appears, for those willing to see it. Lóndrangar is a project that has been slumbering in the forgotten past but now has reawakened.

Toner Low might be the last band I’d associate with dungeon synth, but member Daan started Lóndrangar a lifetime ago, back in 1997. After only a short period of a year, it became dormant and had been until we had this global pandemic raging around our globe. And there, we have it, the self-titled debut after long last. The songs are completely new though. And if you were wondering, Lóndrangar is named after an eroded volcanic rock formation on Iceland’s west coast.

Though the songs are new, the feel is very old. Lóndrangar hits the right spot for the lovers of old-school dungeon synth. Repetitive, epic strings and a gloomy, melancholic atmosphere all the way. It really doesn’t take much for ‘Ruins Forgotten By Time’ to grip you, but with a title like that, what else did you expect? Yet, it takes us back to the earliest recordings of Mortiis and Cernunnos Woods, and I’d like to mention Wongraven here too as this is the same primitive sound I hear. Slowly the music waxes and wanes, with multiple layers working in harmony to set a mood more than tell a story. But that’s early dungeon synth for you, I believe.

‘Darkening Skies’ is a bit more threatening, slightly more urgent. There’s a swing in the sound, that allows you to imagine the fluttering on the wind, the meandering of rivers and the dripping of water over rugged rocks. The song becomes softer over time, as the synths take on an emulation of the wind, that wistfully blows over the land. It’s full of longing for a different time, now forgotten. ‘A Call Upon The Ages’ takes a darker route. It’s a more subdued swan song to a great debut album. Even if it was 23 years in the making, Lóndrangar makes it all worth it on this classic slab of DS.