Welcome to another selection of tasty dungeon beats (not really, it’s not beats… I mean, that would be way to hipster) from Akerius, Casio Tomb, Meadow Grove and Vale Minstrel. As I listened to these, I was reading ‘The Dragons of Autumn Twilight’ by Weiss and Hickman. You know what I’m talking about. Anyways, pretty nice to have som good atmospheric tunes to go with that book. So here goes, enjoy these dungeon synth finds!
Header image: Partly broken tower in the Anacopia fortress in the hills above New Athos in Abkhazia. The fortress played an important role on the border between Byzantine Christendom from the Umayyad Caliphate. King Leon I of Abkhazia had his seat here.
Akerius – Shadowed Paths Through Middle Earth
Artist origin: France (Réunion)
This is actually an oddity for Akerius, who normally is inspired by medieval/alchemic themes from his region of origin (Occitania). A Tolkien-infused dungeon synth album in the best tradition of this act, filled with mystery and subdued notes. Akerius stays true to the sound, with slow, steady rhythms and an all-together aura of mystery on this record. The music is always sombre, which is pretty much the whole tone of Tolkien’s works when you are venturing outside of Valinor and the Shire. The droning sounds really give shape to that sense of dread and danger, while the higher notes weave their own patterns. At times, Akerius does the odd surprising thing, like the intense drumming on ‘The Malefic Fortress of Utumno’. It shakes you up a bit, and helps you keep your eyes on the road in this dark land. I love how Akerius manages to make such small gestures in his music, but those small shifts take you to a whole new level of epic drama. ‘Shadows of Mordor is a prime example of how small nuances can make such an impact. As far as dungeon synth goes, for those who like to leave the cave for open-air threats, Akerius is as good as it gets for your personal peace of darkness descending.
Casiotomb – Exkursion in das Hügelgrablabyrinth
Heimat der Katastrofe
Artist origin: Unknown
So, technically I’m out on a limb here listing this release in dungeon synth, but the vibe is there. Casiotomb just uses the sound of the 8-bit (or less) videogame soundtrack to emulate the feeling of a dangerous dungeon crawler. There’s a simple excitement that only those who played these ancient video games can really understand and this crawler-soundtrack captures perfectly what the vibe of those games was. A gritty bass layer, primitive, scratchy and not really heavy on the thudding keeps you on edge, as the spooky music beeps and blurps onward. In a way, it makes you wonder how with so little these composers managed to do so much. I particularly love the spiralling sound on ‘Devoured By Vermin’. Seems like you just lost a life. The energy is high on this album, electric even. No time to stop, there’s a monster lurking around the next corner and each tick your supplies dwindle (remember that game aspect? I’ve never eaten a thing in Skyrim… pfff). This record is fantastic.
Meadow Grove – The Exile of Lord Bearston
Meadow Grove is a Finnish dungeon synth project that focuses on the story of a knight, named… as you may have guessed, Lord Bearston. The Lord refused to bow before the encroaching empire and is now on the run. The songs tell the story very precisely, step by step. Musically, Meadow Grove is an artist that enjoys minimalism. There are rarely complex layers at work in the music, neither do the sounds wholly conform to the medieval setting of the story. At times, the synthetic nature of the sound is clearly audible, even a bit scifi in this form of audio-storytelling. Notably on ‘Reflections in Solitude’. That’s only odd if you have focused on the music and not the story because there everything makes sense for Meadow Grove. Having ordered the cassette, I was charmed by the DIY aesthetic, which also made me take a closer look at the story. This is a project in which you can hear (and see if you get a physical copy) the love for the art itself and that’s, to me, the coolest thing dungeon synth can do. It’s what makes it more real than any Netflix production. Meadow Grove is definitely a project still developing and when the sounds are more tailored to an organic feel, this can go a long way.
Vale Minstrel – Warden of the Vale
artist origin: USA
If you ever genuinely wanted to get the vibe of sitting down by the fire in a tavern, located in a beautiful, lush green valley, this is your chance. Vale Minstrel is encroaching upon the terrain of comfy synth with his ‘Warden of the Vale’ release. Call it medieval synth if you like, it strikes that bardic cord with simple flute-like synths and interwoven repetition. It’s what you imagine hearing in the background as you bend over that tankard of ale you wish to gulp down as you listen to a wondrous tale. Only ‘A Minstrel’s Control Spell’ the sound goes a bit off as all the melodies spiral together. It’s an oddity on this otherwise perfect collection of medieval tunes. I can just picture the damsels curtsying and tip-toeing over the dancefloor. Somewhere in the back some dwarvish type shouts something incoherent and indecent but is further ignored. Peace, tranquil (like ‘Awoke! Near a Moonlit Grotto in the Glade of Green’), time to escape to the fantastic realms. In that case, Vale Minstrel is a worthy companion. I do wish the songs on this 100th Ancient Meadow release were slightly longer. That way you could linger in their magic a moment more.