Tag Archives: dungeon synth

Varkâna: Iranian Underground Dungeon Synth

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 Depressive Silence 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 Old Sorcery 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 Depressive Silence and Mortiis and then comes stuff like Old Tower 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.

Varkâna hails from a land of beauty

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.

Varkana logo

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?

 

Sidereal Fortress: Artistic Freedom & Dungeon Synth

Dungeon synth is a strange beast and each artist would appear to have his or her own views on it. Sidereal Fortress, which happens to be the name the artists wants to use for the interview too, looks at it with a wide-open view as part of ambient music. It allows him to approach the genre freely and create a quite diverse range of records, all worth listening to.

This interview started after I wrote a piece (that would appear to have gone slightly unnoticed) on comfy synth, the new threat to the purity of the dungeon synth genre. Or, if you look at it like Sidereal Fortress, a new dimension of a fascinating style.

Read on, and enter the world of Sidereal Fortress.

Sidereal Fortress – of crypts, forests and valleys

I wanted to first ask you about Sidereal Fortress, how did this project get started and what made you go into dungeon synth?
…as I explained in other interviews, Sidereal Fortress was born like a reaction. I used to be a creative musician, so when I felt that creativity was going outta sight from my playing, I immediately turned to something that could stimulate me without boundaries. Ambient Music, and especially Dungeon Synth, was the key. I found out that this style of music we used to listen to in the 90s…you know, Pazuzu, Burzum, Mortiis etc…had a ‘scene’, a following, and…yes, also a name, haha!

Tell me a bit more about your background as a creative musician? What sort of music did you make and what sort of education/training do you have?
About my background. I have been studying the guitar for many years, listened, and collected Metal stuff for all my life…so, not such a different background from other Dungeon Synth artists…

You mention here that you found freedom in dungeon synth (or ambient music in general). What sort of freedom do you mean by that?
Creative freedom, of course! Notice that listening and mastering Ambient Music takes your relationship with Music to another level. Higher? lower? I don’t know. But it’s DIFFERENT. Your musical perception and sensitivity get expanded, your mind and ears get open extremely wide. No school will ever teach you that…

Is that maybe also, because it is such a highly individual process? I mean, more than anything the music is your creation as such.
Absolutely! And no one makes the rules for you.

But also, dungeon synth is slowly closing ranks, there’s an ongoing debate on what is real dungeon synth and what isn’t. That’s why we already see discussions about winter synth or comfy synth, which I believe are cut from the same cloth. How do you experience that, since your music has been classified in the latter category?
Oh, that’s a long one. Ambient Music is closing ranks just if YOU want your ranks to be closed. Sidereal Fortress is actually a multi sounding project, I don’t pay too much attention if my stuff is True DS or False DS…you know, today I could be inspired by some raw, droning black metal stuff like Paysage d’Hiver, tomorrow it could be by Blackmore’s Night, just to give an example. But: most of all, I let the inspiration in from emotional states (including nostalgic), from hiking in the woods, from visiting abandoned villages and places…you know, all that can really stimulate the imagination. And you know what? I never felt so close to music as I do now. Dungeon synth and related stuff can really break every boundary of your creativity and imagination, giving back to music its very essence, making it become a real form of art. Not a scholarship or consumer product.

And continuing my initial line of questioning: What did you set out to do with Sidereal Fortress and what sort of stories inspired you and did you want to tell in turn to your audience?

Let’s look at the thematics because though you talk about freedom, there is consistency in your music and the direction you take it in. Sidereal Fortress is not an experimental project in that sense, but what is the story you are telling us?
Ah, I know what you mean. Anyway, a lot of ‘free form’ tracks are present in Sidereal Fortress…listen for example to my album The Hermit’s Hole. Also ‘La grotta di Merlino’ from the Vette Inquiete album is an actual free form one. The experimental approach you’re speaking of is, indeed, more present in my ‘kosmische’ project Il Generale Inverno. Sidereal Fortress explores most fantasy and traditional scenarios, instead.

Since my first EP, ‘Ruins’, my way of Dungeon Synth is inspired by places I visited, most ancient sites, abandoned medieval locations, woods, mountains etc…since there’s plenty of them in Italy and in Europe. The Hermit’s Hole, Vette inquiete” and also The Lost Woodsongs EP” are all inspired by obscure or fictional facts from Tuscany, the region where I live. With Vette Inquiete, I tried to translate into Music some less known Tuscan folk tales (you’ll find all of them explained in the beautiful tape edition that HDK released in 2018). The Hermit’s Hole, which I consider my only actual full-length album to date, is an even more intimate and spiritual journey in that sense. Just to make it clear: those releases are NOT intended to be part of a trilogy or series….they came straight from the heart and surely I will keep being inspired by the secrets of my homeland!

Italy, obviously, has a rich and long history. Are there particular eras or topics that inspire you?
Most still recognizable heritage that we have in Tuscany, meaning castles, towers, etc, comes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, so they’re obviously the ones that most inspire me. But I also have a particular interest in Etruscan and pre-Roman sites and history! 

How did you get in contact with Heimat Der Katastrofe?
I don’t remember exactly…but surely it was because they listened to my ‘Ruins’ EP, back in 2017. They offered me the opportunity to write and record an album for their catalog, so I made ‘The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak’ and the rest is history. Lately, another great label named Ancient Meadow Records contacted me and offered a tape release of The Hermit’s Hole plus some merch like stickers etc…they’re doing an awesome job, I’m so proud of this collaboration!

I’m interested to learn a bit more about the conversion process of those impressions and the inspiration into the music. How do you go about this? Is there a ritual or personal process you go through?I’m absolutely instinctive. Meaning that, in case of inspiration, I must immediately record the main idea just to fix it and capture the emotional state/moment as it is. I don’t see this process as an actual improvisation, I call it ‘straight composing’, do you like this definition? 

This is the only way to give people true inspired Music, not artifacts. My other project Il Generale Inverno is even more extreme in that sense since it’s actually full free-form improvisation.

So it’s for you really a matter of getting to your equipment when the inspiration hits you?
Ahahah, yes, when it’s possible. If not, I record the main idea whistlin’ at my phone.

I’m curious how you feel about the term comfy synth.
Comfy Synth…mmm…initially, that thing made me laugh, just because it seems to be the bright side of dungeon synth…but exploring that subgenre a little bit, I found out that it has its own sense: it’s not the opposite of dark ambient, it seems to be something like the nemesis. CS is just a shortcut neologism to identify a style of ambient music mostly based on the ‘nostalgic’ feel…hence topics like grandma’s rocking chairs, little peaceful animals like the ones in Enid Blyton’s novels, etc. Notice that some of my albums like ‘Racconti del Focolare’ and ‘Alpestre’ have curiously landed in the Comfy Zone…I think it’s because of that nostalgic pulse. Anyway, those albums have been released long before the term ‘comfy synth’ was crafted…

Well, I mentioned your project in a bit I wrote related to the genre. I forwarded the thesis, that it is not the opposite, but a different form of finding ‘escape’ to an imaginary realm. How do you feel about that idea?
It’s more or less what I said above: telling it’s just ‘dark ambient vs bright ambient’ it’s somehow reductive. Also, I heard a couple of albums that showcase very good compositional skills…so I think taking a listen to comfy synth is definitely worth it.

Each artist I spoke to this far has indicated that the community is one of the most important aspects of what they like about dungeon synth. How do you feel about that?
I don’t know what they mean exactly… Maybe they’re talking about feeling at home inside the DS community because there are no pop-stars among the artists, and every DS addicted frequents the same two or three closed groups. What I like about the DS community is that there’s respect between artists, almost no jealousy or other ridiculous stuff. That said, it’s not so different from other music-related communities…

Well, that’s something. So what sort of equipment do you use to make music?
I’m currently using two controllers and an Italian toy-synth from the 80s to which I added a line-out jack. Sometimes I also use a Yamaha acoustic guitar, a classical one, and rarely also some of my old strats.

Are you a bit of a gearhead?
Not that much, to be honest. I recorded my first EP ‘Ruins’ by using just a USB portable controller, believe it or not, ahah! Then I obviously improved my synth stuff buying two better devices…you know, to have more dynamics, an onboard arpeggiator, a basic mixing section, and other things. This allows me to make also improvised stuff like I’m doing with Il Generale Inverno. The toy synth is a curious story: I casually found that little monster at a fair, for just 5€…it’s a Bontempi, a legendary Italian brand from the old days. And, despite being just a little toy, it has very good sounds!

Dungeon synth is now more popular than ever. Cassettes sell out in minutes for example. Where do you think this is all heading?
Oh, this is a hot one!!! I know many artists do not agree with my point of view, but I think there’s an ‘underground hype’ out there. Music is losing its primary role, in favor of the collecting hysteria. There are beautiful albums, even little masterpieces, that go completely unseen…but when they get a repress by this or that label, they got sold out in 2 minutes. Curious, ah!? OK, labels have more visibility than an independent artist, but this sounds to me almost an apology…

Do you feel it disrupts the artistry? Have you felt this has affected your visibility as an artist?
Let me tell you this: if you feel that hype, marketing, and other shit like that is somehow affecting your art or artistry, well you’d better stop acting like an artist because you’re not. All this stuff regards making music as a job or a source of money raising, not art. Desmond Child maybe does not agree with my view, but I could understand him, haha! To answer the second part of the question, I’m not in the position to complain about my project’s visibility and other things like that, because Sidereal Fortress seems to be respected and welcomed by most of the community, including well-known labels. So I’m a pop star now, haha!

I gather you have your own dungeon now, as a wealthy star in the DS underground?
I’m more interested in doing my music the best I can, trying to keep the quality high. DS has that amateur, underground feel we all like…however this can’t be used as an excuse for masking an objective low quality. But returning to your question, in 2017 when I released ‘Ruins’ I noticed an interest, people were buying my digital EP, though I hadn’t any Facebook, Instagram, or label promoting Sidereal Fortress…it was exciting to see that, and still, it is! I’m obviously thankful to all those who support my projects!

How important is stuff like artwork and the creative side of a physical release to you?
…to be honest, when I started Sidereal Fortress I was focused 100% on Music and I didn’t give graphics and artworks a lot of importance. But yes, with time I learned that artwork is part of the concept and must reflect what you’re going to hear in the tape, cd etc. Then I started practicing with graphic software and I improved my skills a bit. However, we still have to keep in mind that we’re here to make music, not paintings or theater…

About the music, what is the purpose of your work, or in other words, how do you hope your listener enjoys your work? Is it about musicality or atmosphere?
This is the most difficult question I ever had to answer in an interview, really! The most important thing for an artist is always to go straight to the heart of his audience, to touch their feelings and emotions…no matter if with musical skills or just a sound texture. With Sidereal Fortress, I try to be balanced between the two…if you listen to The Hermit’s Hole from start to end, you’ll realize how much it depends on the single track: both  ‘Through ancient woods…’ are super-easy and quite repetitive tracks, but it’s exactly how I wanted those songs to be! At school, you learn that easy Music is almost shit, but the reality is a bit…different!

I read in Dungeon Synth Zine you were considering ending the Sidereal Fortress project?
Yes, I ended Sidereal Fortress one year ago after the release of ‘Odissea’. Back then I felt like I’ve told all that I had to tell with that ‘brand’. But thanks to some estimated DS artists and also some close friends, I found myself reconsidering Sidereal Fortress. That led me to publish The Hermit’s Hole with my usual moniker…and it has been the right move! That album got the interest of Ancient Meadow and a very good overall feedback…yes, I think it’s my best release to date.

Which artists or releases are currently inspiring you or which would you really recommend as you consider them to be particularly good?
Mmm…the dungeon synth scene is moving such fast that it’s really hard to find hidden masterpieces. Also, it’s quite rare that I make my DS Music getting inspiration from other DS. Morphic Sun is a less known artist that I’m following with great interest.

What future plans do you currently have for Sidereal Fortress?
Honestly, I don’t know. I have a few recorded tracks that maybe will be included in my next album, but not in the near future. Dungeon synth is the quintessence of introspective music like dark ambient and cosmic music are…but they’re also a research of the perfect dramatic and obscure symphony. The making of The Hermit’s Hole lasted almost one year, but things could be even longer…or shorter…who knows? By now, I will join the new chapter of a well-known compilation with an unreleased track. You’ll see…

If you had to describe Sidereal Fortress as a dish, like a type of food, what would it be and why?
Without any doubt, it would be a dish from the Tuscan tradition, possibly a mountainside one. Just because my region, as I told you before, is my main source of inspiration. Though I also did some ‘off-topic’ albums like Odissea and The Forgotten Tomb of Yshnak.

Maybe I will choose the ‘cinghiale alla bracconiera’, that we can almost translate as ‘the poacher’s wild boar’ in English!

 

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.

Dungeon Synth Digest: Toadlickers, Hole Dweller, Vervamon & Borg

Get your dungeon synth digest with Toadlickers, Hole Dweller, Vervamon, and Borg. Some good stuff to get into your system. Ok, maybe not all as dungeon synth as it should be, but it fits. And it’s cool so… enjoy.

Header image: Temple of Mokva in Abkhazia, an ancient working temple. According to legend, the king of Leon refused to pay the builder, claiming the surroundings were not visible from the tower. After the builder climbed up to look at the surroundings, and prove the king wrong, the king removed the ladder to let him starve. The temple was looted by the Turks and rebuilt in the 19th century. 

Toadlickers – Hangover Songs

Origin: Goblin-town
Label: Knekelput RecordingsToadlickers

I’m not sure if you could call Toadlickers dungeon synth, but it’s definitely using the format to amplify its comical storytelling. Ok, so let’s imagine a goblin tavern, deep under the surface of the Forgotten Realms or any other fantasy realms. Drunk goblins roll around, frolicking and fighting, gobbling food and tittle-tattling in guttural tones. Then the band called Toadlickers starts playing. The rhythm is a bit martial, repetitive, but also jolly and a bit incoherent. Fighting ceases, and the noisy masses rise to their feed to do the goblin dance. Yes, you can think about the Labyrinth movie with David Bowie as the Goblin King. Opening track ‘Now I want to lick some toads’ is an instant classic, as is my favorite ‘Too Many Mushroom Candies.’ It sort of sounds like the famous ‘Silvester Anfang’ is being played by… well, drunk Goblins. Smash your tankards, hop without a care around and sing along with Toadlickers.

Funny thing is, there’s a long-standing dichotomy in fantasy with there being good and evil. But what if these are just perspectives, and evil creatures are just as many beings that want fun, fulfillment, and a lot of liquor?

Hole Dweller – Flies the Coop II

Origin: USA
Label: Dungeons Deep RecordsHole Dweller

This ‘demo’ release by Hole Dweller can be called the last of an era. The act released a new EP recently, and the sound has changed remarkably. Good on Hole Dweller, less good for the fans of these iconic releases. This demo fills the hole between the first and second release (‘Flies the Coop’ and ‘Return To Roost’). Adventuring? No thank you, would Bilbo have said. However, the protagonist of Hole Dwellers’ pastoral dungeon synth saga responded with a resounding yes and has gotten himself into an adventure. The music is filled with joy and passages that speak of the tranquility you will find in the realms of Middle Earth. Some jokes are for insiders, like the title ‘The Hospitality of Elves is Nearly That of Halflings.’ It’s what makes this record such a lovely endeavor to retreat into.

I particularly relish the song ‘With a taste of Miruvor’, which has a slow beat, and repeats it’s energizing sounds. It soothes, but also breathers live back into you as you listen. Hole Dweller likes to create ambient sounds, like a woodpecker hammering away on a tree trunk, the sound of the wind, and a hazy sound to the synths that playfully unfold the songs. As an act, Hole Dweller, much like Toadlickers, offers new pathways for dungeon synth to explore without ever really deviating from its original journey.

Vervamon – The Path Through The Evergreen Forest

Origin: Netherlands
Label: Knekelput Recordings

Vervamon is too old, too cold. Dungeon synth, produced between 1999 and 2010, but finally released into this scene ready to devour ay original material. Vervamon debuted this record during the North-East Dungeon Siege live stream, with this fantastic video (below). So all in all, this is a release that captures some original atmosphere and sounds.

So, that makes Vervamon the sound of the ancients and it is highly distinct from most music you’ll find labeled dungeon synth from that era. It takes great stylistic liberties, even approaching religious music in the tonal arrangements on opener ‘Snagdaa’. I read ‘Snaga’ for a while, thinking this was a Gemmell reference. ‘The Path Through The Evergreen Forest’ is, however, more of a narrative than a record. Tracks like ‘Dwalende Gedachten’ contain a lot of samples and less music. When it comes up, it guides the listener to the next installment. I particularly like ‘Sneeuw en spar (eerbetoon aan de duistere troon)’. Maybe because it is a tribute to Darkthrone. I like Darkthrone a lot. My favorite track, however, remains ‘Woundmannen’. That’s the one from the video, but it’s also the most consistent and powerful.

‘Ancient Shores’ ends the old work on this record, the last two tracks are newly released. They didn’t do much for me, it was too much the sort of dark ambient you can play in the background. It sounds but doesn’t have the same storytelling strength. It makes me think of some of the tracks created by From The Bogs Of Aughishka. That’s good. It’s a fascinating journey, but not for purists… or the weak of will.

Borg – The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)

Origin: Sweden
Label: Self-releasedBorg The Sacred Mound

Borg is a relatively new kid on the blog in the dungeon synth landscape, but ‘The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)’ is far from an early release in his works. Sure, the artwork stands out like a sore thumb, referencing early 90s paint/WordArt craftsmanship, but the music is surprisingly handsome. We discussed earlier the jolly tavern sounds of Toadlickers, and Borg in a way is similar. It’s synth-driven folk music, with a highly immerse vibe. Certainly, it sounds Nordic, with bold and clean sounds, but enriched with various percussion sounds, it’s a joy to listen to. Some songs really feel magical, but also from remote worlds we know little about. ‘Palace of the Amfibian Lords’, for example, feels oriental (using the term very broadly to indicate some sonic influences here), where other songs play with nature sound imitations (such as ‘Gently Sway The Forest in the Wind’).

I’ve been curious to find out more about the title, as there’s a name mentioned there, but I haven’t been able to link that to ‘The Sacred Mound’, which does happen to be a 1993 Icelandic family film (I would hope to watch it, but can’t verify it as yet). Letting go of that, it’s a fantasy record that tells tales of the magic that is in nature and transforms the way we think about dungeon synth as a musical form. It can be playful, like the title track, or epic like your Northrend entrance soundtrack in World of Warcraft, in ‘Bows For Strings And Arrows’.

Seregost – Halls of a Nameless King

Seregost is first and foremost a work of love. Love for the genre of dungeon synth, love for the fantasy and music that has inspired it. Words of thanks are levelled at names such as Basil Poledouris, Gary Gygax and Robert E. Howard, but also at Mortiis. The grandmaster of the dungeon synth genre will likely nod in approval of this spawn of darkness, building on his creativity.

‘Halls of the Nameless King’ follows the narrative of a man wandering into the halls of a forgotten castle. We call him The Wanderer, who discovers mysteries untold and enemies fierce in his journey into the depths of hell itself in this forgotten castle. 

We start with ‘Through the Darkwood’, which allows us to traverse through an ominous landscape. Subtle baselines hint at a threat from beyond and calm, repetitive melodies dance between the trees. The wind rises, blowing up a fierce gale when sturdy bassoon-like synths herald the emergence of the crumbling towers. Voices sing in awe of its solid might. Behold, the castle is here. ‘Silent stands the stronghold’, keeping its secrets, and repelling you with its stone might. We have become the wanderer. 

As we enter the castle gates to ‘An Ominous Enclave’, the synths become less ethereal, more solid and sonorous. The listeners are taken through the old keep and the music builds up the tension gradually, giving that vibe that something may be very much amiss, or perhaps not so much. In the ‘Chapel to a Forgotten God’ we have some more light in the music, though perhaps it is only the illusion of might from ancient ritualistic symbols in this room. The organ sounds do bring a sense of humility to you as you step through these ancient halls. But suddenly, ‘Hidden Passages Reveal’, which the subtle bass flow and the gentle keys manage to convey very successfully. 

Yet as we enter the ‘Hall of the Nameless King’, the sound swells to a more regal tone and atmosphere. But here, something stirs and the adventure comes to a climax. The drums sound, the synths herald ‘Behold, the Warlord’ and more is yet to come. The music becomes more adventurous here, more building towards a crescendo. But this is a false ending, as a ‘Stranger Things’ like end leaves you hanging on for more yet. 

Artist: Seregost
Origin: ?
Label: Knekelput 

Vaelastrasz: Azeroth Dungeon Synth Mastery

Dungeon synth is a music style, bubbling under the surface of contemporary music. Born from video game soundtracks, obscure synth music and black metal introductions, it has grown into a whole different underground world. Vaelastraz is one of the mysterious creators, offering his otherworldly sounds to the faithful.

Vaelastrasz is one of the acts that have expanded the scope of dungeon synth from dusky crypts, dusty tombs and crumbling ruins, to otherworldly phantasies. His special focus is on the famed Warcraft video game branch, but his music is much darker than the often light-hearted atmosphere of the game itself and delves deep into the mythopoeia of its universe.

Vaelastrasz has been kind enough to share more about his music, vision and genre, where he is one of the rare artists who actually play live and who has in fact performed at the first (as far as I’ve been able to discover) dungeon synth festival. Join us in the dark reaches of Azeroth.

I wanted to start by asking you who Vaelastrasz is and how the project got underway? How did you get into dungeon synth?

There’s a lot to unwrap with my origins. Referring to the character it’s based on, Vaelastrasz is a notorious raid boss from the classic version of World of Warcraft. Notorious in the sense that his difficulty was able to make raiding guilds disband, garnering the nickname “The Guild Breaker”. Lore-wise he was a member of the Red Dragonflight, a faction of dragons that wish to protect life on Azeroth, before being corrupted by the Black Dragonflight.

As for the person behind the project, well, I’m just a small musician from the suburban hellscape that is the Washington DC metropolitan area. I started toying around with making fantasy ambient music around early 2016 under a different name that housed basically any idea that I threw at the wall at the time. I didn’t think much of it until I got a message from a Dungeon Synth artist named “Shelter Ov Shadows” who encouraged that I release this music under a different moniker to garner more attention.

I picked Vaelastrasz for a couple of reasons. The main one being that within the world of “Dungeon Synth”, it astounds me how little to no representation Warcraft seemed to have back in 2016 and even now. How is it that one of the most popular fantasy-inspired Video Game franchises of the 21st century gets no love while there are projects for Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls? Maybe Warcraft isn’t “dark” enough for people to write music for, but nevertheless I’m still dumbfounded by its exclusion.

How I got into Dungeon Synth is oddly enough through my love for Drone Metal. I was familiar with the genre, but never really enjoyed most of the albums I’d listened to at the time. Whether it be Mortiis or Burzum’s prison albums, I never initially had a strong standing on the bigger hits of old school Dungeon Synth. It wasn’t until I discovered this duo from the UK, Trollmann av Ildtoppberg, that made me fall in love with Dungeon Synth. Their combination of deep bassy drones and minimalist synth work made me more immersed compared to any other Dungeon Synth album. Listening to “The Forest of Doom” for the first time was quite the experience.

What I got from that music is that you can create more by doing less. Trollmann were inspired by the Fighting Fantasy books but listening to that music made me think of different worlds, universes, stories, etc. I wanted to do something like that.

I was curious if you are still a Warcraft player, having myself played these games and read their books since the beginning. On the side, do you know Aardtmann op Vuurtopberg? 

I still like to play Warcraft 3 when I have the time. I am privileged enough to still have the original games and not have to look at the horrid remaster that Blizzard put out recently. As for World of Warcraft, I never cared for it after Wrath of the Lich King as the games had gone downhill since in my opinion. I try to play a little bit of each expansion for the sake of it. I thought Mists of Pandaria and Legion were fine, but the rest I can do without. Their recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is a boring heap of dogshit for all I care. I tried playing Classic WoW when that became an option, but I had become so encumbered with other events that the nostalgia quickly wore off by the time I reached level 11 or so on a character. You can’t relive the past.

Haha, yeah you’re not the first person to tell me of Aardtmann Op Vuurtopberg’s existence. I’ve only ever listened to one of their albums, “De Berg van Verdoemenis”, and didn’t think much of it. A nice little tribute if anything.

What do you think about the connection between DS and video games? Many people talk about the connection with black metal, which is obvious, but for me, the link to video games has always been the first thing that stood out. Yet, also here it is a matter of nostalgia for old RPGs.

I’ve always thought that it was very apparent with how Dungeon Synth and video games, especially video game soundtracks, tend to overlap. You listen to an older release like Middles Ages by Caduceus and you’d think it was some Black Metal fan trying to recreate the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. I know a lot of non-Black Metal fans who enjoy Dungeon Synth because to them it sounds like a soundtrack to an unreleased video game.

Which always brings a hilarious crossroads within DS. There’s a lot of traditional people who vow against video games have it strictly be “Ambient Black Metal”. Then there are people who were raised by tabletop games and RPGs who would rather let the past be the past and let go of the Black Metal roots. It’s pretty funny. One should always find a balance between the two in my opinion.

What sort of equipment do you use to create your music?

I usually run rather cheap Casio keyboards that you can get at big retail stores and run it through a Hotone reverb pedal. Most of my albums were done with the CTK-1100, but now I have the CTK-2550 to mess around with. For live shows, I tend to have a couple more pedals with me, more notably a Ditto Looper and the Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedals to help me with loops and drones.

You are one of the few ds artists that play live. What made you decide to take it in that direction?

Initially, the first couple of live shows that I did around 2017 were at the request of my friends, but as my peers started to seriously get into performing live with their DS projects as well as the rise of the Dungeon Siege music festivals, I had a growing urge to really want to bring my music into a live setting. Dungeon Synth live is completely new territory for a lot of us in the Dungeon Synth scene and we have our own special ways of showing what can be done.

Over here, we have not had such events. Can you describe what a dungeon siege event is like? In general and what it is like when you perform?

Dungeon Siege, specifically Northeast Dungeon Siege as well as last year’s Dungeon Siege West, are these annual Dungeon Synth-oriented festivals in the US. A bunch of artists and fans from around the world come to interact with other like-minded DS fans. It’s truly an amazing experience to play with and hang out with other Dungeon Synth acts. I feel a lot more comfortable performing in front of people who truly understand the craft.

But these events are usually more than just music, right?

Yes, there’s also pre-show tabletop gaming sessions on some nights and an array of vendors and labels.

Do you think touring with a band in a different style would work? For example, a package with a black metal band, or is DS a different audience?

It really depends on the style. If it were a Dungeon Synth and Black Metal tour, which I believe Mayhem and Mortiis are planning on doing that exact thing in the future, then those would work fine with each other. I used to be in a Funeral Doom band and we toured with a Thrash Metal band. Suffice to say that there was at least one show where they definitely did not want us because we weren’t their thing.

I guess the best way to put it is that the two styles really need to have some sort of overlap. If you were to do a Dungeon Synth tour with some sort of Tech Death Metal band than people would probably eye the crowd and ask what the hell was going on.

Do you feel there are limits to what is dungeon synth and what isn’t? As an example, Fief sounds vastly different to me the traditionalists. I have seen many discussions on the ‘purity’ of the style. How do you feel about this?

In regards to experimentation or branching outside of the norm vs the pure, traditionalist, old school-inspired acts, I think there needs to be a steady balance between the two (just like what I said regarding Black Metal-inspired vs Gaming-inspired Dungeon Synth). I think there are many ways to experiment with Dungeon Synth, but some people are way too over their heads when it comes to seeing what other genres they can mash Dungeon Synth with. There’s this small thing brewing with people trying to combine DS with Hip Hop, calling it “Dungeon Rap” or “Crypt Hop”. I don’t think it’s Dungeon Synth, just people trying too hard to incorporate fantasy ambient melodies with poorly made Memphis Rap. I have some friends who dig it and create it though so more power to them, but it’s just not for me.

But pushing the limits is good. People want to keep at it with the old ways but by the time that you’ve heard the umpteenth Les Legions Noires ripoff or the same minimalist pad-heavy Winter Synth ambient tunes, then it becomes tiresome and boring. Something fresh needs to happen every once in a while. A lot of these purists have the right idea that we shouldn’t veer off from the path, but some of them have this inane unwillingness to accept even the slightest of change.

I agree that Fief is a fine example since they seem to play around more with folk influences compared to other bigger names in recent Dungeon Synth. It’s different enough to carve out its own little path within the genre, but not different to the point where self-indulgence takes hold on an artist. Mainly due to the fact that folk music and Dungeon Synth are extremely compatible with one another.

Can you define what DS is? What are its base characteristics?

What is DS? That’s the million-dollar question right there, haha. I guess my naive definition of what I think Dungeon Synth is is that it’s a branch of ambient music, whether it be fantasy ambient or dark ambient music, that has some sort of narrative or story behind it. You’re supposed to be immersed in whatever world that a Dungeon Synth album or song is trying to invoke, like an epic adventure to slay a dragon or being entrapped within a desolate cave.

Now how one goes about doing that is all up to them, whether it be artists inspired by Black Metal, Folk, Classical, Darkwave, etc.

DS has really emerged into daylight the last two years, and although events like Dungeon Siege have yet to make it overseas, how far do you think this can go?

How far will this go? We’re gonna get a Dungeon Synth act headlining Coachella. My money is on Diplodocus. But in all seriousness, there is a pessimist side of me that feels that the bubble will pop eventually and the general interest of this will wane down. However, the scene itself feels like a giant family. A really weird, fucked-up family mind you, but a loving and caring one too. I can’t predict the future of where Dungeon Synth is going to go, but if it does end up declining then I can at least say that I’ve met a lot of amazing people within it. The real Dungeon Synth is the friends we made along the way.

I wanted to take this back to your last album. Can you tell a bit more about The Birth of Naxxramas and the story this record shares?

The Birth of Naxxramas is kinda like a concept album where there’s a different melody representing a tier from the raid Naxxramas, as well as the last song being a call back to one of my earlier albums, “The Plaguelands”. On that album I had a song called “Naxxramas” but I thought that something as big as Naxxramas deserved something more than a song.

The melodies were leftover recordings I had made for the album before that, “Adventures of the Red Whelpling”. I wanted that album to be my big album, but it didn’t garner an immediate huge reception among people. As much as I love Birth of Naxxramas I don’t like the fact that the album was only really fueled by pettiness and anger that my previous album wasn’t as well-received. At the time it was much-needed motivation, but looking back my head was in the wrong space because of certain people saying that Whelpling was underwhelming to them. At the end of the day, I still have no clue what people want or expect from me when it comes to making music

The first track, Frostwyrm Lair, was originally a 17-minute track that was supposed to be on Whelpling, but I never liked the 2nd-half of the song. I thought the intro could lead to something better so I scoured through the remaining recordings that I had from the Whelpling sessions to see what ones I could work with. After that, it was sort of like playing a matching game. What goes next? Which melody should come after? Can I place this melody here? Once I got all the pieces connected everything else came naturally.

The ghostly crooning was provided by my dearest companion and fellow Dungeon Synth artist Mors Certa. I typically don’t collaborate with other Dungeon Synth artists mainly due to weird trust issues. Even though I mean no disrespect to them and I just said that some of them are like a family to me, there’s just a weird mental block that I have when it comes to working with other artists. Mors Certa and I, however, had grown really close at this point that I decided to ask if she’d be willing to provide her voice for a couple of parts on it. I didn’t want it to be anything big since she was busy with her personal life so I only asked her to provide a lovely little choral section for her parts and it turned out well.

Previously, there was a note with this album, stating it was possibly the last one. You’ve dropped two more since, what made you consider ending the project there?

At the time I felt like I just wasn’t good enough or on par with other artists. I’m a competitive individual that wants to strive to be better each time and when I see peers rise above and garner more love, it either lights a flame or makes me feel defeated. I’m easily influenced by what I see posted online and the less I see of me, the more I feel that people just don’t care about the project. Artistic fulfilment should be the goal, not whether you get more than 10 people supporting you on Bandcamp, but unfortunately, that was where my mindset was at the time and still goes to sometimes.

But I ended up making more music because melodies keep on springing up in my head. I don’t want to keep them in my head forever. I have the need to make music whether or not people are really listening to me. Truth be told, there’s no way I can ever announce an album to be my last album. If I ever do announce it, then my mindset that day was probably filled with the insecurities that I just vented about. If I were to ever release a final album then I would never announce it as such. I would just simply release it and quietly walk away

Well, you have announced a new record actually, so what can we expect from it?

The same meal with a little different seasoning. Keeping up with repetitive melodies and drone, but trying to experiment with a little bit more just like my previous releases. There’s a couple of songs that were mostly inspired by stuff like Om, which means I’m messing around with bass-driven melodies. My new album, “The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj”, is of course based off of the zone of the same name and trying to capture the atmosphere of a desert ruin with an ancient being inside of it all has been a challenging and fun task.

It’s definitely the most psychedelic album I’ve done, but it’s not like I’m making this acid trip-filled experience, haha. This project has always been an experiment of what I can do with drone and Dungeon Synth. This will definitely fit in well with the rest of my discography.

As the Warcraft storyline deepens and expands, do you find there is enough inspiration left for you there for more?

Absolutely. One of the reasons why I picked this project was because of my initial love for the Warcraft universe and lore. It’s deep and rich enough to make more music for. There’s a lot of areas and personalities that I haven’t touched upon yet that I would like to explore more of. I’ve made two albums concerning the Old Gods (Yogg-Saron and N’Zoth) which is about to be three upon the completion of my recent album and I’d like to make other “biographical” albums so to speak. For example, I’ve always loved Kael’Thas and would love to make an album about him. Arthas is an obvious choice as well, but I’ve already made the Plagueland albums and Naxxramas so I don’t want to go back to that well just yet. I’ve always wanted to do a piece about the history of the Defias Brotherhood, but can never get the feeling of it. There’s a lot more to explore and make with Warcraft.

So to close, what future plans do you currently have? Are you planning to tour when all of this is over?

The future is very unpredictable, especially now with the current pandemic. I am a rather spontaneous individual when it comes to what I want to do with the project, so, for now, my plan is to just focus on releasing the new album and see what happens. As for tours, I’m not entirely sure but I do hope other acts come through here sometime soon so I can have a chance to play with them.

If you had to describe Vaelastrasz as a dish, what would it be and why that?

Haha, I don’t know if I can think of any specific dish or meal to really describe what I do. You know what? I’m the stick of gum that doesn’t lose its flavour! You can keep on chewing and chewing, but I assure you I won’t turn into a soft, flavourless gob haha

Underground Sounds: World Untouched By Mankind – The Forests Are Old With Grief

Label: Pacific Threnodies
Artist: World Untouched By Mankind
Origin: United States
It sounds like a surprisingly pleasant promise, the name of this project. World Untouched By Mankind, that could be an imagined place where humanity simply never dwelt, but also relates to places in the deep of the forest where we simply haven’t found anything to reap. That is the ambiance and feeling presented on this release by creative entity Night.
The hazy music by this artist meets the particular sounds of the nascent dungeon synth genre. Other projects of the artist include Procer Veneficus, ambient black metal, Murk Rider, Hooded Archer and Startrhall. The record ‘The Forests Are Old With Grief’ was recorded at the same time as ‘Of Starfire and Blackshadows Crawling’ by the Procer Veneficus project and has lain dormant until now, but no longer.

The most uncanny tunes resound when the title track opens with cold synths. This is an instant reconnecting moment with the original synth albums by Burzum. You may have all sorts opinions about that, but when it comes to catching an atmosphere, that maybe some of the best stuff. Yet, World Untouched By Mankind, chooses a more soaring, continuous flow-of-sound approach as intermission moments. More or less stripping the last vestiges of black metal away, Night has arrived at the pure sound of the most praised dungeon synth artists. Bare and boldly stated, without ever really needing to be understood, evoking the natural mysteries.

Where the initial tunes may feel very foresty, it feels like submerging in underwater tunnels on ‘Cold Caverns of Time’. Cold, synth drones and a dazed, warped feeling captures the listener as the dark tunes flow forward. The mesmerizing tones take you so far away from everything familiar and earthy, which is a vastly unknown pleasure for most in this time and age.

From the mountains to beyond the wall of sleep

It’s music that sometimes helps to take you away from the dull, mundane affairs that fill our daily lives. We don’t all get to be sassy Instagram models, parading the luxurious holiday places or the exceptional bits of nature, some of us just need to join the daily drag. So do I.

These are tunes that take me to those places though, to the magical bits of nature that I can only dream about most of the time, the vast mountains and deep forests through synths, ambient and other forms of music. Follow the path, sometimes it’s overgrown and hard to find, but it’s there and leading far from the regular throng of people that stick to their Netflix and literary thriller reads.

Kaya North – Tribal Mountain

Origin: France
Label: The Eagle Stone Collective

There’s hardly a more awe-inspiring image to present than a sheer face of rock. The pillars on this cover, truly captivate me and so does the mild drone that sets on as I launch this release by Caleb R.K. Williams. Under the name Kaya North, Williams is releasing a  project of improv music, next to the solo work, Eagle Stone, Old Green Mountain, Uktena Kult and Cosmic Canyon (and probably a dozen other). All projects of ambient, nature-inspired. This record just offers the drones with little ripples, like the tiny holds and nooks you’ll find in the rock. It’s booming, with the odd sound of a circling bird of prey resounding through the booming tunes. There’s a tension in the sound, that you recognize when you’ve ever climbed a rock face with little between you than the rope, a next clip a meter or three ahead and your trembling fingers. It’s a feeling you can barely describe, but you can capture it in sound it turns out.

Black Hill & Silent Forest – Tales of the Night Forest

Origin: Hungary
Label:  Self-released

The artwork by Kapiller Ferenc is easily confused by me for that of Costin Chioreanu. It depicts nature as something idyllic, something almost perfectly outlined in the green, vibrant and natural colors he uses. It’s perfect over by this release of Black Hill & Silent Forest. A duo of projects that mash into the postrocky storytelling on ‘Tales of the Night Forest’. Like a gentle, babbling brook the guitars flow by. The lack of drums help to diminish any ostentatious flourish in the music, keeping the flow tranquil and soft. From the elusive ‘The gathering of deer’ to the melancholy of ‘An old owl calling’, the album keeps you in a state of flux, just as a witness to the beauty and pleasant harmony of the forest. An absolute pleasure to dwell within the tunes of Black Hill & Silent Forest for a while, no matter the pressure you’re currently feeling.

Kalmankantaja – Tuulikannel

Origin: Finland
Label:  Illuminandi Service

Kalmankantaja translates as ‘death bearer’ and is a black metal band from Finland, who uses a lot of synth and atmosphere in his music. An odd including perhaps in this aural traverse, but his easy flow makes his work as immersive to me as the others, so I gladly sidestep tot the shimmering stream of black metal that opens ‘Tuulikannel’ with ‘Aarnihauta’, a track that will last up to 14 minutes. The progression on both tracks is slow, with the occasional guttural scream emerging from the murky mists of the forests the sound appears to emulate. On the second track, we encounter a melancholic dirge, that repeats and meanders onward for minutes. Even when the music swells to a more rocking sound, there’s always that hint of continuity and an endless stream moving forward on ‘Tuulikannel’. The vocals sound hateful, but this is merely a crust to the deep greyness of the music. Which is wonderful…

Sun Through Eyelids – Glacial Iridescence

Origin: New Zealand
Label: ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ

But let us step back into nature with Sun Through Eyelids. A deep ambient act, consisting of Tom Necklen and Meghan Wood. On ‘Glacial Iridescence’ they take you to an eerie polar landscape or an Alpine glacier, where they freely explore sounds and let nature offer its healing magic to the listener on the drony tunes of ‘Shelter of the Taiga’ or ‘Subarctic Oasis’. Booming sounds, with reverb attached to its edges, gets complemented with distant music and cold keys, maybe with a mouth harp here and there? It sounds like the buzzing of an insect as astral waves wash over you. Yet as you stick with the sound, your blood seems to thrum in your veins and your ears feel like they are in the middle of the sound instead of simply receiving it. An almost transcendental experience looms, with the sound of water, birds and nature, all acting in harmony and pure majesty together, not needing humanity one bit for its perennial cycle and balance.

Oneiromancer/MAW – Oneiromancer/MAW

Origin: USA
Label: A Moment of Clarity Records/Orb Weaver Collective

Oneiromancery is a form of divination based on dreams, which is quite an apt name for the act that provides the first side of this record. Titled ‘Dukkha’, it’s a slow waxing and waning of tumultuous drones and odd chanting, which feels as if it gets lost in the sounds of the wind. The droning keeps intensifying, forming a wall that drowns you in it, drowns the noise in your head and takes you to a place of tranquility. A valuable experience, when you’re caught up in thinking instead of doing. Subtle melodies weave through, but not at regular speeds but briefly rising from the noise and sinking again. ‘Naljor’ by MAW then just slithers by mostly, in near silence, with far-removed sounds, but ending in what feels like a guitar wall. A mystical experience, all in all, this release.

Underground Sounds: Warden – Krochtenmagii

Label: Skyggeraich Productions
Artist: Warden
Origin: the Netherlands

Warden is an act I found under dungeon synth, but his/her music is much more connected to ambient and drone music. Sure, there is a certain mysticism to his work that invokes images of the realms of our imagination, but also something very earthy and desolate clings to the notes on ‘Krochtenmagii’.

This is the third record by Warden, released in the same number of years. The production is not as high as with some dungeon synth artists, which is probably a clear cause for the high quality and narrative experience the music offers. Let’s delve in.

The image of mountains of the cover perhaps captures the droning wind and sonorous booming that opens the album. Is surges on till the next movement engages, with more soothing, harmonious sounds and the flow of water casually in the background. Then swelling it grows into a wall of sound and as the story with the music tells, time is by that point utterly lost.

By the 20-minute mark, you’ve reached a state of calm, that only the emptiness of nature can evoke. Sure, it’s an inhospitable place that Warden has taken you to, but it’s also filled with peace. In the very last movement though, we enter the realm of the dungeon synth. The wind and water are gone, yet an earthy, cavernous feel remains. After moments in this safety, the music slowly fades after what seems like a lonely journey through the wild.

 

 

Underground Sounds: Sequestered Keep – Wandering Far

Label: Out of Season
Band: Sequestered Keep
Origin: United States

Magical sounds, lost keeps

Like most dungeon synth artists, the man or woman behind Sequestered Keep remains a mystery. What I managed to find out, is that he/she is a metal music as well. This Barbarian Skull interview is probably the most information available. Check it out, they do great stuff. Anyways, the moniker Wanderer is used for the genius behind the project.

The logo of ‘Wandering Far’, designed by Dan Capp from Wolcensmen, and all previous records since ‘Might of an Ancient Tale’ looks very fitting. Sequestered Keep hails from Salt Lake City in Utah, so that much is clear. Remarkable, since the music reminds me of lush forests in ancient England more so. The artwork as well, though that is in Germany… A rocky ruin, called Drachenfells, painted by Caspar Scheuren in 1852. A fitting cover.

The sound of Sequestered Keep is clean and regal. Calm tones, that are more used like a paintbrush, than the angry sketching of a pencil. Everything smoothly flows into one another, from ‘Once a Warrior of Forestcloaked Mountains’onwards. This one feels like an indoor song, near a fire in ancient stone chambers of old castles. The gentle picking of a harp resounds, as the wavery synths come in. By the time you get to the title track, the sounds resonate in sonorous harmony and connect smoothly to display the outdoors, the wide-open world.

In a similar manner, the booming effect on ‘Firelight Swordshadows’, feels as if the darkness obscures the sound, hies it from a clear perception in shadows. We get more light-footed on ‘Elvenwoods’, where light pierces through the leafy, natural roof. One imagines as if here the gentle flutes are playing, in a bright mood. The next dish serves melancholy on ‘Battles in Falling Mist’, a slow and gentle tune with a certain calm grandeur to it, while never really expressing fierce clashes. Now we come to the special part, with a dungeon synth Bathory cover. ‘Hammerheart’ achieved a special place in many metal-fan hearts, therefore this version brings it to the very essence.

Loose yourself in the woods with this record.