Tag Archives: toadlickers

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: 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’.