What’s happening dungeoneers? The dungeon synth scene is steadily growing and many good releases are available, but I’m a bit behind so some of this may be olders stuff but methinks good enough to still share, with Frost-Rimed Iron, Toadlickers & Criptadel, Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver and Forest Shrine.
Header image is a picture of the cosy tea house in the gardens of Château de Courances in France, near Paris in the forests of Fontainebleau. I photographed this in July 2021.
What’s happening in dungeon synth?
I did notice that lately there’s been a growing level of attention from non-niche media for dungeon synth. Mostly, they place it in the corner of retro-nerdism, like dungeons & dragons and video games, but I think it overlooks the complete zeitgeist of which this movement is a part. Dungeon synth definitely fits the craving for the mysterious, the limited, the tangible, but it is also different from people buying retro-consoles and getting hooked on boardgames. It’s not like a beer with the flavor of the week, but more like a whisky that required extensive aging to be ready to drink. Certainly, that zeitgeist fuels its popularity, but its seed was planted years ago.
That’s me meandering about, here’s some music for you while you think that through.
Frost-Rimed Iron – Blood Oath
Defender is the spirit behind Frost-Rimed Iron, and he has already released three instalments of his epic dungeon synth saga. The last of the three demo’s, which means next we can expect a series of albums by the artist. Clean, epic sounds great us and bombastic computed drum sounds complete the tapestry. There’s a hint of mystery and far-off places to the music on this 17 minute tune, titled ‘Blood Oath’ (Sworn to Avenge). All in all, the Conan-like vibe is strong in this one.
Soundwise, ‘Blood Oath’ follows in the steps of ‘Northern Raids’ and ‘Heroic Death’. Heavy on the atmosphere, with little playfulness strewn throughout the song. There is not much development to be heard on the three EPs, only here and there Frost-Rimed Iron manages to sound a bit more free from the confines of traditional dungeon synth. This final release comes closest to the steady, compact and atmosphere-driven sound we are most familiar with. I feel there could be more to it though, so looking forward to those albums.
Toadlickers & Criptadel – Tabernaculum
The mighty ruiners of pleasant nights in taverns return! Toadlickers and Criptadel teamed up for this wild all-nighter of subterranean mayhem. Toadlickers are a mysterious entity from Goblin town, whereas Criptadel hails from the unlikely country of Argentina. Together, they’ve woven together a wonderfully folky, albeit burpy, series of immersive, repetitive bar stool songs. And what I mean by repetitive here is not the endless meandering often heard in dungeon synth, but the typical aspect of classical folk music, where repetition serves as a low threshold to partake in the festivities.
The intro takes us down a dark alley on ‘The Troll Alley’, where a dirty little door takes us down to the underground where we set to party on ‘Tabernaculum’. ‘Goblin Feast’ takes its time next to build up, but after a few minutes, we hear a waltzy, rocky, bumpy tune emerging. But here comes the catch; if you are looking for a record that is as rowdy and crazy as the Toadlickers debut, this isn’t it. In fact, even ‘the Last Drink’, which could potentially be the most insane tune there is, never really lives up to its potential. And that is fine because it makes the music a bit more… normal. That’s just not as much goblin as I would have enjoyed, though. Still, cool release.
Origin: Goblin Town/Argentina
Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver – In the Kingdom of Fog
Some artists are just asking for it you’d think, with this overly foggy release by what I gather are 3 artists from the United States. It’s funny, but it takes away some of the majesty that is put out into the world on this release. I mean, I feel a strong Final Fantasy vibe on the opening track by Fog Castle, titled ‘Dreams of Mist’. Promises hidden behind a veil of… well, you get the picture, but the power of suggestion in the music is tangible. The second track, ‘Sanctuary of the Gemcarvers’ feels more subterranean, yet offers plenty of space for the listener to let the imagination run free. Foglord takes us around the corner with a darker sound, more gloomy and introverted on ‘Light in the Mountain’. It relies more on repetitive phrases and droning sounds, like glittering caves in the depths. ‘The Essence’ sticks to that formula, or slowly flowing, key-drones.
Fogweaver wraps up the party with three tracks. The music is more fragile and small. ‘Werelight’ is as sparkling lights, in the palm of your hand, slowly and carefully unfolding themselves. Its gentle, trickling sound takes you to a wholly different place again, with a more magical, open vibe. I guess you can listen to this music and hear different things. For me, there’s the tranquillity of the forest, the beauty and silence of caves, but as in the description, I can also find the mountains in there. Fogweaver just brings it all home with ‘To Call Upon the Fog’ and ‘Aihal the Silent’.
Origin: United States
Label: Fableglade Records
Forest Shrine – Secrets of the Forest
The act Forest Shrine appears to be a side project of Werendia, a Swedish music outlet for A. Virdeus. The act has been prolific in autumn 2020 it seems and the last release was this one which I will therefore focus on. Two songs with a total playing time of 30+ minutes then. I can hear hints of Burzum’s ‘Hliðskjálf’ in the music, which demonstrates the ability to entrance, but also offers moments of wonderful tranquillity. Certainly, there’s also the incessant beat on the first part, that I associate with Summoning, but let’s not make this a name tagging contest. By the time those drums truly start driving the heat, the sound has changed from its languid notes to something much more urgent and pressing.
The second part of the recording holds pretty tightly to that formula, yet feels more subtle, darker, and brooding. The drumming is more subdued, less pulsating. Yet the repetition remains and takes all the time it needs to build the song up to its crescendo, leaving room for a lull here and there, but always ascending. It makes this release so captivating and dreamlike.
Label: Goatroom Productions