(In Part II of his 2017 year-end list for NCS, our friend Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood) devoted attention to reissues of music from the realms of dungeon synth, but here that genre is the sole focus of the following recommendations.)
I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about the various synth subgenres that have popped up all around metal the last few years because they don’t have guitars or whatever excuse you give when confronted with something outside of metal. I know that kept me out of checking a lot of this shit out and gave me a lot of preconceived notions (mostly true when it comes to synthwave). I’ve been a longtime devotee of early (now Era 1) Mortiis but around the time he decided to try different genre pastures I was burned out by overly symphonic and honestly overly fucking melodramatic dark ambient and really only revisited the more ambient side of things when I put on old Mortiis records or if some black metal band had a good instrumental track (i.e., Lugubrum’s earlier stuff — totally underrated and mandatory band). That was until I listened to Old Tower out of curiosity, which caused a twelve-month binge on dungeon synth. I tend to obsess over these kinds of things and dungeon synth is a genre that’s constantly expanding so I always have something to check out. Like most genres, I don’t like 75% of it but what I do like, I really dig into.
Anyway thanks for sticking around for that needless exposition. The cliff notes version for anyone wanting to skip ahead is here’s another list I’ve submitted, this time with some dungeon synth you might not be too aware of and might be interested in checking out. Unlike most times I make these lists I’d actually love for readers to post suggestions for me to check out.
The best resource I’ve found for the genre is The Dungeon Synth Archives on YouTube, which seems to update every day. I’ve also noticed that Tour De Garde, Hollow Myths, and Out of Season generally knock it out of the park with their releases in the genre, plus Tour De Garde constantly releases black metal of high quality, which is a bonus if you have money to burn on something you won’t hate.
- Mythril Spectre/Paths: “Once Through An Ancient Archway”
Since I spend at least ¼ of my time on social media babbling on about my obsession with dungeon synth I received a message in my (rarely checked) inbox from the guy behind Paths asking me to check out this split. Normally I ignore those kinds of messages because nearly every one of your bands you send me suck, but this time I showed good instinct and now here I am writing about it.
Both projects are pretty interesting but Paths (who have a lot of fucking recordings, all over different instrumental genres) really scratches the minimalist itch for me here. Their side is made up of seven songs but if you’re not paying attention they all seem to flow into each other for a lengthy narrative. Mythril Spectre seem to blend dungeon synth with almost a strange 1920s noir vibe. This might be my most-listened-to discovery of the last few months.
- Witch King of Angmar
All I can find on YouTube is an accordion cover, which is somehow actually pretty cool to listen to but had the unfortunate side effect of introducing me to the world of accordion cover videos, which is a pretty disturbing watch.
Witch King of Agmar is one of those projects that deserves headphones if you want to catch all of the layers of weird shit going on in the background. Like most of the dungeon synth I enjoy this is fairly minimalist in that there’s more emphasis on droning as I prefer my dungeon synth to sound like a dungeon and not a fucking royal parade.
- Wyver: “The Tragedies of Lost Village”
This was just recently released on the excellent Hollow Myths label, who seem to have a knack for finding really interesting dungeon synth projects (see also: Orchard & An Old Sad Ghost). This just has a really cold feeling to it and while I don’t want to make it seem trite it reminds me a lot of the old rpgs I grew up playing in the early ’90s. An emphasis on repetition that changes slightly at every lap while continually building on atmosphere.
- An Old Sad Ghost: “The Path of a Tongueless Knight”
As I mentioned previously, An Old Sad Ghost’s release through Hollow Myths is fucking fantastic. “The Path…” builds on the earlier successes in creating a bleak but somehow highly visual and calming experience. Somber music suited for quiet nights, which, since I’m a few weeks off 40, is pretty much every night.
- A Letter for Carmilla: “Medieval”
Same artist from An Old Sad Ghost, same kind of quality. A Letter for Carmilla is a bit more in the romantic vein (not a penis joke) but keeps up the same kind of bleak and almost cinematic atmosphere. I could cut and paste the last sentence from the above and it would fit just as well with this project. Both are highly recommended.
- Jaaportit: “Uumenissa”
I’ve written about my love of Jaaportit’s first recording, 1999’s “Kauan Koskematon” elsewhere but my appreciation of this project doesn’t end with a “I only like their early material” tip of the fedora but goes into the entire genre-bending catalog. Jaaportit is similar to a project like Paths where each release seems to build on one genre while incorporating influences from others. This is really the last purely dungeon synth release Jaaportit did (if you’re going to be a stickler for genre classification) as the project moved more and more into a kind of frozen post-rock direction, but it’s the kind of recording where you can see (hear? fuck it) the artist’s confidence in conquering one direction and preparing to go to another. A really great way to end this list even if the hotter days outside don’t lend themselves to colder sonic atmospheres.
If at any point in this piece you’ve gone to the Dungeon Synth Archives channel you’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of these kinds of recordings out there, with more popping up on Bandcamp every day (probably six or seven since I started writing this) and like with any genre that experiences a growth spurt you’ll notice there’s a lot of copycat/paint-by-numbers projects out there and some just exponentially fucking stupid ones. This doesn’t bother me much because unlike black metal I don’t feel some kind of asinine “ownership” to the genre that’s leftover from when I was a kid and it gives me a lot to dig through and check out.
I didn’t write about some of my favorites like Old Tower, Fief, or Hedge Wizard because I’ve tackled them before (here) but you can add those names to the pile if you’ve never given them a listen before. There’s a lot to sift through and enjoy in this genre and we’re probably still a few months away from the bubble bursting and nothing but half-baked bullshit gets thrown everywhere like an unattended child in their crib flinging the contents of their diaper everywhere, so enjoy it while it lasts.