(We are grateful once again to be able to share year-end lists compiled by Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood), which this year comes in multiples parts, of which this is the second one. Part I is here.)
As foretold in the first chapter of these lists (I’m trying to get into character), this part in our 2020 journey will be solely dungeon synth releases, of which there have been 16 released just since I typed that first sentence.
This genre has become fucking overwhelming, especially with people being stuck at home, so it feels like there’s a glut of new projects clogging the drain, causing a sewage overflow of forgettable cassettes that are selling out simply because people like buying shit that’s “limited”. And the culture that’s grown up around dungeon synth? That’s another article someone will bitch about that I don’t need to write.
That’s not to say there aren’t great things being released and I know I missed a great deal of them, so this is more just a list of my favorite releases this year and very obviously limited in scope. Enjoy.
Forest Temple/Shadow Dungeon “Barbaric Visions Upon the Flesh of Time”
Sure it’s from 2019 but my copy is the Out of Season cassette that was issued this year, so it fucking counts. Forest Temple manages to create the traditional dungeon synth atmosphere but also somehow makes it sound absolutely haunted, a medieval graveyard. Shadow Dungeon compliments Forest Temple very well with a crawling, morbid soundscape. Both projects have a lot of recordings on their respective bandcamp sites worth attention.
Vale Minstrel “Warden of the Vale”
This is very traditional medieval/fantasy dungeon synth, akin to Fief. Besides the aforementioned, this isn’t really my “go-to” style when I listen to synth music but the strength of these songs and the imagery they conjure are enough to keep my interest and also enough to edge Fief out of this list. Really great debut.
Ulk “This Divine Shelter”
Ulk are so hypnotic and meditative that it’s difficult not to picture images in the shade of green that adorns this release. Absolutely captivating project.
Old Tower “Plague Harvest”
The reaction to this unexpected autumn cassette was mostly that of surprise since it’s not really musical, at least in the sense that previous Old Tower recordings were, and I guess I can understand that a bit but that was very obviously not the point of Plague Harvest at all. If you can drop your preconceptions then you’ll find just under a half hour of some of the best audial storytelling in the genre. This is a slow-burning horror that deserves a quiet room and headphones.
Jaaportit “Kauan Koskematon” / “Halki Lumisen Metsan”
I’ve written about Kuan Koskematon so much I don’t even have to check Google to see if I’m spelling it right. Out of Season reissued both of these recordings earlier this year much to my great delight. This is some of the greatest dungeon synth ever recorded and deserving of the 12” vinyl treatment. Sheer brilliance.
An Old Sad Ghost “Berstende Ehre”
Gondolin has been doing this project right all year, even if that means I’ve missed one of the pre-orders, which means that people are finally giving this brilliant project the attention it deserves. Morbid and lonely dungeon synth, one of the finest who’ve ever created it.
Withering Presence “Wuthering Purgatory”
Rumor has it this was done as a tribute to Ildjarn’s Landscapes which I can see in the art direction but honestly this is far better. Hypnotic, almost astral synth. Minimalism done with class.
Whispers Unhallowed “Enchanting the Demon Gate”
The debut of this project that’s continuing where Orchard, who did one of my favorite dungeon synth recordings ever on Hollow Myths a few years back, this has more of a neo-classical/gothic bent to it but captures the same cinematic mental imagery that Orchard did. An excellent debut from a talented musician.
Paths of the Eternal “House of Vampyr”
Outside of being irritated that I had to open up a bunch of gift wrapping to get to the fucking cassette (needs to be said that Wrought Records know how to create a presentation), I was very pleased to see one of my favorite projects release something new this year and while it’s a bit different from his previous work Paths of the Eternal is still unmatched in creating an atmosphere few others can compare to.
Ethereal Kingdom “Oath of Battle”
Dungeon synth from Sweden that sounds like a mixture of Thangorodrim and Hedge Wizard? How the fuck didn’t this sell out instantly?
Hole Dweller “Flies the Coop II”
There’s just something about Hole Dweller’s slightly blown-out sound, sense of tension-building, and overall impact that just really scratches an itch for me, and having Flies the Coop II appear as a surprise towards the end of the summer was a beautiful end to the season. This is his final dungeon synth recording as he’s moving Hole Dweller into ’70s prog territory with a new recording, Wolves in the Hen House. It’s extremely well done but I’m not a fan of the genre, but maybe it’s something you would enjoy and worth checking into.
This is the part in the story where I close the book sitting by a fire surrounded by children or some such (potentially illegal) scenario. I know I missed a lot and I tend to only hover around a few labels, so go make your own lists -there’s certainly enough to choose from.
Next part is the second bit about EPs, demos and splits. I can see you’re engorged already.