(Today we present Part III of a five-part series of year-end lists from Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood).)
I guess I’ve talked about my waning interest in dungeon synth every time I’ve written about it for the last few years, which has been frequent, so that makes me either dishonest with myself or an idiot. I’m sure the internet will provide a measured response to such an existential question so while I wait patiently for the polite and measured response I’ll walk you through the synth pieces I’ve really enjoyed in 2021.
As a note: not everything is dungeon synth or even remotely linked to it, the music here just shares the common thread of being ambient, electronic or synth-driven in nature. And like every year I tend to stick to the same few labels so I’m sure I’ve missed a few great recordings elsewhere (and probably a few hundred not so great ones). This is one genre that I’m always willing to listen to recommendations in, so if you have any then shoot your shot.
Quest Master “The Twelve Temples” (Out of Season)
I’d honestly never given Quest Master much of a shot until the Graves of Eden split earlier this year, which was a mistake I quickly rectified, just in time for a new album. The Twelve Temples is a special record that has a soothing feel, I suppose akin to comfy synth without the childhood trauma, and much like their description on Bandcamp states it reminds me a lot of RPGs on the PS1, which was for me the golden age of gaming. A fantastic album and great companion to the reissue of both volumes of Lost Songs of Distant Realms that Out of Season recently did.
Vale Minstrel “Garden of Spells” (Ancient Meadow Records)
Each Vale Minstrel release is a treat. Excellent medieval fantasy synth akin to Fief (who I’ve also rediscovered my love for this year) that takes you places without feeling cheesy like some projects in this vein can. If you haven’t given this a shot and are a fan of the aforementioned Fief then give this a try, you might even think it’s better.
Ulk “Shellbound” (Gondolin Records)
Ulk is one of the most meditative and calming dungeon synth projects I’ve listened to, with each piece flowing into one another gently, creating a whole as great as its individual parts. Shellbound continues the tradition of quality that the three previous releases laid out. Tranquil and beautiful.
Charnel Oubliette “Carving Stone for the Dead” (Self-Released)
So far the synth pieces I’ve had on this list tend to be lighter in tone, giving the listener a sense of peace. So I’ve put Charnel Oubliette in play just to fuck up your good mood. Weird synth work starts out this 30+ minute long piece to give you a decent sense of discomfort but then it gets otherworldly until settling on existential dread. If you like having a bad time listening to music, then you’re going to fucking love this.
øjeRum “Sølverhvide Skyer” (Garden Portal)
øjeRum is a project with a deep discography I stumbled upon at work when I was looking up ambient playlists to listen to during my office hours. Releases vary from ambient to noise to acoustic pieces but I tended to gravitate toward his more droning ambient work. They just seem to encapsulate a vast sense of loneliness that I’ve found captivating and satisfying. Sølverhvide Skyer falls into that category nicely, with a slight sense of terrestrial abandonment. Really interesting project and I would also recommend checking out his Instagram page for his artwork, which goes very much in hand with his sonic aesthetics.
Forest Temple “Spectral Threads of a Cosmic Dream” (Out of Season)
Fantasy synth with a proper sense of foreboding, Spectral Threads… continues the momentum this project began with but manages to up the ante through extra-terrestrial means, almost like the aural imagining of the first two Spelljammer books. Definitely something that needs to be listened to on the whole to fully experience the voyage he’s taking you on.
Xasthur & Casket of Dreams “The Hallucination Tunnels” (Appalachian Noise/Ancient Meadow Records)
Warped dungeon synth collaboration by two of the longest running musicians in the Californian black metal scene, this record ended up being its own animal instead of a show piece of two disparate entities. Discordant and pretty fucking unnerving stuff, I’m definitely interested in this continued collaborative configuration.
Old Tower “The Old King of Witches” (Hospital Prod)
So I wouldn’t call Old Tower in this configuration “dungeon synth” any more, rather more dark ambient akin to the work being traded around in the ’90s. Carrying on the groundwork laid by last year’s Plague Harvest, Old Tower isn’t really a very listenable project any more either. What I mean by this is that there’s not really songs, or at least traditionally structured songs, rather one lengthy piece that is a perfect compliment to reading or working, something to keep your imagination active, similar to the recently re-discovered The Shadow of the Tower by Mortiis. Contemplative and interesting, makes me curious as to what the next steps are.
Sad Forest “The Winter Ghost” Dungeons Deep
I’ve said it elsewhere so I don’t need to waste a lot of words on it but this was one of the most special dungeon synth releases I’ve picked up in years. Melancholic, bleak, cold, etc, it ticks every box. Give it a listen.
And so ends another year of keyboard-laden fuckery. Sure it seems like I found a lot to enjoy in the synth genres, and I did, but if you consider there’s seventy-two new releases every fifteen minutes that clog up Bandcamp and whatever assorted Facebook groups you’re in then you realize one of two things: it’s a deep well but only slightly worth drinking or the releases I’ve chosen really have risen above a ton of competition to make their mark on me (and hopefully you). So whether or not you chose to be optimistic is up to you, though I guess this is the time of year for that kind of thought process. See you next time with the splits of 2021.