Arthel – Ancient Magic of the Forest [Canada, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Serpent Swords Records | 11-21-20

This is wonderful. I have always enjoyed the nature of comfy synth even though the niche genre in the larger dungeon synth scene feels like boom that already has passed. Arthel is not a comfy synth artist though the music retains the same brightness and aesthetics just with a few key differences. First and perhaps most important is the embrace of fantasy aesthetics rather than non traditional imagery. While trains, pets, and cookie recipes have all made for fun albums, Ancient Magic of the Forest is just that; a record dedicated to the magic of the woods just cast in noble bright hues and very fitting to the fairy tale tone. It is getting late in the year and dungeon synth continues to put out wonderful records without a care for the calendar year.

Vale Minstrel – Garden of Spells [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 11-14-20

This is the second Vale Minstrel release this year and this is the second time I wrote a review on the artist. There is something magical and comforting about the work of Vale Minstrel and their attempt to weave enchantments in mi-fi regal dungeon synth. Vale Minstrel teams up once again with Silvana Massa whose artwork has been a staple among dungeon synth with covers for Sequestered Keep, Pendragon, Keyes of Orthanc, and Argonath. Garden of Spells continues Vale Minstrels quest to spread bardic inspiration among whatever court they choose to attend. For fans of light and pastoral sounds which would be perfect slumbering under the shadow of ruins among a hidden vale.

Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver – In the Kingdom of Fog [US, Dungeon Synth]

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Self Released 11-1-20

Yes, I will admit I chuckled a little at the combination of all of these artists. The split between three Fog based dungeon synth artists all from the United States under a split also about Fog lends itself to humorous overlap between aesthetics. I would be laughing more if not for the fact that one artist on this split already has one of the best releases this year and the other is a veteran in the dungeon synth scene. What seems like a jokey team up of the fog superheroes is really one of the most immersive splits this year with three capable and competent dungeon synth musicians that have dedicated themselves tot he hazy atmosphere of middle grey. From the supernatural sounds of Fog Castle to the eerily drone of Foglord and the the mystical twilight of Fogweaver, the combination of all three of these artists leads less to a novelty split and more of fate driven pact of artists crafting their own universe of haze.

Nameless King – Downfall Of Drangleic [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Gondolin Records | 10-27-20

Downfall of Drangleic comes in a group of four new releases from Gondolin Records. I have talked before and even expressed my undying loyalty to a label that not only showcases quality artists but frames each releases with visual cohesion. I know what a Gondolin Record release looks like as I know what a Realm of Sleep record looks like. A visual aesthetic is something I adore as I feel these releases are apart of a family and Nameless King steps out to not only be a strong release from Gondolin records but one of the better releases this year. Mournful yet airy, Downfall of Drangleic carries the burden of a thousand years of grief in a haunting record that is polarized in its emotions. I want to feel relaxed butthere is this lingering sandess which greys out the world around me.

Various Artists – The Reliquary of Terror [International, Dungeon Synth] (2020 )

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Wrought Records | 10-24-20

This is fun. I feel it necessary to highlight the fantastic design for the Reliquary of Terror as I am a fan and practitioner of mimicking distressed media covers. This release boasts a pulp book cover and the flair which surrounds this releases is truly outstanding. the design is the first thing which greats the listener which is immediately followed by an ushering into a world of neon horror. The roster for this compilation is a cadre of electronic luminaries mainly from the dungeon synth scene with a wider scope. Cimitir, ElixiR, Erythrite Throne, Vaelastrasz
Casket of Dreams & Xasthur and the The IXth Key all dawn costumes, and sometimes come as themselves, for a compilation of frightful merriment. Dark ambient, synthwave, and things which sound like 70’s horror movie soundtracks all decorate the halls of this castle turning a once grim atmosphere into something more fun and engaging. Halloween is the celebration of all things dark but with a playful atmosphere and the passion of these artists and record label to do a one off compilation with an ensemble befitting of the fanfare.

Malfet – Alban Arthan [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Dungeon Deep Records | 10-2-20

At this point, I do not have to introduce Dungeon Deep Records as this US(?) label has been one of the more consistent and professional tape labels for dungeon synth in recent memory with a catalog of stellar releases that not only build upon the style’s pas but lay the groundwork for its future. Malfet is another entry into that chapter with their fourth record into what they call “pastoral dungeon synth.” I feel this is a perfect name for a style of dungeon synth that is warm but sweeping in its scope. Rather than relegated to a cottage of cozy fire, Malfet’s music rolls over hills in both sunshine and rain questing towards adventures far away from here. Malfet’s vision and ambition is large leading to theatric music videos which could seen ostentatious if not backed up by some outstanding music which is perhaps one of the better releases this year.

Amok Weg – Amok Weg [Spain, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 10-8-20

Amok Weg was something I found just paging through the new pages of dungeon synth releases. It was not on the new and notable page and was somewhat buried under albums with physical releases. Maybe it this had a tape release people would be excited. I know I would. Amok Weg is from Spain which usually isn’t the first 5 places one thinks about when thinking of dungeon synth but it is nowhere near the last. What struck me about Amok Weg was the grey path the artist walked through bleak darkness and illuminated majesty. Cast in shadows yet with definition, the self titled from Amok Weg offers its listeners a range of emotions and atmospheres that does look to depress or sooth rather something else entirely.

DIM – Compendium III [Canada, Dungeon Synth / Medieval] (2020)

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Self Released | 10-5-20

I can remember in 2017 when the first Compendium was released and I was flabbergasted at the quality of the work. DIM was truly monumental in its craft for medieval folk and fantasy ambient. I almost feel silly forgetting about this artist until someone told me about the third compendium and the addition of tapes for all three volumes. What I expected was another romp in the meadows of dungeon synth that was no more challenging than a light breeze carrying the smell of lilacs. What I got instead was a journey under the mountains with a release that is akin to quests in the underdark encountering strange nd mystical sounds of genres which lay dormant. If one would like to experience the journey in its full scope, the passage between the three compendiums is astounding with the third volume the most grand in its scope. Folk beats, new age tendencies, and electronic fetishes roil from dark caverns allows Compendium III to be a declarative statement on the future of medieval synth. I have no idea where this sound is going and I am keeping close to the composer as they lead me through the passages under the mountain.

Taurwen – A Wind Blows from the Mountain of Death [Turkey, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 7-5-20

I usually do not like to include geographical location when discussing dungeon synth at least in the fact of it being novel. Dungeon Synth, I feel transcends regional locations to a place far away from wherever one would be born. Taurwen’s distinction of being from Turkey is a fact but is heighted by their claim of being the only composer of dungeon synth in the country. Upon looking into it, it seems the other composer, Tir, was originally from Turkey but since moved to Australia. In fact, it would be fitting to know the two know each other and Tir mastered this record. Dungeon synth’s strength among the community is egalitarian access to not only the music but music to fans and the fat the music is making its way to places not originally known for bedroom synth is impressive.

It would be odd for me to praise the composers background and say little about the music. In fact it would be strange for this album’s only strength being the composers country of origin. A Wind Blows from the Mountain of Death is not only a strong debut, it is one of the better releases in recent memory with both an air of sadness which creeps along rolling hills in fog ridden mornings. The Mountain of Death feels distance and its wind which blows is not oppressive rather it hangs in the air as a constant reminder of its melancholy. Country of origin aside, this is a stellar debut for fans of classic dungeon synth in the vein of Wongraven, Mortiis, and Depressive Silence. Fantastic work from an artist that can honestly claim “the best dungeon synth artists from Turkey” by odd circumstance.

ElixiR – Le conte des trois faunes [France, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 9-30-20

I was surprised to ElixiR in the new release feed as I thought this project was disbanded. This is entirely my fault as I was misremembering an incident in 2017 regarding artwork and the Bandcamp for this page being deleted for a brief moment before being brought online. This seems like ancient history as I was surprised to learn of releases which spanned that moment to today. The only person who is confused here is me. Le conte des trois faunes is the second release this year for Elixir aside from a Burzum tribute a few months back. Le conte des trois faunes is worth anyone’s time that seeks medieval style dungeon synth with an air of melancholy and clear production. My own memory can be hazy at times so I am glad I haven’t forgotten abut this artist as they still seem to be releasing stellar work.