By Lord Tetrarch (Dungeons Deep Records)
The movie Legend inspired me so much as a child, and it rolled over into my influences as an adult. I still mentally tap into that aesthetic when I think about dark medieval times. Tangerine Dream’s score in the film contrasts the images of damp dark stone corridors set against rather lovely instrumentals. We had a local short lived tabletop gaming store in town that popped up called Howling Wolf. It was a really cool place that sold D&D miniatures, etc, It even had an armory in one part of the store where they sold swords armor and fantasy clothing, it was even in a room with fake stone walls with a cast iron gate entrance. One thing really cool about this store was that they sold CDs that you didn’t see at the malls. It was this CD rack that really cemented my interest in metal. The beautiful album covers drew me in and often I was returning to this store to buy more CDs. Rhapsody, Celtic Frost, Immortal, Falconer, tons of LMP bands (I mainly listen to symphonic Power Metal). It was when my mom went there to buy me a CD I had asked for as a Christmas gift – Summoning Stronghold, that everything clicked. That album was like nothing I had ever heard. I wanted to do what Summoning was doing. Of course, I had to do it all by myself as no one in my town had metal music on their radar, so I mainly relied on keyboards solely and rarely used guitars or vocals. I think this was the birth of my own dedication to “dungeon synth”. Once I began to explore the ambient black metal scene a bit more, I found interest in stuff like Marblebog, Vinterriket and Uruk-Hai. Hugin of Uruk-Hai was one of my first contacts.
I started Dungeons Deep as a way to promote my own project at the time, Forgotten Land. I would have been about 21 years old. I used to chat with a small circle of other musicians at the time via Myspace and email. Soon after, I began offering their music for sale as CD-Rs in DVD cases which was a pretty popular format at the time for underground labels. Myspace used to be a wealth of new music promotion, much like Bandcamp. I’d argue that countless releases have forever been forgotten due to Myspace going defunct. One artist I worked with but never officially released was Morgan the Bard who was a great musician that sadly has since passed away. Morgan The Bard can still be found on Youtube. I don’t think a lot of the old music on the label would appeal to many modern DS fans today as it is all very minimal and amatuer (keep in mind bedroom digital production techniques were fairly new in the mid 2000’s). As far as I remember this was always an online scene and most people I had contact with were from Canada. Forgotten Land and Dungeons Deep Records was entirely anonymous for a long time and I went by the pseudonym “Lord Tetrarch.” It was only in recent years did I attach myself personally to both entities
Although I had some interest in black metal, I was more drawn to the idea of making music that was exclusively black metal inspired ambient. I wasn’t even into Mortiis or Wongraven at the time, and in fact most of my inspiration for everything came from Paysage d’Hiver’s Die Festung. Looking back on it, I don’t recall many other labels that were doing “dungeon synth” exclusively and at the time I just described it as “black ambient”. Dungeons Deep had a few black metal releases, mostly just to save face and keep things connected to that scene, but in hindsight they weren’t really necessary and nothing too notable (outside of Neige et Noirceur). I didn’t discover metal until I was about 19, before that I was very much into punk rock and always thought metal seemed very kitsch. I suppose that is what inevitably drew me to it, punk was just too serious sometimes.
I purchased a keyboard on craigslist that I used for a while to mess around with. Soon after I saw a 61 key Korg Triton at a pawn shop that I knew I had to have. I actually made payments to the pawn shop owner for a few months. The first two Forgotten Land albums were mainly made between my Korg Triton and Fostex MR-8 digital recorder. I quickly shifted over to using my PC. Fruity Loops was always my DAW of choice, and I still use it to this day. When I began doing more analog recording, I took it upon myself to learn Cubase SX. I still use Cubase from time to time but ultimately FL Studio is still my current DAW. The first Forgotten Land song I ever made was recorded on the Korg’s built in sequencer, in my bedroom. To this day it is probably still my favorite Forgotten Land song and one of the most “dungeon synth” sounding (Nearing the Stronghold, Resting at Great Oak): Soon after, I moved everything downstairs into a makeshift studio, the bedroom phase was short lived. I have regrettably since sold the Korg.
In 2017 I was in a bit of a musical rut, and started searching YouTube for new stuff to listen to. I first stumbled upon Eldamer, but it was in the sidebar that I kept getting suggestions for the Dungeon Synth Archives. I believe it was Old Sorcery – Realms of Magickal Sorrow and Fief II that had me instantly hooked. I believe modern dungeon synth to be an entirely different beast from what it was pre-2015. A lot of modern stuff is so steeped in great musicianship. While I appreciate the lofi amateur approach to a lot of dungeon synth, as a label owner I have my sights on more advanced songwriting and production skill.
I am a huge fan of Thangorodrim, anything that a fellow does is magic. Old Sorcery is another big favorite for me. Old Tower, Monastery – The Garden of Abandon, anything Vindkaldr, Torchlight – The Long Quest, Cernunnos Woods, Medhelan, Gargoylium, Lunar Womb, Kirkwood, Moth Tower, Ellffor (soon to be on the Dungeons Deep roster), Quest Master, Skarpseian… I am probably missing plenty, but as you can see I prefer high quality dungeon synth! It is also difficult to pick non Dungeons Deep favorites because if I really like something enough I tend to seek that artist out and collaborate with them. I really enjoy the culture and enthusiasm of dungeon synth. I think part of modern dungeon synth’s success is accessibility to technology and the social media culture. In the mid 2000’s it was still somewhat difficult to really feel connected. We now have such a convenient way to find like minded individuals and share our interests that even the most obscure ideas can become successful. As for the future, I have plans to do quite a few records including Guild of Lore, Bellkeeper, and others including Secret Stairways.
Two years ago I initially reached out to the band members of Twelfth of Never, a former band of Matthew Davis (creator of Secret Stairways). I had gotten into Twelfth of Never quite a bit at the time and realized that it was Matthew’s music in general that spoke to me, not just Secret Stairways. At first I think the band members were a bit off put by my proposal, and I didn’t push it. It was almost a full year later that I decided to reach out again to let them know I was very serious about the vinyl project. It was then I received some contacts for a close friend of the family, and eventually Matthew’s sister. The Secret Stairways record was over a full year in the making – the family was great in curating old photos, scans of art, and even managed to find the original master cassette tape that had never before been heard up until this vinyl release.
Records have proven a bit more difficult to sell than tapes, but I think with time and as the scene grows it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Elffor’s Dra Sad trilogy boxset is already well underway and should be available to purchase by early 2021. I have ideas for a side label or two to focus more on specific offshoots of dungeon synth, as we are beginning to find popularity in things like comfy synth. As for the label, I do every layout and tape design on the Dungeons Deep Records lineup (not the actual artwork perse, just the graphic design elements). I do all the photo mockups for products, design most of the T-shirts. I have a pretty low key art Facebook page called “Tree – Logos and Art”. I have done the Hole Dweller logo, cover art for Witchsteel, Decrepit Corridor, Forklift Operator, Paths of the Eternal…. Dungeons Deep Records is essentially just a great big art project for me.
Kaptain Carbon is the custodian of Tape Wyrm, a mod for Reddit’s r/metal, Creator of Vintage Obscura, and a Reckless Scholar for Dungeon Synth.