MURGRIND – The Power of Yourself [Germany, Dungeon Synth] (2022)

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Uralte Herrschaft Productions | 8-21-22

If Murgrind is good at anything it is rolling out the carpet for their releases. Murgrind is the creation of Sven Strack who has also created other dungeon synth projects such as Draped in Shadows, Haryon, Arath, and runs the label Uralte Herrschaft Productions. Murgrind’s 2013 record Journey Through The Mountain was an important artifact in the early days of the dungeon synth revival and subsequent works have been met with a deep admiration and regal fanfare. The Power of Yourself might be the fourth full length in almost a decades worth of existence but each release from the artist commands a few years worth of attention.

The Power of Yourself, at a staggering, one hour running time, is a cinematic experience which transcends what most people would think of dungeon synth. Nowhere is there any hints of bedroom production rather widescreen fantasy orchestras which put the listener in the role of adventurer and conqueror over dark shadowy mountains. This is what Murgrind does the best which is spend years creating a campaign world for its listener. Each record might come with a long procession but the experience with each release is undeniable in both craft and execution.

Tales Under The Oak – Swamp Kingdom [Germany, Dungeon Synth] (2022)

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Self Released | 8-7-22

I do not think I was aware of this magical kingdom until today. Tales Under the Oak is a German act who in a year’s time has crafted two amazing releases which seem to weave a tale of mystical lore. Swamp Kingdom is the 2022 release which follows The Toad King in 2021. Both releases have uniform art and direction which makes each release feel like a chapter in a storybook reads by fireplace. Tales Under The Oak employs lush music still under the veil of lo-fi bedroom music yet the landscapes feel more open and rich than dungeon synth contemporizes. Swamp Kingdom is medieval music being played by bards who just happen to be submitting music under the dungeon synth label. This is truly transcendental music as you are no longer just hearing this on Bandcamp rather from a distance as you travel a strange and enchanting land.

Middle Ages – Reclaiming the Throne [International, Dungeon Synth] (2022)

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This whole thing comes with a paragraph of explanation. Reclaiming the Throne is a reissue / compilation of demoscene tracks that were ripped from a website in the 1990’s and put onto a tape. The tape gained a following and was known as “Caduceus – Middle Ages.” It wasn’t until 2020, that the true nature of this music became known to the internet record keepers and extensive work was put into tracking down the three musicians behind this work. The work formally known as Ranger Rick, Mateus, and Blackwolf. Reading the Youtube link for the original Caduceus rip, Blackwolf responds with:

This has been wild – I wrote “Seeds of Desire” for a demoscene music competition in 1995 (it placed 19th in the rookie division of MC3 out of…I don’t know how many, maybe 100?) and then find out 26 years later that it was put on a cassette that has a cult following in a genre I hadn’t really heard of.

This whole affair from the subterfuge, the longstanding misunderstanding to the internet reconciliation is made even better with the Dungeon Deep reissue which rightfully credits the artists and adds bonus tracks and write ups to the presentation. The joyous tracker based synth music makes the whole event feel like the closing credits to some lost Super Nintendo RPG and through arduous strife, the rightful rulers take the throne and suddenly the stormy lo-fi clouds part. Part of my love for this scene of music not only comes from the sound itself but the intesnse desire to archive and catalog music from the past decades. Dungeon synth has laid in the shadows and things like a bootlegged tape that gained popularity feels right when a group of fans reconstruct and credit the true musicians. This entire thing is wholesome and makes me smile all day long.

L A N D S R A A D – Fate; The Inevitability Thereof [UK, Dungeon Synth] (2022)

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Self Released | 8-1-22

Last year, I raved about L A N D S R A A D and their debut The Golden Path. This release kicked off a potential long series of Dune inspired dungeon synth which not only showed excellency in terms of composition and production but also a new avenue in terms of thematic source material. Dungeon synth is not relegated to the earth and the silent foundations of Berlin School / Kosmiche Musik becomes more apparent with each release filed under its name. the dungeon is just the beginning for a brave new world of space based progressive ambient. Fate; The Inevitability Thereof takes its inspiration, and namesake from the themes of Dune Messiah, Frank Herbet’s second book in the Dune series. More than just Dune DS, L A N D S R A A D feels like it is guided by the principles and precepts of Herbert’s universe. Fate, prophecy, power, and the zeal of faith all drive the topics of this record making it not just a tribute album but rather a space ambient record which shares the interests which constructed the book series. Fate; The Inevitability Thereof is a fantastic dungeon synth record which continues an interesting series that I felt was a novel idea at first but is quickly becoming something with unforeseen importance.

Omnikinetic – Dragon Hymns [US, Black / Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Self Released | 1-6-21

Omnikinetic is a prolific one-man extreme metal project from Portland, Oregon headed by VXR. He first came to my attention last year with the release of several war metal-adjacent EPs and demos that excited my ears in a year that was fairly lacking in that genre. “Kinesis” and “Submerged” both had some serious firepower in low-to-middle-fi. Not to mention what interested me in the first place: the black and purple flowers that adorn the cover art “Kinesis”. “Dragon Hymns” continues that destructive yet quirky approach to black death. This three-track demo starts and ends with dungeon synth elements that recall the genre’s proclivity for fantasy. It then dives straight into what one might expect from a dragon: death, harshness, and destruction, with resonant yells and multi-tracked guitars streaming overhead as the synths occasionally peak their heads out among charred homes and melted rock. Firm, intense, and firmly intense black / death of harrowing experience it would be to actually be near a fire-breathing, malevolent dragon instead of a typical fantasy experience.

Vorvadoss / Magic Find – Moondrawn, Foul​-​Crescent Rapture [US / Australia, Dungeon Synth / Dark Ambient] (2021)

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Attic Shrines | 1-21-21

When I found Attic Shrines, I knew I wanted to highlight this tape label. Lucky for me, there was only one release this year which makes it easy to frame in terms of releases since this is the best Attic Shrines release in 2021. I have always had an interest in drone/noise/ritual ambient and find its relation to dungeon synth fascinating since this type of synth is always lying underneath other genres like some interconnected catacomb that anyone can enter if they get lost enough. Attic Shrines may release more infrequently to the average dungeon synth artist yet their tapes are from some of the more intriguing artists. This combined with a underground black metal aesthetic and one has dungeon synth that has been left in crypts for centuries. Moondrawn, Foul​-​Crescent Rapture is a split between Australian Vorvadoss and US Magic Find. both tracks which equal to around 30 minutes are a wonderful blend of depressive noise and dissonant memories which float through ruined cathedrals at dawn. I look forward to following this label even though they remain ghostly and elusive. Dungeon synth comes in many varieties and it is always wonderful to find more to be haunted by.

KNIFE WRAITH – Into the Undercity Dungeons [Germany, Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Self Released | 3-25-21

Listen, I understand this is hard to look at. It is nauseating and I feel this is the perfect place to start. Knife Wraith is a German artist whose love and devotion to old Dungeons and Dragons modules as well as the 8-bit sounds of yesteryear collide in a stereoscopic dream of nostalgia and idiosyncratic joy. One can almost feel being baked in the glow of a living room television sitting on the carpet while sending your adventure through dark caves in search of magical artifacts. The monsters in vivid flat colors emerge from shaded shadow to inflict terror and health damage upon your character. These are the sounds of your quest and your eventual victory over the pixelated evils of the world.

Effluvium – Symphony No. 2 [US, Dungeon Synth / Experimental] (2021)

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Moonworshipper Records | 1-1-21

I do not think Effuvium ever intended to make dungeon synth but got caught running around with contemporary classical and noise music to really care what time curfew was. Symphony #1 is dedicated to Dimitri Shostakovich with a quote the feels like it is attributed to the Russian pianist but is another false flag in a theater of odd red herrings. Walking a line of experimental and apocalyptic sounds, Effluvium makes music much in the same way people wake up from night terrors.

This was a review I did of Effluvium’s 2017 release Symphony #1. This was also the release which solidified my love for dungeon synth which had trouble hiding its weirdness. In fact, it was a closing entry in a short lived Best of the Weird collection for 2017. Effluvium was something special for me and recently I heard my reviews were something special for its creator. It was only this year I learned of the passing of Jake Dunwoody (J. R. D.) and Symphony No. 2 was a posthumous construction of the last piece he composing. Even outside this personal connection for me, Effluvium has always represented an avatar of weird in this genre and urges listeners to be as strange as they want to be. Without limits or bounds, Symphony No. 2 is an overture to the frightening freedom of chaos, a procession for all of the idiosyncrasies and predilections one possesses but never shares. IT is a march of the strange and for J. R. D., it is a coda to a wonderful life. I thank everyone involved in this process for I know it means the world to to those who knew him and oddly those many who just knew him in music.

Wizard Tower Studios – Beyond the Lost Realm [UK, Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Self Released | 3-4-21

“Our hope lies on a solitary hero – who’s destiny is unclear even to the wisest mystiks. Through the forests they must go, beyond the Lost Realm…” This is the line that could be on the back of an adventure RPG Nintendo box somewhere in the late 80’s. Everything about this release is amazing, from the melodies to the aesthetic to the general carefree attitude when it comes to blurring dungeon synth and video game music. The worlds of dungeon synth and games is separated by perhaps a small river which man people have found ways to traverse or build bridges between. Beyond The Lost Realm is a love letter to 8 bit music soundtracks which invoke the spirit of nostalgia that flickers on the screen of a warm television.

Ithildin – A Long​-​Expected Party [Canada, Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Self Released | 2-15-21

I was floored by this release. I was amazed by this release despite it dealing with one of the most common topics for dungeon synth. Tolkien and dungeon synth have been companions since some of the first iterations as the lore surrounding the collected works of the author have been interwoven in the fabric of not only dungeon synth but heavy metal. A Long Expected Party takes inspiration and also track names off of Fellowship of the Ring. This again is not new territory yet the melodies and craftsmanship that lies at the foundation of this record is undeniable. Invoking both humble production and elaborate soundscapes, Ithildin (Mithril that only the most experienced craftsmen of the Noldor could learn how to make and pass on to others) weaves arcane sorcery to create an enriching record that may look ordinary from first glance but is steeped in decades, if not centuries, of quality.