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.
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.
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.
I absolutely love that most of these songs just start out with the listeners falling down a hill marred with jagged rocks. Howling Nightwinds is new and with two demos full of raw violence that doesn’t seem to care about proper etiquette. In the span of around 15 minutes, Howling Nightwinds makes a grand declaration of uncaring with a demo full of black metal mixed with punk and also dungeon synth for bookends. This is a demo which is crude and unpolished and perhaps will never be invited for a formal dinner. It is perfect for basements and graveyards and perhaps other haunted places of dismay.
“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.
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.
“Dungeon Synth exploring the strange history of Vikings in the UK. Nazis fuck off.” I often love the frankness of Bandcamp introductions as Land Spirit both paints a delicate picture of the music while still telling fascists to fuck off. Through The Eternal Woodland is the third release for Land Spirit just in 2021 and despite the flow of releases, the current offering stands out as a monument in dungeon synth with a heavy magical tone. While the cover indicates an understated raw dungeon synth, the progressive spirit of this release swirls around grainy renders of ancient monuments offering a future that is hazy and cast in vintage tones. In the footsteps of Hedge Wizard, Land Spirit walks offering arcane sorcery in low fidelity.
This one is a special release since it connects many dots for me. Apoxupon is the work of an artist who is also the creator of of Mystic Timbre Records which was home to some fantastic dungeon synth of 2020 as well as a catalog of left field synth projects. Nameless and Formless is the new release from Apoxupon which is seeing support from another wonderful label Realm and Ritual. While this new release falls under the tag of dungeon synth, Nameless and Formless includes satellite styles such as dark ambient and Berlin school style synthscapes. This release splits the difference between the last few Apoxupon albums with a record that is mysterious and surreal which lay at the edge of dream and waking. This hypnagogic kingdom lay in caverns and passage ways which are carved out of obsidian which often time reflect luminescence in otherwise pitch darkness. Nameless and Formless is a dive into the void but also the realization that there is something alive in the darkness. Apoxupon has created something wonderful here and it is through the cooperation of a few entities this release might see a greater audience.
Another Cusp Record! Mornelance was released independently in the twilight hours of 2020 which would then be picked up by the very great and very reliable Out of Seaosn for tape release. January was the first time many people got to hear the work of Oublieth and their solemn worship of classic dungeon synth. Mornelance is for fans of Depressive Silence to the point where some of the synth sounds match the tones of the veteran German act. This is not to say that Mornelance is derivative rather, Oublieth continues the work of Depressive Silence and other classic era dungeon synth with a record that is both reverent to the style yet creating its own grim castles cloaked in fog. Mornelance is a dark fairy tale where wild fey live in spires among the darkness. It is magical and enchanting in its hypnosis.