Celestial Rot – A Chain Around Eternity’s Throat [??, Raw Black] (2023)

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The Ensemble of Black Magic by Doulos | 1-3-23

This is a great way to wake up in 2023. Celestial Rot is connected to The Ensemble of Black Magic, a label (?) which hosts projects by dark ambient and raw black acts with awesome names like Phantom Staircase, Bleak Exit, and Isolated Aster Wizard. Celestial Rot is perhaps one of the most harsh acts out of the shadowy troupe and falls in step with the other cool internet atmospheric black metal that sounds like it was run over on the highway a few times. We can all make jokes about production but nailing the raw black sound is sometimes an art and Celestial Rot does it so effortlessly that the songs titles like “Fucking The Black Fingers Mixed In Soot,” feel ominous rather than bizarre even though it still is sort of bizarre. A Chain Around Eternity’s Throat is a premiere example of the “mysterious black metal that could vanish without notice so you probably should talk about it before it goes away” aesthetic.

Corvus Neblus – Strahd’s Possession [Greece, Dungeon Synth] (1999-2001)

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Self Released (1999-2001)

Oh yes, this is where the cool people live. At the moment, The Dungeons and Dragon module The Curse of Strahd is one of the most famous campaigns made possible by the collaboration between a famous adventure setting originally published in 1983, multiple campaigns and associated novels, and perhaps most importantly, robust community support in making the story more coherent. Ravenloft and the lands of Barovia have stoked the imagination of people for decades. Nowhere is this more evident than dungeon synth records inspired by the campaign setting in a time when it the world was still inaccessible to most except for the most learned of the fandom.

Corvus Neblus has released two EPs. Strahd’s Possession Chapter I in 1999 with a followup Chapter II in 2001. Both releases provide a soundtrack to the world of Ravenloft made at a time when the gothic setting was used in multiple related media. Chapter I was packaged with not only an introduction about the main character, the half elf fighter/mage Nebulus, but also came with a character sheet with ability scores. These facts might lead to the creator of Corvus Neblus using an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons as inspiration for a dungeon synth album or just an adventure setting as a ready made world for a story. Whatever the case, Strahd’s Possession is an early example of escapism made into a world of sound with the entirety of the two releases made into backdrops for a gothic pageant.

Corvus Neblus is better known as Alexandros Antoniou also the participant in black metal projects such as Macabre Omen and Lvcifyre. Alexandros Antoniou’s work in these bands has created a separate reputation with his dark ambient and dungeon synth projects intended as hidden gems for those traveling deep within the mines of records. Strahd’s Possession is a monument for those looking at the origins and tracing the history of dungeon synth from the 1990’s to 2010s. Here is a set of releases which would be on Bandcamp in 2022 but instead is an obscure artifact from a well known black metal musician. The care and calculation heard in the first chapter mixed with the shoehorned dialogue in the second chapter is both fascinating as well as amusing.

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.

Offernat – All Colours Retract [Denmark, Sludge] (2022)

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Self Released | 9-2-22

Part of the reason why I first picked up this EP was the cover as it was so non descript and without any trace of bandname, release title, or anything. It is as if this release just materialized and we have to deal with its existence. Offernat is a Danish sludge / post metal (?) three piece who play music in the style of Neurosis and old Isis. While comparisons are easy to make at first, Offernat quickly becomes dense and complex. The only track available at this monument is a 14 minute preview called “The Winds” which is a raucous maelstrom heavy sludge which tempers into a slow ambient unravel of both form and temper before forming into something unexpected and delightful. “The Winds” is a powerful declaration from a band who has had just one EP to date. All Colours Retract, when release, has a possibility of being a robust release with music that is understated in its album cover.

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.

Astral Coroner – Leaching the Ancient Void [US/ Canada, Death] (2022)

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Self Released | 6-22-22

This is my everything. Deathgrind obsessed with topics such as aliens, skinwalkers, and quantum suicide. If this was a book, it would already be on my shelf but here we are and these topics comes through a death ray aimed at the listeners chest. Astral Coroner is from both the US and Canada with no members listed so if we were in the conspiratorial mindset, we could assume it is the work of other death metal luminaries making even more underground music. Even if this group is a bunch of Coast to Coast AM weirodos who probably have some documentaries about The Goblin Universe, Leaching the Ancient Void is a punch to the throat which never stops being fun.

Sinistrum – Trichotomy of Death [US, Death / Thrash] (2022)

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Self Released | 7-11-22

Hell Yes. Thrashing Death! I would like to thank Sinistrum for allowing me to research the history of death metal originating from Elizabethtown Kentucky. Without this band, I would not have found the other related bands including Sarcoma and Abominant which seems to make up the foundation for 1990’s Elizabethtown death metal. Trichotomy of Death is the debut EP for Sinistrum and while some of its members date back decades, the entire presentations feels fresh and new. From a stellar cover and logo that would go great on a sleeveless shirt to a ripping sound that is full of riffs and energy, Sinistrum feels like a punch to the side of the face that stings but maybe feels refreshing.

Kryatjurr of Desert Ahd – Unbearable Nightmares of Heat and Desertification [Australia, Raw Atmospheric Black] (2022)

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Self Released | 6-30-22

I have spent a considerable amount of time searching for the meaning of “Kryatjurr” and looking up any references to the name. What I have surmised is I know less about this Australian project than when I started. Obscurity seems to be a veil for Kryatjurr of Desert Ahd as this black ambient project comes with little information and is even supplemented by potentially misleading lyrics. “tauhn ruo eerufg” is a jumble of the title “Haunt our Refugee which is part of this EP’s closing track. If I am spending most of this review talking about the puzzle it presents, it is because the music for Kryatjurr of Desert Ahd is deeply immersive and leaves one in an abstract space after it is finished. Through lo fi black ambient, this EP presents a charred landscape that is constantly transformed by fire as if destroyed and then rebuilt once finished. The cover for this release presents a confusing picture of dark hands reaching out from a void which is fitting for music that is continually interesting and foreboding.

Kvad – Cold & Dark, As Life [Norway, Atmospheric / Raw Black] (2022)

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Self Released | 6-10-22

It is difficult to type the phrase Norwegian black metal” and not have it anchor to a certain time period. For better or worse this county and style elicits certain images which is a shame for bands and artists who are just making music for the void. Kvad is related to another Norwegian black metal act Darkest Bethlehem who had one single in 2021. Cold & Dark, As Life, for Kvad, represents the debut full length following an EP in 2021. This seems like the start for the act with an explosive 30 minute statement that is full of energy and entropy. There are obvious nods to Norway’s history in black metal with frostbitten aesthetics yet Kvad succeeds as a raw black act that sculpts landscapes of torment and demise. Each of the tracks which run 4-5 minutes feel like a swirling void where the vocals bounce around walls of madness. This is truly music for the distraught and Kvad commands its like a symphony.

Alhistja – Alhistja [Netherlands, Black / Punk] (2022)

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4-8-22

I don’t think I have ever been so surprised by a guitar riff than in the middle of “TERINGFRIEDUS.” Perhaps that is follows a sinister laugh from the guttural pit of vocals or that the song abruptly ends following this bright implosion of melody. There are many things wonderful and wild about this Dutch black / punk band and at the top of the list is the ability to be surprising in offering flowers in one hand and bricks in the other. Alhistja comes partially from the black metal band Botulism and filled in with the vocalist from German death metal act Chapel of Disease. the collision of talents plus an unorthodox approach to an unorthodox style results in a very short but brilliant demo that is full of bats, piss, and searing attitudes.

Alhistja by Alhistja