Marsyas Zskin – Flight of Icarus [Greece, Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Realm and Ritual | 1-10-21

As we turn our hearts and minds to 2021, I think I can speak for most that we are collectively excited for new experiences in the coming year. Most of all we are excited for new releases from a handful of excellent labels. Realm and Ritual is preparing for a dazzling year and one of the first releases is the mind shattering world of Marsyas Zskin. This 90 minute epic invokes the Greek mythology with neoclassical dungeon synth that is not content to guide on passive sound. This is the second release from the artist who is continuing a layered journey through mythology that succeeds due to craftsmanship as well as a daring notion to push the sound in new directions. From the first few notes of “Visions of Bright Aether,” the tone of Flight of Icarus is one of active challenge. Make no mistake, there are melodic moment akin to dungeon synth most are used to yet those lay on top of cliff faces and up winding passages on rock crags that urge the listener to scale this improbably steep mountain. Flight of Icarus marches along the same road as a growing number of progressive minded artists that are carrying dungeon synth into a wild and unpredictable realm. This is a place where the colors are blinding and nothing is predictable. What is certain though its the level of excitement one will experience.

トレイル GUIDE – Reflection [US, Dungeon Synth / Field Recordings] (2020)

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Self Released | 12-15-20

Listen, I get it. The use of Japanese on a tape release usually leads to assumptions that it is vaporwave or some sort of hip electronic that you probably will not get. If this release had a fantasy aesthetic to it, it probably would have been a little bit more popular. Reflection is a meditation on nature through a cracked lens of lo fidelity and warping. Through field recordings and the haze of solitude, this release invokes the power of nature to be a soundtrack for for the spirit. This is the second release by Local Forest Society, a US based label, with I believe only one artist, who records albums live in nature with the ambient sounds put to mixed in with the melodies. The idea of this recording process (do not know how true it is) has deep reverence to both nature and the solitary act of recording music where it is just one person and their communion with the wilderness. Despite the idiosyncratic name and aesthetic, トレイル GUIDE continue to forge their own path into nature synth opting to get lost in the woods to finally be at peace.

Lord Lovidicus – Midsummer [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 9-5-20

This was released back in August of 2020 but I am finally writing about it since Dungeons Deep released a tape version in December of 2020. Lord Lovidicus was one of my first real dungeon synth infatuations. This artist taught me me the symphonic heights this genre could travel with releases like The Book of Lore Vol 1 (2015). this is even skipping over some of the releases like Trolldom (2010) which are legendary in the history of modern dungeon synth. Lord Lovidicus is a luminary in the genre and Midsummer continues to add to this artists legacy with a record that is befitting the enchanting cover. Sensual and magical, Midsummer pays tribute to Shakespearian comedies as well as mythological tales of wonder and intrigue. I have always liked using Lord Lovidicus as an example of how melodic and regal, the genre of dungeon synth can become and Midsummer continues to add weight to my example.

Covered Bridges – Covered Bridges [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Neverwood Records | 12-18-20

this is apart of my quest to write reviews on what feels like a lot of tapes that were recently purchased. It is difficult to say know when you stumble on a wonderful comfy synth release with a tape as well as a record label you did not know existed. Neverwood Records is based in the US and even though they only started to release tapes in October of this year, they have managed to build a decent catalog of dungeon synth and weird adjacent companions. While not entirely a comfy synth label, the releases from Neverwood travel towards the cozy while still retaining some of the more uncomfy esoteric sounds. Covered Bridges, however, is nothing less than a warm cup of tea while starting at a sentimental painting. Comfy synth can be viewed as reductive especially when given a wave of releases at once. Despite this, I have always enjoyed this sound as i feel it promotes a classical sense of escapism where one trades in the dark coldness for inclusive warmth. Covered Bridges works for the holidays but could be played throughout the winter and into the mighty thaw of Spring.

Criecziel – Caverns Under the Wetland [Spain, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released: 12-5-20

I would like to spend the remaining days of 2020 reflecting on dungeon synth and how I fell back into the scene. If not for the fact the world turned upside down and things were put into flux, I do not think I would have time or desire to page through daily dungeon synth releases. I am thankful for dungeon synth continuing to be wonderful and providing me an outlet for writing and enjoyment. I think of this while listening to a fabulous release from a Spanish artist. Caverns Under the Wetland is a magical release with minimal synth yet the ability to paint its space with enchanted visions of forests and the spirits which reside deep in caves. O do hope this release sees more attention as it is a fantastic way to close out a year that has been strange to say the least and one that makes all of us hopeful for tomorrow.

Gatewatcher – Memories Lost and Planes Forgotten [Croatia, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Realm and Ritual | 12-10-20

This is the second release that was given to me by the very wonderful label Realm and Ritual. Today we have the fourth release from Croatian artist Gatewatcher, who also lends their talents to the projects Lone Adventurer and Ashen Chalice. Gatewatcher as a project is entirely dedicated to the lore of Magic’s the Gathering with each release centered or inspired by some aspect of the ongoing story. Memories Lost and Planes Forgotten is inspired by the moments when Jace Beleran wakes up on the plane of Ixalan following the epic antics of the Hour of Devastation and defeat by Nichol Bolas, God Pharoah. Magic The Gathering lore is silly and more resembles a superhero comics than high fantasy. Ixalan, as a story was intended to be a breather, and possibly lighthearted pause in the story, with Jace on a meso ameircan inspired plane and specifically on an island with Vampires, Dinosaurs, and Pirates. Even though Magic’s lore isn’t the most celebrated aspect of the trading card game, and in fact its story has been panned in recent years due to quality and censorship, the narratives still inpire people to create works around it. Enter Gatewatcher and the series of records that take Magic’s lore and creates minimal synthscapes based around its ideas. Memories Lost and Planes Forgotten approaches the themes of amnesia and defeat with sparse tracks that are only punctuated by funerary melodies. Drone and space occupy this world as if the artist ponders and toils all alone with only fading memories as a companion. This is not what I initially thought when immersed int he world of Ixalan but with songs like “Rest, Mind Sculptor” and “Simlmot’s Crossing” we are given a ponderous study on the character and are possibly pushed to refine interpretations of settings that originally had Vampires, Dinosaurs, and Pirates.

Fogweaver – Vedurnan [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 12-4-20

Fogwever has been an experience this year. Not only was 2020’s Spellwind a complete surprise earlier this year, the tape version from Faberglade Records was something of both joy to see being sold and anguish when I missed out on it. I have come to terms with the fact this artist is popular and limited run of tapes will be sought after by many people. It should be expected as Fogweaver manages to capture the imagination of listeners with regal melodies that are cast in a world of haze and mystery. Additionlly the invoking of Ursula K. Le Guin in both content and dedication is a charm which warms every release. Not only does this US based artist marry the classic sounds of dungeon synth with the courtly accessibility of more modern artists but there is a persistent enchantment which holds presence on each of these releases beckoning its listener to fall deeper under its spell. Vedurnan caps off a wonderful year for Fogwever acting as a bookend that began with Spellwind and continued with two outstanding splits (one with Erreth-Akbe and the other with Fogcastle and Foglord). Verdurnan reaffirms my opinion that this artist is one of the best acts to come out in 2020 with releases that will truly become new classics in the ongoing history of dungeon synth.

Gravkväde – Grav | Ruin [Sweden, Black / Funeral Doom] (2020)

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Self Released | 11-20-20

Going to be real honest in saying, it took me forever to spell this band’s name. Perhaps it was the crushing weight of emotion which comes with this release. The below link to the Bandcamp page goes to the Transylvanian Tapes site which is producing the 2021 tape run for this 2020 release. Funeral Doom is a very distinct genre yet its scene, outside of the founder and a few disparate releases, is not as fertile as lets say black or death metal. This could be due to many things but hearing Grav | Ruin was a dark joy as the band combines the ferocity of black metal into the monolithic template of funeral doom. This makes songs like “Begravningskör” at 18minutes not feel like an eternity spent in darkness. While the previous description sounds wonderful, it is the variation which Gravkväde shines. In the landscape of ruin and despair, Grav | Ruin offers both passive mourning as well as more active despair which manifests itself into an extended stay in purgatory with only mixed emotions for reflection.

~*Faerie Cross Grotto*~ – Crystal Majesty [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Self Released | 12-1-20

“For my love of places often forgotten.” I do not know why I am so drawn to that phrase. Perhaps it sums up my love for this music in an invocation for the gods of hazy escapism and memory. Crystal Majesty is ~*Faerie Cross Grotto*~ ‘s debut release and by the sound of the first track, the listener is blanketed in sometimes oppressive magic and serenity. I absolutely love the heavy use use of sound where the melodies feel sweet and benevolent but their weight is like drowning in the light. I think I was passing around the Bandcamp picture of the artist with glowing rock and chain mail as something I found humorous but despite all of this, Crystal Majesty climbs to be one of more effective releases of the year with a nobly bright record that can cleanse with its searing brilliance.

Vultures Ov Veles – Demo 2020 [US, Raw Black / Noise] (2020)

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Self Released | 12-3-20

All I want in life is to listen to ear shattering noises at 8:46 in the morning with a cup of black coffee and an overcast sky. I have no idea who Vultures Ov Veles is or why they decided to add anxious noise into their already caustic black metal but this declaration of ruin is everything I want right now. Demo 2020 perhaps will not reach many people as that initial welcome of noise is enough to send any sensible person in the other direction. For the weirdos that are still here however, Vultures Ov Veles is a sound that keeps people honest in their weirdness and allows everyone to revel in the pitch black.