UK death metal has always had a strong history and its current scene is continuing a legacy that has already been written in blood. When I first heard the name Mortuary Spawn and saw the cover art for their debut EP, I had a feeling it would be craved by a certain fan of heavy metal. This fan might be undead and with ravenous claws which make their way out of cracked coffin. If all of this sounds silly and ridiculous, wait until you are sent down a rollercoaster of riffs with the tension gripping the back of your neck. For 15 minutes, you are at the whims of revenants who mean to entertain you with bloody magic tricks which ends in one person cackling and the other sickened. Mortuary Spawn worships at the altar of old school death metal with a tribute to its looming atmospheres which rolls over cemeteries like fog. This is a sound which will be familiar for some and pleasing to many as it focuses on the parts which makes death metal so successful. If the black and white cover that looks like old Dungeons and Dragons modules is any indication, Spawned From the Mortuary is going to be a party for some but those are going to be the ones chasing others down blood splattered halls.
“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.
“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.
For purposes of actual cataloging, this was released in the final days of 2020. For purposes of talking about new dungeon synth, I am considering this a 2021 release. Ferhðfriðende is one part (or a separate entity) of Fyrngeflita, a UK based dungeon synth folk project that is dedicated to trees. Both Fyrngeflita and Ferhðfriðende are making demos which combine the easy melodies of guitar based folk with the atmosphere of dungeon synth. The Bandcamp release is accompanied by the description of
“Deruenta is a Brythonic word, translated to where the Oak trees grow”, from which the word Dart is derived. From the head to the mouth, along many a stretch of the peat rich waters, springs the sacred tree of Albion. Amongst which dwell many creatures, some friendly spirits others seldom seen, some so fragile they are found nowhere else and others as hardy as the Granite bedrock itself. This is the delight of the Native Ponies company, or watching the Grey Wagtail’s and Dippers at play. The reward of a long cold night beside the Otter’s den for a chance appearance, or meeting the watchful eye of the Heron patrolling the banks.“
..as well as a promise that money from this demo will be donated to the Devon Wildlife Trust. This dedication to nature as well as a marriage of folk instrumentation is a brave step into a new arena of dungeon synth that steps towards a sound that is transcendental and eternally reflective. I am considering this a 2021 release since I most certainly will be talking about it over the course of this year.
Welcome to 2021. As this site develops into a dungeon synth haven, I want to make sure I dig into the grave soil for some truly horrid black and death metal demos. Phantasmal Journeys into the Morbid Past is the first demo from a UK project that could be a solo venture or a group but since Nighthaunter is without a Metal Archives or social media page, we are just going to guess. With the lack of information comes a vacuum of space that fills with thrashing and boney kicks to the face from an obvious ghast that has tracked you through this cemetery. Raw and unkempt is the perfect way to enter into this year with fear and terror.
Villein’s debut was a surprise back in the halcyon days of June 2020. Not only was this a competent dungeon synth release swathed in lush layers but it was also somewhat overlooked by the larger community. This is funny since there was a 25 edition tape that accompanied the release which was sold out in minutes through Vicious Mockery. Still even with the tape release and the lush sound, I expected Villein to command more attention at least to the level of quality from these releases. This is okay since we still have time for Villein to enchant strangers with music that is intoxicating in its depth and majestic in its sound. Splendor Spoils is the second release in a few short months which if this final record for 2020, then it s a tremendous introduction to an artist that has come out of nowhere. Villeins music, as well as visual presence, is a wonderful gem for anyone who might have missed it and another chapter in a book I never thought I would enjoy reading so much.
I am including the link to the Realm ad Ritual release for this album even though the edition of tapes sold out. Altar of Necropolis was self released in May of this year but has since been picked up by the wonderful Realm and Ritual label. Orcus is a UK based artist who seems to live in two different realms with one being the contemporary and the other traditional. While the sound of Altar of Necropolis is exploratory in its sound with a balanced production, there is an air of somber haze which unites the sound with a release which pays tribute to the traditional dungeon synth of yesterday. Altar of Necropolis, as well as its creator, is both joyous and melancholic with a release that transcends time and emotion.
“Plant based Dungeon Synth.” I love these types of descriptions. I love these types of descriptions as selling points rather than invented genres. Actually, who knows, maybe horticulture inspired dungeon synth will be a thing in a few years. Seeds of Change is dedicated to the quiet ambiance of plants growing which is nurtured by the waves of old school dungeon synth but without the oppressive ruminations of dark corridors. There is certainly a level of melancholy which hangs in the air yet the lamentations feel like the decaying of fallen trees as it beings its cycle of rejuvenation. This is a release which sounds as the way loam smells as its pungent qualities fills your senses but ultimately is neither noxious nor sweet.
Train Synth. Ha, I joke but seriously. I have been holding the entire comfy synth scene at bay until I had a chance to wrap my head around it but it was Scenic Railway and its embrace of everything lo fi that made me realize this genre is perhaps to nebulous for one genre. In this record one is given a kaleidoscope or dungeon synth, lo fi beats, and sleepy ambient wrapped around a vague idea of getting on a vintage railway and traveling the land. I can not think of the last time I was this confused and excited for an idea but Scenic Railways inclusiveness of genres and all passengers is certainly inviting. Scenic Railway fits the comfy synth genre though I feel comfy synth is more of a mindset as the theme for Scenic Railway is the yesteryear of rail travel and the subsequent falling sleeping in its plush chairs.
One would think this Maiden Hair release would be something along the lines of traditional dungeon synth what with the cover and the grim looking Bandcamp page. One would not expect wild Yamaha PSS-270 sounds to assail them from vintage treetops. Maiden Hair for all its subterfuge is a near irreverent composer more along the lines of countryside prankster who dedicated each releases, and subsequent style, to whatever instrument they choose for composition. Earlier this year the demo MMXX was based around the quiet and mournful sounds of the the Daewoo EX-Z Plus Digital piano. All of this esoteric gear discussion may sound odd but at the core of each these records is a love for equipment and the wild and flagrant experimentation that comes with it. Maiden Hair is not bound to any sound nor to this realm of existence as the composer could be some otherworldly entity sent to this world to confuse and entertain.