Midnight Syndicate – Dungeons & Dragons [US, Neoclassical Darkwave] (2003)

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Entity Productions | 9-11-03

The history of Midnight Syndicate and the resulting official licensed soundtrack to the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons is long and dense and utterly fascinating. Midnight Syndicate is an act which was designed to provide cinematic background music for thematic activities such as haunted houses, games, and other festivities. Midnight Syndicate was production music operating entirely as an independent group of enthusiastic composers. they were also shockingly successful with their music being used at theme parks around the world and heavy metal bands like King Diamond using their music as introduction themes for their tours. In 2003 at role playing game convention, the group was approached by Dungeons and Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast to create a soundtrack to the game which was just releasing its updated third edition otherwise known as 3.5. the resulting record was Dungeons & Dragons, an official soundtrack to the popular role playing game.

I recount the history of Midnight Syndicate, and also point to the related act Nox Arcana, as an example of dungeon synth’s history before it was known as dungeon synth. Midnight Syndicate is tagged as neoclassical darkwave which is a related genre made famous by the act Dead Can Dance and Into The Nursery which combined ethereal, darkwave, and early classical music, into a style of gothic medieval music. Midnight Syndicate took this idea and made it more commercial and cinematic and while that sounds like an artistic slight, the music for Midnight syndicate became something else. Instead of intellectual pondering, the music for Midnight Syndicate became a theme park rides which urged the listener to climb inside and enjoy a ride through haunted and glowing rides. Dungeons and Dragons is over an hour of adventurous music which steps away from the grim and dark tones of past projects. Both song title and music offer the participant a magical world filled with danger, magic, and wonder.

Having a soundtrack to Dungeons and Dragons, within the realm of what we now call dungeon synth is not that novel. Fan tributes to games in 2022 feels like something many composers would gravitate towards. Midnight Syndicate’s history and paperwork as being an official soundtrack to a roleplaying game gives endless intrigue around this release which more interesting than if just a fan tribute. Not only does it show the caliber of professionalism pressed by the act but also the history of Wizards when it was still in its infancy after acquiring the licenses from TSR former publishers of Dungeons and Dragons. Midnight Syndicate is not obscure in the field of dungeon synth, yet I feel their connection to musical escapism and as a strong foundation between the music of the 90s dungeon synth scene and what would eventually become the revival can never be more underlined.

Collapsed Skull – Eternity Maze [US, Punk / Hardcore] (2022)

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This is the type of kickstart I need everyday. All I need is coffee and a swift kick to the jaw. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this release is the non sequitur samples that are thrown in to segment the power violence which spills out of its speakers. Collapsed Skull has a good handle on harsh music but also the ability to mesh disparate styles together in some sort of horrid quilt. Both Collapsed Skull and the label Closed Casket Activities seems to be on the same page of presenting hardcore / punk / ??? in the most antisocial and dangerous way possible which is both scary and exciting.

SENTENCED 2 DIE – NO REASON TO LIVE [US, Death] (2022)

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Maggot Stomp Record | 5-18-22

I feel whenever I go to Maggot Stomp, they are going to have a specific sound. Usually when I go to Maggot Stomp, I know I am going to be generally pleased and possibly amazed by most of the things they have to offer. Sentenced 2 Die might have the funniest / odd way of presenting their name but this is part and parcel to a lack of care they have for their image. Yes, their name is kinda cheesy and yes their EP title leaves much to imagination and technically yes, their debut came out in November of 2021, but all of this can be forgotten since the presence of disgusting riffs which doesn’t give a fuck what you think. SENTENCED 2 DIE is being repackaged with different art on a larger label and hopefully all of this spectacle brings in more people as the sound of NO REASON TO LIVE is nothing but a party in a basement where no one cares about anything except for grooving decay.

Contortion – Lapidation of the Synod [US, Death] (2022)

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Self Released | 1-1-22

Contortion and my cat at 5AM have one thing in common: they start with a minute of screaming. Lapidation of the Synod (Wiktionary tells me the first word means “the act of stoning”) is a two-track demo (three if you count the screaming… you should) of deep, deep pummeling death metal. Hey, it’s the first time I’ve used the word “pummeling” to describe a death metal demo this year. Anyway, this demo’s most interesting feature is the vocals, which are more like five-to-seven-second ejections of guttural promise. This is equal parts muttermouth and motormouth, with the vocalist spitting rapid-fire sentiments of fear and hate in between bass-heavy guitar crunches and halfway skanky kick-snare tempos. Like last year’s Exanguinated demo, my main gripe is that I want more.

Lapidation of the Synod by Contortion

Rose Cross – Rosicrucian Song [US, Raw Black] (2022)

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Self Released | 1-17-22

Pull out your copies of Foucault’s Pendulum. Rose Cross is a raw black metal-cum-punk band from Florida that plays three tracks exploring the arcane. In contrast to the more rapid-fire black / punk of bands like Bone Awl or Raspberry Bulbs, Rose Cross is a bit more mid-tempo. “Ceremonies for Ancient Knowledge” is nearly ritualistic, and “Madathanus” could be described as plodding. But that doesn’t mean to imply boredom; check this out for some of that dirty raw black and punk rock sound that just might have strong feelings about prime numbers. The Templars do not hold a stake in Tape Wyrm.

Rosicrucian Song by Rose Cross

Dripping Decay – Watching You Rot [US, Death] (2021)

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Self Released | 12-31-21

Never discount the end of the year. It’s tempting to call it quits in mid-November, but there’s always something that could come out day-of that shakes it up. Dripping Decay is from Portland, OR – a region that’s developed one hell of a death metal pedigree these last few years. The Watching You Rot demo is seven tracks of rolling and ripping death metal with a significant grind aesthetic and intense barked growls. Torture Rack’s also from Portland, and I had to check if they had members in Dripping Decay given how both bands excel in writing short death metal songs that aren’t always entirely deathgrind. Short and sweet but oh so sweet, like putrid maggots. The half-chug breakdown midway through “Sadistic Excruciator” is the highlight.

Watching You Rot by Dripping Decay

Deliriant Nerve – Uncontrollable Ascension [US, Grind] (2021)

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Self Released | 2-1-22

In December 2021, I saw my first show since COVID-19 at Comet Ping Pong in north Washington, DC. Though I went for Caveman Cult, I left with a hell of an impression from a combative grindcore band named Deliriant Nerve. Birthed from the region’s incredibly strong extreme metal and punk scenes, Deliriant Nerve is a true fusion of both genres. Their debut Uncontrollable Ascension is an EP in the way only grindcore can do: nine tracks, 12 minutes, all fury. There’s breakdowns galore and rhythmic order in chaos with excellent drumming that weaves in and out of its own grooves. The band even finds enough energy to put in a minute-long noise outro into which the deathiest track on the album fades into feedback. Tracks get almost mathy, but that’s what happens when you’re blitzing through lightning-fast chord and tempo changes… how do these guys find time to breathe? There’s no cramming ideas into tracks, they just happen to be that multifarious – Deliriant Nerve makes all forty-eight seconds of “Vice” into erupting controlled chaos with no sloppiness whatsoever. Special shout-out to the bass guitarist, who is wonderfully unafraid to assert himself and adds a distinct sense of groove on “Shrapnel Spiral” and “Mouth Full of Eyes”.

Uncontrollable Ascension by Deliriant Nerve

Blood Upon Thorns – The Sanguinarian Oath [US, Death] (2022)

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Self Released | 1-9-22

Here’s three tracks in eight-and-a-half minutes (great Dismemberment Plan song!) from Blood Upon Thorns, a one-man death metal act based out of Tennessee. Making up superlatives would be silly: this is no-frills, straightforward death metal that hits hard. With a slightly brutal death metal aesthetic in the percussive vocal delivery, Blood Upon Thorns produces exactly what it sets out to do. The drum programming is on target, with ending track “Daemoneum” having a great echoing snare. Not much to say, but that’s not a bad thing: those looking for a crude, vicious time will be more than happy with what’s here.

The Sanguinarian Oath by Blood Upon Thorns

Blood Ouroboros – Demo MMXXII [USA, Black / Death] (2022)

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Self Released | 2-14-22

This is one of the coolest demos I’ve heard in the last few years – and that superlative isn’t for its own sake. Blood Ouroboros put out their first equally-awesome demo in 2020, which captured the attention of not a few extreme metallers who like their guitar leads at that curious superposition of melody. Two years later, and we have another – the appropriately titled Demo MMXXII. This leads from the very start with pseudo-punky black / death rhythms and chugs that show remarkable songcraft abilities within this two-piece. The production has that ever so slight guitar crunch to it, which only adds to the wrung-out growls. It’s all full and fire – and full of fire. On their Bandcamp page, the band implores “any label” who wants to release on tape to get in touch with them. I can only hope that this write-up into the aether will help them with that goal. Besides, I want one.

Demo MMXXII by Blood Ouroboros

Pungent Shroud – Demo Collection [US, Black / Death] (2022)

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Weregnome Records | 2/25/22

This is funny since it feels like both of my worlds are closing in on each other. Weregnome Records is a dungeon synth label who fervently features outsider and weirdo synth records to the delight of everyone. Over the past few months, the label has been branching out showcasing a more diverse selection of strange. Pungent Shroud is an Ohio based black / death act which spawns from the local Ohioan underground. Demo Collection is a tape compilation of all existing demo material plus three additional tracks. Demo Collection in an introduction into the haphazard and often times hazardous world of Pungent Shroud who leans on the the aesthetic of eternal rot. Whether or not its extended guttural intonations, near collapsing production, or ripped sound clips from the film Blue Velvet, the style of Pungent Shroud is one of freedom from all social contracts. This is music of the feral which will attack you in the daylight and it is everything you need at the moment.