Warm Smial – Carols for the Hearth in Winter [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Wrought Records | 12-11-20

I am writing this on December 29th which is still in the afterglow of the holidays but not underneath its oppression. I think as the years goes by, comfy synth is going to be more pronounced at the end of the year just for its ability to evoke warm emotions and a paralyzing sense of sentimentality. Wrought Records has always done fun things for the holidays in addition to being a consistent producer of fantastic releases since 2019. Aside from the dark ambient to lo fi fantasy releases, fun themed releases like Witch Haunt and Reliquary of Terror would dot the Halloween season. Warm Smial’s second release, Carols for the Hearth in Winter, comes during the end of the year holidays and is perfect for a crackling fire and steeping tea. While comfy synth can feel sugary and disposable, Warm Smial, as well as Wrought Records, manages to command attention and respect with releases that warm the minds and heart so listeners. This type of music is going to be an annual tradition from this moment forward.

Warm Smial’s debut was in March of 2020 which came at the tail end of the comfy synth boom in December of 2019.

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.

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.

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.

Funerary Decent – Tombreach [US, Black / Doom] (2020)

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Self Released | 11-28-20

It has been a little bit since I reviewed something that was not dungeon synth but I feel the return to something heavier is fitting that it is so gloomy. Tombreach, the first demo since 2016, marks the return of the Maryland based two piece in a time of great uncertainty and dread. “Unprofessionally recorded, rife with mistakes and experimental notes straight from our malignant dwelling to yours. A small respite from the horrid plague-ridden reality that has veiled the globe. Mourn with us and enjoy.” I can not think of a better demo to break the quasi silence form this band than a demo full of lingering sadness and tolling grief. Through its 24 minutes, Funerary Descent showcases a mastery over negative emotions with a demo that is far above the quality purported in the Bandcamp description. Tombreach is a dazzling demo that has the ability to astound and drown in the murk and mire.

Fog Castle/Foglord/Fogweaver – In the Kingdom of Fog [US, Dungeon Synth]

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Self Released 11-1-20

Yes, I will admit I chuckled a little at the combination of all of these artists. The split between three Fog based dungeon synth artists all from the United States under a split also about Fog lends itself to humorous overlap between aesthetics. I would be laughing more if not for the fact that one artist on this split already has one of the best releases this year and the other is a veteran in the dungeon synth scene. What seems like a jokey team up of the fog superheroes is really one of the most immersive splits this year with three capable and competent dungeon synth musicians that have dedicated themselves tot he hazy atmosphere of middle grey. From the supernatural sounds of Fog Castle to the eerily drone of Foglord and the the mystical twilight of Fogweaver, the combination of all three of these artists leads less to a novelty split and more of fate driven pact of artists crafting their own universe of haze.

Morgued – Demo [US, Death] (2020)

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Self Released | 11-2-20

This demo is really only a little over 7 minutes though I feel it is just long enough to make its point. Morgued is dedicated to the splatter sounds of old death metal and while that isn’t new territory for a lot of bands, this Boston based two piece comes with the trajectory of a right cross and what the band lacks in length, they make up for in ferocity. This debut demo is dedicated to the scrawled sketches of violent sci fi which aside from being adorned with clips from Starship Troopers, oozes a reverence to gritty futurism that is most likely filled with aliens.

Nameless King – Downfall Of Drangleic [US, Dungeon Synth] (2020)

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Gondolin Records | 10-27-20

Downfall of Drangleic comes in a group of four new releases from Gondolin Records. I have talked before and even expressed my undying loyalty to a label that not only showcases quality artists but frames each releases with visual cohesion. I know what a Gondolin Record release looks like as I know what a Realm of Sleep record looks like. A visual aesthetic is something I adore as I feel these releases are apart of a family and Nameless King steps out to not only be a strong release from Gondolin records but one of the better releases this year. Mournful yet airy, Downfall of Drangleic carries the burden of a thousand years of grief in a haunting record that is polarized in its emotions. I want to feel relaxed butthere is this lingering sandess which greys out the world around me.