Synth, wave and blackgaze from Iran you should hear about

Seena Arya is a musician from the unlikely location of Iran and specializes in otherworldly synth sounds. His various projects include Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family, Vanelikt, Driftwood, and Beam Keeper. All this is part of the Ardawahisht collective.

He has been kind enough to keep me up to date on his work, which has fascinated me from the start. It’s therefore important to share this and give you a little idea of what awaits you in the crypts. Or in the discotheque… or the forest? As it seems that Seena is working on all fronts to expand the reach of his musical vocabulary to express the harrowing silence and sadness of the world.

You gotta love that.
Header image from Varkâna Facebook page. 

Beam Keeper – Volume 1

Label: self-released
Beam Keeper is pure synthwave, but clearly steeped in the slow trod of dungeon synth where it originates in. If you imagine a dungeon synth project based on ‘The Neverending Story’ or another eighties-vibe movie (I know it’s a book first, I read it), this would be it. Slow, sonorous synths weave through the air, the beats come dully, indicating a slow pace and the vibe is more Blade Runner than happy Goonies. It’s dreamy, captivating and perhaps a bit too strangely droning to completely take you elsewhere and isolate you from your surroundings. For me, it is a perfect record to listen to at any time when I need to close myself into this pristine world that Beam Keeper creates. The throbbing bass lines of ‘Palm Trees Dream’. Please, if you dig synthwave, check this record out. You will not regret it.

Varkâna – Ahrimanic Chambers

Label: self-released
Ahriman is the entity embodied with destructive force in Zoroastrianism, and therefore a great topic for a dark, cavernous dungeon synth record, so that’s exactly how Varkâna follows up ‘Rite’ with ‘Ahrimanic Chambers’. The oppressing, grinding synths have a bit of that Burzum vibe, though that may be the dry tom sound that pops up. Slow drones, and that feeling of disturbing the dust in ancient crypts hardly touched by the sun. But these crypts are different, more ancient and unfamiliar to you and speak of an even older myth. Slowly, with a tinge of the oriental hidden in its notes, it sucks you further in, further down the dark tunnels with strange glyphs and carvings, unto the underworld. Varkâna provides a specific atmosphere, which is particularly captivating thanks to the vastness of the sound. It’s dark, without immediate threat, but always something is lurking, something older…

Sun Addicted Family – Solar Dreams

Label: self-releasedSun Addicted Family
It would be easy to start referring to Deafheaven here, but sonically Sun Addicted Family is far removed from the driven, grandiose sound of the vilified post-black act, yet there’s obviously a thematic connection somehow. This project relies on heavy sonic tapestries and keys to provide a sort of story anchorage throughout. The screamed vocals are intense within the frame of this blackgaze experience. It’s strange to have these sonic flares, chip tuney beats and mash it with that intensity. But that, to me, is exactly what makes Sun Addicted Family so enthralling, it’s otherworldliness, it’s weirdness in a way, blending synth-wave sentiment with black metal intensity and atmospheric black metal emotion. I mean, reading that sentence alone, how would you say that in a way that explains what you’re about to listen to. You should, by the way, do so. Listen to it and immerse yourself in irradiate sunlight, soak in solar dreams and drown in the astral driftways. Blissful forgetting, white light, white heat.

Varkâna – Cosmic Terror

Label: self-released

And here my own slow pace has caught up with me because Varkâna has released a new gem inspired by none other than the great H.P. Lovecraft himself. ‘Cosmic Terror’ is a much similar release, with the creeping, meandering synths taking the listener down aeon-old pathways, basking in the gloom of Eldritch things. Obviously, there’s a connection to the Ahrimanic Chambers record released before, both speak of unspeakable entities that dwell in the dark recesses of our minds. I do feel though, that this album clears up come of the eastern elements in the composition, but this may also just be my perception. More ritualistic even, it expands the realms of Dungeon Synth into more obscure territories, where a haze emerges as the sand and air hit. Nothing is certain, nothing is absolute when elder gods dance in madness in the maelstrom. From the malign and dreamy ‘Space Lord’, to the creeping madness that is ‘Nyarlathotep’. It’s full of foreboding of threat and terror.

From The Bowels of the Dutch Black Metal Scene II

So much darkness in the underground of our welfare state called the Netherlands, that I just have to keep going and share it. This time, the furious harpies of Asagraum, the gloom and doom of Dodenbezweerder, the aerial soundscapes of Nortfalke and the icy hailstorm that is Asgrauw.

Please, enjoy, listen and perhaps purchase some of these tunes.

Asagraum – Dawn of Infinite Fire

Asagraum
Edged Circle Productions

It doesn’t take long to stumble upon the combination of the name Asagraum and ‘all-female black metal’. It is an oddity in black metal for sure, but I can’t say it makes a difference in the sound. Perhaps in the pitch of the vitriolic screams of Obscura, also active in Draugur, Wolvenbloed, Gestalte, and Hekel (both live). She also played in Nargaroth live, which is cool. She runs the ship with A. who used to beat the drums in Sisters of Suffocation. Originally, it was a cross-continental band with T. Kolsvart on drums, and a number of international musicians involved, but now the core is Dutch. Jeez, what an intro, did I mention that they play some sick black metal in the traditional way we love and relish?

Asagraum can sound harsh and unrelenting, as they do on most of their songs. There is, however, a melodic streak in their sound. The excellent production (no necro stuff here) helps to let that musical side open up when you listen to it. Particularly the track ‘Guahaihoque’ does a great job at dragging you in with its sweeping flourishes. It’s really good stuff to take your mind off things, but we return to fire and brimstone with songs like ‘Dochters van de Zwarte Vlam’. An energetic rhythm, ominous, and just that right speed-up moment when we surge into a new vocal bit. Personal favorite though is the final track that also features clean vocals. ‘Waar Ik Ben Komt De Dood’ (where I am, comes death) is a mid-paced burner, moving along a mist of distortion. The chanted words emerge from that same fog, difficult to hear at first in the haze, but on the other hand clear within the production. This is a great black metal record, full of fire and fury. You might want to check it out.

Dodenbezweerder – Vrees De Toorn Van De Wezens Verscholen Achter Majestueuze VleugelsDodenbezweerder

Iron Bonehead Productions

I am in no way surprised to find the name Mories connected to this project. The brain behind Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, Cloak of Altering, Capuut Mortem, and a hundred other bands never sits still. Santino van der Aa plays drums, which he also does in dsbm legends Hypothermia. Dodenbezweerder was launched in 2019 and the full length is listed as released in 2020. You just know it’s going to be good, but somehow this has remained under the radar up to this point for me. Might be because the releases followed each other at a rapid pace. The artwork already shows an artistic inclination to the classic black and white, so I expect a sound like that.

Which is an expectation soon to be fulfilled with atmospheric, lo-fi, distorted darkness. The title track is all hissing, crackling, and has that good old necro sound to it, but Dodenbezweerder never goes into screeching overdrive, but calls up a fog of distortion, that clouds a massive sound of slow, lumbering movement. The tracks are full of anticipation, foreboding of a lurking presence. From the fog, the vocals arise in gurgling, gibbering tones, as a ghoulish reminder that there is something coming at you. Shimmering comes to mind when you listen to ‘Glimmende Zwaarden Door De Mist Van Het Evangelie’, minimal yet, maximal impact. Spartan is a word the band uses in their bio and that makes sense as a duo, yet the wall of sound Dodenbezweerder unleashes is not to be trifled with. You want to hear this.

Nortfalke – Atmosfeer

Heidens Hart RecordsNortfalke

Is it dungeon synth? Not entirely, but there is something of that vibe in the Krautrock leaning sound of Nortfalke, which reminds you a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream with its spun-out, soaring electronics. Nortfalke is an alias of Swerc, who is known from bands like Tarnkappe, Gheestenland, Asregen and a dozen other fascinating projects. This one, however, explores the cryptic mysteries of dungeon synth with a classic approach that never fails. It’s the sort of sound that immerses you in mystery and dreams, particularly this thematic album, titled ‘Atmosfeer’ (Atmosphere).

Repetition is one of the key tools for dungeon synth acts. It has a meditative and hypnotic effect on the listener as it all sort of starts to melt together into one flow. We don’t descend into crypts though, but ascend to the clouds and explore the beauty of the heights on ‘Hoogten’. I particularly enjoy the krautrock vibe on ‘IJskristallen’, which translates as ‘ice crystals’. The looped keys resonate like he pristine, crackling of ice that would surround you in the upper atmosphere (that’s pure speculation, but the shimmering sound matches my imagination). And this is the true strength of Nortfalke, it catches the atmospheric elements it describes. The sensations, the perspectives, they’re all there within the sound. And then we fall into the depth on ‘Diepte’. It’s notable that the sound is more organic, natural, thanks to the use of actual synthesizers. The result is quite remarkable.

Asgrauw – IJsval

Death Kult Records/Pest Productions

I’ve commented before on the peculiar artwork of Asgrauw, but I have to admit that it does kind of grow on you. ‘IJsval’ is the fourth full length by the band from Groesbeek (the bad end of Nijmegen I’ve been told). Keeping a steady pace of dropping a record every 2 years, the band is on a roll. Members of Asgrauw are also active in Meslamtea. And that’s great stuff and only offers more promises for their latest release, that seems fitting in these times.

Asgrauw relies heavily on the tremolo guitar sounds, the trickling, cold melodic elements and double vocals. Not entirely uncommon, but in their synth-heavy sound more than welcome to offer depth and complexity to the sound. ‘Leegte’ instantly delivers, creating a lot of space to breathe and just wallow in the sound with melodic breaks. But there’s also violence and cascading, icy riffs that flow with a thundering roar. ‘Stortvloed’ is one of those tracks, that just keeps going. What I like so much about this record, is that the title just permeates every single track. ‘Ijsval’ translates as ‘ice fall’, and that cold hits you every tune again. Sure, a little warmth seeps in with that Iron Maiden-esque bass line in ‘Broeihaard’, but it’s back into the cold again a moment later. Asgrauw is like a bike ride through icy rain in late autumn. Dutch people know what I’m talking about.