Tag Archives: dungeon synth

Underground Sounds: Varkâna – Rite

Label: Independent
Band: Varkâna
Origin: Iran

Dungeon synth is a peculiar genre and is being made in strange places. One of the acts I came across recently is Varkâna. The inspiration for their sound comes from Iranian paganism and history, which obviously offers a wealth of inspiration for any artist seeking topics to work with. Varkâna is the old Persian word for a region south-east of the Caspian sea, now known as Hyrcania. A region now partly in Iran and partly in Turkmenistan, which was incorporated in various historical empires.
So, because I was really curious I got in touch with the artist behind the project and I’ll share the reply the way I received it: “It’s based on Iranian mythology and nature. I composed all the tracks when I was away from the city and deep into the vast lands and forests of northwestern Iran, the name varkana means land of wolves which is a part of Iran it’s called Gorgan now which means the same.”
The music of Varkâna summons images of the tranquil beauty that this verdant realm in Iran is. It’s vast forests and radiant green colors. Of course, a few pictures that I could browse don’t cover the full extent of the region, but it links you to the visions that inspired the artist. Mellow drones and calm, thudding drums bring on a trance-like feel. Intricate melodies weave through this flow of sound. There’s an aspect of dungeon synth present in that the music seems to be produced with the traditional software. The music is slightly different though. If only simply in the atmosphere that the sounds and patterns evoke.
On ‘Gathering’ I feel I can actually hear the oriental vibe. It’s the way the heavy reverb of the drum is followed by the cascading music, the little tang right after and the way it fills you with a sense of foreboding.  It’s where you really realize that this is a different place when you stumble upon ancient ruins and imagine the sounds of those past places, obscured in the mists and fog of history.  Mellow folk influences dance through the tunes, which really work the imagination.
There’s a serenity in the music of Varkâna, a peaceful spaciousness. Dream away with forgotten histories and far of lands with this piece of remarkable ambient music.

Underground Sounds: Bròn – Зарђала Круна/White City, Black Circle/Ruins/Where The Leaden Dawn Meets Iron Shores

Label: Kunsthauch/Independent
Band: Bròn
Origin: New Zealand

The project Bròn originally released an album with a very natural vibe to it. It had the eerie magic of the night sky over the mountains as depicted on the cover of ‘Ànrach’ and I absolutely loved it. I wrote a little about previous release ‘Fògradh’ too.  Bròn is the project of Krigeist, or Andrew Campbell, from New Zealand. Campbell relocated to Scotland and there’s a definite connection between that move and the sound of Bròn it seems. He also plays in the amazing Barshasketh and Belliciste.

I missed the fact that Bròn had become a prolific outlet for the musician in the past year, so high time to catch up with the astonishing 4 releases of last year. I was reminded of this, because of the live show I saw in Little Devil recently. All exploring new aspects of nature and different sounds that express that passion and beauty found there. So this is 4 reviews of one artist. Never do words like this do justice to the full force of these albums, but I feel that I need to cover all for completion.

Bròn – Зарђала Круна

January 2017 saw the release of this record, which sticks close to the familiar Bròn sound with a lot of soaring guitars and tremolo riffs. The inspiration comes from the devil in nature, that is the only info given. The choice for a Cyrillic font does say more than that though. A later notification on Facebook said that it was inspired by the Serbian wilderness and the darkness within. There’s a definite darkness to the Balkan forests that is caught in the looming, dark sound of this new EP. The untarnished sky above it at night, the shades of the trees.

The record is a multi-part atmospheric black metal piece, with a definite Burzum doom and gloom vibe to it and the grandeur of an Elderwind.  The crisp clear production sometimes borders on overly polished but keeps on the right side of the track in all its overwhelming force. At other times it has the gentle trickling of an empty forest, where all you hear is the gentle sounds of the natural world around you. Pure magic and all of that in one long piece of over 32 minutes. Unfortunately, it’ll be the last black metal release, thus wrote Krigeist. His newer soundtracks take on different shapes.

Bròn – White City, Black Circle

Living in an urban environment requires a different soundtrack, wrote Krigeist on Facebook. He explained the sound of ‘Зарђала Круна’ while introducing this new release. The organic sound of the previous releases is vastly more fitting for the verdant realm indeed. The album signifies a radical turn in sound for Bròn. With a groove that is more triphop we enter the realm of tarmac and concrete, with lamp posts illuminating the grey jungle around you. Meandering between the aforementioned, synthwave and maybe a little dungeon synth, the sound is peculiar but fitting.

The titles are in Croation, referring to central themes revolving around that of Bròn (sorrow). It offers songs of those dark, nameless places we dwell in. Whether that’s a city in Croatia, Norway, Scotland or I wager even in New Zealand, there’s a sort of nameless grief there. The mixture of beats and ambient drones conveys that feeling very well. I particularly enjoy the mixture of that with the synths, which is always the sound of the urban environment. Towards the end of the record, the music is lighter, warmer as if the sun has broken through the smoggy haze. We leave the city here to the free part of the world.

Bròn – Ruins

On Ruins we find the same instrumentation, but a more Ulver or even folkish vibe at times with spun out tones and long passages of melancholic music. The music is calm and soothing and does, like the title tells you, remind of the tranquility you find in between forgotten ruins. That is also what the song titles refer to, to various locations of ancient ruins in corners of Europe, places that make you think and imagine. The vocals are gentle as well, almost chanting in a meditative way. The record even includes a folk cover ‘Twa Corbies’ from Scottish lore.

The sound has a clarity to it, everything is wavering and calm like an easy breeze. It’s almost like listening to an acoustic performance with various musicians, all delivering the minimal bits of sounds that make out the complete tapestry.For me, this might be the most beautiful album that Bròn has created this far. The music is so intricate, without ever sounding difficult or overly contrived. It’s a natural expression of the feeling in easy flowing, but still heavy music. After this record, Krigeist announced a hiatus for Bròn. That was definitely not meant to last after this june 2017 release.

Bròn – Where The Leaden Dawn Meets Iron Shores

A trip back to New Zealand was the impulse that Bròn needed. Krigeist was revitalized and inspired to make music again under that banner and three tracks expressing the untapped dark energies that dwell in New Zealand’s wild places. There is definite darkness on this album, which almost faded on ‘Ruins’. A long murmured intro with foreboding synths leads us into this new record. Eerie synths slither out of the speakers, while a creepy, scifi tune is played on the keys in the most bombastic tones.

But then there’s also the guitars and the screams. It would appear that Bròn comes full circle here and finds a sound that truly embraces the atmospheric output that Krigeist is looking for. The melancholy of the synths, combined with the harsh, ruggedness of the guitars. The ragged fury of the vocals, like that furious sea wind biting at you, while ver in motion on the waters. Three tracks tell the story that is both beautiful and grim at the same time. I guess it makes sense what Kant once said on the sublime in art, which really goes for nature. It’s overwhelming force can overwhelm us with awe and wonder in a sense. This is well conveyed in this piece of music by Bròn, which I really enjoy.

Let’s see what the future holds for this explorer in both the geographic and artistic realms.

Underground Sounds: ElixiR – Les Tours du Temps

Label: Murder on Ponce (though this appears self-released)
Band: ElixiR
Origin: France

I’m not certain about the release date of this album. It’s good though, so check it out. 

To the forests and hills with ElixiR

Dungeon Synth becomes really special if you listen to some true story tellers like ElixiR. ‘Les Tours du Temps’ is a re-recording of the music on the earlier ‘Moonlight on Black Castle’ and ‘The Mage of the Bright Forest’ EPs. It’s really slow, melancholic dungeon synth but with a natural feel to the sound compared to the original releases.

ElixiR formed in 2015 in the French Dordogne Valley. Thomas Elixir creates the music and is the one behind the project. He holds a fascination by medieval legends and fantasy universes. He takes a lot of inspiration from the ancient ruins and landscape of Aquitaine. The cover already tells you as much. Other inspirations are acts like Burzum and Erang for the French musician.

The music of ElixiR is clearly meant to be enjoyed at peace since it passes with barely any strain or force. It just trickles by in the way you let the pages of a good fantasy book flow by, entranced by what you’re experiencing. The sounds are gentle and paint images of simple, clean lands. Of nature and all its detailed splendor. The motto of ElixiR is not without reason ‘Nothing is Sacred, Only Nature’ (the next release ElixiR is planning).

Thomas paints in different colours and lets the tones really fade out to create a full, warm sound. A tune like ‘La Lisière’ is a good demonstration of that art, of the flowing notes that come close to a pan flute. It often has a bit of that Peruvian flute feeling, the tranquility and calm of a world free of human beings. Even more so on ‘A Quiet House in the Wood’ it seems that this is a very personal Walden. Though the music sounds as in minor tones, sadness doesn’t describe the sound. When the notes hit a feeling of peace wafts over you.  This is a very enjoyable dungeon synth release and though I still find it hard to describe this sort of music, it is much like reading long, descriptive pieces of fantastic lands and the beautiful landscapes you’ve never seen. ElixiR gives a glow to the story telling.

A reminder that there’s still magic in the world.

 

Underground Sounds: Menelglîr – Menelglîr

Label: Independent
Band: Menelglîr
Origin: France

I’m not sure how I picked up this record, perhaps through a dungeon synth group on Facebook. Menelglîr is a band from France… or like with most dungeon synth groups, it’s a one-man endeavor by Alderaan (the force is strong in this one) from the band Nazrak. This artist plays keys and sings in the black metal formation.

The act hails from the French Savoie. That’s about as much as I can tell you at this point. Nazrak seems to hold folklore close to their black metal, which is probably an element you can experience in this music as well by their keyboard player. It definitely has an otherworldly feeling to it when you hear it.

The sound of Menelglîr is big. Flowing, regal synth sounds make it feel like you approach amazing castles. Your eyes filled with awe, you look upon a world of grandeur and magic. The electronic chants remind me a little of the old Final Fantasy soundtracks as well. The simple way in which the sound of epic proportions is created is what makes this artist so attractive to me.

The music progresses slowly, gradually building up and then with big lumps comes at you. When the big, droning sounds pass, you get the gentle, trickling keys that ever so gently whisper of fantastic realms and magnificent nature. I particularly like how the sound is quite minimal on this record. There are not that many different layers to the music, it offers a very direct and effective delivery of sounds, which makes it so easily accessible. The downside of this record is that it’s really not very long. So I’m keen to hear the full thing.

Underground Sounds: Emyn Muil – Elenion Ancalima

Label: Northern Silence Productions
Band: Emyn Muil
Origin: Italy

Dreaming of Tolkien

Some people take their Tokien fandom to extreme lengths. Emyn Muil from Cassano delle Murge is one of those bands.  The band is an epic black metal project of Saverio Giove (Valtyr, Ymir). As you probably guessed, the sound is very close to the masters of this sort of music Summoning. This is the second full length by the Italian artist and it is a grandiose spectacle indeed.

It took four years after ‘Túrin Turambar Dagnir Glaurunga’ for ‘Elenion Ancalima’ to manifest itself. The album theme is accordingly a particular section of the Silmarillion book, titled Akallabeth. Sometimes the story is published in Lord of the Rings books. The story tells of the lost land of Númenor, a Tolkienesque version of the Atlantis myth.

The lyrics seem to come straight from that piece of literature and the music really is Summoning worship at its best. Finding a spot somewhere between black metal and dungeon synth, Emyn Muil is a dreamy, intoxicating experience that easily entices its listeners to travel to strange lands. The right mixture of eerie synths (including pipes and flutes), bombastic drums and proclaiming spoken word, immediately takes you in on ‘Under A Silvered Star’. The black metal part is really restricted to a few passages, like on ‘The Lay of Númenorë’. In fact, the synths really take the upper hand in this 14-minute epic and the guitars only serve to give a bit of menacing tang to the song. Therefore it’s actually quite easy listening.

The record is more a strange soundtrack with storytelling. Listening to ‘Ar-Pharazôn’, it feels like you’re watching a grandiose spectacle in your mind. An element of remorse seeps into the sound, it’s the grandeur of ruin that is described in this song. The hubris of Icarus, of a King that wanted too much. This is the absolute magic that Emyn Muil evokes with this music, without ever overdoing it. Emyn Muil either moves you, or it bores you I suppose. You probably feel equally passionate about Dungeon synth in that case or similarly disinterested. In all honesty, I think that Emyn Muil is a beautiful project, particularly for the fans of fantasy and film. Providing that you are one of those, this is the record for you.

Underground Sounds: Fief – II

Label: –
Band: Fief
Origin: United States

Dungeon synth is a genre with a spectacular variety, but sometimes you find true gems that stand apart even it this genre. Fief dropped two records in 2016, which both are completely out of this world. For lovers of fantasy and dreamy realms, this is the right soundtrack.

Whether you’re a dungeon crawling role player or an obsessive high fantasy reader or even an oldschool gamer, this should fit right in there. The simple, synthy sounds are playful, merry and have the natural feeling of a soundtrack. Oh, a bit of history. A fief used to be the word for the reward vassals would reap from serving their lord. It could com ein the shape of land or peasants. The fiefdom would be the vassals realm.

So that explains why this sounds so much like medieval music. You picture yourself on a sunny day in the village or the forest, with bright, twinkly sounds. A harpsichord is ever present in there and it just feels so close to a folky ensemble playing a jam, that it becomes so tangible. The charm is that it is still different, not natural, which is the feeling I get in my D&D games. There’s a construction taking place, of cold, ancient walls, overgrown ruins and peaceful cottages.

For Fief the playground is not the dungeon and the looming threat, it’s the blissful spring in the village. The sound is well composed and balanced, not just a guy jamming on a keyboard. It seems that the force behind Fief knows his music and manages to create tunes that keep you listening, while holding to the continuity of soundtracks (for example, I tink of the old Lord of the Rings RPG on the SNES or the Zelda games).

Fief makes colorful, lively music that I completely adore. Check it out for yourself! (also listen to I) it’s pretty too. For Fief there are no dungeon walls, just the sunny forest.

 

 

 

Dungeon Sounds: Old Tower, Thangorodrim, Elves & Dwarves

I’ve been astonished at the range of good, black metal inspired dungeon synth releases coming out in the last months. So here’s a summary of some really cool ones!

Old Tower – The Rise of the Specter

Label: Tour De Garde, The Shadow Kingdom
Band: Old Tower
Origin: Netherlands

Source: Old Tower bandcamp

Though Old Tower has released a steady stream of interesting releases over time, this is the first one considered a full length. The sound of this act harks back to the early days of the genre and fully embraces the epic, crawling nature of the dungeon. There’s also definitely something aethereal to the stretched out synth tones and the beckoning of the angelic chanting. Something  very alluring I would say, that makes it often feel more like dark ruins in the night, with some heavenly, seductive apparition. Something divine and calm you find in the music, which is very pleasant.

The slow progressing sound of Old Tower has exactly that right spot covered. It’s haunting, slow progression, the dark artwork somewhere between fantasy and occult grimoire. I just love it. Immerse yourself in there where the shadows are with this traditional release.

Thangorodrim – Taur​-​nu​-​Fuin

Label: Out of Season, Deivlforst Records
Band: Thangorodrim
Origin: USA

source: Thangorodrim bandcamp

Where Old Forest invokes the early days of the genre with it’s obvious Tolkien reference in both the name and album title. Thangorodrim even has a bit of a black metal cover going on for this release, with a single person in black and white, framed by a black with the name in Gothic font. The sound feels like it was made for abandoned castle halls, enclosed graveyards and dark crypts. The melancholic vibe tells of hubris in a once great keep. A fortress where only bones bare witness to past glories and the churning wheels of time.The chiming sound of bells can be heard on ‘Twilit Fogs on Tarn Aeluin’, which makes it feel a bit more small and intimate than the bass heavy synths on most of the tracks. Soon they’re coming in here too, but it offers a nice contrast from the foreboding, heavy sound that adorns the major part of the Thangorodrim sound.

Dark and dry, but always with a story in tow, this is definitely a record that should be obliged for anyone exploring this genre by themselves. Not just because it is mildly creepy, but because it’s a great piece of music.

Elves & Dwarves – Eidetic Dreams of Sentient Trees

Label: Self Released
Band: Elves & Dwarves
Origin: USA

source: bandcamp

The sound of dungeon synth has become more rich and diverse through the years. Adding ambient sounds like knocking, walking or such simple elements greatly increases the form of story telling the music embraces. As a listener you envision the footsteps in the ages old dust, the beating on the walls and other elements that make up the story.  Elves & Dwarves balance this with  folky passages and eerie soundscapes as the sound meanders on and on. It creates a record that is more rich and diverse in its sonic offerings. From a playful intermission like the ‘Silent Innkeeper’ to the descriptive, D&D campaign fitting ‘Ambush at Orcshead Rock’, the record really tekads the listener to places.

What is different is the general depth of the sound of Elves & Dwarves. The play with droning sounds and soaring effects on ‘Celestial Passage’ moves away from the cavernous, dry sound usually found in the dungeon synth genre. It creates a more  elaborate setting of forests and faery-illuminated lakes. The way the artist creates a story without ever being on the foreground of the whole scenery is pretty impressive and spectacular in itself. Evles & Dwarves play the soundtrack to your next campaign!