Lines In Wax

THIRTEEN YEARS OF UNWANTED OPINION

dungeon synth

Hole Dweller – Returns To Roost (2020)

I discovered Hole Dweller around the same time as that RuneScape.wav dungeon synth project and to be honest I often conflate the two, even though I’m clearly an idiot because they both have entirely different vibes! Granter, more ambitious and more involving than the cult classic Flies The Coop (which has now been re-recorded or something?), Returns To Roost is an interesting set of songs that are led by synth melodies that toe the line between wonder and melancholy. Beneath all of that however is a surprisingly busy set of drums, if these are programmed then bravo (also bravo if not I guess haha). Really cool stuff!

Burzum – Memories In The Mist (2024)

More Thulean Mysteries grade ambient piano work from Burzum. If not entirely original, it is at least hypnotic and spellbinding in the true ways that Burzum can invoke, which is more than I can say for a lot of the recent single releases. One thing to note however is the dreadfully low sound quality on the instrumentation here. His earlier synth / keyboard work sounded glorious – including the “post prison” synth albums – but from 2020’s double album onwards, the quality seems to have taken a nose dive. I don’t know if it is anything to do with the fact that none of this stuff is being mastered properly, but outside of the fact that the composition itself is interesting and enjoyable, the actual audio fidelity is terrible, like a squashed mp3 file.

Burzum – Winds of the Vanished Realm (2024)

It perhaps says a lot about the state of Burzum in 2024 if a near 15-minute long atmospheric piano piece has you thinking “hey, this isn’t half bad!”. What would usually be filler or an ambient piece to round things out has actually cemented itself as the most interesting thing to come from the project in 2024. This is mainly because of the stark difference between the work here and the other lacklustre black metal demos that Varg has been pumping on in anno domini 2024. Winds of the Vanished Realm reminds me of a more long-form attempt at what the project was doing with the various online-only single thats came in the years leading up to the Thulean Mysteries double album.

Calderum – Mystical Fortress Of Iberian Lands (2022)

Calderum’s Mystical Fortress Of Iberian Lands really took me by surprise. This thing goes hard! Combining melodies and hooks with ferocious blastbeats (the latter often becomes the focus of more “brutal” black metal) and balancing a “kvlt” sound with a clear and warm production, Calderum literally ticks all of my fucking boxes. Seriously, the drumming on this is absolutely fantastic; “Fortress Of Doom” will give you a good example as to why, with tons of inspired fills and variations, switch ups and cymbal flourishes that don’t overcrowd the song but instead contribute massively. The “dungeon synth” interludes are brilliant in their own right too, proper Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall energy going on here. Fucking class stuff.

Fief – V (2019)

Fief – V (2019)

Genuinely sounds more like something that you would hear at a renaissance fair than as the soundtrack to someone’s D&D campaign. The instrumentation is so beautiful and varied it would perhaps be too reductive to label this music solely as dungeon synth.

Goatmoon – Silver Serpent (2021)

Goatmoon – Silver Serpent (2021)

A thoroughly disappointing outing from the usually very excellent Goatmoon. I do not dislike Silver Serpent for its departure into dungeon synth, I dislike it because it is a poor effort. Even for the more atmospheric, dreamy end of the genre, where melody and I suppose songwriting are replaced by pure feeling and invocation of mood, Silver Serpent fails to provoke any sort of worthwhile conjuration. Instead, Silver Serpent can be relegated to “video game background music” at best, and an uninspired, pointless spin off at worst. I really don’t know what went wrong here. The (I assume) synthesizer and folk instrumentation elements are some of the most interesting parts of Goatmoon’s usual sound, an album focusing on these should have been outstanding. I don’t get it.

Burzum – Forgotten Realms (2015)

Burzum – Forgotten Realms (2015)

If you’ve seen any of Varg’s YouTube / BitChute / insert alternative video platform here / uploads then I do not doubt that you will be intimately familiar with this track. What first appears to be a guitar is I believe a well disguised VST instrument of some kind, but whatever it is, it leads “Forgotten Realms” memorable droning hook for 5 minutes or so. Also, isn’t “Forgotten Realms” a D&D campaign setting? You’re such a nerd, Varg. I love it.

Jim Kirkwood – Master Of Dragons (1991)

Jim Kirkwood – Master Of Dragons (1991)

One of my favourite pieces of “dungeon synth”. It, of course, pre-dates the formation of such a genre by a considerable margin, and perhaps owes more to the worlds of Berlin School or film sountracks than it does Mortiis and other dark dungeon dwelling maniacs. There is a purity to Kirkwood’s releases that keeps it out of the mystery fjords and onto the rolling hills, the battlefields, the craggy cliffs etc. of far-off fantasy lands. Speaking of Mortiis, I hear a lot of what he did towards the end of The Stargate here (it’s all in the drums, kids!). I’ve written quite a few Jim Kirkwood reviews now and it gets to the point where it can be difficult to say things about these records without repeating myself. Kirkwood is eerily consistent across several eras of musical production, and couple that with a slightly confusing habit of re-issueing old releases with new artwork, it can sometimes feel like you’ve already been here before.

Solanum – Spheres Of Time (1998)

Solanum – Spheres Of Time (1998)

The “Space Ambient” tag is relevant here, especially on closing track “Space And Time” which sees the more typical dungeon synth structures fall away for something that is altogether more new age and Berlin School mixed together into one strange melting pot. The first three tracks are more in the vein of what you would expect from cavernous 90s synthesizer music in this vein, but with more active, orchestral elements at the forefront, rather than dense atmosphere fogs. The racing hi-hat rushes of the almost hip-hop beat in the closing track (wait, did Solanum low-key invent the trap hi-hat rush? lmao) are a bit jarring, especially as the record closes on this note. Entertaining work, whichever way you cut the cake. Some of the artwork over the years for this thing has ranged considerably from the shittiest of demo covers all the way through to full colour re-issue pieces:

Michael Hoenig – Baldur’s Gate OST (2001)

Michael Hoenig – Baldur’s Gate OST (2001)

(It’s worth mentioning the OST originally came out with the game it featured in back in 1998, but wasn’t realised as a stand-alone OST until 2001) Easily one of the best game OSTs of all time, but there is always the risk that I am heavily biased, having played this game to death when I was 9 to 10 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved it. Hoenig’s soundtrack is a million miles away from his original Berlin School work, instead meandering between pompous fantasy bombast (the Baldur’s Gate theme is just so perfect for this) and well as super chill and relaxing tunes, such as the ones that play when you are walking through wilderness. Honest to fucking God, these “forest ambience” tracks still play in my mind when I’m walking through woods today with my dogs. That shit has stuck there forever. But yeah – this is up there with the best of them regarding fantasy game OSTs, with Eric Herberling’s Daggerfall and Jeremy Soule’s Morrowind.

Jim Kirkwood  – Where Shadows Lie (1990/2007)

Jim Kirkwood – Where Shadows Lie (1990/2007)

Where Shadows Lie simply has to be one of my absolute favourite Jim Kirkwood works. Magnificant, triumphant, uplifitng, magical, spellbinding. These are all words that can accurately convey the musical message avialable to you by pressing play on a copy of this record. Combining Berlin School longform electronics with the Tolkien fantasy vibes in a way that only he can do so well, Kirkwood is absolutely on fire here. A highlight of the entire discography for sure, and a magical experience all in all.

Eternal Fear – Pagan Souls of Ryczyn… Zvantevith (1995/2017)

Eternal Fear – Pagan Souls of Ryczyn… Zvantevith (1995/2017)

Much more low key and uninvolved than Ancient Woods. Kinda sounds like background music from a DOS game like Daggerfall during its best moments, and like pointless ambient effects in its worst. Considering the total run time is just over 15 minutes, it is a shame that the level of quality here is but a fraction of what I expected to find. This is not a gem that’s worth unearthing.

Gate Master – Relics (2023)

Gate Master – Relics (2023)

Gate Master knocks it out of the park once more with the follow up to In Pursuit Of Forbidden Knowledge. I love the black metal here, easily some of my favourite dissonant, barely audible stuff (haha). It sounds like I’m joking but this thing is absolutely dripping in atmopshere. The “dungeon synth” style pieces that punctuate the record also help serve to this function, before closer “My Journey To The Stars” goes off to oblivion. Unsure if it is a coincidence in titling or a homage to Burzum, but the song title is the same here as on the Burzum self-titled. Mortiis also has “Towards The Gate Of Stars”, which is kinda applicable here but now I’m just rambling so best to wrap this up. TLDR: This is class.

Burzum – The Reincarnation of Ódinn (2023)

Burzum – The Reincarnation of Ódinn (2023)

The seemingly compilation-like nature of Varg’s “final” release as Burzum, Thulean Mysteries, coupled with the spaced out, almost relaxed tone of most of his ambient music, makes it very difficult to ascertain whether I’ve heard this before or not. It feels more familiar than it does new, and whilst that is rather welcoming in some ways, its also a bit underwhelming that this random “return” (whatever it means long term) is not something a bit bigger; a bit more impressive. I suppose one can only keep their head down, live off grid with solar panels and a small farmstead and a small “thermic” vehicle (lol), and hope that more new Burzum material will soon be on the horizon.

Siege Golem – Rises Above The Walls (2023)

Siege Golem – Rises Above The Walls (2023)

Through a download code that was kindly shared by a friend I had the pleasure of being introduced to the world of Siege Golem, a project that walks the lines between dungeon synth and video game music. It reminds me a bit of the Kobold project, only updated and more varied in a set of a final boss themes. There’s all sorts of different vibes going on here, which is nice to see from a modern DS project, as some of which can be accused I think rather fairly of being rather one dimensional. Some Siege Golem tracks have additional programmed percussion and odd vocal tracks, which is a nice touch. The whole thing sounds like it’s buried under a layer of time and dust too, which is just lovely (not in the Revenant Marquis sense, more in the “this cassette tape is a bit dusty” sense). Tidy darts.

Mortiis – Født Til Å Herske (1994)

Mortiis – Født Til Å Herske (1994)

A timeless classic of the “Dungeon Synth” genreI’ve found that Fodt Til A Herske has always filled me with a profound sadness; a sadness that once again fills me as I sit here late at night writing this review whilst this record plays. When I first got the CD at 15 years old it felt as sad then as it does now, but with the music pressing on different weights from life. I guess between 15 years old and 33 years old there are different things to be sad about. Music is, as it always has been, such a powerful tool and force to reckon with, that it can make you feel these things. Fodt Til A Herske has always been an outstanding record. As good as the first Mortiis demo/LP was, Fodt Til A Herske improves on it tenfold, yet retaining that haunting, forelorn sadness that I speak so much about. The Mortiis stuff after this would go in a more fantastical, bombastic direction, and whilst still amazing pieces of music, they do not connect with me as much as the first two, especially this one, Fodt Til A Herske. Comprised of two parts, Fodt Til A Herske is a minimalist piece at its core, with various fluctuations and meandering paths as the music develops. If you like your music to be busy and all-involving then perhaps this one is not for you. It is a slow burn of magical synthesizers that invoke simple yet immensely powerful tunes. I can only hope that I am still here in anothet 15 years to continue to appreciate this timeless music.

Mortiis – The Stargate (1999)

Mortiis – The Stargate (1999)

I loved the shit out of this when I was a nipper but having re-listened recently I realise that perhaps it wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I had the gold CD version of this, but without the book, because I ordered the “Mortiis pack” off Earache records (basically a copy of every studio album he has with them), in which they accidentally gave me two copies of The Grudge (the standard, and the special edition with the clear slipcase that had Mortiis as some sort of Vetruvian man, which was pretty cool). Anyways, I returned one of The Grudge copies and they kindly rewarded me with the gold version of The Stargate for my trouble, bless them. Upon my return to the world through The Stargate, I instead opted for the remastered version, which does have a few descernable differences. I’m not sure if Mortiis was a part of this remaster work (I doubt it, knowing Earache), but I will commend them for making some elements of this thing even brighter than they were before. The mix is louder on the remaster, perhaps unsurprisingly, but you can get a really good idea for the clarity the remaster brings by listening to track 3, “World Essence”, where the guitar work by Niklas Trané sounds so much clearler. Every single pluck of the acoustic strings just feels so alive and bright and vibrant. Not that I ever considered the original to be dull or unclear, but now it seems so in comparison. Anyway, the problem I have upon returning to The Stargate is that it seems a bit directionless. When I was younger I was convinced of some sort of hidden narrative that tied the whole thing together (again, perhaps there is, as I’ve not read the book that came with the special edition), but as a listener (and “just listening” is how the majority of people are going to approach this), The Stargate is a disjointed mess. There are all sorts of moods and vibes, none of which seem to properly fit together, even though the production across the whole thing is unified and consistent. I dunno, perhaps I’m going too hard on this, so I’ll round out with some things I like. The intro track is fucking hilarious, proper medieval tunes lead us in to this circus of a record. Sarah Jezebel Deva is on top form as per always, and I really enjoy the drum machines and more regular synthesizers that come in for the finale, giving this a bit more of a Berlin School feel, at least for the final minutes.

Mortiis – Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør (1995)

Mortiis – Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør (1995)

I recently listened to the remastered version of this, which was great fun as it’s been years since I’ve heard this, I used to play it all the time when wasting my life on WoW through the small hours of every night. Anyway, enough about me. Anden Som Gjorde Appror isn’t as good as Fodt Til A Herske or Song Of A Long Forgotten Ghost, but it does introduce more bombast into the music. These earlier compositions that I mention are much more forlorn and singular in their vision; like a wave of sadness eminating through the fog in the fjords. As others have noted over the years, Anden Som Gjorde Appror is more akin to marching to battle, to conjuring images of high fantasty and castles and king and queens and epic struggles and all of that good stuff. Both kinds of synth work have their place, but I prefer the earlier visions. Still, a legendary release for the dungeon synth genre, in a time when such a genre didn’t exist.

V/A – Dungeons & Catacombs I (2017)

V/A – Dungeons & Catacombs I (2017)

An interesting mix of artists, performing a bunch of tunes that are not always so typical for the sounds of the often confined dungeon synth genre. What I mean to say is, that there is a wider range of sounds here than I expected going in, and I even came away with some artists that I really want to check out, so that’s good news too. Some of the entries here are quite obscure however, and tracking them down can be rather difficult. But hey, isn’t that part of the fun?

Maelifell – Demo 1996 (1996)

Maelifell – Demo 1996 (1996)

Now this is my kind of dungeon synth. Spooky, kooky, lo-fi and minimal composition using cheap retro synths and drenched in hiss and wow / flutter. Lots of short moods and performances, rather than the longer more meandering pieces you would expect from dungeon synth artists. Really refreshing, glad I stumbled onto this, I would recommend it for any fan of the genre.

Jim Kirkwood – Knight Of A Dark Grail (1992)

Jim Kirkwood – Knight Of A Dark Grail (1992)

You can always rely on Jim Kirkwood to provid consistency across his colourful musical career. The man has touched on a variety of different vibes and compositional styles, from higher fantasy and religious themes to more, how shall I say, typical dungeon synths forms, but whatever he puts his hands to is always incredibly well crafted. Knight Of A Dark Grail is no different, with this 1992 offering a few selected pieces which are an absolute pleasure to get lost inside of.

Fief – III (2017)

Fief – III (2017)

Not gonna lie, Fief is fucking class. I feel like I’m inside a never-ending medieval fete inside my head. There’s not much that compels me to start a diet primarily of wild game, stale bread and staler beer, but Fief hits the mark. Very lovely instrumentals are the order of the daye, mayhaps not sparkly enough to win over thon young fine maidens, but beautiful enough to rouse the young men to arms. The joust is about to begin. Spectacular.

Aghast – Hexerei Im Zwielicht Der Finsternis (1995)

Aghast – Hexerei Im Zwielicht Der Finsternis (1995)

This is a project that involves Andrea Meyer who performed mainly as Nebelhexe and also appeared on the first Cradle Of Filth record. Unfortunately, as I was really looking forward to this one, this is pretty boring to me. It kinda goes nowhere, and whilst there are a few moments of pizazz in this evil atmospheric pieces, most of the record’s run time does nothing for me. It works as cool spooky background music, but that’s about it. A shame! Nevertheless, RIP Andrea Meyer.

Eitr – Hädanfärden (2018)

Eitr – Hädanfärden (2018)

Invoking otherworldly trance-like dreamstates that fans of prison-era Burzum will be chomping at the bit for, Hädanfärden does not disappoint when it comes to taking you away to another place. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lustre, a more well known project by the same artist, but Eitr is perfect dreamy dungeon synth.

Torchlight – Realms Of Oblivion (2018)

Torchlight – Realms Of Oblivion (2018)

Torchlight is one of those projects that falls loosely under the dungeon synth banner, but is not trying to emulate a sound from a point in time or aesthetically clone the goodness of the early 90s. No, Torchlight is so much more, instead delivering full-blown compositions with excellent clarity and depth of musical scale and talent. This is more in line with the soundtrack to an RPG computer game, using traditional instruments (or virtual copies of), than it is with some shaky cassette filled with dirging synthesizer atmospherics.

Gate Master – In Pursuit Of Forbidden Knowledge… (2022)

Gate Master – In Pursuit Of Forbidden Knowledge… (2022)

The forbidden knowledge has to be, that mixing dungeon synth and raw black metal in this way is a winning combination. Sometimes the brightest truths are the ones that are there in plain sight, waiting to be grasped. LOL Anyway – Gate Master is the project centralising around founding Cradle Of Filth member Paul Ryan (who’s been out of the band since the debut record). The black metal is raw, disgusting and frenetic, which is just bloody brilliant. I find myself far more immersed however in the excellent ambient and ‘dungeon synth’ compositions. The absolutely beautiful “Flesh And Bone” starts off sounding like Tony Wakeford and Rose McDowall doing some sort of mad crossover with prison-era Burzum, and finishes off with vibes that are not a million miles from Michael Gira doing a dungeon synth version of the first five minutes of “The Sound”. “A Vision Known Before” is equally mesmerising, invoking that Nada!-era Di6 vibe heavily alongside the more dungeon-y (lol) synthesizers. Gate Master is a fantastic project, In Pursuit of Forbidden Knowledge… is a fantastic record, and this is definitely one project to keep an eye on, should it continue.

Burzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan (2013)

Burzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan (2013)

Burzum’s ambient stuff gets a lot of undeserved shit, in both the prison and post-prison eras. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is of course, no different. Admittedly, there is little variance between this, The Ways Of Yore, and even Thulean Mysteries to be honest, but if hypnotic – cosmic even – synth work is your bag, then I genuinely feel you can do no wrong in checking this out. Varg (Louie?) does invoke a consistent atmosphere across the songs, which some will highlight as stale / boring, but I guess it is a sense of perspective. I think this, along with the others mentioned above, is a great record.

Skhemty – Sunrise On The Old Kingdom (2022)

Skhemty – Sunrise On The Old Kingdom (2022)

I’ve been down a rabbit hole recently in regards to the inner-workings of the great pyramid of Giza. Not in a wacky “WaS iT a NuClEaR PowErPlanT1?!?!” kinda way, just generally trying to understand one of the oldest wonders of our world. When it hit me – I wonder if there is any like, Egyptian-themed dungeon synth or ambient music. Remembering the interludes from Nile albums, I set to searching the internet, and was immediately delighted to find out that, of course there’s bloody dungeon synth based on ancient Egypt. What a time to be alive!  Sunrise On The Old Kingdom is one of a few releases I checked out, and is probably the best of the bunch, at least in regards to active instrumentation and overall production quality. Tracks such as “Pyramid of Khafre” (big up to my mans Khafre woop woop), “Dendera Temple”, “Mirage Over The Dunes” and closer “Glow On The Nile” really show off the best elements of this project. Don’t go in expect standard ambient music with a few rehashed Arabian themes (like when a foreign town is shown on a TV show), these are fully-fledged compositions and deserve your full attention.

Nächtlich – Satanas Solum Initium Est (2021)

Nächtlich – Satanas Solum Initium Est (2021)

Intense, dusty and archaic black metal from one of the guys involved in Morgue Tar (which is excellent by the way). I love how this thing juxtaposes between lengthy keyboard pieces (not in the Cradle Of Filth way, these compositions feel more in line with horror movies and are buried behind a million layers of dust) and intense, raw black metal. Things aren’t “raw” to the point of being unlistenable or becoming the dreaded wasps-in-a-jar black metal, but proceedings are definitely rough around the edges. Cool shit. Hope they do more.

Mortiis – Crypt Of The Wizard (1997)

Mortiis – Crypt Of The Wizard (1997)

Ah, Crypt Of The Wizard. It is of course probably typical for something as nerdy as “Dark Dungeon Music” or dungeon synth to have such a complicated history. Folk will often mistake this for an album, but Crypt Of The Wizard is a compilation of a series of 12″s released by Mortiis over 1996 and 1997. Despite the LP format, these 12″s contained much more short-form style tracks than what Mortiis was known for at the time. Later in 1997, these 12″s were pulled together onto Crypt Of The Wizard, under several labels (including Mortiis’ own). Later in 1999, when Mortiis signed to Earache, they also re-released this, with the hammiest artwork known to man. (You can see the original art at the bottom of this post). Musically, Crypt Of The Wizard is not as epic and grandiose as the man’s earlier works. The short-form, active instrumentation cheapens the experience somewhat (due to the quality of the synths used). However, there is something endearing about this – and despite all of these tracks coming from different sessions, there is an overarching theme or feel as if they came from the same recording sessions. My favourite songs are too numerous to mention but I want to give honourable shout outs to “En Sirkel Av Kosmisk Kaos” and the sublime “Stjernefødt”.

Sunken Grove – Precious Solitude (2020)

Sunken Grove – Precious Solitude (2020)

This is one of those cases where the record sounds like it was recorded in the early 90s, rather than in 2020, year of the ‘VID. Sunken Grove then, obviously have the classic DS vibe pinned down. In a similar vein, the compositions are not intricately involved, instead forming and morphing from simple yet pure satisfying melodic progressions, lapping over in a meditative state. There is a layer of darkness here too, but it is easily scraped back in most places, allowing the excellent synth work to shine through in prominence.

Örnatorpet – Vid Himinsenda (2019)

Örnatorpet – Vid Himinsenda (2019)

I was a huge fan of others works by this project but Vid Himinsenda fell to the side somewhat. I listened to them both for the first time in the summer of the 2020 lockdown, but whilst Fjällets Gyllene Slott stayed with me, this was lost on me a bit. Everything sounds great, but its a bit derivative and plodding in parts, playing into the safe area of dungeon synth that basically just rips off old Mortiis stuff. That’s not to write this off however, if you are a fan of DS stuff you’d do no wrong in getting involved with this (although you probably already have, this is pretty popular).

Revenant Marquis – Cyflymiad o’r Holl Arferion Ocwlt (2021)

Revenant Marquis – Cyflymiad o’r Holl Arferion Ocwlt (2021)

I was thinking recently on the mystery of Revenant Marquis and I went over to Spotify to see if any of the records were there and what do you know, turns out the project has a new(ish) release that I haven’t heard yet! Eagerly excited for more muffled kvlt metal that I can’t make head or tail of due to the extra rubbish production, I instead was met with a very invocative series of atmospheric instrumentals. To call this dungeon synth is probably correct but most (if not all – I recall one moment where there is a small melody or tune) of these are just long, morphing dirges. There’s not a shriek or cardboard box drumkit to be heard. Just gorgeous, dark synthesizer works. I threw this on whilst driving to work and it enraptured me in a little cacoon of gothic darkness, which was nice considering the urban sprawling hell that I was currently in.

Wongraven – Fjelltronen (1995)

Wongraven – Fjelltronen (1995)

A beautifully composed album from the mid-90s, led by Satyricon’s Satyr Wongraven (I guess this dude loves naming bands after himself, huh?). Discogs credits Norwegian percussionist Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen as having contributed to this record, as well as Ihsahn from Emperor, but for the most part, this is a solo outing. What we get is a solid 30 minutes or so of excellent ambient / dungeon synth music (before the term really existed, remember) that has that intense Nordic feel and atmosphere. The record shares a cover drawing with Carpathian Forest’s Through Chasm, Caves And Titan Woods, both taking Theodor Kittelsen’s excellent, evocative pencil drawing (I think it’s pencil at least). This art really is perfect for the music on show here, and helps whisk you away to a world that, for the most part, sadly no longer exists.

Nargaroth – Spectral Visions Of Mental Warfare (2011)

Nargaroth – Spectral Visions Of Mental Warfare (2011)

I downloaded a bunch of Nargaroth records 7 years ago when they were coming to my town so it’s probably a good idea if I actually listen to them. Spectral Visions… is as much introspective electronic music as it is dingy black metal. When the metal does flow, the songs are slow and atmospheric. Personally, I prefer the electronic passages here, which come across like a techno version of Tangerine Dream drowning in dusty dungeon synth cassettes. An interesting combination.

Offermose – Stilhedens Tårn (2020)

Offermose – Stilhedens Tårn (2020)

Another excellent band/project I have had the pleasure of recently unearthing, Offermose offer the most (lol) stunning mixture of Tangerine Dream style Berlin School synth meandering, punctuated with vibes and call backs to the dungeon synth movement of the 90s, with shimmering, moving passages and spooky, almost black metal style vocals. Stilhedens Tårn presents a cold and morose atmosphere, but one that is peaceful and beautiful in its own way. One in which you can get lost and reflect, rather than one which fills you with sadness and despair. A brilliant record and I will endeavour to listen to more from this artist if the opportunity presents itself.

Grabesmond – Mordenheim (1997)

Grabesmond – Mordenheim (1997)

Gorgeously spooky, amazing, fantastically composed old school dungeon synth from 1997. Coming across like a mix between the instrumentals you’d get on early Cradle Of Filth records and something altogether more Age Of Empires II, Mordenheim is a stunning journey through synthesised orchestration. I find it wholly bizarre that this (and the following Grabesmond record) were never released on cassette. This stuff belongs on an analogue format. Brilliant.

Darken Wood – V (2019)

Darken Wood – V (2019)

I’ve started a bit randomly here, coming in at number 5 of (so far) 6 dungeon synth records by the beautiful Darken Wood. Honestly, the first thing that springs to mind several minutes after letting V unfold is memories of exploring both the Imperial lands of Cyrodiil in TES IV: Oblivion and traversing the wilderness in TES II: Daggerfall. That’s what I love about good dungeon synth, is the ability for it to take you away to a magical world that is a brighter than ours. Perfect if you’re sat on a fucking train and its raining, or something like that.

Lord Lovidicus – Book Of Lore – Vol. 1 (2015)

Lord Lovidicus – Book Of Lore – Vol. 1 (2015)

Book Of Lore is a massive undertaking, so much so that I originally had this marked down to review on 2nd March 2020, not long before the pandemic changed everything. I have listened to it twice since then, and can confirm that it’s a hefty listen, but probably great if you are into role playing or D&D and want a good soundtrack for those activities. For those of an Elder Scrolls persuasion, one may notice (or like to have pointed out) that Lord Lovidicus is the name of a vampire from the 4th game, Oblivion, who somehow fathered a half-orc child who went on to become the champion of Cyrodiil’s arena (until he is killed by the player character, of course).

Lunar Womb – Planets (1996)

Lunar Womb – Planets (1996)

I love it when you find something that you have never heard before. Yes, I’ve heard Lunar Womb before, but hear me out. The blend of styles on this record are incredibly perplexing. Think dungeon synth mixed with vaporwave. Both are fairly obscure electronic subgenres with little crossover (the runescape.wav (sp?) project the only outlier I can think of), but their unintentional mixture on this 25 year old demo is perplexing and thought provoking. Vaporwave didn’t exist as a genre, at least intentionally, until the early 2010s, but dreamy muzak has been around since synthesisers could synthesise. I don’t really know what Lunar Womb were trying to achieve with this bizarre music, but they certainly have my attention, and my respect. A rare gem.

Mari Lwyd – Y Ddraig Goch (2021)

Mari Lwyd – Y Ddraig Goch (2021)

This kinda shits all over my own Welsh dungeon synth project. Haha! Mari Lwyd lays down some serious tunes, obviously composed with genuine musical skill and chops. There’s a lot of dungeon synth that isn’t as musical per se but atmospheric, Y Ddraig Goch (I wanna guess ‘the red dragon?) is absolutely on the musical end, with a record full of dense instrumentation and excellent songs. Highly recommended. Tape is, unfortunately, long sold out.

Fief – II (2016)

Fief – II (2016)

I think it would be wrong to say that Fief is head and shoulders above other modern dungeon synth projects, but the name does bring with it its own kinda unique sound, which gives weight to the name. There is a… musicality (for severe lack of a better word) to II that is absent from a lot of sparser, more ambient DS projects. Its lovely. Perfect RPG music.

Hole Dweller – Flies The Coop (2019)

Hole Dweller – Flies The Coop (2019)

One of the most revered dungeon synth releases of recent times and with good reason. There is something magical about these lo-fi recordings; a wonderful sense of adventure as it were, along with heaps of character. This has recently been re-recorded, so I’m interested to see why, as this release isn’t that old, nor can I find any fault with it. I’ve been putting this off since Feb 2020 (lol) but the recent rerecording of some Hole Dweller stuff had me going back to this. Truly one of the better dungeon synth artists of recent times, and Flies The Coop is a wobbly, shaky analogue journey (or at least has been purposefully styled to sound like that). It’s a journey I recommend you take, if you are a fan of synthesizer music.

Jim Kirkwood – Ancient Fields (1992)

Jim Kirkwood – Ancient Fields (1992)

Another absolute classic from Jim Kirkwood, this time from way back in 1992. Unsure if it’s just me but this one seems a bit darker and moodier than usual. Don’t get me wrong, Jim can always conjure infinite fantasy landscapes with all manner of vibes and feels, but there’s something oppressive about this offering. One of my favs so far.

Old Nick – Curse Of The Lock Master (2020)

Old Nick – Curse Of The Lock Master (2020)

I got sent a link to this and couldn’t decipher whether or not it’s a meme. But, either way, there is something in the undercurrent of Curse Of The Lock Master which is endearing. It appeals to that part of me that loves wobbly cassettes and shitty demos from the 90s, and so on. I’m unsure what to make of the project as a whole, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy this strange little EP.

Quest Master – Lost Songs Of Distant Realms (2020)

Quest Master – Lost Songs Of Distant Realms (2020)

This is a massive release, with around 90 minutes of epic dungeon synth fantasy music to take you off to far away lands. Originally this was dropped as 2 separate albums (volume one and two), but has been released together on physical formats such as CD and cassette. I was sold the minute I saw the name Quest Master, and had to check it out. Really good compositions, it’s a high rating from me.

Uilos – I: Dark Night Of The Soul (2020)

Uilos – I: Dark Night Of The Soul (2020)

Uilos is an interesting project. It is dungeon synth to its core, but with the added element of guitar playing thrown into the mix too. Sounds simple no? It probably is, and I’m a cretin. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic full length and there are some truly haunting and mesmerising tracks on it. Hey, if it makes me wanna dig out TES III: Morrowind then that can only be a good thing.

Diplodocus – Slow And Heavy (2019)

Diplodocus – Slow And Heavy (2019)

Got recommended this as an example of a dungeon synth subgenre that I hadn’t previously come across. Introducing the frankly ridiculous sounding ‘dinosynth’ (hey, its not as shit as comfy synth at least). Diplodocus however, plays very stimulating classic DS-like compositions, with obligatory dinosaur-related sampling. All in all, its a pretty solid synthesizer record.

runescape斯凱利 ‎– runescape.wav2單戰利品的戰爭 (2019)

runescape斯凱利 ‎– runescape.wav2單戰利品的戰爭 (2019)

This bizarre project has been on my to-do list for a very long time. Today I finally listened, and was taken away on a wonderful musical experience. Chanelling aspects of both dungeon synth and vaporwave (my favourite niche electronic subgenres no less) and filtering them through the worship of an old RPG, we have some glorious low-key compositions that creep and crawl with the right amount of emotional leads over the top. Like, that sounds ridiculous I’m sure, but this is one of the best things I’ve heard in a while. Gutted the cassettes are long sold out. I’m looking forward to going back and hearing the first record too.

Elffor ‎– Dra Sad III (Beneath The Uplands Of Doom) (2019)

Elffor ‎– Dra Sad III (Beneath The Uplands Of Doom) (2019)

Its hard to embody the spirit of the early Mortiis releases without completely ripping them off. This is done with varying degrees of success, but Elffor’s Dra Sad III, my first encounter with the project, manages to weave the vibes of those early 90s dungeon synth masterpieces into tapestries of their own. Dra Sad III, with the full title of Beneath The Uplands Of Doom, evoke longform, dense ambient soundscapes, with the right balance of ingredients between composition and aural form. This is, as with many other releases of this nature, perfect for RPG gaming or D&D sessions, or for reading dusty tomes about forgotten lands. Hard to beat.

Jim Kirkwood – Middle Earth (2004)

Jim Kirkwood – Middle Earth (2004)

Jim Kirkwood is something of a father to the dungeon synth world. His compositions bridge the gap between electronic soundtrack music and even – dare I say the buzz word – Berlin school kinda synth fuckery, but its the Tolkien inspired backdrop to these fantastical compositions that really is the icing on the cake. Middle Earth is a long album. I took it out with me and walked a few miles with my dog, burnt a Cuban stick, and marvelled as the autumn leaves fell. By the time I got home, I was a little over half way through, but it felt like I’d been exploring the mountainside for hours like some mad vagrant. I found out later that this was a compilation of the earliest releases, so was even happier to have given it my time.

Burzum – Mythic Dawn (2015)

Burzum – Mythic Dawn (2015)

Mythic Dawn is a small single from Burzum that showcases the man’s skill at the synthesizer style of music. Honestly, outsiding of existing Burzum fans, there is nothing of value here, its super and short and to the point, kind of acting a sampler to what we would get in the very later extremes of the project’s life.

Eternal Fear – Ancient Woods (1995)

Eternal Fear – Ancient Woods (1995)

Now this is what dungeon synth is all about, if you ask me. Maybe the warbling audio hiss of the tape rip has got me all nostalgic and teary eyed, but Eternal Fear’s 1995 offering is a beautiful journey through misty mountains and unknown chasms. Shit, any dungeon synth that makes me wanna break out Daggerfall is good in my books. Also, its an absolute pleasure to find OG 90s work that I haven’t heard before.

Rytelier & ASKII – Tamriel Rebuilt OST (2020)

Rytelier & ASKII – Tamriel Rebuilt OST (2020)

Those that know me in person surely no doubt know my undying love for the worlds of the Elder Scrolls, in particular parts 2 and 3, Daggerfall and Morrowind. The creative community around these game worlds is alive and kicking today, and Tamriel Rebuilt is a 18 year old mod (yes) that still continues to add swathes of new lands and adventures into TES III: Morrowind, arguably the best open world RPG in its vanilla incarnation. After nearly 2 decades of work, Tamriel Rebuilt finally gets its own in-game OST, brought to you by the genius composers Rytelier and ASKII. Channelling the vibe of the original soundtrack by Jeremy Soule without imitating it, these two artists seamlessly take me back to my travels through the misty world of far-east Tamriel with their stunning atmospheric compositions. I need to update my game files so this thing is included. Truly excellent work.

Mortiis – Spirit Of Rebellion (2020)

Mortiis – Spirit Of Rebellion (2020)

This was an interesting listen. I’m just going to throw it out there now so its out of the way: I absolutely prefer the original versions. Now I can get to the music recorded for this album without constantly harking back. There are two new ingredients here – pomp and percussion. LOL. Some of these previously dreamy compositions are now bombastic stompers, with marching drums and fuller instrumentation. Honestly though, Spirit Of Rebellion sounds absolutely fucking massive, so the third new ingredient is surely competent mastering. A refreshing listen.

Mortiis – Blood And Thunder (1996)

Mortiis – Blood And Thunder (1996)

In the early 2010s I went through a phase of collecting all the old Mortiis dungeon synth records. Due to their insane resale value, I never ended up buying most of them, and Blood And Thunder was included on that list. Its recently been repressed, so I figured at the very least I should hunt this down and give it a listen. This is the perfect entry-level release for anyone who wants to try their hands (or ears, more like) at the dungeon synth genre. It features two incredibly short but no less epic Mortiis tracks of old, and is over in about 5 or 6 minutes. Glad I didn’t pay out the nose for it, but a misty, chest thumping call to arms it is indeed.

Mortiis – Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent (1995)

Mortiis – Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent (1995)

Ah yes, the original Emperor Of Dimensions Unknown! The recent Spirit Of Rebellion sessions had me going back to these stunning early Mortiis long-form compositions (Ok, Ok, its just several songs glued together, I get it!) and I even shared a few with LIW contributor Burra, who will hopefully be joining me to see Mortiis along with Mayhem in Bristol, providing this COVID situation improves drastically. Anyways, about the record. If you are even remotely interested in the world of dungeon synth then I heavily recommend this record to you, or even to you folk who are into electronic or ambient music; early Mortiis has some spooky, medieval elements but at its core it is just gorgeously produced electronic music. Nowhere is that more true than on Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent.

Thangorodrim – Prologue (2020)

Thangorodrim – Prologue (2020)

Thangorodrim is amongst the more well known dungeon synth artists of modern day, and rightly so; the project took Mortiis worship to a whole new level on the first debut album (not a bad thing in these circles) but on Prologue, Thangorodrim strikes out into territory I would comfortably call entirely it’s own. To my knowledge, Prologue combines a few of the older tape releases together onto one collection. Prologue is not a short record but any stretch (there’s a very tasty double cassette version I’ve just not had the spare funds to buy yet) but one that takes you on a long, wondrous journey, for which one must be prepared fully. I’d suggest taking an evening to get through this, maybe with a book about a far off land, or if you play D&D… you know what to do lol

Secret Stairways – Enchantment Of The Ring (1997)

Secret Stairways – Enchantment Of The Ring (1997)

This ancient relic of 90s dungeon synth has quite a sad story, as its composer is no longer with us. This does add some morbid weight to the already sombre atmospheres, but let’s not define this artist’s life by his untimely death. Secret Stairways is, for me, an incredibly introspective record. It had a much more suspended, ambient vibe to its morose, glacial compositions than your average dungeon synth record; possessing instead of bombast or adventure an encompassing sense of hopelessness, which only lends itself to the songwriting. A classical of the genre, in my opinion. Enchantment of the Ring by Secret Stairways

Nameless King ‎– Traversing The Ageless Fog (2019)

Nameless King ‎– Traversing The Ageless Fog (2019)

Fantastic, moody, old school style dungeon synthesizer music. My one complaint is that there is some sort of effect added that makes the recording sound like its come off an old cassette tape, which clashes badly with some of the busier compositions. This results in a few messy, confusing moments. For the most part however, Nameless King channels some great vibes and ideas, and I would recommend this record to other fans of the dungeon synth genre. Traversing the Ageless Fog by Nameless King

Örnatorpet – Fjällets Gyllene Slott (2019)

Örnatorpet – Fjällets Gyllene Slott (2019)

One of my favourite dungeon synth releases of the last few years. Granted, I’m not as deep into the genre as some, but unearthing gems like this is what makes this particular world of music so rewarding. What I love about this kind of thing is the unique worlds and visions that just listening alone is enough to conjure. Truly, it’s an art form and very evocative. Expect heavy winter based themes and vibes of swirling snow, of perilous travels, and of cosy villages locked deep in the white wilderness. Beautiful. Fjällets Gyllene Slott by Örnatorpet

Cernunnos Woods – Forest Anthology (2016)

Cernunnos Woods – Forest Anthology (2016)

A spooky, unhinged entry into the Cernunnos discography. The synth work is spot on as always; a bizarre, kooky whirl of tones that remind me more of German expressionist cinema (of all things) rather than deep dark woods and dungeons. My gripe with this release lies with the vocal performances, which are too loud and if anything, detract from the synth work below them.

Jääportit – Kauan Koskematon (1999)

Jääportit – Kauan Koskematon (1999)

Beautiful, gorgeous, stunning compositions in the dungeon synth style. Expect to get lost in deep woods, misty moors and dripping wet caves (oo er). Also, it has the ever fantastic bonus of soothing my baby to sleep so seems to be the perfect addition. This record is 21 years old at the time of writing, but really, stuff like this, when done so well, is absolutely timeless. Kauan koskematon by Jääportit

Jääportit – Uumenissa (2004)

Jääportit – Uumenissa (2004)

Uumenissa is an incredibly dense and atmospheric journey through richly woven worlds of ice and unknowing scale. The record is adorned with fairly abstract watercolour paintings which help you envisage the scapes being conjured by the music. I wouldn’t say it was strictly “dungeon synth” but shares a lot of similarities with the genre, if you are a fan of such things. Uumenissa by Jääportit

Secret Stairways – Turning Point (1999)

Secret Stairways – Turning Point (1999)

Turning point is the only real full length from Secret Stairways (unless you count his first release – I guess that could be an album too, for some reason though I just don’t see it that way) and marks a slight departure from the heavier fantasy themes from before. Sure, they are still there (just look at the cover art) but the introspective, pensive and droning synth work seems to be the order of the day here, and is ramped up from previous efforts. Turning point wears the mask and cape of dungeon synth but surely can be appreciated by a wider audience of electronic music lovers.

Fata Morgana – Fata Morgana (1995)

Fata Morgana – Fata Morgana (1995)

If you think dungeon synth is cheesy then walk away now, because this early side project from dungeon master Mortiis is just that. A far cry from the endless unfolding single-track monstrosities which birthed his synthesizer career, Fata Morgana is instead more wondrous, more celestial, and dipped in a healthy coating of a sticky, melted yellow substance that you would usually find on burgers and hotdogs. That said, this is a stunning record, and the perfect soundtrack to a D&D sesh, or to listen to whilst playing your favourite RPG or reading some immense tome of fantastical content and proportion. Otherworldly!

Old Sorcery – Strange And Eternal (2019)

Old Sorcery – Strange And Eternal (2019)

If you wander the path of dungeon synth then you shall of course know the name Old Sorcery. I recently got through a bunch of records when up late playing Morrowind, unable to sleep alongside my girlfriend as I had been working nights. Old Sorcery, and in particular the Strange And Eternal record, helped massively in that regard. A fantastic record, sometimes the compositions hark back to more legendary synthesizer composers such as Jean-Michel Jarre or Mike Oldfield, rather than to earlier Mortiis or Burzum. Strange and Eternal by Old Sorcery

Forest Of Yore – Nature And Solitude (2019)

Forest Of Yore – Nature And Solitude (2019)

After being drawn in by the lush album art and the slowly building intro, I am unfortunately having to report that I found this Forest Of Yore record to be incredibly disappointing. Why, you ask? The synths, if not a little slow (which is usually fine, if building such a dense and incredible atmosphere), are jarring horribly alongside sounds of nature. I can’t tell if its sampled or looped or genuine bird song, but Jesus fucking Christ it’s absolutely mind-numbingly irritating. Not only is it a completely unnecessary addition cluttering up the sound stage, it absolutely ruins what would otherwise be a very meditative and drawn out dungeon synth experience. A real shame.  Nature and Solitude by Forest of Yore

Burzum – Hliðskjálf (1999)

Burzum – Hliðskjálf (1999)

This album is so good that I ripped it and imported it into my game files for TES III: Morrowind. Hliðskjálf builds on the gloomy MIDI-keyboard fantasy realms of Dauði Baldrs, sprawling into more moody and atmospheric keyboard work, which all at once conjure memories of very early Cradle Of Filth, fantasy table-top roleplaying, of course the misty mysteries of Morrowind, and even something altogether more Angelo Badalamenti. I consider the two Burzum prison albums absolute stone cold classics of the dungeon synth genre. It really is difficult to beat this.

Burzum – Thulêan Mysteries (2020)

Burzum – Thulêan Mysteries (2020)

I recently did a post where I said I was sad that Burzum hadn’t released anything for a while, and BOOM out of the murky waters comes this absolute gem of a double album! Dodgy Thule shit aside (make of that what you will) Burzum conjures the most unique and beautiful of dungeon synth atmospheres. He has his detractors, of course, but I am not in league with them. This could just be a tired ploy to sell copies of his new RPG, but fuck it, this is a glorious work and I will always welcome more Burzum, even if the black metal side of the project is long dead. If you enjoy beautiful synth work then I can not recommend this enough.

Burzum – Thule (2020)

Burzum – Thule (2020)

This dropped a few months before the new Burzum record. I listened to them back to back, so I may be getting my head wrapped incorrectly around things, but the two records definitely share a number of tracks. It seems that this is a prototype for the album that eventually came, which was longer and with a different layout and track list. If Thulean Mysteries never came, then Thule would be an intriguing listen. Today however, it appears to have been rendered completely redundant.

Kobold – The Cave Of The Lost Talisman (2017)

Kobold – The Cave Of The Lost Talisman (2017)

Glorious, glorious, fucking glorious dungeon synth music. Immediately you will notice the classic video game bent to this, not only in the artwork but in the tone and style of the synth patches used. Kobold conjures memories of old school RPG’ing. If I close my eyes I am in the deepest, darkest dungeons. Absolutely fucking beautiful. HDK 02 † The cave of the lost talisman by KOBOLD

Hedge Wizard – More True Than Time Thought (2014)

Hedge Wizard – More True Than Time Thought (2014)

This Hedge Wizard record is probably one of my favourite dungeon synth records of recent times. It’s not necessarily the tunes themselves, as there are many projects out there producing quality compositions of varying intricacy, but Hedge Wizard has that special magic ingredient in spades: atmosphere. From the minute I press play, to the completion of the run time, I am cast back into a world of 90s DOS role playing games and hokey high fantasy novels. Mission accomplished! 

Burzum – The Ways Of Yore (2014)

Burzum – The Ways Of Yore (2014)

It seems a lot of people think that this is a bit of a bummer for Burzum to go out on. I’ve only listened to it a couple of times since it was released and whilst it is an easy listen, my first impressions – which have stuck with me until now – were that it was a cheap imitation of the earlier synth work from the same project. Sure, he’d upgraded from horrendous analogue sounding patches to the glossiest VSTs, but so what? There’s so much fucking great dungeon synth out there now. And then I listened again with headphones. I mean, fuck, talk about a U turn! I remember reading somewhere about Burzum music supposedly working like a spell. That is the perfect way to describe this. When its just me and the music, it is enchanting, enrapturing, magical. I’m sucked into this olde world of Yore! RIP Burzum (for now?) 

Fief – IV (2019)

Fief – IV (2019)

The latest (at the time of writing) numbered EP / whathaveyou from the beautiful Fief, bringing all of the magical dungeon synth tunes that you could possibly what. Can this even be called dungeon synth? It’s more like straight-up olde worlde fantasy music, something you’d get whilst walking through Skyrim or something. It is lush and gorgeous, and does not seem to rely on synths, at least not the obvious electronic sounds. Amazing stuff.

Dark Ages – A Chronicle Of The Plague (2006)

Dark Ages – A Chronicle Of The Plague (2006)

It has been a good while since a record has instilled such a physical level of claustrophobic distress within me. Sitting, writing, in a fucking Asda cafe of all places (I was waiting for my car to be MOT’ed), Dark Ages’ ominous journeys through a plague-riddled world crept up and wrapped me in a blanket of suffocating dread. Yeah. Sounds a bit much, but it was fucking great. By the time I decided to get up and go back outside, fog had drifted in across the mountain, and I set out into the incessant drizzle with this blasting in my ears. Glorious.

Fief – I (2016)

Fief – I (2016)

Man, I absolutely fucking love dungeon synth. If anything makes me wanna re-download TES:III plus a fuckton of custom mods, or start writing a 220,000 word fantasy epic, then one suspects that this is the exact record. Fief is particularly magic, employing a range of instruments that seem authentic to the olde worlde. Yeah, it might be VSTs (or maybe not, I dunno haha), but it sounds absolutely fantastic. There is so much dungeon synth out there these days, but Fief is easily amongst the best on offer.