Dungeon synth: dark ambient sub-genre of black metal synth fantasies
October 2, 2019 8:29 AM   Subscribe

On Dangerous Paths: an Introduction to Dungeon Synth A microgenre found at the mysterious intersection of old-school electronic music, synthesizer-based movie and video game soundtracks, and second-wave black metal, dungeon synth is quite a strange place to be. Melancholy, lo-fidelity, synthesizer albums recorded by artists like Mortiis, Depressive Silence, and Lamentation in the 1990s set the template for the genre, but never really circulated that far out of the black metal underground world. More recently, dungeon synth has made quite the comeback on platforms like Bandcamp (dungeon synth tag), lurking in the weirder corners of the digital realm, and you should be listening. This is the official B-Side dungeon synth starter pack. (Berkeley B-Side)

No Clean Singing ties the genre to its Black Metal origins, in Days of Yore: Dark Ambient, Black Metal, and the Birth of Dungeon Synth
Dungeon synth is the new name for a nebulous genre of music that was formed out of the merging of dark ambient electronic style music and the production aesthetic of black metal. It has existed in many facades over different decades and has provided a canvas for many underground metal musicians to pay tribute to the speculative worlds of their imagination. The early days of dungeon synth did not even hold its current name, rather the phrases “dark medieval,” “neoclassical,” and “dark ambient” would be placeholders for this style of music that would take years to be rediscovered and rebranded. Today, dungeon synth is still a relatively obscure style of music, providing joy to the few who celebrate its existence. In the dark corners of an already dark and underground style of black metal music lies a budding genre that is filled with bizarre wonder.
The article is listed as Volume 1, but I'm not sure if there a second volume was produced. On the other hand, Hollywood Metal has 36 volumes of Dungeon Synth Digest and more in their Dungeon Synth category, and there's the Dungeon Synth Archives on YouTube via turbid dahlia's comment in the best albums lists of 2018 round-up.
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

it's like the hilarious synth-orchestra interludes from a cradle of filth album elevated to an entire genre.

(which is to say, this is extremely up my alley, based on my sampling so far of Erythrite's Ghost Stories.)
posted by kaibutsu at 8:53 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fief's "Deep Forest Dance" on II is a good track.
posted by fraxil at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dungeon synth is a good name for a particular subset of what I'd call dark ambient but really bleeds into many disparate kinds of music, from comically serious black metal to, well, video game dungeon music (A Link to the Past's Sanctuary Dungeon music or the original Diablo score in its entirety are good touchstones, among many others). Probably depends on where you're coming from musically... this touches more on the metal origins, but closer to the gothic/ethereal corner there's also a lot of cool stuff: Arcana, Cernunnos Woods, Raison D'être, Desiderii Marginis. So fantastic!

I think the technology used to make the music being electronic and familiarity with the people making the music are crucial to the appeal. Evocative not just of some medieval past or fantasy world, but also incorporating the act of dreaming them, the lonely kid sitting outside a mall listening to this stuff on a walkman, watching a storm roll in across a vast and flat suburban expanse. Again, comically serious but also very honest: being both so obviously in this world and wanting to be in another one. All this I share so that I may point everyone to this amazing photo of Mortiis.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:13 AM on October 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

this amazing photo of Mortiis

Is he ... wearing a tracksuit ... on a riding mower? Wow ....
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a little embarrassed I'd never heard of all this before. A man who also chooses to live as a goblin, but also makes goblin dungeon music!? Count me the fuck in. This is also pretty good work music for the background. I'm working my way down this article, I'm on the Canterbury tales one now. So far I've liked everything in this article. My only issue is that many of these will not slot well into my general youtube music playlists.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just an FYI, as with any black-metal-adjacent genre, you have to beware of literal Nazis. For example, Old Tower (from which the lead article takes its top graphic) seems to be closely related to (or the same as) The Wampyric Specter, which recorded an openly Nazi album. Parts of the genre are openly fighting against this, but from the outside it's not always easy to tell who is just having fun and who is actually terrible.
posted by rikschell at 9:49 AM on October 2, 2019 [17 favorites]

Long before "Dungeon Synth" or "Dark Ambient" were terms, Fenriz of Darkthrone made two albums under the title Neptune Towers which were actually pretty good minimal synth works.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:16 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

rikschell, thanks for the warning. I hadn't considered that within Dungeon Synth.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on October 2, 2019

Just hit track two on Canterbury Tales. That bass!
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2019

Also be sure to check out Dungeon Synth Memes on Facebook for some premium content.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:33 PM on October 2, 2019

I suppose this answers the question. What's a death metal aficionado listen to once the ole ears start begging for a little relief?

I like it.
posted by philip-random at 4:06 PM on October 2, 2019

I saw Mortis in NYC, must have been 2001 or 2002. The climactic moment was when he, in full Elvin garb, reached down and picked up a 5-gallon white paint bucket full of fake blood and poured it over his head. It looked to me at the time like the airline lost his cauldron.
posted by hilberseimer at 7:19 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Sadly he was not riding a mower at the time - that photo made my day. Desktop here it comes.)
posted by hilberseimer at 7:21 PM on October 2, 2019

rikschell thank you for letting me know - Old Tower's release from last year was my introduction to the genre. Now that I know that they are shite, I have easily tossed it to the curb.
posted by cerulgalactus at 2:29 AM on October 3, 2019

So either post-apocalyptic country (see Sturgill Simpsons new album/insane Netflix anime visual album produced specifically for it) or dungeon synth is where I'm finally home. Sweet.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2019

Okay, now I'm intrigued by Les Legions Noire.

While it's more dark ambient, anyone who is digging this stuff would probably also enjoy the Icelandic act NYIÞ for more haunted, mysterious goodness.
posted by Maaik at 10:22 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nick Cave does Dungeon Synth, in a surreal song about Elvis? Spinning Song, the opening track from Ghosteen, his latest album (full album with lyrics) [YouTube x2]
posted by filthy light thief at 8:14 PM on October 14, 2019

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