Yes, it is that time again. Time to say, “Fuck, is it that time again?” I usually do a midway year review as a list people can jump into if they were interested in exploring a given genre of music. I write about dungeon synth, so coming up with 10 or 12 more albums I enjoyed this year thus far should be easy. This doesn’t mean these records will stick around until the end of the year, but for now, they are notable enough to put on a list. I have also changed this list at least five times, including the image.

For this digest, and for the purposes of visual accompaniment, I am using a nine-point alignment chart. Ages ago, the artist and dungeon synth forum regular RævJäger made a music chart split between two axes which denoted style and sound. I honestly forget what the original chart used for its specifics, but I was enthralled with the idea of making a musical alignment chart for dungeon synth.

Since then, I have used my own variation when talking about a group of albums, especially when doing roundups for the mid or end of the year. With two axes of both tone (dark or light) and production (produced or raw) I always found this chart a fun way of presenting a group of albums that might be useful for people finding new things. The placement of each album might be off a few spaces, and there certainly can be albums which would be better suited elsewhere, but for me, it works. Use this list as a way to discover 10 new dungeon synth records which might have escaped you, or if anyone is seeing the word dungeon synth for the first time, use this as your entrance into the best genre you have never heard of.

Editor’s Note: Due to publishing delays that are entirely the our (the editors’) fault, this column explores dungeon synth from the first half of the year, so if you have recent favorites, you might find them in Kap’s next column.

Best of DS So Far 2023 Chart

I made lots of jokes about Deep Gnome‘s demo and the then bandcamp picture, which seemed to capture the mystique of fantasy ambient. That was a year ago, and now the picture has changed and so has the tone. We are still dealing with short releases of fantasy ambient, but there is a more serious tone from a project with the lead composer named “the wizard old Tob.” Wanderlore, true to its name, evokes images of wandering mystical landmarks and being engulfed in the majesty of solitude. It is truly a full album made with what sounds like a lone keyboard.

A delightful exploration into the heart of old-school Runescape. I did an interview and premiere regarding this album, and that came about through someone emailing me, me laughing at the logo, and then getting really into the album. What is more charming than the obvious ode to the OSRS community is the enthusiasm Flickers From The Fen feel from just being heard. It’s great seeing this record make it to just more than me and I truly hope for the best for this artist and others like them.

I remember one of the first Hole Dweller albums I listened to was 2020’s Return to Roost, which displayed a brilliant vintage sound which could have been the soundtrack to a BBC television show from the ‘70s. I still think of Hole Dweller as some sort of Time Lord who travels via magical means. While I of course enjoy the lo-fi quality of earlier works and 2022’s Another Chance at Peace, there is something personally magnetic about woozy synths which sound like they are diffusing into star wipes. With Dreams of Hereafter continues Hole Dweller’s presence as one of the key figures in dungeon synth’s history with a “comeback” album that is designed to be a landmark record.

The world stops for each release of Aindulmedir. This is due to the popularity of the artist and a love for winter synth, but also each release is so heavy in terms of tone and calculation, time slows to a glacial pace. I enjoy this suspension of time, as each of these releases by this Swedish artist is a snow globe which is shaken and then gazed upon by its holder.

“Welcome friends and fellow adventurers to the magical land of Nabir! Join Emerich, a kindhearted healer, and his spirited companion Gilloman, an audacious red fox, as they wander into this alluring yet mystifying new world. Here, the dynamic duo is summoned unto The Council of Trees (a small group of ancient talking trees that protect and oversee Nabir.)” The introduction to this album from Castlesiege is almost as delightful and charming as the music itself. The Council of Trees is a carnival of sound and tone, as the album is less a collection of music and more a series of plays being performed by woodland creatures. This is a strong debut from an as-yet-unheard-of U.S. artist. If this is the trajectory, then the future for Castleseige is bright and brilliant.

I have talked many times about Ithildin, so we will keep this brief. Over the past few years, this Canadian artist has been making an unofficial soundtrack to the book “Flora of Middle-Earth” by Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd. Each song is an entry in the book and presented in alphabetical order. Volume IV = of the series is on the letters D and F. I have been rooting for this project since its inception, and I can understand the scope and pressure of this type of project. I am glad to see its success, if only because I would love to see it finished one day.

I wrote an article one time extolling the virtues of raw dungeon synth as a favored aesthetic. I love it when things are submerged in haze. Dusklight and Windkey Tapes are part of a larger network of releases from Evergreen (Fogweaver, Snowspire, Keys To Oneria) and is the 14th release from this esoteric micro-label. There is much to be said (in fact, I just wrote an article on my blog about this label) but for now, allow yourself to be washed in an almost endless sea of fog and light which nearly cracks off of the tape reels. Enchantment & Serenity can just be a singular release which is wonderful, or it can be the start of a very long and magical journey.

I feel my time in dungeon synth can be segmented and marked by Erang‘s releases. Though I have talked many times about this French artist, A Blaze in Time is a fantastic record which is self-reflective and oddly heartwarming. Dedicated to various real-life people and inspirations, this is a fantasy ambient project from the projector of real life. There is something magical about a thin veil where you can see the outlines of the shape in question. Erang has always been a dedicated artist and A Blaze in Time is a nostalgic record full of both joy and sadness constructed in its own fantasy castle in some fantasy land away from the mundane.

“Dedicated to all that keep surviving, and will continue to do so, never give up. It’s so much better when you are here.” I do not know what the dedication for this Hermit Knight record means exactly or who it was meant for, but I feel when this is combined with the music of infinite choral light, there is something profound happening. Hermit Knight is the musical project from the owner of Weregnome Records. What was once a lofi whimsical journey for this project has now taken on a shape as one of the more emotional synth escapades in recent memory. The Dawn of the Vermilion Glaive is fantastic. Though melodrama has a negative connotation, the sustained chords which make up the structure of this record are dripping with sentimentality which could make you smile or cry all at once.

I posted this video everywhere when it was first released. Quest Master really nails the aesthetic of hypnagogic warmth and nostalgia for time periods never experienced. The VHS diffusion and tape tears add to a state of being which rests outside of time and space. If you are into the style of the video for Cloudy Gateways, then you will be in love with the entire production of Sword & Circuitry