Kaptain Carbon’s Top Dungeon Synth of 2022
This is the second year in a row I was invited to contribute to the end of the year lists for Invisible Oranges. I consider it an honor to be invited since all I really talk about is dungeon synth and adjacent fantasy ambient. I have written many articles this year about dungeon synth and much like the past handful of years I am constantly amazed at the shape and scope of the genre as it continues to evolve. In this list we have music that pays tribute to the classical foundation of the genre while others push far into the future. Dungeon synth is as different as it is the same and the thread that binds it is a sense of …Naïve Magic which binds it in ethereal union.
20. Hermit Knight – Once (Weregnome Records, US)
19. pukel'E – SaqalE (Voices of the Anuir, France)
18. Eternal – Battle For The Lost Soul (Voices of the Anuir, Canada)
17. Deionarra – Woodland Gatherings (Rusty Pilgrim, Argentina)
16. Villein –Matter and Nature (Vicious Mockery, UK)
15. Runesong – For The Forgotten Spirit (Fableglade Records, Finland)
14. Snowspire – Snowswept Solitude (Fableglade Records, US)
13. DIM – Steeped Sky, Stained Light (Dungeons Deep Records, Canada)
12. Erreth Akbe – A Lantern Swathed (Self Released, US)
11. Arcanist – Hyperborea (Yuggoth Records, France)
Erang – A Season of …(Independent, France)
I had to link to something for the purposes of this article but in reality, the #10 spot is Erang's pentalogy of releases to celebrate his decade of making dungeon synth. The Seasons series was five micro releases all centered around an aspect of Erang's dungeon synth work. This series became a kaleidoscope to which to not only view Erang's work but the world of dungeon synth. Old School, Medieval, Computer RPG MIDI, New Age, and Experimental might sound like wildly different styles but in the context of dungeon synth, they are all a part of the same universe. Erang is a staple foundation to dungeon synth and this celebratory series codified him as one of the storytellers able to weave tales of both present and past.
L A N D S R A A D – Fate; The Inevitability Thereof(Independent, UK)
I was excited for L A N D S R A A D's debut in 2021. The Golden Path which was entirely based around Frank Herbert's Dune as both inspiration and aesthetic compass. Fate; The Inevitability Thereof, L A N D S R A A D's followup and as expected uses the second novel in the Dune series to continue the musical journey of Berlin School based dungeon synth. Ambient and progressive synth is used in this record as cosmic and time exploration. The work of L A N D S R A A D underlines the importance of dungeon synth to be forward thinking and have their minds set in the future. Much like the protagonist of this album's source material, Fate; The Inevitability Thereof dreams of the future which might or might not be influenced by narcotic spice.
Frostgard – Valaquenta II(Weregnome Records, US)
Frostgard has had a great 2022. From late last year with the well received Valaquenta I to the most recent seasonal tribute The Last Letter of Winter, this US artist has traveled dungeon synth's most well known roads. From Tolkien to Winter, the themes explored by Frostgard might not be the most novel, yet the execution feels new and exciting. This is perhaps a greater compliment as Frostgard's music is judged among all of the other Tolkine themed dungeon synth which are in ready supply. Valaquenta II is the second edition in Frostgard's tribute to Tolkien's Silmarillion. To complement the biblical fantasy of high fantasy creation myths, Frostgard treats us to classic sounding dungeon synth which feel both heartfelt and sound professional. Valaquenta II should be combined with Valaquenta I in addition to the followup Tales from Nan Elmoth as a trilogy of Silmarillion based dungeon synth. Frostgard's devotion to the world of deep Tolkien material is both fascinating and completely immersive in its design.
Scrying Glass – Wyrmhole(Dungeons Deep Records, US)
To really get a sense what Scrying Glass is about, it is imperative one goes back to 2021 and listen to the first chapter of this peyote paperback sci fi adventure. Scrying Glass' debut Beyond Sight began in progressive electronic / Berlin School which unraveled as it took flight. Wrymhole, the natural followup, begins after the commercial break with the same ship now spreading alien-like wings and entering into technicolor vortexes. I love the weird and strange and Scrying Glass achieves at being weird but also approachable in their zany adventures. If one has a mind to continue the journey, 2022 also brought a fantastic split between the artist and Fen Walker, which surprisingly, is even more acid drenched than this album.
Vaelastrasz – Winterspring(Independent/Ancient Meadow Records, US)
Vaelastrasz has been around for many years and I was honestly surprised I didn't hear about this record when it was first released. Perhaps these types of releases wait for one to find them. For many years, this US artist has carved out their castle with a moderate amount of attention save for the 2017/2018 Plagueland series. Winterspring, the most recent work from Vaelastrasz, is an ode to, perhaps expected, the season of winter. Outside of the immediate aesthetic choice to venerate the season, Vaelastrasz crafts a stunning tribute to old school dungeon synth which feel venerating yet not anchored to the time period. Both magical in its approach as well as mournful in its wake, Winterspring aches along its running time and casts the heavens in an eternal gray haze.
Elminster – Standing At The Gates Of Night(Ithildin Tape Production, US)
It was difficult to choose one Elminster record from 2022 since not only has this artist had eight releases but even within those series there is a distinct aesthetic series. Stranding At The Gates of Night was released in March of 2022 and began a parade of releases which used Romantic era paintings as artworks and had titles like Caern Mist, Grimoire of Old Lore, Kingsorrow, and The Sage of Shadowdale. These were all released in quick succession and perhaps to the surprise of few, they were all very very good. Elminster does many things and since last year has amassed a body of work which rivals others with longer careers. Elminster is but one name of a constellation of projects. Stranding At The Gates of Night and the subsequent romantic period is just that, a period before something else. I do not wish for any one style from this artist and am pleased to have found something that resonates through the year much like the tolling of a large bell.
Moth Tower – Void Receiver(Gondolin Records, Denmark)
While we certainly have artists who release multiple works throughout the year, we also have those who release one…if we are lucky. Moth Tower has a total of three albums which might be seen as light until taken into account the entirety of its creator Emil Sol Brahe. Brahe also commands the dark ambient project Sol but even that project was not enough to reach the vision of ghostly omnipresence. Moth Tower is an entity which sometimes visits this reality and leaves a spectral trail. I use all of the fantastic and phantasmic allusions since the work of Moth Tower is rife with the weird. Void Receiver is a call from an intradimesnion where its goblins and unknowable creatures come and put on a pageant of high strangeness. With the same spirit as vampiric synth and raw winter synth, Moth Tower manages to frame the weird in an orchestral presentation complete with a ghostly audience.
Fogweaver – Labyrinthine(Independent, US)
At this point in the article, I think I have indirectly mentioned the artist behind Fogweaver. If you have read any previous articles, I usually mention the numerous projects by Evergreen or their label, Fableglade Records, which releases fantastic music. Fogweaver's 2020 release Spellwind was a foundational record for contemporary dungeon synth and perhaps will continue to be a new classic for future generations. If you are aware of Evergreen or follow them on social media, you will be aware of their immense adoration for Ursula K. Le Guin. Labyrinthine, music like its predecessor, is entirely based on part of Le Guin's Earthsea series. Fogweaver's use of Earthsea is a loadstar which guides the music and is ultimately used as not just music but an exercise in catharsis as the themes explored in the book are put into the exploratory sounds of dungeon synth. Fogweaver has always been unique and their continual work in all facets is a testament to the prolific possibilities of this genre.
Ithildin – Arda's Herbarium: A Musical Guide to the Mystical Garden of Middle-Earth and Stranger Places(Voices of the Anuir, Canada)
I was debating whether or not to write about this artist's most recent release which is a tribute album to Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn, just in dungeon synth and about Hobbits. Go back to any one of my digests and I am probably talking Ithildin about one of the releases from the Arda's Herbarium series. 2022 saw three releases from this series based around the book "Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium." The book is a 2017 botanical study detailing…well.. the flora of Middle Earth. Ithildin's Arda's Herbarium bases its contents on the ending chapters which list from A-Z, the plants of Middle Earth. From "Aeglos" (a white-flowered plant growing on the slopes of Amon Rûdh during the First Age) to "Cypress" (perhaps the inspiration for Two Trees of Valinor), Ithildin engages with each entry yielding unique and comforting dungeon synth. While this genre can lend itself to epic fancies with impossible heroes and surreal landscapes, a three tape series based around fictional plants is perhaps the most dungeon synth of subjects.
Ulk – Restoration Magic(Gondolin Records, Netherlands)
All Hail Turtle Magic. With the release of Restoration Magic, Ulk has successfully managed to release a lauded record about turtles and for the benefit of turtles. With each of the releases looking like a page in a scientific journal from the 19th century, Ulk uses old school dungeon synth and crafts a storyline about the fragility of nature and the ability to heal through caring. Restoration Magic, is a premiere dungeon synth record with each song a presentation of drama and allegory. If Ulk was a playable character in an RPG, they would be a druid / bard who weaves magical fables and impart the wisdom of coexistence. Each time Ulk releases a record through Gondolin I know two things. One is I will never secure a tape and the second is that it will be absolutely heartbreaking when I listen to it.