On The Cusp

December is a weird time for music, as publications and blogs inevitably make end of the year lists. Due to the nature of running a publication, and the already built anticipation of celebrating accolades before the holidays, half of December is usually forgotten in year end lists. Releasing a record late in December or even January runs the risk of being overlooked at the end of the year or forgotten throughout the next. Dungeon synth doesn't really seem to care about traditional time, however, and artists will sometimes do multiple releases throughout December and January. This irreverence to tradition is perhaps built into the very core of the music and culture who has a fanatic informalness when it comes to making and producing music.

One thing I have done to alleviate the hard cutoff at the end of the year is to mark the period of December and January as a cusp period with a notable release in December being allowed to be included to accommodate musicians who disregard notions of time. This lax approach to time is on top of other temporal exemptions including re-releases by labels and also compilations of past material for a larger audience. This roundup is going to include releases from January, December, and perhaps even before. Dungeon synth, at times, does not know what day it is and for this we are going to celebrate the great gray period where dates do not really matter or are at least secondary to the music. Time is a construct for many and we revel in an atemporal wonderland.

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Dutch artist Nortfalke has been creating soundscapes in twilight since 2018 and their third record Seefonktjúenderee continues to see a progression of this sound. To begin with the theme of shedding our responsibility to time, Seefonktjúenderee was actually released in July of 2021 through Dunkelheit Produktionen with recording taking place in the Fall of 2019. In 2022 we see a special vinyl release through Dungeons Deep which continues showcasing and archiving amazing talent. At three tracks and nearing 49 minutes, Seefonktjúenderee combines glacial Berlin School electronics with icy dungeon synth textures to produce one of the best and most complete in the artist's catalog. I have always felt a record composed of few but lengthy tracks is an accessible package for listeners as it offers a complete journey through mysterious lands. Seefonktjúenderee's craft and skill resonates through its extensive landscapes of calm and lonely serenity. It is truly a journey and one which feels old and ancient in its telling.

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Faery Ring was a part of a special time and place for dungeon synth. This English project made considerable attention with 2016's A Kingdom Beset By Despair, which crystallized the then fervor for classic and dark sounding dungeon synth offset by melody. Leech and Wort was the 2017 follow up which continued the artist's quest to drown flowers in all sorts of mire. There is goodness and magic within Faery Ring's world, yet to get there one must travel through a waist deep mire to reach a cottage which sits in the middle of the forest. With songs like "Crushed Mugwort Blossom" and "Marshmarriage," the sounds of Leech and Wortare dark and triumphant, courting feelings of splendor and sorrow all in one release. Most of Faery Ring's work is dutifully preserved by rereleases on Gondolin Records.

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In 2020, I went bananas over the two releases by Arthel. This Canadian artist's music was seething in a brightness which brought dungeon synth to submission with gentleness. As the Sun Sings and the Moon Breathes is another entry into a book of aggressive harmony with the idea of a searing symphony which tears across the sky. Arthel achieves a sense of claustrophobia on their records which pushes old school dungeon synth records into a confined space and creates a resonating hum. The melodies become reflective and disortanting enveloping the listener and transporting them to unsteady ground. It is blissful oblivion. At the moment, Serpent's Sword has no plans for a physical release, but there are some who hope that changes. There are some who wish to drown in the light.

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[Note: This is our editor's project. Deal with it, I guess.]

Fableglade Records has been noted in this column as an important label in the dungeon synth scene for their continual showcase of raw talent. Fableglade Records' seasonal tape bundles are split between new releases from luminaries in the dungeon synth scene and fringe artists that skirt even the definition of the sound. I wanted to highlight this fringe with a release from neofolk act Footpaths which came through the latest winter tape bundle and also (which I found out much later) a side-project for Invisible Oranges' editor Jon Rosenthal. Neofolk, historically existed as an abstract melange of art, philosophy, and alternative spirituality which was expressed through ghostly and apocalyptic folk. Neofolk, now, is even more vague and decentralized with the sound being employed by various people with various goals. Marble Acres is a collection of songs written between 2013 and 2018, and its creator keens in tones which feel timeless in its loneliness. Told through sparse and cryptic information listed only as town and city names, the collection of songs feels like a burden one takes one when listening. One of neofolk's central components, both historic and modern, is its naked expression through bare instrumentation and an almost spiritual link to its pathos. Footpaths offer emotional backstory for each song though they feel applicable for anyone to use for catharsis or ruination.

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We return to Italy with a tape label and stash house for weirdos; Heimat Der Katastrophe (HDK). Finding information on releases and artists released on HDK is challenging since the truth is often spiked with fiction. ROTVÄLTA's debut Utflykter i den svenska skogen is presented as an anonymous soundtrack for a documentary from the Swedish Ministry of Tourism. I only believe some of that, though I want to believe all of it. With a cover that may be more surreal than its music, Utflykter i den svenska skogen is a warm hallucination of cascading synth sounds, nature samples, and a dreamlike narrator which guides the listener through its liminal space. ROTVÄLTA presents the Scandinavian countryside as an uncanny valley that is welcoming in its absurdity. Fiction might be more entertaining since HDK has always set its stage for artists to enact a drama through unconventional pageantry. I am usually speechless whenever listening to HDK releases and Utflykter i den svenska skogen makes me want to stay in their cabin that seems to be at the edge of conventional space.

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Finland's Meadow Grove has made a lot of music. This might be more common in dungeon synth than other forms of music, but one by themself can make an extraordinary amount of music in a short amount of time. Counting self-releases, Meadow Grove has eight demos and ten singles in the span of two years. Many of these releases have been picked up by labels such as Voices of the Ainur, Taste of Beer, and Weregnome Records for tape release, which in turn acts as an introduction to an increasing audience. Meadow Grove makes music like others would write poetry or journal entries. Their albums are immediate and usually obsessed with a theme before moving onto something else entirely. The Everwinter Forest sees winter synth illustrate scenes of a Finnish winter though with the welcoming of some invasive and alien sounds. What I have always enjoyed about Meadow Grove is dedication to the dungeon synth sound but also the understanding the music will wander off and forge new winding paths around its sound. Songs like "The Moonlite Forest" begins with a serene and predictable dungeon synth melody but with a slow introduction of outside sounds which descend upon the scene like synthetic drones. Meadow Grove does not use harsh sounds nor wants to be abrasive; rather there is an open invitation for anything to come together and live in perpetual harmony. The Everwinter Forest continues to show Meadow Grove as an artist who scours the universe for sounds and styles. The release is a snowy cross of dungeon synth mixed with crystal synthwave that is both bizarre and utterly hypnotic.

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I have joked on one of more occasions that the Bandcamp profile picture for Deep Gnome is the spirit animal for dungeon synth. Deep Gnome is from the United States and A Letter From A Friend is the debut demo from a project that seems to be stumbling into a place while brushing off bits of dirt, ash, and pixie dust. There is an inherent optimistic rudeness surrounding the sound which is both comfortable in its lo fi qualities and entrancing in its melodies. In its four tracks, the music from Deep Gnome ranges from drowning dirges to regal processions which feel like they could stretch across forest floors. There are echoes of great masters both from the 1990s and the early 2010s dungeon synth scenes. A Letter From A Friend is music for faeries which hold sticks shaped like swords and smoke weed out of apple bongs. Deep Gnome is a showcase of someone having the time of their lives, which I feel may be the true spirit of dungeon synth.

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Deep Gnome
Deep Gnome's profile picture, or, dungeon synth's essence.
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In Japanese folklore, an Ungaikyo is a supernatural entity which takes the form of a mirror. It can be thought of somewhat like a magic mirror which can either trap humans or alter the reflection of the person using it. Ungaikyo Prod is a French label led by creator Julien A. Lacroix who lies behind a majority of the releases. Ungaikyo Prod has combined dungeon synth with a top-down aesthetic redesign centered around Japanese folklore. The desire to make Japanese-inspired synths mysterious is certainly tempting, as Samurai and Eastern myths can replace Western fantasy elements. While those elements will certainly lend itself to ambient fantasy, Ungaikyo Prod and one of the January releases by Juuyokka treats its subject matter with dignity and tact. Showcasing sparse koto over forest ambience with the sounds of rushing water, the sounds of 控え Hikae are imaginative but far from exploitive. The thematic centerpiece for each of the songs rests on the solitude of nature and the void of the soul. It is a sound that feels natural to dungeon synth and something that could be a new landscape for dungeon synth artists.

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PS1 Hagrid and their debut PS1 Hagrid's Wonderful Adventure are entirely joking entities in the world of dungeon synth. In fact, it is laughing at us even as we speak. This debut crafts short memorable melodies which float between comfy synth, chiptune, and being stoned in front of a Playstation loading screen. PS1 Hagrid's music is nostalgic, irreverent, and eternally infectious with its disarming comedic sense. At times, I do not know where or not to laugh or cry at its peaceful composure. Though this debut was originally released in March of 2021, PS1 Hagrid's Wonderful Adventure's tape release is coming through UK label Malferna Productions, which is set to release sporadic tape bundles with Coniferous Myst and Snowspire included in an upcoming batches all with wonderful minimal label design. PS1 Hagrid is an odd addition to any tape bundle yet the confidence in which they radiate makes them a welcome addition to any gathering.

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In 2021, Scrying Glass's debut Beyond Sight acted as an introduction of a talented artist performing in front of a baffled audience. Here was dungeon synth sent on a cosmic voyage to places where few had charted maps. It has been almost a year since that debut which is the right amount of time to forget just how far out and crazy these sounds can get. Though the running time is about the same as the debut, Wyrmhole packages the experience into two lengthy tracks which combine dungeon synth, Berlin School, and grooving jazz fusion not far from racing on Rainbow Road. Wyrmhole is a stellar cocktail of exploration and levity that ventures into the history and complexity of electronic sound. The history of dungeon synth goes much further than the 1990s black metal scene and Scrying Glass reminds us of the ancient foundations which lay in Atlantean architecture. With each release, Scrying Glass continues to add evidence they are not from this world rather a time traveler sent to offer wisdom and hope for the civilization.

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I don't know, but I love it. Last year Medwegya released Raw Psychedelic Vampire which was an explosion of frenetic keyboards which played somewhere between ragtime piano and funerary dirges. Raw Psychedelic Dungeon Synth Black Metal Manifesto doubles down on this theme with a sound that can be described as a video game tribute band covering Castlevania in a garage down the street. Trashy drums, non sequitur audio clips, and keyboard that are hanging onto the melody for dear life, Medwegya is beyond raw and too far gone for any sort of intervention. There is a stunning amount of conviction bundled in more of a nailbomb than an album which adds to the albums charm and ultimate hypnosis. Raw Psychedelic Dungeon Synth Black Metal Manifesto is a bizarre record with a surprising amount of reception which leads me to believe this is less a lo-fi dungeon synth cult than evidence of an actual vampire takeover.

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