The dungeon synth explosion has hit the world hard, or at least the small but amazing parts of the world that care about such things. Many projects are pushing the limits of the genre (with the chiptune dungeon synth of Moaning Shadows as the most radical example), others churn out massive amounts of simplistic but well produced little computerized darkfolk tunes.
While the early dungeon synth bands, often black metal side projects or otherwise connected to that scene, generally touched on quasi-realistic subjects such as occultism, nature romanticism or national lineage, most newer projects are heavier on the out-and-out fantasy settings, or even CRPGs and video games. The creators are often very much internet based, and perhaps less connected if at all to the black metal underground. Very few of them have probably ever traded a tape over “snail mail”. Much of this stuff is still good, even great, but to those of us old enough to now be wise and full of the real bitterness and disappointment which replace the self-aggrandizing, pretentious world weariness of puberty, there’s often something missing.
Enter Old Tower, straight from the Netherlands, to set things right. Even if their first release was made in 2015, they sound like something straight out of the mid 90s, in the best possible way imaginable. Working your way through their back catalog, much of which is available on Bandcamp, you can even trace a stylistic development – from very primitive, early synth work that screams of Casio keyboards and 4-track porta studios, to the later releases, which remain firmly in a rough, murky synth territory, but also develop a richer and more convincing sound.
The Rise of the Specter was released on the 6th of January this year. It contains two spectacular pieces of dungeon synth, very much in the vein of early Mortiis’ more epic work, or this reviewer’s absolute personal favorites, Cernunnos Woods. Old Tower also have some true underground credentials, since they are released by Tour de Garde, one of the more prestigious black metal labels there are today (they are based in Canada, but french Canada, so it’s all right). The Rise of the Specter comes on a purple vinyl, and we really can’t recommend it enough.
The dungeon synth scene is extremely dynamic at this point (if you haven’t, make sure to check out Hollywood Metal’s ongoing series on the topic). Had that not been the case, it would be a safe bet that this will be the best album in the genre all year, despite it’s early release date. As things stand, we still think that likely, but who knows? Challengers may be lurking in the dungeons, and Old Tower themselves have a whole year to keep doing what they do best: great fucking dungeon synth.