It doesn’t make sense to speak of big names or major players in the dungeon synth scene. The genre is too young, too small and still too cool to have that many established “great artists”. Those who have made it big, did so before the genre had even received its name, and usually by playing another kind of music; think Mortiis. There are some important names, though, and by now St. Petersburg’s RævJäger must be surely be counted among them.
The project have been around for only a few years, but already has a large number of releases out. The present one, The Tale of Axe & Torch, was originally released in 2015 on tape and in a version still available for free online, but the present review concerns the version remastered and re-released by Obscure Dungeon on tape quite recently.
For those who don’t know, RævJäger is one of those very prolific, self-identifying dungeon synth one man bands which are explicitly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons RPGs and oldschool video/computer game music. The music goes to no great length to appear acoustic or organic, but celebrates its synthetic base quite shamelessly. Given the inspiration and point of the project, that comes as no surprise, and is really no problem.
RævJäger offers some great melodies, and some fairly complex song writing. A huge amount of different synth instruments form diverse melodic constructions, ranging from the impish staccato of “Be a Trickster!” to the almost 80’s sounding “Follow the Masked Man” and the slightly exciting drama of “Battle with the Stone Guard”. The titles also move somewhat beyond the realm of fantasy stereotype – or what about such hit tunes as “Let’s a little bit Planeswalk” or “Escape from the Mushroom Dragon”? Pleasantly naive and somewhat humorous fantasy artwork, reminiscent of the illustrations in early tabletop RPGs, adds an additional touch.
Like many of the dungeon synth bands of this generation, RævJäger would probably benefit from a slightly slower production rate, focusing on developing or experimenting with sound and atmosphere (for instance, dungeon synth musicianship seems like a prime place for utilizing field recordings). Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of fantasy synthwork, that becomes a little better every time you hear it. It achieves pretty much exactly what it sets out to do: take us to another place by evoking mental associations to other, digital as well as social, means of escapism.
The Tale of Axe & Torch is available from Obscure Dungeon Records here.