A while back the good folks at the Dungeon Synth forum, in collusion with a Dungeon Synth Facebook group, came up with a cunning plan. They were going to put together a compilation of some of the many musical acts subsisting in the moss infested dungeons of the internet. Bands doing microscopic tape editions, Bandcamp pages, and virtually no promotion outside of the more or less closed off boards and groups (we receive almost no DS promos, ever, to underscore the point). Putting a bunch of these artists together on a compilation album, available for free download, seemed like a clever idea. Now that the first installment is here, we are in a position to judge if it was.
The theme of the compilation, which bears the name Keepers of the Shadow Realm is a “meeting of hooded figures at a secret meeting place”. This is illustrated by a nicely drawn cover, which immediately made this reviewer think of the druidic gathering in the introduction of the old action RPG Moonstone. Among the artists can be found a few (relatively speaking) well-known names, and quite a few others.
To sum the whole compilation up, it can be said that this is lo- to mid-fi atmospheric music, all of which is more or less categorizable as dungeon synth. All contributions bring something to the table, and despite generally employing rather simple composition techniques and instruments/VSTs, they often come up with some great stuff. Fortress of Ice opens with “A Mystical Place Deep in the Woods”, which uses sampled forest and nature sounds together with strings violently panned back and forth between the speakers to create a peculiar mood.
Chaucerian Myth and Erang both offer ghost themed tracks, solidly constructed, as can be expected from projects that have been so intensely active for such a (very relatively speaking) long time. Nahadoth also delivers, with the combination of shrill synths, bells, brass and who knows what in “Nidahl’s Cosmic Views” being excellent. There are many surprises on the comp, though, from acts that at least this reviewer had missed entirely before checking this out. That fact, of course, validates the entire project.
Einhorn’s “The Dark Herbalist” marries soft, electronic HNW/ANW to bizarre, beeping synths and strange percussion in a way previously unheard of, and really paints a picture of an insane herb purveyor slaving away in a laboratory full of bubbling glass bottles and test tubes. Lye the Imprisoned goes full on retro with “The Bloodsoaked Seer”, with cassette tape hiss and very simplistic synth sounds creating an atmosphere of pure mid 90’s nostalgia. Nebulosa’s “…The Solitary Mountain Ascetic” is also lo-fi, but in a more modern way. It manages to create a mystical atmosphere that illustrates the title very well, with a vaguely Eastern tone. This reviewer’s favorite track, though, is Mitternacht’s “Wardrums of the Ultrabishop”. A great marching drum, brilliant choice of synth voices, marching steps and all sorts of sonic peculiarities create a track that is lively, suggestive, and mixes lo-fi with an epic atmosphere in a way not quite like any heard before.
While there is not space to discuss all 14 songs, there was no real let-down on this one: if you like the genre, you will like this compilation. If you don’t, you may still find a composition or two to your liking, since the diversity is there.
Keepers of the Shadow Realm is a brilliant initiative, on par with WNA’s Wall Split Action, though of course of another genre entirely. Archaic Triad looks very much forward to future efforts, and recommend that you pay at least a little for your download, to make sure that downloads are available for all, and new installments keep on coming. Get it while it’s fresh from the project’s Bandcamp page.