V/A – Ethereal Dungeon Tales

There’s been trouble a-brewing in the online Dungeon Synth community, but for now this will be left to some yet-to-come greater writer with pettier inclinations than any available to Archaic Triad. Instead, I’d today like to have a look at the third and last installment of the first trilogy of the Dungeon Synth Compilation. Random online comments have lead me to understand this to be the most experimental of the lot, with the first one being “all-inclusive” and the second one focusing on more pure and melodic work.

Since my true, spiritual allegiance lay more with the “first wave” of DS – i.e. the disparate assembly of ritual, synth, ambient and black metal side-project music that graced the distro lists of the 90’s – than with the second, these distinctions matter less to me than perhaps to others. Ritual elements, industrial elements and other stuff simply sound right to me in lo-fi and alternative synth music. I have far more problems with the CPR,  table top game and non-Tolkien Fantasy influences since, even if I’ve played and consumed my share, I generally find much of this material somewhat trivial. Still, there are numerous new DS acts that focus on such themes, and do a smashing job (Verminaard being just one excellent example). And this sounds a whole lot like me beginning to almost write about things I said I’d avoid in the first paragraph.

Onto the Ethereal Dungeon Tales, then. Generally, the style is more minimalist and stripped-down than it is radically experimental. There is no Einhorn here. There is, however, a whole lot of old-school lo-fi going on, of a type quite in line with 2nd wave Dungeon Synth orthodoxy. The usually simple arrangements also limit any sense of over-sequencing, or perhaps it’s just the amount of alcohol I’ve had to drink this fine evening that makes me less bothered by such matters. All in all, the style and production of most tracks work together to make this a rather well held together compilation. From the harp-ish, meditative notes of Fortress of Ice’s “De Massive Vegger Av Stonemaeit” to the dreamy, horror influenced chimes of Dybbuk’s Chambers/Lovecraft/Derleth themed “The Yellow Sign”, there is a basic sound type that creates a sense of solidity.

Melody wise, many of the tracks on Ethereal Dungeon Tales are of a weirder and “harsher” type than most of those on the previous DS Compilation, Wand and Shadow. Songs like Old Sad Ghost’s “The Tongueless Knight” and Balrog’s “Shadow of a Monster” may not reinvent music, but they manage to find peculiar and very fitting melodic structures to illustrate their chosen concepts. Other compositions I find attractive are the opening track, Dziejawa – “O Wandzie”, and the murky Faer Noamuth – “A Face Encrusted in Dust”. Once again, there are no really bad tracks here – in a way this volume of the compilation is one where you either like the whole thing, or you don’t. At least that’s my assessment. The final track by Shangri-la, “Ascending the Wizards Throne”, may be the exception – adding black metal growling to an essentially Mortiis sounding track – but whether it be the Jaloviina or my common sense talking, I like that one as well.

One of the more exciting prospects connected to this release is the idea of putting the entire first Dungeon Synth Compilation trilogy out on a tape box set. This would indeed be great – as previously discussed, dungeon synth physicals certainly have the potential to sell more than just extreme limitated edition. If done with proper artwork, and perhaps a bunch of trinkets, a “Dungeon Synth Compilation #1-3 boxset” could sell enough to finance further tomfoolery in the genre. Until then, you can support these further efforts by naming your price at something more than 0, and downloading this sweet, dungeony baby.

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