Hey everyone, it’s Halloween! You know, that time of year everyone on your news feed posts various versions of the Misfits song like they’re training for the Olympic event of getting “No Presents for Christmas” posted first once December hits. Or the time every spooky goth on your friends list posts some clever shit about how they use Halloween decorations all year followed by some fucking hashtag that’s going to show they know modern witchcraft or whatever.
Regardless of my cynicism, it’s the perfect time of year for creepy music and if you’ve been following me here for the past month or so, you’ll notice I’ve caught quite the obsession for dungeon synth. As cliche as it may be, I follow very seasonal listening patterns, probably because it’s one of the only sources of stability in my life. When I was a younger man, Halloween was always an important time of year for me, first when I used to fuck up my house in order to spook kids and annoy my neighbors and later when I started working at the haunted house, and during both times I tried to use shit out of my collection as a soundtrack, mostly the Burzum (pre-prison) ambient tracks, Mortiis or Neptune Towers. So in the service of nostalgia and also keeping up with my writing theme as of late, I’ve put together a few dungeon synth releases from across the years that pair well with Halloween and also the coming colder months.
I still think most synthwave is crap.
Jaaportit –Kauan Koskematron
As I’ve said before, I use the Dungeon Synth Archives on Youtube as a starting point but what I didn’t mention was the vapid way I chose to check shit out: cover art. I’m drawn to blues in winter scenes, probably something I should talk out with a therapist, so Jaaportit’s 1999 cassette stuck out as something to give a listen to. The entire recording has an extremely desolate and cold feel to it but honestly if it was just 45 minutes of the first few moments looped I’d be just as happy. Since finding this, I’ve listened to all of Jaaportit’s recorded output that I could find and it’s all really good but progresses beyond the lonely splendor of Kuan Koskematron which I think is entirely deserving of a good reissue.
An Old Sad Ghost –From the Tombs of Videna
The music from this project fits the (rather obvious) name quite well. Bringing to mind the visuals of really old paranormal horror films, this is some of the most creepy dungeon synth I’ve come across while digging through dozens (if not hundreds) of horrible recordings to find the gems. Minimal, but very haunting (not a pun) bleak music which is both desolate and comforting at the same time.
Floral of Forever – Ad Infinitum
Older synth projects tend to fall into two categories for me: they sound like they’re recorded on a battery powered toy synth by someone who thought the levels being in the red was like winning a boss fight, or genuinely ghoulish lo-fi horror sounds. Floral of Forever sounds like a field recording from an old castle in the 1940’s mixed with a goth/death rock infusion once the (barely audible) drums kick in. Sure, occasionally it sounds like they’re falling down said castle’s stairwells but in a pre-Pro-Tools era, it’s probably naive to expect perfection. Another soundtrack to a black & white movie.
Splendorius – Norfaragell-Thul
Sounding like a good mix of Era 1 Mortiis and Pazuzu (Austria), Splendorius have definitely captured the essences of both early dungeon synth and black metal together in a single package that manages to sound somewhat polished yet tightly holds on to the organic feeling that made music like this in the mid 90’s feel vibrant and visual. So far everything I’ve listened to from this project has been worth checking out.
Yes, I know organic isn’t the proper way to describe something using digital instruments. If you’ve got a better idea, please write it down, put in in an envelope and throw it in the trash.
Forgotten Kingdoms – Crowned in Forlorn Darkness
As a general rule of thumb, you can count on anything released through Tour De Garde (Or Out of Season, for that matter) to be worth investigating. Forgotten Kingdoms is the dungeon synth project from the mastermind behind Drowning the Light and while he has a few demos under this moniker, 2017’s Crowned in Forlorn Darkness is the one where he really gets it right. The right amount of minimalism, unsettling vocals, and generally dismal feelings make this one of the year’s best cassettes. It’s worth noting all of his recordings with this project should be given some of your time and fortunately aren’t exceptionally difficult or expensive to come by.
Yearner – Winternight
Everything about this release feels about twenty years older than it really is, from the cover to its creepy lo-fi aesthetic. I remember getting a CD from a synth project around 95 or 96 that boasted “if you like the intros to death and black metal albums ,this CD is for you,” but if there was truth in advertising, it would have sounded a lot more like this and a lot less like how it actually did. A good recording to sit quietly and let your mind take you places.
I could honestly list a few dozen more, but between everyone’s attention span (mine included) plus in the spirit of hoping anyone who enjoys this does their own digging around, I’ll keep it at this. The CD I mentioned earlier? I just remembered, Near Death Experience’s Journey Into Darkness which, despite horrible packaging and advertising, is a pretty cool electro-instrumental CD. Good luck finding that shit on Youtube, though you’re in luck if you’re also looking to watch videos of people claiming to have met Jesus. As previously stated, the best resource I’ve found is the Dungeon Synth Archives on Youtube, though there’s a lot of crap to wade through, and the occasional sun wheel. I’m sure if you played it for trick or treaters, they wouldn’t stop to have a political discourse with you, unless you live in Brooklyn.