Dungeon Crawling: Fall 2023


Wimps and Posers leave the Hall, it’s time for our Fall dungeon haul.

Well met, travelers. ‘Twas a most bountiful harvest this year, and a great labor to select which of the dungeon’s treasures to reveal to you. But come now, gather round the hearth as we admire their beauty and share tales of daring adventure, grave danger, and bangin’ fantasy keyboard music.

Thomas Ignatius – S/T
Palatsi Records | September 9, 2023

A delightful medieval synth-pop excursion with period-appropriate melodies and vocals sung completely in Latin. The ethereal, ’80s-esque textures of the key leads are grounded by monastic vocals, as well as the rustic plucked strings and percussion. This juxtaposition lends Thomas Ignatius a delightfully anachronistic quality. Think “A Knight’s Tale”, “Sadeness” by Enigma, or last years fantastic Dim album. The compositions also cover a broad spectrum: from exultant unaccompanied chants (“Stilla in stellaum radium”), to the measured gaiety of a tourney dance (“Comites fideles”), to the haunting threnody of ascetics (“Quo vado”). One of those delightfully rich “ambient” albums that can serve as both a backdrop (a very medieval one) or a deep listening experience. 

Also 10/10 art. Keyboard Sun Monk is now my best friend. No notes.

Frostgard – Urul​ó​kë
Independent/Out of Season (tapes)| September 23, 2023

Shout out to hawk screams. Gotta be one of the hardest nature sounds to hear in a fantasy synthesizer music album. Epic in scope and character, akin to Thangodorim and Summoning’s synth interlude and segue tracks, as befitting Frostgard’s subject matter: the dragons of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythos. From the triumphant aforementioned hawkscream and percussion of “Ancalagon the Black, the War of Wrath” to the spooky and sorrowful dirges of the “Gondolin falls under the Fire-Drake” and “Frosted Death & Winter’s Rigor”, Frostgard has composed an album that expertly hits all of dungeon synth’s hallmarks with aplomb.

Atlantean Sword – Realmwalker
Independent | October 24, 2023

Idk what Solacesteel is but it sounds bad ass. Realmwalker is an album of many such cool mysteries. Solemn leads and pads with juuuust enough lo-fi crunch to evoke ominous snowcapped peaks and lonely castles, full of mysteries and ripe for exploring. Art with that unshakeable and immediately intriguing air of pulp high fantasy. The aforementioned vivid song titles about magic metals and magic artifacts of import. The classic beats are trod, and they are trod well, my friends. A lovely soundtrack as the nights grow long and the winds of winter begin to howl.

Inlustris – Mysterium
Independent | October 3, 2023

“I Can’t Believe It’s Not New Age Music!” 

Chill but in a groovy, mysterious way, not in a Sleepytime Tea Bear way. Mysterium is a catchy blend of medieval-inspired electronic music that dares to wonder “What if you climbed to the top of Wizard’s tower and caught a glimpse of the immense and utter beauty of the cosmos through his Orb, which is playing a Pure Moods CD?”. That’s all to say, in addition to reflective and relaxing atmospheres, Inlustris knows how to throw down a downright danceable beat (see album opener “Nox Solemnis” and “Majestas”). This one goes out to all the spoony bards out there who like to adventure, but also need to hit ye olde discothèque between quests. Go slap play and dance the night away in Inlustris’ fantasy electronica world. 

FFO: Paladin, Vandalorum, Guild of Lore, Pure Moods, “Ameno” by Era, shaking ass (verily)

Malfet – Dolorous Guard
Independent/Dungeons Deep Records (Vinyl/Casette) | October 6, 2023

Malfet returns after a three year absence to take us on an Arthurian journey most perilous and daring. Delving into fantastic tales of beauty and battle from both the “Matter of Britain” and Middle-Earth, AKA “Matter of Britain 2”* Malfet deftly weaves a brave tale of heroic exploits and thoughtful reflection. As with the varied contents and themes of the stories that inspired it, the peaks and valleys of Dolorous Guard make the journey all the more memorable and poignant. Also there’s a lot of nature sounds tying everything together, so it’s a bit like reading a book on a camping trip. A big plus, IMO. The ending ode to late Morrowdim artist Maria Rice, an arrangement of one of her pieces and “A Far Green Country”/ “Into the West” from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, is beautiful, heartfelt, and I’m not crying—you’re crying.

Until our paths cross again, stay Trve, Dungeoneers!

* Author’s Note: I was surprised to learn that Tolkien, for all of his love of his home island and the seeming parallels between the greater LotR mythos and Arthurian legends, was not a big fan of Ole King Arthur Pendragon and his Round Table. In a letter to a colleague Tolkien wrote that he saw the Arthurian world as British but not “English”, and seemed to find their explicit Christianity incompatible with his personal view of mythology and legend. He also thought all the faerie stuff was too lavish and silly or something. This is pretty rich coming from the guy who wrote Tom Bombadil (of whom I am a huge fan). “Hey Dol! Merry Dol!”, indeed.
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