Dungeon Crawling: Spring 2023
Fun fact: many bee species nest underground. Dungeons are underground. Coincidence??
I’ve taken a perilous, months-long quest through dungeons deep and dark, expertly avoiding their traps and pitfalls, to unearth the highest quality doots and toots. Now, just in time for the start of Summer, I’ve emerged from my subterranean journey to share the riches and treasures I’ve uncovered from the first half of 2023:
Hole Dweller – With Dreams of Hereafter
Dungeons Deep Records | March 3, 2023
A heartening, reflective 4th album from Hole Dweller, the hobbit-themed dungeon synth project of Athens, GA-based musician Tim Rowland. While the adoption of a clearer production on this release may turn some purists off, I found it a great fit for the material. Buffing away that dungeon-y grit and grime gives the music some breathing room, and lets Tim’s compositional chops shine. Just a mad lad and his synthesizer making beautiful piano melodies and bitchin’ Rush tributes (see: “Up and Over”). True balms for the soul. This’ll have you pining for bucolic scenery and a bowl of Longbottom Leaf in no time.
Quest Master – Sword & Circuitry
Urge Records (vinyl)/Out of Season (tapes/CDs) | March 17, 2023
An ethereal mingling of dungeon synth modality with ’80s synth music vibrancy. A high fantasy sci-fi musical mash up fit for chivalric automatons. Similar to Hole Dweller, Quest Master’s fantasy synthesizer music has left the lo-fi “lost ’90s RPG” comfort zone of their past releases, providing a better showcase of their compositional chops. A move that pays off in spades. Someone also compared this to the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack on Bandcamp, so what are you waiting for? Slap play, and get questing (for bananas). Tl;dr version: Quest Master got a vaporwave plugin in their latest firmware update, and Sword & Circuitry is all the better for it!
Aura Merlin – Illuminations
Independent | March 18, 2023
At first blush you may find the shiny, new age vibes of Aura Merlin’s sophomore release akin to Quest Master in its overall atmosphere and aesthetic—the cut of its jib, the “doot” of its “toot”, if you will—but Illuminations somehow conjures up soundscapes of crystalline wonder with a more “natural” feel to them. The lovely, diverse orchestration mingled with spectral synth pads creates a rich depth that belies Illuminations’ “ambient” and “winter synth” genre tags. From the propulsive energy of “The Forgotten Dwelling” and “In The Willow”, to the groovy study-chill-relax-to vibes of “Illuminations” and “The Doctrine of Signatures”, to the introspective and meditative closing ambience of “Fond Farewell”, Aura Merlin covers a ton of territory. Keep an eye (and ear) on this dungeon bud, folks!
Frog Concert – Slumbering Sounds of the Frog Fellowship
Independent/Fiadh Productions (physical) | May 13, 2023
Ephemeral and amphibious “cozy” synth that hearkens to a summertime stroll along the water’s edge at twilight. In Frog Concert’s case it should really be called “Frog and Toad” synth because what it lacks in duration it more than makes up for in quirkiness, organ acrobatics, and a wholesome sense of wonder. A hopping good time! FFO: “Kawazu” by Morbid Angel, the Budweiser Frogs, and that one scene in Totoro with tons of frog noises where they grow some acorns into a giant tree via ancient forest spirit umbrella dance ritual.
Stormkeep – Lost Relics
Order of the Divine Light | May 12, 2023
Look I made a dumb joke about preferring a Stormkeep dungeon synth album to a Blood Incantation ambient record way back before I got my ass hooked on keyboard music for LARPers, and now here we are. A real monkey’s paw moment for me. This release, originally a bonus CD from the first edition of Tales of the Othertime, is true (trve) dungeon-delving dungeon synth. Foreboding vibes, cheesy voice samples, and more high fantasy concepts and tropes than you can roll a D20 at. Big boi synths a lá Thangorodrim and Mortiis are what await ye should ye gather thy courage and journey forth into the darkness. Give it a spin and prepare thy spells for righteous battle!
Piyakdu – Visionnes ov Naeku the’e Plowmanne
Grime Stone Records | May 15, 2023
I saved the most mellow for last. Piyakdu is billed as Western Himalayan Synth, and let me tell you I hit play in large part because that sounded bad-ass, and also because the art looked wild. A sun man with laser eyes? Sign me up! So what is Western Himalayan Synth? Well, on one hand it could be a mix of field recordings that capture the chatter and hum of summer, lo-fi keyboard melodies awash with the sun’s warmth, and calming ambient drones as crisp as the breeze through the tall alpine grasses of the Joot.
On the other hand, maybe the real Western Himalayan Synth was the friends we made along the way today on our Dungeon Crawl. Until our paths cross again, stay Trve, Dungeoneers!