Update XII – 3/26/17

The zine has been inactive for quite some time due to focusing on several music projects, but I am pleased to announce a strong update – featuring reviews from Trogool, Rabor, Crypt of Carmilla, and Morketsvind. I am also happy to present the Legendry special – a double review of the demo/album and an interview from this epic traditional metal band. Definitely one of the best interviews on the zine so far, be sure to check it out and look for more updates in the coming months!

Legendry (Interview)

Legendry is an epic traditional metal band from the United States, which hearkens back to the glory days of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, and Omen. Having already been in contact with guitarist/vocalist Vidarr after covering his black/heavy metal band Defeat in the zine, I was eager to discuss Legendry and publish this long overdue interview. You can read my review for the Legendry demo and full length album here: http://www.barbarianskull.com/wp/reviews/legendry-iniation-rituals-mists-of-time-reviews/

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  • Greetings and thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull! Please tell us about the history of Legendry, what does the band’s name mean to you?

Thank you for the opportunity!

Legendry came from jam sessions between me and former bassist, Choo.  We had originally gotten together with the thought of forming a live band using the material from my solo project, Defeat.  We began working through the songs, and found that we were writing a lot of interesting music, so we decided to develop a new band and concept.  Choo introduced me to Kicker, who became our drummer, and it all went in the current direction.  My original thought was to start a kind of first-wave black metal band in the style of Hellhammer, but my growing interest in bands like Manilla Road soon took center stage in the writing process.

Coming up with an original band name these days is a difficult thing, most new bands having to resort to the unpronounceable or multiple word band names in order to differentiate themselves.  I searched and brainstormed for quite some time, turning up the name Sky Burial (which became the title of the instrumental jam on our Initiation Rituals demo).  This name was found to have been taken by what I can guess is a hardcore post-rock outfit of sorts, so I reluctantly searched on.  At the time I was reading a lot of Robert E. Howard Conan stories, and in his essay, “The Hyborian Age” (which the song, “Winds of Hyboria” is based on), I came across the word “legendry”, and it stuck.  The name, of course, refers to a collection of legends, which is exactly what our albums can be called.

  • Traditional Metal is one of the least common ‘subgenres’ for new bands to adopt today, what appeals to you most about pure heavy metal?

The level of honesty in true heavy metal of the late 70s and early 80s is one of its most appealing qualities.  There are countless undiscovered gems of NWOBHM and weird one-album bands that you might find on LP or cassette in the dusty basements of real record stores; these are what I’m after.  I have a fascination with these artifacts; these bands are long gone, in most cases.  I won’t ever see them live, but the music they recorded will always be there.

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Apart from the appeal of capturing moments in time, the atmosphere is something appealing about these albums.  Both in lyrical subject matter and in the production/recording techniques used to capture the performance.  Often, the lyrical themes revolve around medieval fantasy, and the most enduring bands achieve a sense of that fantasy atmosphere with only the use of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, without relying on keyboards or any obvious sound effects.  Bands like Brocas Helm are extremely medieval sounding, yet they only incorporate the traditional metal instruments.

  • Legendry creates epic atmosphere like the old masters, such as Omen, Cirith Ungol, and Manilla Road. The United States has a long history of playing traditional metal in this style. Does this have any significance to you or your creative process? Do the American bands influence you more than European bands do?

We try to achieve an old-school sound in our production, paying very little attention to what might be considered “modern” or “good” metal production (loud mixes, clicky bass drums, pitch correction are not tools I will be using any time soon!).  The old masters, as you put it, have a huge influence on what we are doing.  The American heavy/power metal bands have an aggressive quality in their performance that can be found to be lacking in some European bands of the same genre (especially once you get into the 90s and 00s power metal bands).  Don’t get me wrong though, geography has little to do with it in most cases, its more style and intent.

  • Your first demo Initiation Rituals was released on tape via Haftvad Records, how did you land a deal with Haftvad? What was your experience dealing with this underground label?

Actually, I contacted them after seeing that they distribute Barbarian Skull, and it went from there.  They were very enthusiastic about the material, and very helpful/professional through the whole process.  I think the finished release looks and sounds great.17389250_430317757309969_3923002488243411475_o

  • The first Legendry song is ‘Phoenix on the Blade’; a song based on the first published Conan the Cimmerian story by the mighty Robert E. Howard. What other authors do you take influence from? Why does Conan make the perfect subject for metal songs?

So far, I have avoided using many of the obvious choices for literary subject matter, a major one being Tolkien, as well as references to Viking Age history and legend.  At this point, Howard is the only author I have referenced, the rest of our songs deal with original subject matter and loose concepts.

Conan is a symbol of barbarism, which Howard considers the natural state of man:  barbarism is depicted as a symbol of freedom and honesty, while civilization, its opposite, is depicted as a symbol of slavery and wicked dishonesty.  Metal, as barbarism in this context, embodies freedom of expression, and has an animalistic power which appeals to its fans.  In addition to being stylistically related, the Conan stories work very well for songs because they are short stories:  they can be reasonably condensed into a few verses for a song.

  • Your first full length album ‘Mists of Time’ has been released by Non Nobis Productions. Tell us more about the creation of this album. What exactly are the ‘mists of time’? How has the album been received thus far?

Just before recording the album, our bassist, Choo, left the band.  We had been preparing to play shows, and this turn of events caused us to look to recording an album while looking for a replacement.  Choo rejoined for a short time, but we have found a more permanent replacement.

The album was created in my home studio.  While I am using a DAW (digital audio workstation) to track instruments, we have done everything possible to capture analog sounds from analog gear.  As far as the actual production of the album goes, we used a variety of instruments and experimental setups; we even had congas and a doumbek for the intro to “Attack of the Necromancer” and I recorded some sword sound effects for “Phoenix on the Blade” using some historical swords from my collection.  Another strange effect we captured was the sound of wind (or mists) using a wah pedal and a distortion box.

The song “Mists of Time” tells the medieval fantasy story of an unnamed protagonist who is called forth to slay a demon who stalks a labyrinth beneath a city. The mists of time refer to the hazy recollections of legend which tell of the warrior who will ultimately defeat this ancient demon.

The album has received a positive response, overall, and has gotten several positive reviews.

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  • The ‘Mists of Time’ album artwork is very impressive and deserves to be printed on a LP jacket! Any chance of this album being released on vinyl?

Thank you!  The original is oil on canvas, 48”X24”, quite a large piece, intended as gatefold LP artwork.  We had originally planned to do an LP release, but as of right now at least, there are no plans to do a vinyl release of Mists of Time (maybe sometime in the future!).

I have begun work on the cover painting for our next album recently.  I cannot reveal the scenario depicted, but I will say that the faceless barbarian has returned to this album cover.  We haven’t come up with a name for him yet, but he has become basically the “Eddie” of Legendry, and will probably be on every album cover from here on out.

  • Your first cover song ‘Necropolis’ by Manilla Road was featured on the Mists of Time album. Of all of the songs in Manilla Road’s extensive discography, why did you choose this one? Do you plan on doing more covers in the future?

It is in many ways an obvious choice to cover “Necropolis”, but that is also the intention.  “Necropolis” was the first Manilla Road song that I heard, and many other people could probably say the same, I’m sure.  Hearing Manilla Road for the first time changed essentially my entire musical direction and covering one of their songs is a tribute to the band.  In the future, we will definitely include more covers; many of my favorite metal albums have cover songs on them and I like that tradition.

Where Mists of Time had more of an obvious choice for a cover song, our follow-up album will have a rather obscure cover track called “Sword of Zeus” by The Lords of the Crimson Alliance.  For those readers unaware, LotCA is a band who released one album and essentially disappeared, no band photos, stage names, no shows, nothing, quite a mystery.  There are actually no lyrics printed or available for the album, so I had to decipher and re-write some of the lyrics myself!

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  • Has Legendry been able to perform any live shows? One thing I noticed from your Facebook page is that your main guitar is a classic Fender Strat with single coil pickups, are you willing to discuss your gear setup for any gearheads reading this?

Having finally stabilized our lineup, we are organizing some shows in the Pittsburgh, PA area, and will be playing at the Legions of Metal Festival in Chicago in May alongside some really great bands, some of which I’ve listened to for many years (Armored Saint, Ross the Boss, Diamond Head, Brocas Helm, and so on!).

We use a lot of vintage gear in general, and certainly favor anything analog. The guitar I play is an American Standard Fender Strat, through a vintage Musicman 210 tube amp and 212 RH cabinet. I use the neck pick-up, as opposed to the bridge pick-up, which is the one you “should” use when playing metal.  This is a blues rig, so naturally it will bring a different tone to the guitars, which I find to be something unique to our sound.  The only effects I use are wah pedal, vintage analog chorus, vintage analog flanger, and a distortion box.  Our new bassist is also using my 70s Fender Tele bass.  This setup is what gives Legendry that “round” guitar sound; we’ve often joked that we could record a blues album.

  • What can we expect from Legendry in the future?

We have been working on the follow-up to Mists of Time for the last several months.  I don’t want to reveal any specific details about this album, but you can expect a much greater 70s prog influence on this album, improved production values, and some other surprising elements.

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview! Any last words are yours.

Thank you, and all the fans who have reached out to us over the last year! We are only getting started, and can’t wait for you all to hear the new music we’ve been working on!

Legendry – Initiation Rituals / Mists of Time (Reviews)

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Title: Initiation Rituals

Artist: Legendry

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Genre: Traditional Metal

Year: 2016

Country: USA

Label: Haftvad Records

Links: https://legendry.bandcamp.com/album/initiation-rituals

Legendry is a traditional heavy metal band inspired by classic American metal bands such as Omen, Manilla Road, and Cirith Ungol. This short demo released by Haftvad Records features live tracks recorded during studio rehearsals. Despite being a simple live demo, Initiation Rituals establishes Legendry as a unique force in modern heavy metal.

The opening track Phoenix on the Blade features very fast riffs and structures that instantly bring to mind Omen’s mandatory Battle Cry album. The lyrics (which are based on the first Conan the Cimmerian story written by Robert E. Howard) set the stage for Legendry’s themes; sword and sorcery, warriors, epic battles and barbarism. The raging speed is reduced during the guitar solo which has a very emotional and melancholic feeling, which brings to mind the guitar work of Mark The Shark Shelton. While the primary focus of Legendry is epic heavy metal, this is far from just another generic metal band. The track Mists of Time show a more improvisational feeling, with long guitar solo passages before returning to the traditional heavy metal bulldozer established on earlier tracks. This moves into territory not often explored by bands of this nature, and creates an adventurous atmosphere perfectly fitting for the sword and sorcery themes of the band.

The tape version also features a bonus track (Sky Burial) which is not featured on the digital copy or the full length album. While Initiation Rituals is a simple rehearsal demo, the material featured as well as the outstanding musicianship of the band already shows that Legendry is a force to be reckoned with in the realms of epic traditional metal.

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Title: Mists of Time

Artist: Legendry

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Genre: Traditional Metal

Year: 2016

Country: USA

Label: Non Nobis Productions

Links: https://legendry.bandcamp.com/album/mists-of-time

Legendry’s full length album Mists of Time is one of the most underrated metal albums I’ve encountered in some time. While their demo Initiation Rituals displayed the bands technical musicianship and sword and sorcery atmosphere, everything is turned up several notches on the full length album. The album begins with a narration of Robert E. Howard’s poem “Cimmeria”, before the second track For Metal, We Ride begins. The song starts with a mesmerizing clean/acoustic guitar passage, which sets a strong mood for a solemn ride into battle. When the electric guitars kick in the lead guitar continues the same mood set up by the acoustics, followed by riffs that command you to headbang. Guitarist/vocalist Vidarr’s unique vocals are also worth mentioning here. The vocals remind me of a nasally mix of Mark The Shark Shelton and Tim Baker from Cirith Ungol, with lyrics that are easy to understand. This approach to heavy metal vocals is rougher and tougher than the typical clean vocals many heavy metal bands take, feeling as heavy as a broadsword compared to the razor thin falsettos other bands use. The chorus is also one of the most memorable moments on the entire album. This 9 minute heavy metal monster is the perfect opener to the album.

Songs from the Initiation Ritual demo are also found here, except we get to hear them the way the band intended. Slight differences can be heard, such as the addition of an electric organ to Phoenix on the Blade, again with the guitar solos soaring over the mix with feeling and power. True heavy metal cannot exist without great guitar solos, and Legendry can hold their own with the best of them. The solos do not focus on speed and shredding, but on delivering memorable and epic melodies that hearken back to the glory days of Ritchie Blackmore. Compared to other contemporary heavy metal acts such as Eternal Champion or Savage Master, Legendry has the best guitar solos in my eyes.

The diversity of the album continues with the tribal percussion opening of Attack of the Necromancer, which creates images of the barren land of Stygia in the mind of the listener who is well read into the world of Robert E. Howard. Necropolis is of course a Manilla Road cover, which really displays how similar Vidarr’s vocals are to Mark The Shark Shelton. The cover is well executed and I’m sure would make Mark and the band proud. The album closer, Winds of Hyboria, is a 12 minute epic which mirrors the style of the poem Cimmeria found in the album intro. This track combines acoustic and electric guitars, giving some sections a heavy Falkenbach feeling, with soaring folkish guitar solos. The band could not have closed with a stronger song, the spoken word outro mirroring the album intro.

Legendry stands next to contemporary American metal bands such as Visigoth and Eternal Champion as keepers of the ancient ways. While the band is firmly rooted in classic bands from the old days, they are far from being generic and are not lacking in enthusiasm, talent and creativity. The album artwork (which was painted by Vidarr himself) is a testament to the ancient metal power of the album. For those who like their metal with chainmail and battle axes, this album cannot be missed.

“I remember the forests, glacier haunted earth
I remember the mountains, and the tales of great mirth
I can see the ravens circling overhead
I can feel the spirits of the honored dead
My ancestor’s calling, from Valhalla’s hall
Their voices do linger, after nightfall
Elemental and strong, the unbowed clans
Oh, the Riddle of Steel, the strength of their hands”

Morketsvind – Wandering to Nether World (Review)

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Title: Wandering to Nether World

Artist: Morketsvind

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2016

Country: Russia

Label: Paa Gamle Stier

Links: https://morketsvind.bandcamp.com/album/wandering-to-nether-world

I have been a fan of Morketsvind since the Morketsvind I release, which I reviewed when this zine was first created. Morketsvind I presented very strong militant Dungeon Synth, which felt like a siege upon a stone stronghold. With the next release, Age of Lord, Morketsvind expanded his sound to include more medieval atmospheres. With the latest Morketsvind album Wandering to Nether World, Morketsvind combines both atmospheres to create an album that is both warlike and medieval, and is supremely epic in feeling and composition.

From the intro Big Ritual of Gates Opening the mood is already set for the album with heavy brass melodies which remind me of the glory days of Basil Poledouris. At this point Morketsvind has the best synthesized brass sound I’ve heard; which sounds more like a synthesizer than a virtual instrument. These brass sections invoke images of mounted kings riding to glory over a desolate battlefield. The militant power of the early Morketsvind material is perfected here. Synthesized key instruments break up the warlike brass sections with adventurous medieval melodies, before returning to the crushing battlefield.

The Basil Poledouris influence is also present in the strings (the track ‘Nether World’ being a prime example). These string sections are both melancholic and powerful, hearkening back to an age of legend. The ability to create music that is both powerful and somber is no easy feat, yet Morketsvind constantly accomplishes this. Many of these melodies stay in my memory for days after each listen, each time bringing images of fortresses and ancient legends.

Not only is the music here excellent, but other aspects of the album are as well. The production is crystal clear and gives power to each instrument, nothing is lost in the mix and every synth is easily present. The CD version of the album (which this review is based on) also includes hand drawn letters and text, something rarely seen in Dungeon Synth today. The album also comes with a story explaining how the songs weave the tale together (I highly encourage everyone with any remote interest in Dungeon Synth to buy the physical version to get full appreciation of the album).

As RaevJager once said, Morketsvind is the siege weapon of Dungeon Synth. Completely original and crafted with excellence and mastery, Wandering to Nether World is not only the best Morketsvind album, it is one of the best Dungeon Synth albums that I’ve ever heard. Welcome to Hyboria.

 

Crypt of Carmilla – Master’s Chalice (Review)

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Title: Master’s Chalice

Artist: Crypt of Carmilla

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth/Dark Ambient

Year: 2017

Country: USA

Label: Self-released

Links: https://cryptofcarmilla.bandcamp.com/

A rotting castle in an ornate Victorian frame is perched upon a hill, the sunlight dulled into shades of grey by the black and white filter resembling an old Xerox cover. Dissonant organ lines creep in the wind and lightning strikes crash as a voice echoes in a deep chamber to drink the blood of the Master. Whispers fade with the wind, as haunting strings sparsely crawl through the speakers at the pace of fog enveloping a corridor. An evil presence is lurking near…

Crypt of Carmilla is a new Dungeon Synth/Dark Ambient project taking influence from the works of Lord Byron, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Charles Baudelaire, as well as the music of Lamentation, Depressive Silence, Old Tower, and 90’s black metal intros. While the opening paragraph of this review may seem as if Crypt of Carmilla is just another lo-fi blackened synth project, what sets this demo apart is atmosphere. From the one minute intro until the end of the demo, the mood is immediately set and never ceases, engulfing the listener in Crypt of Carmilla’s romanticized vampyric darkness. Powerful narrations reverberate as if coming from deep caverns, wolves howl within the wind, deep gongs and percussions crash, and organ lines carve ghastly images into the listener’s mind. However, none of these elements are performed at random. Each narration, each organ line, each percussion crash enhances the atmosphere and feels deliberately planned, giving the demo a cinematic quality. While countless projects strive to create this sense of darkness, Crypt of Carmilla feels authentic in it’s approach. The gothic theme is explored in a way that is not cheesy or feels like a cheap gimmick, much like Lamentation’s early material (especially As Shadow Kingdom Comes To My Sight). While listening to the demo I actually feel as if I’m in the presence of some form of immortal malevolence, from years long past, buried beneath centuries of lore and legend. I’m sure this is the composer’s intention, and this demo was a refreshing new presence in modern Dungeon Synth.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the rating system used on this zine is strict, and a 3.5/5 is a great rating for a 15 minute debut from a new artist. The demo will also soon be available on tape for those who seek analog copies. Fans of old horror and dark dungeon music that isn’t plastic and insincere, come forth and drink from the Master’s Chalice.

Рабор – За Тридевять Земель (Review)

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Title: За Тридевять Земель

Artist: Рабор (Rabor)

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth/Folk

Year: 2016

Country: Russia

Label: Out of Season

Links: https://rabor.bandcamp.com/album/–7

Rabor is a project that has been around for some time and has explored a range of different atmospheres, from straight forward ambient to epic battle music. The latest album За Тридевять Земель explores Russian folklore, with each song based on a Russian fairy/folk tale. The artwork is what first drew my attention to this album, as it is absolutely perfect for this style of music. Traditional Slavic style, patterns, and colors are used, with Baba Yaga’s hut and a personified sun smiling on a bear playing a lute. It is rare to see something like this in Dungeon Synth, and especially at this level of high quality.

Fortunately the music is just as impressive as the artwork. Rabor mixes synths with what seem to be acoustic string instruments, and arrangements that are light hearted in nature. Rabor combines the warm atmosphere of Fief with the folk elements of Kashmar to create a sound that is unique and captivating. While many Dungeon Synth projects are dark and mournful, Rabor’s music is like a long walk through a sunny Russian forest, where folk legends and superstitions are just as real as the mountains and the trees.

The album is not limited to the light folk ambient that compromise the majority of the tracks. Traditional epic Dungeon Synth tracks can be found here as well (the song Камень на Распутье being a prime example), as well as more somber songs (such as За Рекой Смородиной). However, the overall mood of the album remains jovial and warm, which is a welcome change. The majority of music covered on this zine is dark, and this album is the perfect contrast to that. Rabor’s unique mix of Dungeon Synth and folk music is a refreshing change of pace for us at Barbarian Skull. Rabor has created the perfect soundtrack to the age old legends of his culture, immortalizing them in music that even those unfamiliar with Russian folklore can appreciate. The tape version will soon be available on Out of Season and will be one album that I will immediately purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

Trogool – Beyond the River Skai (Review)

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Title: Beyond the River Skai

Artist: Trogool

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth / Orchestral

Year: 2017

Country: USA

Label: Stressball

Links: https://trogool.bandcamp.com/album/beyond-the-river-skai

Inspired by the strange worlds of Lord Dunsany and H.P. Lovecraft comes the bizarre entity known as Trogool, music which is as strange and awe-inspiring as the authors who helped make this project a reality. I’ve been waiting for a Trogool full length album since I first reviewed In The Mists Before the Beginning two years ago. Now that I’m finally holding the album in my hands, not only was it worth the long wait, but this album has exceeded my expectations in every way imaginable.

To label Trogool as just another Dungeon Synth act isn’t fair, especially since no synth is used as far as I can tell. Trogool is one of those rare acts that transcends genre. While it may be Dungeon Synth in nature and style, it is also orchestral in arrangement and sound. Very high quality virtual instruments are performed with a “soundtrack” feeling, yet the arrangements unlike anything I’ve encountered in another project. While the Basil Poledouris influence was heavily present on the EP (which shared similarities with Lord Wind), Beyond the River Skai explores even stranger territories. The range of moods are just as vast as the tales of Lord Dunsany himself. Epic adventurous tracks across deserts where strange towers spiral from the sand, medieval faires where bizarre creatures in colorful clothing perform gleeman feats, dark corridors where unseen malevolence lurks along twisted paths. These songs invoke a feeling of nostalgia similar to the experience of trying to recall a vivid dream which you can no longer remember, a dream which was so strong it is hard to distinguish it from weird reality. Otherworldly and dreamlike, Trogool has created a musical experience forged by creativity and mastery of the all that is inspiring and strange.

Trogool’s music is so unique and original that is truly is one of those projects that must be heard to be understood. Music aside, the packaging of this release is possibly the best I’ve seen in Dungeon Synth so far. The artwork is of fantasy novel level quality, which looks amazing on the A5 digipak format. I was fortunate enough to receive the Die Hard edition which came with a flag, patch, and pin; the entire presentation is incredible.

For those who have grown weary of this world and long for other worlds, Beyond the River Skai is for you.

Update XI – 9/13/16

After months of silence, the zine has been updated with new interviews with three Dungeon Synth titans: Thangorodrim, Trogool, and Verminaard.

It is a pleasure to feature these projects on the zine, as the quality of Dungeon Synth has been concerning to me lately (hence the lack of updates). I have found myself bored with 4 out of 5 Dungeon Synth releases that have come out in the past year. The projects featured on this update have forged their own path through the hordes of generic and uninspiring masses who seem more concerned with recycling cliches than with creating something with spirit and fire. All dungeon dwellers should pay special attention to these three projects in the future!

The next update will feature American epic heavy metal band Legendry and reviews from Witchblood and Fjord / Drunemeton, among other surprises.

Thangorodrim (Interview)

Thangorodrim is one of the most mysterious and impressive artists in Dungeon Synth today. While I was initially impressed with the Era I Mortiis worship of ‘Towers of the Teeth’, his latest album ‘Taur-nu-Fuin’ is one of the strongest Dungeon Synth releases to date. In this interview I speak with the mastermind behind Thangorodrim about his project, which will shed some light on this dark corridor of the Dungeon…

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  •  Greetings! Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull! Please take this time to provide us with the history of Thangorodrim! 
A short history, so far. What began as a pure, unapologetic Mortiis worship (perilously close to the boundaries of plagiarism in many unreleased rough tracks, I must admit) a number of years ago has become  – at least I hope – it’s own entity.
  • Your project is one of the most mysterious in the modern Dungeon Synth scene. Can you comment more on the importance of anonymity with certain music projects? 
I think a breath of obscurity – whether simply utilizing a pseudonym, going so far as to eschew any notion of transparency in true identity, or opting for something in between – can go a long way in working with the music to draw out the sense of wonder we try to achieve, the sense of things hidden and arcane; the magic of lost secrets. In a genre that generally holds the memory and the traditions of the old paths almost sacred, maybe adopting this staple of anonymity (along with other traditions concerning subject matter and visual aesthetics), lends an air of authenticity to the music. Is it necessary? Probably not. Can it help to conjure that particular school of magic we seek? I think so.
  • While Tolkien is a very popular theme in metal and Dungeon Synth, Thangorodrim proudly flies the Tolkien banner and performs music with confidence that would certainly have made Tolkien himself proud. Why do you feel that this style of music is so appropriate for conveying the world of JRR Tolkien?
I could go on for pages and pages unashamedly worshiping Tolkien, but I’ll spare you such a long-winded spilling of guts and abridge. In all my years of constant and ravenous consumption of all things fantasy, I’ve yet to encounter a world that inspires wonder as Tolkien’s does. I don’t expect that I ever will. Maybe it’s because I cut my teeth on The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Maybe it’s the special setting of the fantasy world he brought to life. Maybe it’s that within his fully realized world, across the mountains and plains, bleak expanses of blasted earth, forests and lakes, islands and seas, mighty kingdoms and remote lamplit taverns, each richly woven through with their own peoples, histories, and secret lores, we are gifted with the perfect backdrop for his masterful tales; tales of wonder, courage, battle, triumph, loss, despair, hope and magic. Maybe it also serves as a perfect backdrop for this style of music because these are the images and themes we so often seek to evoke through it. It comes down to this. For many, this is a fantasy-driven genre, and Tolkien is the master of fantasy.
  • Thangorodrim’s music has evolved quite a bit. While the first two releases focused on a Mortiis Era I sound (reaching it’s peak at Towers of the Teeth), your latest release seems to have taken a direction all it’s own. Was this progression natural or intentional?
Tough question, this. I still take the sprawling grandeur of Era I Mortiis as my guide. There will never be anything quite like it. Therein, however, also lies something of a problem. Thangorodrim-as-Mortiis-worship was all well and good, but I soon realized that it’s just not possible to match his true mastery over the style he pioneered. With this understanding, Thangorodrim’s journey into its own sound (though still admittedly heavily Mortiis influenced) feels natural and honest.
  • What Dungeon Synth artists (or artists in general) inspired you the most with Thangorodrim’s musical direction? Is there any direct link between Thangorodrim and second wave black metal?
To me, traditional dungeon synth will always be an echo of second wave black metal. Black metal bands and the progenitors to dungeon synth shared much; not only musically, thematically, and visually, but also in the way of members, consumers, record labels, etc. They were once – and it could be argued that they still are – of the same circle.  I believe that link of kinship should be remembered.
  • Please tell us more about the creation of Taur-nu-Fuin. Many fans consider this to be one of the best Dungeon Synth releases in the modern scene, and even in the history of the genre (based on comments I’ve read online). How would you respond to this feedback? 
I am beyond honored to find Taur-nu-Fuin mentioned among some of the great releases of this year. To see my release even mentioned beside mighty works like Medhelan’s new offering, music from Grimrik, and the simply perfect split between Murgrind and Elffor is incredibly rewarding. Seeing pictures of Taur-nu-Fuin in physical collections next to Født til å Herske is something I never expected. I’m not worthy.
  •  Taur-nu-Fuin was also released on both tape and CD simultaneously by the two most active labels in the modern scene, Out of Season and Deivlforst Records. How did this record deal come about? How has the album sold so far?
I worked with Out of Season for the cassette release of Towers of the Teeth, and I am continually impressed with the quality of their service and product as a label. The agreement for Out of Season to release Taur-nu-Fuin was in place quite a while before Deivlforst Records approached me with an interest in releasing a Grimrik-remastered version of the album on CD. These two great labels agreed to work together on this release, with Out of Season providing the album on cassette and Deivlforst providing it on CD. This allowed me to work with my two favorite (and arguable the best) labels in the scene at the same time. I couldn’t have imagined for a better situation for the release.
  • Can you tell us more about any upcoming Thangorodrim releases? How do you feel about the future of Thangorodrim considering the immense response received from Taur-nu-Fuin?
By the time this interview is published, I expect that two unseen Thangorodrim tracks (not “new” in the strictest sense, but written alongside “Narchost” and “Carchost” during Towers of the Teeth) can be found on a newly-released Tolkien-inspired compilation.
In the realm of truly new music, I am currently hard at work on the follow-up to Taur-nu-Fuin. I won’t reveal too much, but will say that the album is to be based on the final battle between Eärendil and Ancalagon, which marked the end of the War of Wrath, the Great War of the Valar, elves, men, and dwarves against the dark forces of Morgoth in the First Age. I can’t say for sure when I will be finished or what the release will look like, but I’m very proud of what I have so far.
  • Thanks again for answering this interview with Barbarian Skull! Any last words are yours. 
I thank Barbarian Skull for the honor of this interview. Forever walk the old paths.

Verminaard (Interview)

Verminaard is one of the more unique Dungeon Synth projects to emerge in recent times, and instantly caught my attention with the ‘Wardens of the Light-Starved Realm’ EP released earlier this year (such an epic title, too). The dissonant melodies and bizarre atmosphere set Verminaard apart in a scene that is now flooded with generic releases. In this interview I speak to Verminaard mastermind John about his style, process, and fantasy in general. 

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  • Greetings John! Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please provide us with the history of Verminaard, what does the project’s name mean?

The pleasure is all mine! As to the history of Verminaard, I guess it’s been brewing in the back of my mind for a long time now, but I didn’t realize it until recently, if that makes sense. I’ve loved dungeon synth for going on about 5 years or so now, and throughout that time of listening to the old classics, new releases, and everything in between, I’ve had thoughts here and there of trying my hand at creating it. I came up with little melodies and ideas here and there, but nothing was ever really done with them. Then, one weekend in the middle of January of 2016 I just suddenly had a huge compulsion to write. It sounds kind of weird, but it was like all of these ideas had been building up like a river behind a dam, and then that was the day it just burst.

The project’s name is a reference to the Dragonlance series of books by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Verminaard of Nidus is a prominent figure in the first book of the series, Dragons of  Autumn Twilight. He’s a cleric of the dark goddess Takhisis, who has set into motion her Dragonarmies for nefarious purposes; Verminaard commands the Red Dragonarmy. He was born into a long line of heroes and had the potential to be a great force for good, but he was corrupted by Takhisis from a young age to ensure that this did not come to pass, and in the end became one of her greatest champions. I’ve always been fascinated by tales of corruption, so he’s one of my favorite fantasy villains, though my true favorite comes from the same series, the death knight Lord Soth. Soth was initially going to be the name for the project, but I think Verminaard sounds a bit more fitting for whatever reason.

  • Verminaard’s first release ‘Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm’ carries the feeling of a die-hard fantasy fan. What role does fantasy play in your life? Why do you think Dungeon Synth is an appropriate medium for expressing fantasy concepts?

Fantasy plays a very large role in my life, in numerous ways. When I was a kid, and into my teenage years, I really wasn’t in a great place mentally – I suffered a lot from anxiety and depression, and I didn’t have a ton of friends, though the ones I did have were fantastic and I’m still very close with them to this day. Fantasy books were a great way for me to escape from the unpleasantness of my day to day life. Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance books were the first fantasy books I discovered, so they remain my original love, but after that I branched out and just read whatever fantasy books I could find, including the works of David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist,  Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Clark Ashton Smith and of course Tolkien. These days, I’m doing a lot better. I recently started going to college for information technology so I can get out of my dead end job, I socialize more, and am just generally a happier person. However, fantasy still gives me a place I can escape to and recharge when the world won’t let up.

I feel like dungeon synth and fantasy go so well together for a number of reasons. Among these is the general sense of other-worldliness that synthesizers tend to have about them. Of course, there are your orchestral sounds like trombones, harps and horns, but synthesizers also tend to go into territory where it’s obvious that it isn’t a real instrument. I think that the blending of those more “realistic” or “grounded” sounds with the more “out there” sounds just works very well because it’s familiar and at the same time, it isn’t. There are of course acts on the extreme ends of that spectrum, being either composed of all realistic instruments or all obviously synthesized instruments, but I think that most tend to hold some sort of middle ground. That blending of the tangible and intangible gives off a very fantasy vibe to me, if that makes any sense.

  • What are your greatest influences for Verminaard, both musically and conceptually? How did you discover the Dungeon Synth genre initially?

Musically, Verminaard is inspired by quite a few acts, both in and out of the dungeon synth genre, but if I had to cite the biggest artist I take cues from, it would probably be Abandoned Places. Apparently that influence shines through, because when I talk to people, they’ll often tell me that they get a feeling similar to what Abandoned Places evokes, which is such a massive compliment to me. I’m surprised by it, considering our forms of instrumentation are very different, but I won’t complain. I’ve always been interested in music that toys with your expectations – you’re listening to it and you think, “ah, yes, I see where this is going,” and then it goes somewhere completely different, or, even better, it only goes partway to where you thought it was going to go. I believe that Abandoned Places is the master at doing this, and I try to emulate something similar in my music. Conceptually, Verminaard is inspired by everything and anything to do with fantasy – the literature, of course, but also the computer games and pen & paper roleplaying games. In fact, the majority of Wardens was composed about random adventures I’ve had in RPGs. However, as one would probably imagine due to the project’s name, the Dragonlance books and setting also serve as a huge inspiration for this project. It wasn’t as blatant on Wardens, but the next release is going to be a concept album based on a particular event within the books, and my plan is for subsequent releases to follow that format as well.

It’s a bit hard for me to remember where I first discovered dungeon synth. I’ve always loved music like this ever since I was introduced to the works of Dargaard, a neoclassical darkwave act, years ago. The first release I picked up that I can distinctly remember being classified as dungeon synth ,though, was Lord Lovidicus’ “Trolldom.” That’s probably been about, say, five years ago now? I believe that’s when the term “dungeon synth” first started taking off, because I don’t remember ever seeing it used before then. Mortiis used the term “dark dungeon music” but most other acts that made music that would be considered dungeon synth now used terms like “fantasy ambient,” which is also a term I use to describe my music because I feel it fits just as well as dungeon synth. Dungeon synth is a hell of a lot catchier, though!

  • What was your inspiration for creating the Wardens of a Light Starved Realm EP? How did you get the ideas for the songs and do they fit into a theme?

My inspiration for Wardens, truth be told, was a bit scattered. I mean, yes, of course there is the overarching theme of fantasy and adventure, but the songs are self contained, they don’t really  have any relation to each other in my mind. “Those Who Stand Against the Fallen” is about a specific scene in the Dragonlance novels where a lone knight stands upon the battlements of a fortress and duels a Dragon Highlord – anyone familiar with the works will immediately know what I’m talking about. It was initially given a name that used a line from the book to give very obvious reference to it, but I decided to change it because the whole release didn’t end up being about Dragonlance, and it felt strange to make it that obvious if the whole release wasn’t about Dragonlance. That might not make sense to anyone other than myself, but it was a very pressing issue to me! The rest of the songs were about random adventures I’ve been on in RPGs that stuck out in my head – that’s probably the first place my mind ends up wandering if I don’t have direct inspiration from something like literature. So, no, there wasn’t a big, well thought out theme for Wardens, but that’s something that’s definitely changed with my new work. I just wanted to create an EP of varied fantasy atmospheres with Wardens.

  • Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm saw several different tape editions, tell us more about the different editions of the tape. Do you plan to stick with the tape format or explore other formats for future releases?13394034_1634438420214260_1318224442842361626_n

There are two editions of Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm, and I apologize to anyone who is confused by this. It wasn’t intentional. Both releases are exactly the same save the packaging and possibly the mastering – the “home run,” as I’ve been terming it, was created on my own personal tape deck from my own personal master. Everything about the home run is DIY, which unfortunately in this case means that it’s also a bit more rough around the edges. The recording level is a bit low to avoid clipping due to some shoddy mixing on my part, so there’s some tape hiss, and the cover, which is just a very basic design I made, is cut out of card stock by hand using scissors and hand numbered on the reverse side. I initially planned just the home run to be able to trade with some friends I had made in the community, but I was then approached by Wulfrune Worxx about a release on their distro. Wulfrune Worxx and Out of Season collaborated on that release. The only difference that I’m aware of between that release and my own release is the packaging – the Wulfrune Worxx / Out of Season one looks much more professional and features the full artwork on the front, not the framed version of my home release. I’ve included a comparison picture. The mastering may also be slightly different, I’m not sure – I don’t have a copy of this release, personally, just some of the j-cards they sent my way. Before I had received the Wulfrune Worxx / Out of Season j-cards, I was contacted by Lighten Up Sounds with an order for five copies of my EP for their distro, so I sold them 5 copies of the home run. So the general breakdown is: if you purchased your copy directly from me or from Lighten Up Sounds, it’s the home run. If you purchased it from Wulfrune Worxx or Out of Season, it’s their release. I’ll try to avoid this in the future – rookie mistakes!

As of this moment, I plan on sticking to tape. I’m thrilled that tape still has such a prominent place in this scene, because tape is much easier for me to produce. In the future, I plan on mostly sticking to a DIY approach for my releases. I’ll of course provide copies for distros, but I want to design my own layouts, print my own covers, dub my own tapes and the like, as I did with the home run of Wardens. With this in mind, the cost of production is much lower than a CD, plus I’ve always just liked tapes. I’m not opposed to releasing on CD, but it’s just not something I’ve looked much into, and I currently don’t have much interest in it either. Maybe one day, though!

  • Verminaard stands out in the modern Dungeon Synth scene for it’s unique sound. I really enjoy the strange, almost dissonant melodies you create, which gives the entire project an obscure sound. What is your writing process like? How do you feel new material will progress from the first EP (if at all)?

Thank you! The writing process for Verminaard generally begins with a “seed” of some sort. A lot of times, when I’m at work or at the store buying groceries or just doing whatever in my day to day life, melodies and the like will just kind of pop up, and I’ll immediately pull out my phone and sing whatever melody I have in my head into a voice memo recorder for future reference. I’ll then go into my DAW, record the melody, and proceed from there. The melodies for Verminaard typically aren’t restrained to a particular scale, save for the chromatic, which probably explains why the melodies sound strange. I recognize that the melodies I write are odd, and I try to construct the rest of the music to play that up. That being said, I try to throw the listener something that sounds a bit more conventional from time to time so they aren’t completely lost.

In the earlier days of Verminaard, my writing process was a bit different – I’d first come up with chord progressions that I liked, then loop them and bang out melodies through trial and error over them. Songs like “Those Who Stand Against the Fallen” and “Down Crumbling Stairs Into the Throat of Darkness” were composed in this fashion. It worked, but I found that I was getting way too bogged down in thinking “x chord progression is going to y, so I’m going to go to z with the melody.” With songs like “Where Lifeless Eyes Hold Vigil” and all of my new material, I instead just focused on making strong single lines, whether they were bass lines or melodies, and I just let chords and such weave themselves naturally from that. I’ve found my songwriting has improved and I’m much less prone to getting blocked up that way. It’s easy to make a tapestry from single threads, but it’s harder to pull a single thread out of a tapestry…or something like that. I should write cards for Hallmark! New material is progressing as stated a second ago, but my songs are also becoming much longer. The track I’m working on right now is going to clock in at least at 16 minutes long by the time it’s done, but I expect it to be more like 20-25.

  • What is next in Verminaard’s future?

The main goal right now is working on my debut full-length release, at least 40 minutes or so. When that will be done, I have no idea. Hopefully before the end of 2016? After that…just working on whatever the next release will be, I guess. In general, I don’t really have much of a timeline for these things. I just work on the music, and when I feel like I’m sitting on a release, I’ll get some artwork done for it and send it out into the wild, and begin work on the next release! I surely don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

  • Thanks again for answering this interview, any last words are yours!

I would like to thank everyone in the dungeon synth scene that has supported my works – you guys are awesome! In particular though, I would like to thank you here at Barbarian Skull, as well as Trogool, Raevjager and Barak Tor – you were the first to give feedback and support to Verminaard, and for that I’m extremely thankful. In addition to this, huge thanks go out to the people who helped me get the various artwork for Verminaard figured out – Moonroot Art did a fantastic job with the logo, and Bard of Cernunnos Woods, Metal Hell, etc drew an absolutely brilliant picture for the album cover. I plan on having a different iteration of the hooded guy on all of my future release covers somewhere – he might not always be as prominent as he is here, but he’ll be hiding out somewhere, so be on the lookout for him!The forges are lit once more, and I anticipate Verminaard unleashing his first full assault before the end of the year!