Update VI – 10/11/2015

The zine has been updated with interviews from Angmaer and Sequestered Keep, as well as reviews for the Dungeon Synth projects Conquest and Faery Ring. I planned for this update to have much more material, but being in my last semester at the university has taken up much of my time. I still have a running list of around 20 releases that I wish to review and have some other interviews in mind as well, so the zine will continue to be updated as time permits.

I have also updated my review for the Hedge Wizard – More True Than Time Thought release, changing the rating from a 3.5 to a 4. As mentioned in my disclaimer, the grading system that I use is somewhat strict. In no way, shape, or form is a 3.5 / 5 to be considered a bad rating, however the Hedge Wizard tape has impressed me more and more as time has gone by, and I feel it necessary to give it the score it deserves.

I want to thank all the followers of this zine for their interest and am always glad to hear that this zine is serving to promote underground and independent artists!

Faery Ring – Into Darkening Woodland (Review)

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Title: Into Darkening Woodland

Artist: Faery Ring

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2015

Country: England

Label: Self-released

Links: https://faeryring.bandcamp.com/album/into-darkening-woodland-demo

“After some time, and shortly after the slow ascent of the sun has commenced in earnest, the path widens, and the company finds itself looking down a hill at a large body of trees, into which their path leads. At the point of entry, the path has significantly widened, and has become a sunken lane. The tunnel effected caused by the trees makes the lane seem dark, and in contrast to the ever-brightening sky and the verdant greens of the trees, it cuts a dark, gaping maw into the view….

They are getting close to the forest….”

These are the opening lines of the booklet for the Into Darkening Woodland demo by English Dungeon Synth project Faery Ring. I first listened to the project just based on the demo name alone, which instantly invoked the feeling of a 90’s Dungeon Synth release. Since first obtaining this demo I have listened to it on repeat many times, constantly wanting more than the 12 minutes of runtime. Faery Ring has created a demo which is some of my favorite Dungeon Synth since the Hedge Wizard tape or Medhelan’s “The Minstrel’s Fireplace Tales” EP.

Faery Ring is a new Dungeon Synth project by mastermind Blackthorn, citing mutual favorites of mine such as Skarpseian, Exclamavit, Murgrind, and the Dungeon Lore label as influences, among other contemporary champions of the genre. Although this is a demo, the production is quite excellent. The opening track Nocturnal Journey Into Darkening Woodland instantly bombards the listener with crisp heavy brass and rumbling bass sounds, all while balancing soft woodwind melodies. Light percussion is also included, which add a nice folk element to the music before taking the listener back into the epic, adventurous sounds of brass, woodwind, and choir. The production enhances the experience of the listener to become lost in the mythical world that Faery Ring has created.

The second track Under Black Rain, Trolls Gather features a much darker approach with gloomy strings and stronger orchestral percussion, creating the image of a troll army gathering in the night. The written concepts behind each song are another reason that Faery Ring’s music is so impressive; each song is another chapter in an original story. While I won’t give too many details about the story here and I encourage everyone to purchase the demo to obtain the booklet, Blackthorn also shows a talent for creating original storyline ideas and arranging the written concepts in a sword and sorcery manner. This helps to further engage the listener and enter the hidden realm created by Blackthorn.

Dusty Corridors of the Fey Queen’s Castle is a short but nice key and flute interlude which leads into the epic finale, Vanquishing The Troll King. The heroic brass and percussion arrangements here are really excellent, bringing to mind some of the work done by Murgrind on his masterpiece “Inheritor of the Forest Throne”. Just as Nocturnal Journey Into Darkening Woodland actually sounded like the introduction, this track serves wonderfully as a closing song.

The last page of the booklet features a photo of Blackthorn in the woods, holding a walking staff and clad in a robe complete with medieval garb and mask, with the text “Keeper of lore, and reader of the runes and stars”. This leads me to my final point about why Faery Ring’s music is so great; he has mastered the art of Dungeon Synth aesthetics. Everything from the folklore inspired name of the project to the presentation of the music both in terms of composition, sound, style, and visuals, Faery Ring is the result of a Dungeon Synth purist who truly loves and understands this obscure form of music. While Faery Ring has not reinvented the genre or broken any stylistic boundaries, Blackthorn has simply harnessed the fire of Dungeon Synth and bears the torch in his own original way. Fellow Dungeon Synth diehards will likely not be disappointed by giving this demo an honest listen, and see how deep into the woods you can go in a mere 12 minutes.

 

Conquest – Looming Obsolescence (Review)

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Title: Looming Obsolescence

Artist: Conquest

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2014

Country: Australia

Label: Self-released

Links: https://darkagesconquest.bandcamp.com/album/looming-obsolescence

A grey tower made entirely of pencil art stands tall on a deserted mountainside. This is the artwork that first peaked my interest in listening to the music of Conquest, an Australian dungeon synth project from a man known only as Ehre. According to the bandcamp page, this release was done entirely on two tape decks and a Casio keyboard, which leaves the release with a low quality sound, not unlike listening to old Gothmog demos. Although the loss of quality that results from recording a demo ‘the old way’ is present here, Conquest’s music still manages to keep the listener’s interest with it’s classic Dungeon Synth style.

The opening track Equidistant Moons really creates the atmosphere of the gloomy, desolate tower depicted in the cover art. Choirs, organs and bells are all used to create an old and melancholic soundscape, which perfectly sets the tone for the remainder of the release. The second song “Of Triumph, Sorrow, and Woe” is one of the highlights from Conquest. The somber strings and brass sounds bring to mind Gothmog’s “Medival Journeys” and the first Mortiis full length, where linear song structures take the listener on a long journey through corpse-ridden battlefields and the massive black gates of Mordorish castles. Conquest really excels at creating strong deep brass sections with militant timpani drumming, not unlike some of the Isengard sequences used in the Lord of the Rings films. While the poor production of the demo hinders the full force of these instruments, the composition and atmosphere is still strong enough to leave an impression, which is no small accomplishment.

Conquest also excels in creating great fast-paced piano melodies, which can be heard in the songs Enamoured of Winter and My Kingdom Lost. Given the method of recording this demo, it is clear that Ehre is a competent and skilled keyboard musician. My Kingdom Lost also features a great timpani only outro, furthering the martial atmosphere present throughout portions of the album.

Looming Obsolescence is a very promising release from an artist who shows a lot of potential. Dungeon Synth purists who value composition and atmosphere will likely be impressed by this work,

Sequestered Keep (interview)

Sequestered Keep is a new Dungeon Synth project that has released quite a bit of material in a relatively short amount of time, peaking an interest among certain circles in the Dungeon Synth underground. In this interview I speak with the mysterious mastermind behind the project (who will remain nameless) about his inspirations, composition process, fantasy and Dungeon Synth in general. Since this interview took place, the new release mentioned at the end (The Gift of Man) has been released and is now available at the artist’s bandcamp page.

https://sequesteredkeep.bandcamp.com/

  • Greetings, thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull! Please introduce yourself and provide us with the history of Sequestered Keep.

Well, it’s a very short history – I haven’t been at this for very long. I’ve been listening to this sort of music for quite a long while, but I only recently determined to try my hand at making some of my own. Once I got going, I found it had a therapeutic, sort of restorative effect on me. I enjoyed that, so I just kept writing.

  • Within the span of a couple of months, you have released three albums. How much material did you already have written for Sequestered Keep prior to the release of the first album “The Fortress in the Timeless Fog”?a1230055116_10

None really. I did, however, have quite a few faint, sort of amorphous ideas for themes, melodies, and compositions floating around right when I first started writing, so it all came together pretty quickly when I started experimenting with them. Then, when I was finishing up the last few songs for “Fortress…”, the weather was starting to cool down and I found myself in the middle of a week-long Hate Forest kick (I’m of the opinion that “Temple Forest” is an absolute masterpiece of dark ambient). Re-experiencing that album in the right weather – and after having made some synth of my own – angled my perspective, and I was blown away all over again at how music so minimalistic could express so much. So I started working on “Mournful Mystic Night”, which is basically a Hate Forest worship album with that same elemental approach. After I finished with that one, I had a full reservoir of ideas for songs in the previous style, so “Lost Halls” came together shortly after. Sometimes I worry that maybe I’m moving too fast, but if its flowing, why plug it up? I say take advantage of it; you never know when the inspiration or motivation might taper off.

  • One thing that I believe sets your music apart from other Dungeon Synth artists is the use of very vivid imagery in the titles. The song titles on the first release are especially strong and full of atmosphere. What concepts and emotions do you aim to express with Sequestered Keep?

Well, with lyricless music the weight of  “painting a picture” if you will – whether it be an emotion or a more literal scene – falls upon the music itself. The issue I run into is that it tends to be difficult if not impossible for me to convey something more specific than basic human emotion using music alone. Beyond immediate feelings like “sadness”, “longing”, “triumph”, etc., music is ambiguous and perceptions vary from listener to listener. Two people might hear the same sad song and visualize dramatically different sad things. While I do think there’s something alluring about that vagueness and the ability to interpret music in your own way, I personally have very lucid imagery in mind when writing these songs, and to me that imagery is just as much a part of the song as the music is. So I use the titles to communicate them, and sometimes it takes using more words and being more cumbersome than is standard for song titles. Anyhow, I’m glad the point is getting across.

  • I have already noticed several followers of the Dungeon Synth “scene” mention positive comments about your music, and Sequestered Keep sits competently next to contemporary projects such as Abandoned Places and Erdstall. What are your primary musical influences for the project?

Like many people involved with this microgenre, I’ve been big on black metal for a very long time. I imagine I’m not alone in saying that my first exposure to the style came in the form of the synth-driven intros and interludes found in many early black metal albums. Burzum, Abigor, Summoning, Nokturnal Mortum, and Graveland, and countless others really had those down. Their synth, plus early RPG video game soundtracks were my foray into the style and make up the bulk of my major influence. Eventually, research led me to the “dungeon synth” classics and beyond. Regarding the response to the music, I couldn’t be more surprised. I put these songs up on Bandcamp with zero expectations, and the extent to which people started listening and downloading just floored me, especially considering the genre’s relatively small following. I logged on a few days after uploading “Fortress…” out of curiosity and found that a bunch of people had enjoyed it enough to download it (and some even liked it enough to throw me a few bucks), including the dude from Hedge Wizard, whose work I absolutely love. So that was really encouraging.

  • Please tell us about your composition process; how do you come up with ideas for songs? 

This might be an odd approach, but I usually start with a title. If not a concrete title, then at least a mental

image. I find it more intuitive to have a visual scene in mind and then try to write music that illustrates that scene rather than doing things the other way around. The “scenes” themselves come in different ways. Sometimes I’m inspired by (and often pull directly from) particular imagery from fantasy literature, other times they’re the result of my own daydreaming, something I seem to be pretty prone to. When I end up with imagery that resonates with me well enough, I’ll write down a working title or a short description and add it to a list, which I pull from depending on my mood or what I feel the current album calls for. It’s admittedly weird, but it works for me.

  • Sequestered Keep continues an age old tradition in the Dungeon Synth genre of being based around fantasy concepts. Why do you believe that synthesized ambient music is such an appropriate medium for creating music with fantasy and sword and sorcery themes?

So, I’ve actually thought a lot about this and I think there are a few reasons. First, because of its close association with early black metal (which often used dark fantasy and medieval imagery), and because – at least to some extent – artists operating in this medium strive to evoke a similar mood, it makes sense that those themes would carry over. The same could be said for early RPGs. That said, I don’t think that association explains it all. There’s something about properly-utilized synth of any kind that really facilitates escapism. In this sort of ambient music specifically, the wash of the reverb can conjure a sense of isolation and, when coupled with feudal melodies and its often repetitive nature, can draw the listener in to a pretty striking medieval or fantasy landscape, as long as they have the right mindset. Some people have said that this sort of medieval ambient is best listened to passively, as background music, but I’m not sure I’d agree. To me, it’s music for deliberate reverie and contemplation.

  • What are projects/bands are you involved in? What does Sequestered Keep allow you to express that you are not able to do with other musical endeavors (if anything)?

I handle vocals in both a black metal band and a separate black/thrash/speed metal band. They’re both pretty new projects, so there’s nothing I can share with you in the way of music just yet, but it’s been a lot of fun so far. It’s obviously quite different from what I’m doing with Sequestered Keep, but what the latter really allows me to do is unwind. Metal is my first love, and being in a band with likeminded people is great, but sometimes I pine for something a little more personal. Something more introverted and introspective. Sequestered Keep allows me to have that. I’d like think that’s an impetus for many of the people involved in both listening to and writing music in this genre.

  • What can we expect for the future of the project?a1631917207_10

I’m currently finishing up my fourth release. It’s (probably going to be) called “The Gift of Men” (the gift of men being death according to Tolkien), and each song is “about” the death of a certain fictional character, from that character’s perspective. I’m pretty happy with it so far. Beyond that I’m not exactly sure, but I have a few ideas that I expect will come to fruition in the not too distant future. The weather’s getting colder, and that should lead to more ideas too. I imagine I’ll keep at this for a long time.

  • Thank you very much for answering this interview, here at Barbarian Skull there is a lot of anticipation to hear more music from you! Any last words are yours.

Many, many thanks for reaching out to me and taking an interest. I started doing this as a personal outlet, and I never really expected anyone to listen to it, much less enjoy it. So it’s really rewarding to see that happening, even on a small scale. To any readers that may be considering checking out Sequestered Keep, all the albums are free on Bandcamp. Lastly, your zine is rad, my friend. Keep it up!

Angmaer (Interview)

Angmaer is a one man black metal project from the UK, which first caught my attention with the song “The Tower” that reminded me quite a bit of Summoning. In this interview I speak with mastermind Oscar Taylor about the history and future of the project. 

https://angmaer.bandcamp.com/

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  • Greetings Angmaer! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please take this time to introduce yourself and provide us with a history of the band.

Greetings! It’s a pleasure!

I’m Angmaer and have been since I started this project back in Mid-2013. Even though I started this in 2013 it was only until the end of 2014 where I actually brought out any music, this was due to my time in the band Eternally Enthroned taking up my time and work. Since the release of Sorg, Trolldom, Vinter I’ve been working on music for this project ever since. I compose all the songs and have recorded all guitars, vocals and bass myself for all my releases so far from my own little setup in my flat.

  • Angmaer plays Black Metal with various other genres also incorporated in the music. What goals do you have in mind for your project? While you have a range of different influences, what do you aim most to express with Angmaer? What bands are your biggest influences?

Well, currently I’ve got a few more album ideas in mind, I plan to complete them at a slow but steady pace to make sure that they are perfect and so that I can incorporate everything I can into these to express my emotions and thoughts precisely. As for biggest influences I’d have to say Dissection and Burzum are mine musically as well as a good amount of Behemoth and Wintersun too.

  • While Angmaer hails from England, you have used Norwegian song titles and lyrics in your music (a great touch which I appreciate). Why did you choose to write music in another language, and did you write the lyrics yourself?

Thank you! The main reason why I wrote in Norwegian was because it felt right and it sounded right for these certain songs. They carry my message and the songs message effectively. Probably because it is reminiscent to where the inspiration and meaning comes from for the songs.

  • Angmaer has continued the tradition of black metal created completely by a single member. What advantages and disadvantages do you find in being the sole member of the band? Will you ever consider adding other members, or putting together a live lineup?IMG_2791

I find that being in complete control of the music and every aspect of the band really attractive and satisfying. With Angmaer being a project I created to express my emotion and personal spirit and energy, it really is very convenient. Disadvantages would be getting tunnel vision. I can be susceptible to taking an extreme and not so wise path with my music, not allowing anyone else’s say or opinion enter into the equation.

Right at this moment I do have a live lineup in the making actually. Nothing concrete just yet but we have been making quick and excellent progress together. Our goal is to get gig ready by the end of the year at least. We’ve discussed about us all collaborating for upcoming Angmaer stuff, keeping myself as the primary songwriter, and I’m enjoying this idea.

  • Tell us about your first album, Towards Darkness’ Paradise. This album was a slight step up from your first EP in terms of production. Will you continue to produce your own music with future releases?

This album ended up being a collection of all the demos I found laying around which I decided to re-record and organise into a full-length album. I had to write lyrics pretty much at the last minute as I’m never usually one to compose lyrics without any music, I usually let the instrumentation of the songs convey the message for themselves. As for production on this album, I wish I had spent more time on it, I always tend to rush things like this (Which I’ve learnt from and I do take my time with now!) But from what I’ve heard from people speaking about the album, I’m satisfied with the results. I will indeed be producing my future releases, I’ve figured out that it is how I want to work, and I can take as much time and can change every little thing and do about anything I desire.

  • The Beyond Life, Beyond Light EP featured songs that took a slightly different approach from your other work. The song “The Tower” featured medieval synth melodies and guitars that reminded me a lot of Summoning. This song remains my favorite track from Angmaer. Do you plan on creating more songs in this style? This same EP also included some ambient/electronic elements. Do you see yourself using more keyboards in the future, or creating more ambient tracks?

Ah yes, that song was my original tribute to Summoning actually! The whole EP was a one-off thing for me, I wasn’t sure how people would take it (hence why I released it without any promotion or word about it beforehand) and yet that’s actually ended up to be received greatly by a lot of people. And yes! I really enjoy writing these kinds of songs, one of the albums I’ve had planned will use quite a lot of keyboards in this way. You can at least expect an odd ambient track here and there in some upcoming albums anyway.

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  • What can you tell us about your upcoming full length album?

Well, I can safely say that this will surpass anything I’ve ever done musically by far! I’m extremely happy with how this album is shaping up. It’s got quite a few songs and they’re all pretty fast and in-your-face. This will be the first release of mine to not have a drum machine, but will actually have a proper drummer; Fredrik Widigs of Marduk and The Ugly. And I must say that it was a good decision to have him on board for this. His style just fits the songs perfectly. And as always I’ll be taking on guitars, bass and vocals myself.

 

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

And thank you!

To everyone, I say this: support the underground, keep the black flame burning and hold the heathen hammer high!