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.
- 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”?
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?
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!