Update VII – 12/5/2015

Greetings and glad Yule to you all! The zine has been updated with reviews of Synth Bard, RævJäger, Trogool, and the Elador/Medhelan split, as well as interviews with two very old school Dungeon Synth projects Taur Nu Fuin and Cernunnos Woods.

The “Winterscapes” demo from my dark ambient project Askaz has been well received so far, and can be previewed below!

Cernunnos Woods (Interview)

Cernunnos Woods is a Dungeon Synth project from way back in the early 90’s, playing a ritualistic style of Dungeon Synth with black metal vocals dedicated to Celtic and Druidic folklore. The project has recently been reactivated and will be releasing new music soon. In this interview I talk with Bard Algol about the past, the present, and the future of this cult project from the days of yore. 

More information about the project can be found here: CernunnosWoods.com & Dark-Age-Productions.com



  •  Greetings! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please introduce yourself and tell us about the history of Cernunnos Woods. What inspired you to form the project initially?

Hello, thank you for inviting me.
Cernunnos Woods started in 1993 and released 2 demo tapes (Tears of the Weeping Willow and Lost Woods), one promo tape (Immrama which featured 3 tracks from the debut album), a couple compilation tracks and one full length album (Awaken the Empire of Dark Wood) on Cold Meat Industry (Cruel Moon International) label from Sweden.

Cernunnos Woods was initially conceived because I was not able to get together a metal band so I decided to see what I could do using a keyboard and microphone. I always enjoyed the intros on metal albums and I thought it might be cool to do a whole release of that kind of thing. I had a bass guitar but getting the people together to form a proper band here was problematic. Back then there was so few people into underground music in my small Minnesota town. Each person was into their own kind of underground music and had their own ideas where they wanted to go. So with 4 people wanting to go in 4 different directions, the few rehearsals that did get put together weren’t very productive. It was better to go off on my own and at least get something done.


  •  Cernunnos Woods formed in 1993, a time when there were very few bands making “metal based” synth music. What bands/projects inspired you musically in the early days?

Yeah I remember when the first releases of this kind of stuff were coming out some fliers had warnings  like “There is no metal on this tape – total atmosphere!” and things like that. In the early times there was: Mortiis, Funerary Call, Wongraven, Darkness Enshroud, Abruptum, Equimanthorn, Beherit’s atmospheric tracks on Drawing Down The Moon, the Messe Des Morts 7” and the HC418ov21C album were all really inspirational for me at the time. Other inspirations were things like the soundtrack LPs to fantasy movies like Legend (by Tangerine Dream), the early Lord of the Rings soundtrack (the one released in the 1970s), Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and so on.


  • Your early demo Tears of the Weeping Willow was recently re-released digitally with re-mastered sound on your bandcamp page. How was this demo initially received by fans when you first released it? Are there any plans to re-release more of the old material?bard2015

It was well received for the time. I was actually surprised that there was as much interest as there was, even though it was recorded fairly terribly. A write up even made it into the old glossy Greek metal magazine Metal Invader, I’m still not sure how that happened but it was a really lucky break that got the project a lot more attention from outside the USA.
Yes I’m working to re-master all the existing old material and give it the best possible sound, now that such tools to attempt to clean it up are are accessible. One thing I’ve gotten a kick out of is there are some people saying for this kind of music to be “true” it has to sound like it was recorded on a Karaoke machine in a cave somewhere but that’s just what was available at the time – it wasn’t intentional! Ha ha


  • On your official Facebook page you posted about re-acquiring a Yamaha PSR-510 synthesizer, which you used on old Cernunnos Woods recordings. Do you plan to use this synthesizer on newer material, or will you also be using newer synths or software VST’s (or a mix of both)?

Yes that’s right, earlier this year I was able to locate the old Yamaha model that I used to produce most of the early Cernunnos Woods material. I was pretty surprised there were any still in existence. Apparently it was kind of a fluke model that Yamaha only created for one year and then never reproduced the features and many of the sounds on any later models for some reason. One of the bands on Dark Age Productions begged me for it until I finally sold it to them after I had gotten a new Roland synthesizer but I had always missed the Yamaha.
I do plan on using some of the sounds from the PSR-510 on the new material but I will also be using the better sounding and more customizable VST software synths and some field recordings.


  • Cernunnos Woods is strongly based on Celtic myths and folklore. Why did you choose this particular subject for your project? What influence do the Celtic traditions have on you today (spiritually, philosophically, etc.)?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world as well as various studies of occult magic since a young age. When I came across information about Druidry and it’s connection to the trees, plants and animals, the elemental spirits and so on, it’s concepts seemed to make a very good connection with me. The folklore is also an impressive framework upon which to build a universe for the project to work with. Of course Celtic folklore contains far more subjects than the few aspects that Cernunnos Woods touches on but that was what first attracted me, the natural spirit.
I suppose as far as influencing my day to day life, I try to be kind to the earth and it’s inhabitants and not behave in an exceptionally wasteful or hateful manner. Of course the bardic tradition is all about storytelling, poetry and music. Whether you create it yourself or just enjoy it, I think music and the arts are a very important aspect of life.


  • You recently reformed the project after a many years of silence. What inspired you to re-activate the project? How does your new material compare to the classic demos you released?

The easiest explanation is that I have both the time and inspiration to get back into it now. Life sometimes gets in the way and things you’d like to do end up never getting done and then suddenly 20 years have gone by! Ha ha

I think the new material will be considered a sensible continuation of where the debut album left off where the project was turning a bit more orchestral blended with the primitive aspects.


  • You have been involved in creating Dungeon Synth music from a time before many of the fans in the “scene” today were following the genre. Are there any Dungeon Synth projects that you find inspiring today?

There are a number of newer bands I’ve come across recently that are quite impressive and enjoyable. I don’t know the finer points of what is and is not technically “dungeon synth” which is a term that has come up since I had put Cernunnos Woods on hold. I’ve seen people arguing online over what a band must do or not do in order to be dungeon synth. That all seems rather dogmatic to me. But to get back on track, some good listening lately has been: Lord Lovidicus, Foglord, Murgrind, Grimrik, Elador, Atrium Carceri… there are so many doing creative and interesting things that I hate to list names and forget someone. It’s great to see the scene that has continued to develop around avant-garde music and I’m excited to see where these bands start to take their musical careers.


  • Thank you for answering this interview, any last words are yours!

Thank you for very much for this interview Nate – I wish all the best to you and Barbarian Skull Magazine!


Taur Nu Fuin (Interview)

Taur Nu Fuin is one of the longest running Dungeon Synth projects I’m aware of. The project is also the first instance of a live Dungeon Synth performance that I know of, giving Taur Nu Fuin a unique place in the history of the genre. In this interview I speak to the project mastermind Sean about the history of his music, his label, and the future of his work.


  • Greetings! Thank you for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please introduce yourself and tell us about the history of Taur Nu Fuin.

Hi there! My name is Sean O’Kane – Connolly, I’m 33, and a musician from Auckland, New Zealand.
Taur Nu Fuin officially began in 2001, I have been composing various styles of music since 1997, the earliest incarnation of the project was called ‘Nightenland’ which I’d made 10 cassette demos for, distributed from home. I’d had many project names and concepts for the ambient music I’d recorded before it was released. Upon gathering enough material for the first e.p, I finally settled with the name Taur Nu Fuin, and began pressing my own CD-r’s to distribute among friends. As I began to create more music, I started taking the project seriously. My friend Alex Slimm (Swampkult Productions / Maugrim) took a liking to my various blackmetal and ambient projects and we started the label Swampkult Productions to release our music through, and it’s just grown from there.

  • Your first release “Ruler of the Forest” was done in 2001, which means you have been involved in Dungeon Synth for some time. What initially inspired you to create the music on Ruler of the Forest? What artists had an influence on this musical direction?


At the time I had no real intention of making an entirely Dungeon Synth style project, the music I wrote was inspired by fantasy film soundtracks, celtic music, and the intro/outro tracks from blackmetal albums I’d heard. I first heard Mortiis and Wongraven around 1996 when I was 14, this definitely contributed to the sound of TNF. Exploring the blackmetal underground was an exciting new arena of music for me, and my songwriting style began to develop. I listened to all the Cold Meat Industry bands, and the hundreds of ambient side projects of blackmetal artists around the world, and became much more fascinated with that side of the genre.


  • Tolkien seems to be an obvious inspiration in your music, what else (outside of musical influences) inspires you to write for Taur Nu Fuin?


Reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit encouraged me creatively, among other fantasy, horror and sci-fi authors. I explore the outdoors regularly, my imagination is still in hyperdrive, as it was as a kid, and I still ‘go missing’ on ‘quests’ from time to time. Both my parents were musicians, and very theatrical performers. I guess they were largely to blame for my eccentricities. Growing up in the 80’s was great, we had an abundance of fantasy & science fiction films, games, books, tv shows, from the seriously dark, to the ridiculously flippant. My parents close friends were also involved in theatre, and we’d regularly watch plays at a place called The Pumphouse, a little brick station built in 1905 that I imagined I’d perform at someday. These days, my wanderlust, connection with nature, hiking, exploration, and travel really inspires my music.


  •  “Ruler of the Forest” was re-released in 2015 with some additional tracks. Can you tell us more about the re-issue? As far as I know, it’s one of the only Dungeon Synth releases to be released on CD.


I’d made extended versions of some tracks from the initial release, and re-recorded some of the original material. None of my music is ‘complete’ even on release, I listen back and want to change a thing or two. I guess I’ll continue to release alternate versions of songs right up until I’m unable to create anymore. CD format DS does exist in some places! Just gotta know where to look 🙂 Vinyl is the next step, and I’ll remaster that album all over again. Vinyl costs alot of money though, so we’ll probably have to wait another decade haha… Still, all TNF releases are available on Cassette, CD, and digitally.


  • Your second release “The Mountain Path” was done 12 years after Ruler of the Forest. What happened to cause you such a long break between albums? Did you rediscover the inspiration before writing the music for The Mountain Path? 


These songs did already exist, as midi files on my computer, I just had about 10 years of being sidetracked before actually getting around to recording them properly. I played in a couple of hardcore and metal bands which toured NZ, Australia and Europe between 2004 and 2009 and alot of my spare time was dedicated to those bands. I was inspired to release this music again in recent years, among other projects, to separate myself from popular metal culture, and return to composing the music I enjoy most.


  • Taur Nu Fuin recently played a live show, which is likely the first instance of a live Dungeon Synth performance in history. Can you tell us more about the show? How did the audience respond to the music? In addition, how did you manage to perform the multi-layered synth tracks live? 

taur nu fuin live

Confession time! There was a healthy dose of backing track played from my tablet, and I performed live synth over the existing music, plus improvisational interludes during the silent parts between tracks. Dani, who plays guitar in my other band ‘Undiscovered Moons of Saturn’ played mandolin as well, and the timbre of the instrument did not gel too well with the atmospheric synth tracks. I watched the video footage back and was not impressed with the sound, though sometimes the atmosphere and mood was great. In hindsight, I’d say it was not a success, though the crowd were enjoying it, and we had similar sounding bands as support (goth, ambient, darkwave acts), it just didn’t work in my opinion. Next time, I’ll do an artistic showcase with some likeminded musicians, rather than a live gig. I don’t regret playing TNF live though, we have to try these things sometimes!


  • Without giving away too many secrets, what instruments do you use for Taur Nu Fuin? From my understanding an acoustic instrument was used for the live performance. Is this something you will do on recordings as well?


I’m no good at secrets. For composition and performance I use a Roland Sound Canvas (SC-155), an 88-Key Yamaha Digital Piano, inNovation Mini Nova, and a Korg Kaossilator Pro. For notation, production & recording I use n-Track, Cakewalk, and Goldwave. For additional acoustic instruments I’ve used guitar, penny whistle, jaws harp, bodhran, clave, harmonica and an upright piano which you’ll hear on the CD version of The Mountain Path available through Swampkult Productions.

  • Please tell us more about the upcoming Taur Nu Fuin album. What can fans of the older albums expect? 


Kolarbyn was originally supposed to be a 4-track EP, but during the recording process, I’ve created enough to warrant a full-length. This album was inspired by my trip to Scandinavia in 2013, I stayed at an eco-lodge in Uppsala, Sweden called Kolarbyn just outside Skinnskatteberg. During my time there I explored the surrounding area, took a boat out on the lake Skärsjön, and discovered many fascinating things about the region. Song ideas, melodies, and titles came to mind, which I recorded onto my cellphone’s voice recorder, humming random tunes and talking. I must have looked like a madman!
Work on the album began as soon as I returned to New Zealand late 2013, and I left my other bands and projects behind. The music style itself hadn’t changed direction, but the compositions were becoming too ornamental and complex. It just didn’t sound right to me. Luckily, a recent computer crash threw a spanner in the works, and I could no longer use my midi notation programs for composition. Performing the music naturally has been very beneficial to TNF’s progress, and surplus material for the album has been created. Avoiding any programming, or computerised notation altogether has its challenges, but the end result is far more likeable, and has a genuine feel to it.


  • You are also involved with the Swampkult Productions label and other musical projects as well, can you tell us more about your projects outside of Taur Nu Fuin?


Undiscovered Moons of Saturn is a space themed dark ambient project, which started in 2001, largely inspired by Neptune Towers, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. This project became a live 4-piece band in recent years, including a saxophonist, drummer and guitarist, with myself on synths. Algiz Dawn is the ‘easy listening’ side of this project. Gaoth Anair is atmospheric black metal, Taur Nu Fuin occasionally covers these songs in a dungeon synth style. Abandoned East Berlin is industrial drone/noise, which is inspired by my exploration of the vast abandoned areas of east Germany. I’ve been involved in over 50 bands and projects since 1997, so I won’t go into further detail, but these are the more active ones worth currently mentioning.


  • Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview with Barbarian Skull, any last words are yours!


Thank you! Zines like yours really help us out, it’s difficult to be noticed in our neck of the woods.
Dungeon Synth artists : keep composing excellent material! There are many brilliant acts in our realm and I’m always discovering new and exciting music.
Fans & fellow dungeon dwellers : thanks for your ongoing support.
Hail Cernunnos, blow up your local parking lot!

Elador / Medhelan – A Crown of Ice and Stone split (Review)


Title: A Crown of Ice and Stone (Split)

Artist: Elador / Medhelan

Rating: 4.0 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2015

Country: Russia / Italy

Label: Self-released

Links: https://eladormusic.bandcamp.com/album/medhelan-elador-a-crown-of-ice-and-stone

A Crown of Ice and Stone is a wonderful split from two of Dungeon Synth’s most atmospheric projects; Elador from Russia and Medhelan from Italy. For those of you who are familiar with the past works of these two projects, many will agree with me that their work continues to improve over time. A Crown of Ice and Stone is no exception, and showcases some of the best ambient tracks from both projects. The beautiful artwork will provide a clear expectation of the mystical music to be found here.

The split begins with three tracks from Medhelan. Unlike his highly epic EP “The Minstrel’s Fireplace Tales” which I reviewed for the zine previously, these tracks are more in the vein of his “Nocturnal Wonderings” EP; melancholic yet powerful songs that take you on a lonely journey through the wilderness. This style fits better next to the scenic ambient style of Elador and was a wise choice on Medhelan’s part for the split. The three Medhelan tracks utilize sparce timpani percussion and airy strings and choirs to give the music a “floating” feeling. Medhelan also uses sounds that are not very typical among the regular orchestral ensemble that you’ll find in Dungeon Synth (for example, the dark use of 80’s style synth leads in the first track “Il cammino nella nebbia”). These songs bring to mind a similar atmosphere to Grimrik’s “Eisreich” or the newest album from Iamí, while still maintaining the style that I’ve come to associate with Medhelan. The chromatic percussion used in the last two tracks remind me of Burzum’s ambient interludes on his old black metal releases, except with slightly more variation and variety in the accompanying synths being used. The Medhelan songs are an excellent way to begin the split and are some of his most enjoyable tracks.

Elador offers four songs which continue in the vein of his “By the Pathways of Forgotten Legends” album. Elador has always been able to write great woodwind and flute melodies, which he continues to display with this release. The woodwinds are not used in a fast or folk inspired way, instead they play long notes which help to compliment the strings and synth pads. This technique creates a highly ambient mood while still adding a touch of folk music to the songs. The track “Sword and Sorcery” also shows Elador’s ability to write memorable medieval melodies, with the harp being the lead melodic instrument accompanied by great timpani and tambourine percussion. This song is the highlight of the Elador side of the split for me, and its title fits perfectly with the atmosphere. Elador’s use of field recordings and sound effects is also done quite tastefully, rather than relying too much on the samples he uses them as just another instrument to add even more depth to his music. The closing title track “A Crown of Ice and Stone” combines the best of Elador’s style, with a medieval harpsichord melody being played over ambient strings and percussion. A great way to end the split as it takes the listener to the snow covered mountain tops featured on the album artwork.

Elador and Medhelan have created a successful split where the music of both sides complement each other and flow in a natural progression. Not only is this a great display of ambient Dungeon Synth, but also represents the strength of the international Dungeon Synth “scene”. The music of both projects continues to improve and impress me with each release, and this is no exception. I look forward to hearing more from both of Elador and Mehelan in the future!

Trogool – In the Mists Before the Beginning (Review)


Title: In the Mists Before the Beginning

Artist: Trogool

Rating: 4.0 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2015

Country: USA

Label: Self-released

Links: https://trogool.bandcamp.com/

In the past year since I started this zine, there has been an increase in the Dungeon Synth genre. There are now more active Dungeon Synth projects than ever before, we even saw the release of the first printed Dungeon Synth magazine (Masmorra) and the first live Dungeon Synth performance (Taur Nu Fuin). With the increase of attention to the genre, there is an increase of Dungeon Synth music being created. Some of these projects are exceptional, while others are less creative. Trogool is definitely in the first category rather than the latter, and In the Mists Before the Beginning is a prime example of the modern Dungeon Synth style.

In the Mists Before the Beginning is one of the best new Dungeon Synth projects I’ve come across, next to Faery Ring and the already classic Hedge Wizard. It is clear that Trogool was not created on a whim, but has a specific vision and intent. From the amazing logo to the concepts (according to the bandcamp page, this release is “A chronicle of adventures from North of the Rim” and is adapted the by works of Lord Dunsany), Trogool is the complete package; great art and concepts complimented by strong music. I was first drawn to the project after reading Murgrind’s review that Trogool has a “Conan atmosphere”, and this analogy is very accurate. While most Dungeon Synth projects will cite Basil Poledouris and his Conan The Barbarian soundtrack as an influence, not all show a direct similarity. Trogool’s music carries an almost Mediterranean atmosphere not unlike the Greek composer who created a soundtrack for Conan’s tales of high adventure. Whether or not this was intentional is not known to me, but the feeling remains in any case. The opening track “Far Foothills of the Morning” utilizes strong brass and choir melodies, the trumpets here especially bring the great work of Basil Poledouris to mind. However, this does not imply Trogool is simply imitating other artists, there is a special touch here that could only be found in the Dungeon Synth genre.

The track “Beholder of Ocean” is another great example of why Trogool’s music is exceptional. Rather than taking the listener on a journey into the dark forest, this track evokes visions of a vast sea from the dry coasts. In this sense Trogool reminds me of some of Lord Wind’s work, where the typical castles and European woodland tropes are not explored and the focus is more on the barren fields and dangerous seas of a Hyperborean landscape. The use of percussion adds to these visions and gives the music more depth and focus compared to the more ambient dynamics of many Dungeon Synth projects. Trogool’s debut is an impressive and promising display of Dungeon Synth, which builds upon the foundations of the classics of the genre while also crafting a unique and original vision.

RævJäger – The Tale of Axe & Torch (Review)

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Title: The Tale of Axe & Torch

Artist: RævJäger

Rating: 4.0 / 5

Genre: Fantasy / Soundtrack

Year: 2015

Country: Russia

Label: Self-released

Links: https://raevjager.bandcamp.com/album/the-tale-of-axe-torch

RævJäger is a fantasy project from Russia that is lost somewhere between the worlds of Dungeon Synth and video game soundtracks. In the same way that Erang has combined multiple music genres to create his own unique world, RævJäger has accomplished the same impressive feat. The music on The Tale of Axe & Torch does not carry the same dark, lonely, or melancholic atmospheres found in many Dungeon Synth projects. Instead, his music offers a much more adventurous feeling; as if you are leaving your home for a long and epic journey into far and unknown corridors of new worlds.

RævJäger’s music is similar to the last few albums from Lord Lovidicus because of the adventurous atmosphere, but this comparison is only for reference and doesn’t imply a lack of originality. RævJäger has managed to create a very unique style, excelling especially at very well-thought out and faster lead melodies. Using harp, key, or woodwind instruments, the melodies develop at a rapid pace, much like the work of the baroque composer Vivaldi. While a project like Murgrind shares more with composers such as Wagner and Beethoven, RævJäger follows more in the footsteps of Vivaldi or Bach. The pace rarely slows down and the lead melodies have an almost virtuoso-like quality in their composition and execution. This is probably RævJäger’s strongest aspect and demonstrates his competency as a musician.

The Tale of Axe & Torch also carries a distinctly Russian feeling for those who appreciate the Dungeon Lore Foundation and other associated projects. The song “Be a Trickster!” reminds me quite a bit of the amazing Russian act Darkstroll, with its upbeat melody and folkish percussive tempo. There is also a highly impressive cover of “Walking through the dungeon of Ghorgul” by Splendorius, which is not just a simple recreation of the song, but adds instruments more appropriate for RævJäger. By doing so he has effectively put his own unique touch on this great Dungeon Synth song.

For those who would like to leave the dark castles and grim pathways of the dungeon and venture forth into the mystical forest and sunlit mountains, The Tale of Axe & Torch is just what you are looking for.





Synth Bard – Gold Box Renditions (Review)


Title: Gold Box Renditions

Artist: Synth Bard

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Genre: Soundtrack

Year: 2015

Country: USA

Label: Self-released

Links: https://synthbard.bandcamp.com/

Synth Bard is a project that is a bit different from anything I’ve featured in the zine before, but I feel this excellent cassette tape is right at home within the Dungeon Synth scene. Synth Bard is a collaborative project made by die hard Dungeons and Dragons fans, playing all analog interpretations of songs from the “Gold Box” Advanced Dungeons and Dragons video games made by SSI in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Old role-playing games have undoubtedly been the influence of many Dungeon Synth projects, as the atmospheres and themes are always consistent, and projects such as Abandoned Places and Lord Lovidicus are their legacy. The music featured on these early fantasy video games also helped to establish the connection between role-playing games and epic synthesized music.

These renditions made by Synth Bard are not simply “video game background sounds”, but legitimately enjoyable compositions in their own right. Although the songs themselves were not composed by anyone involved in Synth Bard, the use of analog synthesizers and old guitar pedals give these songs a strong feeling of power and mystery. While the 8-bit MIDI songs featured on many old video games have a charm of their own, the analog synthesizers used by Synth Bard are exceptional and demonstrate the diverse dynamics of synths from the pre-digital era. A fitting example would be the song “Pools of Darkness”, sounding both mystical and foreboding at the same time thanks to the fantastic synths used. The song “Death Knights of Krynn” is also a perfect display of the synths used, as the analog “voice” and resonating oscillators create an almost sci-fi vibe, while still creating the feeling of danger and dread that only a classic role-playing game could provide.

I highly recommend purchasing the physical tape version, as the cover and layout is perfectly done to match the “vintage” presentation of the video games, and the tape also comes with a character sheet that will allow you to play as Synth Bard in your Dungeons and Dragons campaigns (a character who is armed with a Korg MS20 as a weapon)! Dungeon Synth fans and fans of old synthesizer electronic music should not be disappointed with this release, which is truly “retro” without trying to be. Synth Bard is a genuine homage to Dungeons and Dragons, old video games, analog synths, and all lovers of the fantastic and archaic.