The zine has been updated with a special interview from the English Dungeon Synth project Faery Ring. Faery Ring’s new EP “A Kingdom Beset By Despair” will be available on May 1!
Faery Ring is a new Dungeon Synth project hailing from England, which combines strong atmospheres with written fantasy stories. In this review I speak with project mastermind Blackthorn about his inspirations, writing process, and upcoming EP scheduled for a May 1 release.
You can read my review of the first Faery Ring demo at this link: http://www.barbarianskull.com/wp/reviews/faery-ring-into-darkening-woodland-review/
- Greetings Blackthorn! Thank you for answering this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please provide us with the history of Faery Ring.
Hello, Barbarian Skull! I’d like to start by saying thank you for the opportunity for the interview. I am a big fan of your webzine, and the reviews and interviews you conduct provide great insight.
Faery Ring started, officially, last year in 2015, although I have been dabbling in making dungeon music for a while. When I was a lot younger, I spent hours and hours creating dark MIDI music, unaware of any wider dungeon synth genre. I suppose what I was making was MIDI black metal, which, in retrospect, was awful! But I gained great pleasure in creating the ‘intros’ and ‘outros’, which, of course, are a significant source of inspiration for many dungeon synth acts.
As I got older, I was focused for a long time on black metal, and had a solo project that met with some success. So that became a big focus for me, from a creative perspective. While black metal was, and remains, my primary musical love, dungeon music has always been a part of my consciousness.
So sometime in 2014 I tried my hand at making dungeon synth, reviving some of the old songs I had made and reworking them, and eventually I found an approach I was happy with. After a few life changes, I settled in eventually and decided to formally start a project, and thus began Faery Ring.
- Your first demo “Into Darkening Woodland” was very well received here at Barbarian Skull. You describe the demo as “A journey into an embattled, ancient woodland”, and it also contains a written prose story included in the digital booklet. Can you tell us more about this tale and what inspired you to create it? Do you plan on doing more written concepts for your future releases?
For me, narrative and storytelling has always been a major aspect of my enjoyment of dungeon synth and black metal. The ability of those two genres in particular to create a mental space in which a listener can travel to distant lands, and to different times, is one of the main reasons I am so in love with them. I write fantasy fiction and fairy tales anyway, so it seemed only natural to blend these two avenues of creativity.
The tale behind …Woodland is drawn from a fantasy world I write about, and when working on the music, it seemed so aesthetically reminiscent to me of the lands that I had been describing in those tales, that I made the decision to focus the music around the story. I found it very rewarding on two levels – firstly it is wonderful to create a soundtrack to a fantasy world that I feel I know intimately – and secondly, it creates real direction when working on the music.
I plan to always include written concepts along with Faery Ring’s music. For me, the two go hand in hand. The upcoming album will feature a continuation of the story introduced in …Woodland, and future releases will draw upon the same mythos, but maybe different time periods, or focusing on different peoples within the world.
- While Into Darkening Woodland contains only four tracks, the songs are diverse in atmosphere, from powerful and triumphant to brooding and melancholic. On your Facebook page you’ve listed a great variety of influences, from classic Dungeon Synth (Mortiis, Gothmog) to modern day artists (Arath, Skarpseian). What music outside of the genre has influenced Faery Ring (if any)? Do you get inspiration from any other sources outside of music?
I think it would be very difficult to not allow a whole host of other influences to play a part in the creation of music.
Returning to an earlier point, old black metal ‘intros’ and ‘outros’ are a key influence – the anticipation one feels when pressing play on a black metal album to hear the intro, brooding and ominous, is incredible, and is something I wish to capture in my music. And black metal in general is, obviously, a sister of dungeon synth, so has a significant influence.
Power metal is another big love of mine, and although musically it has only a little bearing on Faery Ring’s music, the inspiration it provides is significant in terms of storytelling and scope.
Folk music, and neofolk, to a degree, is an important influence, and certainly is drawn upon more in the upcoming album. I like a lot of pagan and heathen folk, and traditional folk is often very beautiful too.
I also like a lot of ‘spiritual’ or ‘ethereal’ music, or music that is very much of a certain time and space. There are some wonderful projects that are very focused on specific geographic locations, and the ability to elicit the experience of a place, or to describe it in such a rich, visceral way to those who haven’t visited it, is a major influence. I think that is what dungeon synth aims to do, in a sense, only it elicits experiences of fantasy realms or different times. Black metal is also very much a lens into other places and times.
Film and video game soundtracks are well documented as a source of inspiration for many dungeon synth artists, and certainly they play a part in Faery Ring. Again, not so much compositionally, but certainly in the sense that they provide music that facilitates escapism.
And of course, reading, writing, walking all play a big role in providing inspiration.
- The various layers of instruments and song progression in your music is very well done. Can you tell us more about your composition process and how you come up with ideas for songs? How much of a role did the story behind each song have on the direction of the songs on Into Darkening Woodland?
Initially, it is the atmosphere I wish to present in the song, or the mood. Even if I haven’t figured out the narrative behind it, I will have a vague idea of what sort of direction I want the song to go in, such as whether it is a song of journeying, a song of triumph, sadness, mourning, and so forth.
I’ll always start with a simple melody, or chord progression. Sometimes it will be something that comes into my head during the day, that I will record and work on at a later time. Once I have that on tape, I will loop it round and round and work on different layers to go with it. Sometimes I have disparate ideas that I will weave together. A lot of times, little melodies and sections get discarded along the way, or saved for another song.
Other times, I will improvise, straight to tape, over a chord progression. I think, especially in dungeon synth, that that spontaneity can often lead to some wonderful mistakes. Speaking of mistakes, I don’t edit too much, or replay a missed note, unless it sounds dreadful and will draw a listener out of the atmosphere. I think somewhere along the line amateurish playing, a certain shambolic quality, has become a trope of the genre and adds something to it. I am not sure why, and have pondered this for a long while. My partial theory is that it is because it is reminiscent of old ‘pulp’ fantasy / sword and sorcery movies, a kind of quaint charm.
I usually let a song sit for a while, then re-listen to it and finish it all up, add in little flourishes, work a bit on the production, listen to it on different sound systems to make sure it works.
I use a MIDI keyboard, and a whole range of VSTs, on an old dusty windows computer.
- Faery Ring is described as “English Dungeon Synth”, a cool and interesting note considering that I haven’t come across any other Dungeon Synth projects that identify their project with nationality, although many projects (especially Russian Dungeon Synth artists such as Kashmar) are very inspired by culture. Are you simply aiming to represent your country with the label, or does “English Dungeon Synth” have a special meaning to you?
I’m not particularly interested in representing my country in any kind of ‘national pride’ sense. I just think that England has a beautiful, mystical and magickal, literary and romantic past, and I try to capture a bit of that in the music.
I think in particular, the landscape that surrounds me everyday is a big influence. I live in the countryside, in what would probably be described as a ‘quintessential’ english village in the country. There is a deep magick to the countryside, that I feel every time I walk out of my door, and I try to channel that into Faery Ring.
For me, Faery Ring is my attempt to capture, in music, the atmosphere of the lambent fields in springtime, the puddles, and the moss growing on old country walls, the crumbling churches and the miles and miles of hedgerows and bramble. England has wonderful folklore that is very inspiring to me.
Dungeon synth, and black metal (despite its ties with racism and nationalism) have always been a very multicultural experience for me. They are, as I hinted at earlier, very much of a certain time and place, a modern folklore, if you will. There is such cultural variety in those genres, and it is simply amazing to experience the beauty from many different places that others have captured and translated into music.
- As I mentioned in my review Into Darkening Woodland, the unique promo photos add a mystical and otherworldly feeling to the demo booklet. How big of a role do the aesthetics of Dungeon Synth play in Faery Ring?
Aesthetic is very important. I have always loved the enigma of dungeon synth, the anonymity, the timelessness. Obviously Mortiis, as a progenitor, made great use of aesthetic, imagery and story, and I am just carrying on that tradition, as are many other wonderful dungeon synth artists.
The black and white decaying images, the crumbling castles, the moaning wind, the howling forests and the dank dungeons, are all so present in the music of dungeon synth as well as the imagery. They are inseparable, in my mind.
I have tried to take a slightly different route, whilst recognising and paying homage to the old imagery. I’m very interested in the way dungeon synth musicians choose to present themselves, as artists, if at all. And as the music of dungeon synth is so visually and psychically inspiring, I thought it would be a nice touch to share some of the imagery that has been inspiring in the creation of the music.
- You have announced that a new EP titled “A Kingdom Beset by Despair” will be released this Beltane. What can you tell us about the upcoming EP? What can fans of the demo expect from the release?
The EP has eight tracks, and is bigger in scope than the demo. Both musically and from a narrative perspective. I have tried to refine some of the areas I felt needed improvement from the demo, and I have used a wider range of sounds and styles.
Story-wise, the EP deals with events directly after those told about in the demo. The Trolls, mourning the loss of their King, strike back with great hatred and vengeance against the Fey Queen and her peoples. It is a very tragic story for the Fey, but triumphant for the Trolls!
Musically, and emotionally, it deals with triumph, deception, travel, battle and mourning. So there are big, bold brassy sections, sombre reflective pieces, dreary passages, victorious strings, mournful organ. I have made a small use of more overt ‘synth’ sounds in some of the pieces, too.
- Thanks again for taking the time to answer this interview Blackthorn! Any last words are yours.
Thank you for the very interesting interview opportunity and the interest in Faery Ring.
Dungeon synth is at a very fascinating point at the moment, there are some wonderful acts out there, many reviewed on Barbarian Skull. I would like to highlight, in particular, the music of Trogool, Skarpseian and Murgrind, as being truly representative of contemporary dungeon synth. But there are many, many others.
Also, those who are working to archive, share and commentate on dungeon synth – yourself at Barbarian Skull webzine, Deivlforst records, the dungeon synth blogspot, the dungeon synth tumblr, the many visual artists working on designs, the people on social media who are seeking out old treasures and sharing them. Long may it continue!
I’d like to take a moment to comment on the rating system used for the reviews in the zine. I’ve seen it mentioned a few times that I give low ratings, which leads people to believe I think badly of the music I review. This is not the case. As I mentioned in the “About” section on the zine’s website, the rating system used is moderately strict. I highly doubt I will ever give any album on the zine a perfect 5/5 rating. Albums that deserve a 5/5 score are classic albums that defined the genres we listen to (for example, I would give Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath or Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane a 5/5 rating). Any album that receives a rating above 3/5 is above average and is worthy of your attention (3.5 / 5 is a common rating I give to releases I enjoy and consider better than the thousands of other releases in the same genre).
A problem I see with other zines is the fact that albums that are above average receive 90%, even 100% scores, which obscures the entire “rating” scale in my opinion. If a release is above average it deserves praise and respect, but unless Dark Medieval Times or Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame is being reviewed, I don’t think such incredibly high scores should be given.
Every release covered in the zine is a release that I enjoy by a band/artist I respect and have paid money to own. Barbarian Skull is opposed to the “Spotify” generation of music fans and is against illegal downloading, especially in the underground. If your band or project is included on this zine, it is because it’s a release from my own personal collection that I have paid for and want others to support.
Lastly, all of my reviews are simply the opinion of one man. Barbarian Skull is a zine for fans, created by a fan of obscure dark music. I remember seeing some clown on VH1 years ago who called himself a “Metal expert” and was giving arrogant opinions about bands. I don’t consider myself to be an authority on underground music (such a thing should not exist!), and the rating is usually not nearly as significant as the words I write in the review. My goal with this zine is to help expose hard working and talented underground musicians to other like-minded fans.
I hope this clarifies how I do my reviews and remember; every project covered by Barbarian Skull deserves your support!
New reviews are up featuring four excellent Dungeon Synth projects: Barak Tor, Skarpseian, Moaning Shadows and Voormithadreth!
Printed copies of the first issue of the zine are still available via Haftvad Records at http://haftvadrecords.storenvy.com/
The second issue of the zine should be available soon. I am also still promoting my horror movie synth/soundtrack project Cimitir. You can check out the digital album at http://cimitir.bandcamp.com or buy the CD version from Swampkult Productions! Any feedback regarding Cimitir would be appreciated.
Thank you for your interest and support in independent, underground music.
Title: Silent Passages and Hidden Realms
Artist: Barak Tor
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Dungeon Synth
The mysterious Greek Dungeon Synth project Barak Tor appeared last year and released two great EP’s; “Silent Passages and Hidden Realms” and “Wizards of Morcar”. Little is known about the project except that it is inspired by the board games HeroQuest and the Dark World Trilogy (Dragon Game System, Village of Fear, Dragon’s Gate). Both EP’s are similar in approach, containing two tracks each.
Silent Passages and Hidden Realms begins with the EP’s title track, and instantly brings to mind early RPG soundtrack music. Stylistically Barak Tor is similar to the middle era albums of Lord Lovidicus, both in composition and sound. The basic Yamaha keyboard sound fits very well here and perfectly matches the themes and artwork. Barak Tor is a prime example of how the aesthetics of Dungeon Synth can be used to enhance the listener’s experience; the sounds used here are not simply for the sake of being “retro”, but actually suit the feeling of being lost in an old fantasy board game. The title track begins with excellent folk percussion mixed with layered melodies that build up over time. More atmospheric, ambient passages help break the song up and add a more dynamic feeling before returning to the percussive, traditional dungeon synth melodies. The Lord Lovidicus influence seems strong here with the heavy use of trumpets to carry the melodies. This was the first Barak Tor song that I listened to and I was instantly hooked; not only does this song demonstrate Barak Tor’s talent for composing Dungeon Synth but is also a great example of the atmosphere the project aims to create.
The second song “The Halls of Dwarven Kings” begins with strong percussion and a simple string pad sound. Despite the heavy percussion used here, the song is a little less epic and adventurous than the first. Instead the song feels like an awe-inspiring descent into a dwarven mountain stronghold, with slower melodic structures and crystalline chromatic instruments that give the impression of gleaming gems and shining structures built by an ancient race. About half way through the song the percussion stops entirely and dark saw synths and choir pads create a spacey, ambient passage. Barak Tor’s ability to transition from one atmosphere to another is effective and makes the songs more engaging to follow. Heavy timpani drums help build the percussion back up and again the trumpet is used to carry the melody before a low, distorted spoken word passage appears (in the vein of early Mortiis). This spoken word passage was a really nice touch and brought to mind the earliest days of Dark Dungeon Music. Because this song is slightly more subtle than the title track, it makes an excellent end to the EP.
Barak Tor is a promising act which definitely shows a lot of potential. Fans of Lord Lovidicus and fantasy game atmospheres should enjoy this excellent EP.
Title: Fragmenter av Trolldom
Rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Dungeon Synth
Label: Self-released / Out of Season (cassette version)
Skarpseian is a project that I have meant to feature in the zine since day one, but have never had the chance to until now. I have followed Skarpseian since his first release “Skygge Slottet”, which was a dark and primitive dungeon crawler. The second album from Skarpseian “Tan Gil” showed a progression in the project, as the songs took on a more epic style. Fragmenter av Trolldom is most likely Skarpseian’s finest work to date, and the perfect definition of traditional Dungeon Synth.
Musically Skarpseian relies on the repetition of melodies that are almost always accompanied by timpani or orchestral drums. What sets Skarpseian apart from other projects is that these repetitive sections are extremely well composed. Despite being simple in theory, each section is memorable and full of atmosphere. These sections seamlessly transition from one to the other, taking the listener on a journey. While a project like Barak Tor carries a rich “high fantasy” atmosphere, Skarpseian is definitely a “sword and sorcery” Dungeon Synth project. The images that the music evokes are that of far-away lands, roaming nomad warriors, epic and dangerous quests, and the days of high adventure that Robert E. Howard wrote extensively about. The use of timpani percussion always gives the songs an adventurous and heavy feeling, while the melodies themselves feel mysterious and full of power. The production is also improved compared to previous releases, although the music still carries a raw, unpolished sound throughout. There is also a great Burzum cover (Der Tod Wuotans) featured near the end of the album, which gives a unique perspective to what is actually my favorite Dungeon Synth song of all time (Der Tod Wuotans to me is the pinnacle of Dungeon Synth).
This review is based off of the digipak CD version of the album, which comes with a cool Skarpseian magnet, but a tape version is also available. Skarpseian has improved with each album and has already proven to be one of the best Dungeon Synth projects around today. Fragmenter av Trolldom serves as a great introduction to Skarpseian and is sure to appeal to fans of the previous albums as well.
Title: Sign of Mung
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Dungeon Synth
From the deepest depths of obscurity comes Voormithadreth, an extremely mysterious project which debuted earlier this year with “Sign of Mung”. The only thing that is known about the project is the description on the bandcamp page, which reads “Paracosmic music dedicated to Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany. NO TOLKIEN”. While Tolkien’s Germanic world of elves, orcs and grand heroes has been a popular theme since the earliest days of the genre, Voormithadreth has made a conscious effort to explore stranger and less common fantasy tropes, and does this quite well musically.
The opening song “Dorozhand, Whose Eyes Regard the End” instantly draws the listener in. The production is extremely raw, at times instruments can even blend into each other. It’s likely that the creator intended this, and like the Hedge Wizard tape, this doesn’t detract from the vibe of the music. While many Dungeon Synth projects prefer the 90’s digital synth sound, Voormithadreth prefers to compose using more primitive, analog style synth sounds. These strange and alien synth sounds only add to the otherworldly atmosphere and are a nice break from the digital sounds many of us are used to. While the opening track has several layers, the title track “Sign of Mung” is much more ambient and isolated. “Kilooloogung, Lord of Arising Smoke” continues in that vein, while “Kib Is Kib” features more percussion than the previous tracks, ending the release with a fading delayed synth sound. With 40 minutes of music Voormithadreth has managed to create a very raw and interesting Dungeon Synth release which brings the listener to even darker and more unknown worlds.
Voormithadreth’s existence may actually be more important to Dungeon Synth in general than people may realize. I think of Dungeon Synth today as being in the same place that Second Wave Black Metal was in the late 80’s / early 90’s. Bands such as Master’s Hammer, Necromantia, Von, and Enslaved were all Black Metal, but each band had its own identity and unique sound. The genre was more about a certain feeling and aesthetic, rather than being very strictly defined. We are now seeing this evolution in Dungeon Synth. Voormithadreth has chosen to break away from the Tolkien theme which has dominated the genre (either directly or indirectly) and pursue a different path. Despite not sounding like any other Dungeon Synth project I know of, Voormithadreth has created a release that is still very much traditional Dungeon Synth in essence and style. The fact that projects like Voormithadreth exist proves that Dungeon Synth is evolving and growing for the better. I will definitely be looking forward to hearing more from this project in the future.
Title: From The Darkest Heritage
Artist: Moaning Shadows
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Dungeon Synth
Label: Swampkult Productions
Moaning Shadows is a new Dungeon Synth project from Germany which made a strong impression on me instantly. His debut “From the Darkest Heritage” is likely the closest release I’ve heard that resembles early video game soundtracks. The soundtrack influence is obvious in many Dungeon Synth projects, from RaevJager to Barak Tor. Moaning Shadows truly resembles the early video game days of old by approaching music with a more “8-bit” style. Not only are the synths used very primitive and in the vein of old 8-bit video game sounds, but the songs follow a similar structure. There are typically only a couple of instruments playing at any given time, sometimes only a single instrument. Old video game soundtracks were often limited due to data space restrictions, but Moaning Shadows is able to take this similar “limitation” and use it to his advantage.
In terms of composition Moaning Shadows also seems to be more advanced than the majority of Dungeon Synth musicians. His melodies are very developed and complex at a level I haven’t really seen since the demo days of Depressive Silence. Although the songs average at about 3 minutes each, the high level of composition and music theory displayed give the songs a quality that doesn’t leave the listener feeling as if they are short. This review is also based on the CD version released by Swampkult Productions, which features 11 songs rather than the 7 available on the bandcamp page. Fans looking for minimal yet complex Dungeon Synth should not be disappointed by the wonderfully primitive work of Moaning Shadows.