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!

Trogool (Interview)

Trogool immediately caught my attention last year with the ‘In the Mists Before the Beginning’ release, which featured epic Dungeon Synth in the Basil Poledouris style and lyrics based on the strange worlds of Lord Dunsany. In this interview I speak with Trogool mastermind Bryan about the project, influences, and his unique Dungeon Synth vision.

To read the review of the Trogool EP, follow this link: http://www.barbarianskull.com/wp/reviews/trogool-in-the-mists-before-the-beginning-review/

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  • Greetings Bryan! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with Barbarian Skull. Please provide us with the history of Trogool. What inspired you to create such strange and epic music?

Greetings and salutations! Thanks for having me… Without getting too convoluted with the origin story: I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a decade or more. I have been into the sorts of music that we have recently begun to call “dungeon synth” and associated genres for quite some time and it was the fortuitous discovery of Deivlforst Records that really inspired me to try to become a part of the new scene that’s taken off in the last few years.

I had reached a point in my musical endeavors where I felt I needed to grow and advance my skills (as well as actually complete and release something). All well and good; but I didn’t know who, if anyone, would listen to the kind of music I was making. So I experimented and let the project kick around inside my head for awhile. And when I was shown Arath, Murgrind and Grimrik by a friend I was totally hooked. The quality and variety of both the music and the products was inspirational. I had checked out some of the newer projects taking a leaf from the books of Mortiis et al. a couple years prior and many were very good, or at least very promising and worth following (Abandoned Places especially caught my attention early on and remains one of my favorites), but the Deivlforst stuff just took it to new levels and I felt like the time was right for me to jump in too.

As for inspiration for the actual music, a good piece of writing can really get the creative process going for me—specifically excessively flowery poetic writing! I’m very into literature and it’s often a poignant line that gets the juices flowing. Dunsany is one of those authors whose work is almost nothing but fanciful language. It just fills my head with impressions and feelings and all that good stuff. That’s why my song titles are mostly lines quoted directly (or indirectly) from a story or somewhere.

  • Trogool breaks away from the Tolkien tropes that have been a part of Dungeon Synth since the early days by adapting the work of Lord Dunsany. Why did you choose Lord Dunsany’s works as the theme for Trogool? Do you plan on exploring other themes in the future?

I love Tolkien and definitely feel that his stuff is an inspiration and influence on my music in plenty of less than obvious ways. Tolkien is so pervasive throughout fantasy culture and in my own life that he’s pretty much always there. I don’t really use openly Tolkien themes in my music for two reasons: a lot of other people already do it really well (Summoning, Blind Guardian, Howard Shore, to name only a few), and I think it’s a bit overdone. That second point isn’t really a problem for me since I love Tolkien oriented music; but I don’t really feel like I have anything of value to add. I like to enjoy others’ takes on Tolkien rather than do my own. For my own music I just try to do the things that are most genuine and which provide true inspiration for me, and that seems to be this whole Dunsanian thing. It’s not a gimmick that I pulled out of a hat or something. It genuinely makes me want to create something.

(On a side note about literature, it’s interesting to note that Dunsany was an influence on Tolkien. The style of writing in many parts of the Silmarillion is very Dunsanian).

I actually got into Dunsany through HP Lovecraft’s fantasy stories. They had a hugely profound effect on me with their emphasis on poetic language, whimsy and pathos. Both authors can really turn a phrase and call up loads of colorful images. They’re not written the way a typical best seller is; they’re more like prose poems. I discovered a while ago that that kind of material could get me creating music pretty fast and freely. One of the important things I try to do is stick to impressions and let them evolve naturally. I usually don’t try to do things that are too concrete if they’re not working. For instance, rather than try to tell a complete, convoluted, story lifted from one of the works of Dunsany, I try to take whatever I’m feeling at the moment when reading one and run with it, wherever it goes. So on the next release there is actually a bit more Lovecraft than Dunsany, but it all blends together. It’s the beauty of that kind of writing that it’s very open and malleable once you’ve digested it. And the great thing about sticking to impressions is that I can return to the same subject matter repeatedly and it stays fresh.

I’d say that the general theme for Trogool is Dunsanian rather than Dunsany specifically. It just has to fit a certain overall vibe. I feel confident that whatever themes I choose to include in Trogool, whether they come from a different author or what have you, will fit the rhetorical situation. Should something else come as naturally to me then I’ll of course see where it leads. There’s plenty of stuff I’d like to do music about, but it seems I’ve hit a certain stride with this Dunsanian thing and I’m definitely feeling good about where it’s going.

  • Your first release ‘In the Mists Before the Beginning’ was very well received in the Dungeon Synth scene. Can you tell us more about the creation of this album? Without giving away too many secrets, did you use more than just synths to create it? The brass sound is especially great.In the Mists Before the Beginning bandcamp snag

Aside from the bonus track on the CD version of Mists…,“Deeds of Mung,” there are no synths at all on it; it’s all samples and it’s all done with software. That isn’t to say that synths won’t make more appearances, but I generally gravitate toward samples of acoustic instruments.

I know I call Trogool “dungeon synth” but I use that label very loosely. Ten years ago that genre tag didn’t exist and there were a whole bunch of other ones in its place being used to try and describe all the music that was out that didn’t fit neatly into some genre or other. So I am not dogmatic at all.

“Mists…” is also my first successful attempt to apply actual knowledge of production to my music. I know it’s pretty humble at this stage, but it laid the groundwork for plenty of things to come. Any “underground” sound quality you get from it is just the result of where I was with my skills at the time. I enjoy all kinds of productions, but I think it’s good to know a bit about what you’re doing so you can make the best decisions for your own music. For example, in this case I kept the finished product very quiet because I wasn’t experienced enough to make it louder without ruining it. In that regard each release is an experiment and a stepping stone and will have its strengths and weaknesses.

A lot of people have commented favorably on the brass, and I’m glad. That’s an “oldie but goodie” sample library by Project SAM called Orchestral Brass Classic. One of my favorites! I’m actually an open book on this subject, so anyone who wants to know anything about it can message me at the Trogool Facebook page or ask something in a comment about it. I’m happy to share my humble knowledge.

  • Trogool reminds me of the legendary Basil Poledouris more than any other modern project I’ve encountered. What other artists/bands inspired Trogool’s music?

As for most people, I’m sure the list of music that I like and which has had some kind of impact on me could go on forever and a day so I won’t bother with a big boring list. It’s never a very straightforward or quick story once you really get into it, is it? But Poledouris is definitely an influence, of course. He’s absolutely great; his music is incredibly colorful and dynamic.

Actually, one of the main reasons I do this kind of music is also probably the main reason I checked out Basil Poledouris in the first place, and that reason is the mighty Bal-Sagoth. They are one of my all time favorite bands in the whole of the multiverse. Though I was certainly into all of this stuff before I heard them, they were catalytic. Getting into them was a real kick in the backside and got me running, figuring out how to do epic symphonic music in a home studio setting.

It’s an interesting coincidence that a lot of music I love seems to share a Poledouris influence to some degree. Aside from known entities like Bal-Sagoth, Mortiis, et al. others like Ari Pulkkinen (who did the music for the Trine games by Frozen Byte) and Jesse Hopkins (composer for the Mount & Blade games by TaleWorlds) have also either mentioned or made apparent in their music that they were influenced by Poledouris. He seems to crop up everywhere! I’d especially recommend listening to the Mount & Blade music; it’s right up the alley of anyone into Poledouris’ music.

All that said, it’s very flattering to be compared to such a great composer. I wouldn’t say that I always go out deliberately trying to sound like him either, so it’s all the more meaningful to have that comparison drawn.

Another person who comes to mind that I’ve always admired and who really inspired me to get on the track that led to Trogool is Henry “Trollhorn” Sorvali. That he released some Lunar Womb material recently was a pleasant surprise!

Other than that, I’m sure the influences of the usual suspects such as Summoning, Mortiis, Jeremy Soule and the like can be heard.

  • Rather than evoking images of medieval castles and European forests like many Dungeon Synth artists do, Trogool’s music brings to mind the atmosphere of strange deserts, exotic lands and otherworldly creatures and structures. Is this what you were aiming for? What do you think of your fans getting this response from Trogool?

I think it’s great that people are getting that from the music. That’s what I’m trying to do and that’s all a big part of the Dunsanian style. I’m glad that it comes out in the music for so many people. I enjoy all the medieval stuff and the Viking stuff and all that, too, but the more exotic stuff seems to really speak to my own creative impulses. I think a project like Trogool benefits from exoticism and whimsy. I’m more concerned with that feeling of wonder than with appealing to certain already established tropes. Again, I’m just trying to do what feels genuine for me, and since plenty of others are already doing the more traditional stuff very well there’s plenty of room for me to go off the beaten path a little bit. In the grand scheme of things it’s all connected anyway.

 

One of the things I love about a lot of early pulp, fantasy, and sci-fi is that people are always finding some lost city somewhere or washing up on some island spotted with mysterious ruins. I love that stuff. One of my favorite stories, and one that will definitely be making an appearance on the next release, is HP Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which is practically nothing but one wild new location or city after another.

  • Trogool has the coolest logo in Dungeon Synth in my opinion. Can you explain the concept behind the logo and it’s meaning?

Thanks! I’m sure Wappenschmied would be proud to hear that. I’m extremely happy with the logo myself.

Trogool is one of my favorite characters from Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegāna who basically represents an unstoppable force behind the machinations of the gods, more or less Time and FaSideny Sime, Itte combined. He has a book with alternating black and white pages that represent day and night and you can probably guess what happens when he turns them. I guess he’s a bit like Mortiis’ Scribbler. I can’t really do it justice here, but the story is available online for free; I suggest reading it!

I contacted Wappenschmied to do the logo when I saw that he had done Murgrind’s logo which I really like. When I got in touch I said the only thing that had to be included was the Book of Trogool. Then we discussed the general look of it and decided we’d go with a bit of a 1920s feel since that’s around when Dunsany was writing and it played on the iconic illustrations that Sidney Sime did for his books. I like that, too, because it’s a bit celestial and ethereal and plays up the exotic aspect of the project.

I also wanted to avoid too many of the usual tropes (not that a book is particularly unusual!). I love all the Mjolnirs and whatnot as much as the next guy, but I wanted to be sure the logo was just right for Trogool and not just an imitation. So I encouraged Wappenschmied to think outside the box if he wanted and I think the result sets it apart a bit.

Overall I wanted something that partook of the tried and true metal logo style we all know and love but which had some of its own personality and I think it achieves that really well.

Really it’s all thanks to Wappenschmied being a terrific artist and collaborator. I intend to work with him a lot more. He is a pleasure to work with and always brings a ton of great ideas and enthusiasm to the table.

  • What other projects/bands are you involved in? What response do you get from others who do not typically listen to Dungeon Synth when you show them Trogool’s music?

I haven’t been in a band for a very long time, but I have released an EP and a full length under the banner of my now defunct “one-man” epic metal project, Waves of Amphitrite. That project was a bit more along the lines of the current power / folk metal sound and I think some people who enjoy the epic symphonic elements of that have found something to like in Trogool. Some people have been drawn to the DS scene because of an interest in game music or film score and I think some of them may appreciate Trogool.

I don’t really show people my music unless I think they might be interested. The response to Trogool has been the largest response I think I’ve ever gotten for any of my music, and I’m very appreciative! It’s been particularly nice to see Trogool mentioned in other DS artists’ recommendations and in interviews with them. I certainly didn’t expect to get such a response!

  • What can we expect from Trogool in the future?

The second release has been a bit delayed while I wait for the cover art to be finished, but the music has been done since the late spring. So you can definitely expect a new release soon, hopefully by late summer / early fall. It will be released on the Bandcamp and as a limited edition CD by Stressball Records again.

The nice thing about the delay is I have been working on yet more music for the third release! I feel like I’ve had a running start… I think the third release will take a bit longer to complete than the first two did simply because I want to take my time with it and apply some of the things I’ve learned. And, of course, I want to be sure that the music is of a quality worth releasing. But rest assured that more Trogool is coming!

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

Thanks for the interview! It’s an honor to be featured in the illustrious Barbarian Skull. And a huge hearty thank you goes out to all who support Trogool! I love to do this stuff so it’s great to know that others are enjoying it, too.

 

Update X – 5/29/16

The zine has been updated with reviews of Sanctuaire, Forgotten Kingdoms, A Diadem of Dead Stars and Winterblood! These releases are all favorites of mine recently and come with the highest recommendation. I am currently working on some interviews which will be included in the next update, and will have an announcement soon regarding my own Dungeon Synth project, Oldenhelm. Thank you for your interest and support the underground!

Sanctuaire – Helserkr (Review)

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Title: Helserkr (Compilation)

Artist: Sanctuaire

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Genre: Black Metal / Ambient

Year: 2015

Country: Canada

Label: Tour de Garde

Links: https://sanctuaire.bandcamp.com/album/helserkr

Sanctuaire is a one man project by Monarque Helserkr from Quebec. The Quebec scene has maintained a cult status in Black Metal with bands such as Sorcier des Glaces and Fortresse, and Sanctuaire certainly carries the black torch of Québécois metal proudly. This release is actually my favorite release to come out of the Quebec Black Metal circle. This review is based on the Helserkr compilation CD, which is made up of the Helserkr demo from 2014 and the Echo I demo, which were previously available on tape.

The CD begins with the Helserkr demo tape tracks, which the band describes as follows: “The first half of the CD is a raw yet epic and atmospheric recording praising nature as well as ancient northern mysticism and barbarism. Melodic and austere, it’s a call to arms, the echo of a time when glory and tradition prevailed”. These themes are perfectly manifested in the music here. The first riff in Gardien du Nord brings to mind the classic ‘Raging Winter’ riff from Satanic Warmaster; a furious and aggressive nod to the early 90’s. Like the aforementioned band, Sanctuaire has the ability to play very melodic and traditional black metal riffs while still maintaining a raw sound. Near the end of the song, a synth break begins with tribal frame drumming and acoustic strumming, and the sounds of war and battle in the background. This is traditional black metal of the highest order, with real spirit and hatred, and a longing to return to our glorious past. While many bands simply copy the themes and ideas of their idols, Sanctuaire plays black metal with conviction and sincerity. Although only four metal tracks are featured on this CD, they are among the highlights of the release.

Tracks 5-13 feature ambient songs from the first Sanctuaire demo ‘Echo I’. The band writes: “The second half of the CD is like an ancestral voice, it is the wandering of an ancient folklore, fantastical, from another time, another world. Close to both the earth and the sky, this is a collection of tracks done with a keyboard and traditional instruments. All tracks are different and stand on their own”. The reason that I post the band’s own words here is because I could not have said it better myself. The Echo I tracks are honestly my favorite ambient songs to be released since Vindkaldr released the ‘Ambient I’ album. Sanctuaire excels at creative moving and incredibly atmospheric ambient songs with very little instrumentation. To create ambient of this style is always a risk, since many songs only use a couple of synth sounds at a time. The music is very bare and exposed, and musicians who write music in this style run the risk of creating boring or directionless songs. However, each one of these Sanctuaire songs takes the listener on a journey into it’s own world. While simple and repetitive, these songs are created with a near flawless level of composition. Aside from the excellent use of synthesizers, some tracks also feature frame drums or harp instruments, which add to the ancient feeling and character of the release. Since buying this CD I have found myself listening to the ambient tracks nearly every week, and even after repeated listens the songs do not lose their power.

This review is based on the digipak version of the release which features an amazing layout with a 12 page booklet. Sanctuaire has not only created my favorite release from the Quebec black metal scene, but has created one of the strongest albums I’ve heard in years. For those readers who walk on the Old Path, this release is especially for you.

 

Forgotten Kingdoms – Blue Moon Gate Between Worlds (Review)

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Title: Blue Moon Gate Between Worlds

Artist: Forgotten Kingdoms

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2015

Country: Australia

Label: Dark Adversary Productions

Links: https://forgottenking.bandcamp.com/album/blue-moon-gate-between-worlds

Forgotten Kingdoms is a Dungeon Synth project by Azgorh, who is better known for his work in the prolific black metal band Drowning the Light. Azgorh is a highly ambitious musician who has taken part in many projects that I enjoy (for example, the Eternum album ‘Veil of Ancient Darkness’ is one of the best black metal albums in modern times in my opinion). With Forgotten Kingdoms he explores the Dungeon Synth genre, and does so very well.

While it is tiresome to mention Mortiis in a Dungeon Synth review, it is unavoidable as a comparison here. Not every Dungeon Synth release necessarily creates the Mortiis vibe (for example, Lord Lovidicus and Abandoned Places have very little in common musically with Mortiis, while both list him as an influence). Forgotten Pathways bears resemblance to Mortiis while still maintaining a high level of originality. The synth sounds used here are very musty and old sounding (I am sure that this is a real synthesizer being used and not MIDI). Passages which typically revolve around 2-3 instruments and orchestral percussion weave in and out, with one section fading in volume before a new one being introduced (similar to releases such as Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør). Many of these synth melodies stay in my head for days after listening to the release, so while only a few instruments are used at a time, the melodies are well developed and highly atmospheric.

One aspect that makes this release stand out amongst modern Dungeon Synth music is the prominent use of vocals. Much like the classic Mournlord ‘Reconquering the Kingdom’ demo, reverb drenched vocals narrate tales of medieval sorrow, nostalgia, ancient kings, battles and days of old. This release is based on the pre-order of the album, which included a printed lyric sheet. I appreciate and enjoy the album even more after having the chance to read the lyrics, which says a lot about the value they add to the overall atmosphere of Forgotten Kingdoms. The third track ‘The Blood Stained Gold Armour of the King’ also uses some synthesized rock drumming, another thing not commonly used in modern Dungeon Synth (at the moment the only other project I can recall doing this is Taur Nu Fuin). The last track Warriors That Time Forgot is one of the best Dungeon Synth songs to be released within the last few years, with excellent brass and woodwind sections and lyrics which any fan who truly connects with the Dungeon Synth genre can appreciate and understand. The disgust for the modern world and a longing to return to the past is truly embodied in this song, and has the power to take me to another world far removed from the disappointment of our reality.

What Forgotten Kingdoms have created here is a genuine tribute to the glory days of 90’s Dungeon Synth. Everything from the artwork, to the synth sounds and the overall presentation makes this release feel like a lost Dungeon Synth relic from the past, which I’m sure was the goal. Everything that Azgorh does is traditional and true to the roots of the genre he’s playing, and Forgotten Kingdoms is no exception to this rule. Fans of Mortiis, Mournlord, Old Tower and the Voldsom Records catalog will certainly want this CD in their collection!

A Diadem of Dead Stars – The Mist Bearer Pt. II (Review)

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Title: The Mist Bearer Pt. II

Artist: A Diadem of Dead Stars

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Black Metal / Ambient

Year: 2015

Country: Greece

Label: No Sleep Till Megiddo

Links: https://adiademofdeadstars.bandcamp.com/album/the-mist-bearer-pt-ii-e-p

A Diadem of Dead Stars is a one man project by a musician known only as The Pilgrim that I previously reviewed on the zine for the ‘Profaning the Ground’ EP. While that EP was a dark piece of droning doom, the band is most well-known for the style played on the album The Mist Bearer. This style of Metal is a warm and natural (as in invoking the elements of nature) form of black metal with some ‘post-Metal’ influence in the vein of Agalloch and more contemporary acts such as Old Graves and Sojourner. However, the entire band feels very traditional in the Greek sense. Hellenic Black Metal has always carried with it a certain ‘warmness’ even in it’s darkest times. A Diadem of Dead Stars carries the ancient flame without sounding dated or overtly “retro”.

This EP consists of two songs, the first being the title track The Mist Bearer Pt. II. This track is one of the strongest modern black metal compositions I’ve come across in a long time. The song opens with mellow acoustic guitars which instantly bring to mind a vast, Spring landscape. When the Metal kicks in, melodic guitars create waves of blackened riffs which wash over the listener like the tide of the Aegean Sea, accompanied with memorable tremolo riffs. Much like the Scottish band Adabroc, this is a prime example of black metal which isn’t excessively dark but still true to the essence of the genre. The synth work here is very well incorporated and not overdone at all. Choirs, woodwinds and chromatic percussion instruments are used only when needed and enhance the riffs and melodies being played. Rather than relying on these synth elements to carry the song forward, A Diadem of Dead Stars is still a guitar riff driven band. Unlike previous releases, this track also features vocals, although the song remains mostly instrumental. By the end of this 12 minute epic song, the listener is left with the feeling of having returned from a journey to a far-away land, where the ancient ways are still alive and far removed from the dreariness of the modern world. The song is nostalgic and melancholic, yet heroic at the same time, in the vein of the epic sagas of old.

The second track A Blood Red Sun Sets On Wintry Shores begins with field recordings of waves before moving into a synth key section. This ambient track is done entirely on synth and features some great plucked instrument, percussion and pad sounds, bringing to mind the ambient sections of Det Som Engang Var and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. This track serves as a great reminder of the connection between ambient and black metal; each style is able to compliment the other and having a 12 minute epic black metal track next to an ambient song doesn’t feel awkward or out of place. While the first song is a bright journey beneath the open sky, this song allows the dawn to come before the EP ends.

This review is based on the CD version released by No Sleep Till Megiddo, and the artwork really works well to enhance the presentation of the music. The lush and bright colors used in the paintings and the portraits of landscapes help tie together the entire atmosphere of the album. This EP is highly recommended for fans of the first Mist Bearer release, and fans of Greek Black Metal in general.

Winterblood – La Via di Neve (Review)

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Title: La Via di Neve

Artist: Winterblood

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dark Ambient

Year: 2015

Country: Italy

Label: Frozen Light

Links: https://frozenlightlabel.bandcamp.com/album/la-via-di-nev

 

Winterblood is a dark ambient project from Italy and was one of the first projects I reviewed for this zine. Winterblood now returns with a new album titled La Via di Neve, released on CD by Frozen Light Label. This EP continues in the same vein as ‘Il Richiamo delle vette’, creating very cold and bleak soundscapes. Deep pulsing synth pads are typically accompanied by crystalline sounds which play brooding melodies over the rumbling bass of the pad. Much like the previous Winterblood release, this creates strong mental images in the listener. The sounds used create the feeling of snow falling against a mountainside, of the sun glaring over the hoarfrost, or the wind passing through a frozen landscape. My personal favorite track of the release is ‘Anelli’, one of the longest songs featured. Soft chromatic percussion plays a very melancholic melody while synth pads drift in the background. While many Winterblood songs carry the bleak feeling of a harsh landscape, this song feels like an ancient being wandering the snow-covered mountains. Although this release consists of only 5 songs, the total runtime is roughly 42 minutes.

This review is based on the CD version of the album, which contains excellent artwork (see above). Images of spirits lost in a snowstorm enhance the atmosphere of the album, and lyrics are also included for each song. Unfortunately I have not yet been able to translate the lyrics from Italian, but having lyrics featured there is a bonus that many ambient projects never attempt. Winterblood is the complete package for cold dark ambient (from the presentation to the music itself), and La Via di Neve was well worth the couple years of waiting that I’ve been doing since reviewing the last album. If you find yourself wanting music even colder and lonelier than Paysage d’hiver, this is for you.