Dungeon Synth

Sluggish Shady ‘Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip)’

Legend has it that a team of Russian engineers led by ‘Mr. Azakov’ drilled a borehole over 8 miles deep in the Siberian wasteland and breaking through to an unforeseen cavity. Lowering a heat resistant microphone into the newly dug crater revealed audio of a terrifying wail of screams and howls that reverberated around the abyss with chilling intensity. Man’s supposed reach into the literal bowels of Hell has been an enduring piece of internet folklore since the nineties, even being attested on the American Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network as proof of the eternal inferno which awaits the sinners who have yet to ‘see the light’.

Hip hop, Scandinavian black metal and medieval aesthetic have been crushed together by dark forces creating the murky world of dungeon rap, a lo-fi swamp of muffled beats and fetid gangsta whine clotted with sludgy flow. Acts like AKABXS, Chemm Doggy Dogg and the many doom DJs and occultist MCs which make up the Manchester Natural Sciences label have pioneered the dungeon rap sound: dank and putrid corpses of old West Coast G-Funk tracks left to rot in the Compton sun.

From L.A. to the icy desolation of Siberia comes Sluggish Shady. As the name suggests, a potent mixture of languorous breaks and a possible affinity with Eminem’s darker alter-ego hangs over his smoggy contribution to the dungeon rap underworld. Allegedly recorded in 1999, Shady’s new album Volume Ø “Siberian Dungeon Rap Mix” (Tape Rip) takes thematic guidance from the local ‘well to hell’ legends to conjure an inspired dirge of demonic possession in da hood.

The seven tracks across the tape all prowl down the back streets of broken needles and used rubbers like the gangs hunting for blood sport in Rockstar’s controversial video-game nasty Manhunt. An earnest warning from a concerned televangelist or Pentecostal pastor introduces Volume Ø…, the Siberian mouth of hell opens to a brief foray in the martial pomp of dungeon synth mired with tape hiss and analogue decrepitude. Second track ‘Dungeon Selection’ stalks along like a seedy curb crawler with acidic menace, foggy synths and stretched vocals bleed together like rancid horrorcore. The ubiquity of police sirens and gunshots as heard on Old School N.W.A is given a nod on the eerie ‘Tha Devil Sees Us’, expert drum machines snap and groove around creepy keys with the ramblings of a hypeman taken over by evil forces at its centre. A shade of Afrika Bambaataa electro percolates against gloomy vocal choirs on the morass of ‘Falling Castle’ before ending the album with the final descent into hell: stinging wind and evil incantations twisting with Wurlitzer organs into a whirling crescendo of torment.

Deftly balancing the arcane introspection of dungeon synth with a sound understanding of hip hop production, Sluggish Shady proves as much as any of his peers the unique way in which the genre’s best examples simultaneously has it’s cold, death grip in the streets of a world spiralling into poverty and violence, and the spectral residue of our corrupted forefathers that fester in the ground as the underworld hits, deals, and shoots-up on top of it.

Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan

Deep within the centuries old foundations of Castell Rhaglan lies the spectral residue of battles fought and kings slain. It’s cold, stone ruins a grave for the sodden ghosts of old Wēalas… ⠀
Arcane energy has been conjured with ‘Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan’, a desolate traverse through the echoing bowels and caverns of a fallen dominion.

Old Tower ‘The Last Eidolon’

The concept of the eidola has its roots in Greek mythology. Spirit entities which temporarily occupy mortal beings to influence and dictate their decision making for desired outcomes before their eternal rest in the underworld. Ambiguous both morally and by nature, legends tell of Helen of Troy being kept prisoner in Egypt while her eidolon mimic was at the centre of the Trojan War, according to the writings of Herodotus.

The arcane energy which lies neglected under the castle ruins and centuries-old sediment of haunted Europe is a source of fascination and inspiration for Netherlands mage Old Tower. A dark ambient project born from the quasi-orchestral pieces featured in black metal, the sole creative force behind Old Tower mysteriously known as ‘The Specter’ has been crafting a series of deeply evocative and eerie synth pieces utterly immersed in the spectral reverberations of empires fallen and battles past fought, both thematically and in texture. While the murky throb of dungeon-synth certainly courses throughout, Old Tower avoids the PC loops and MIDI Renaissance silliness that can befall his/her contemporaries but instead reaches for deeper, alluring, and richer sonic alchemy.

In contrast to the weathered monochrome of previous artwork, Old Tower’s third and latest L.P. glares with a velutinous blood red, a hint of the exotic traverse of mood and space within. Comprised of three chapters, The Last Eidolon tells a story of a kingdom lain to waste by misuse of black magic and the futile reaching for past glory. Faded memories and desolate introspection pervade the entire record, ‘The Specter’ utilising subtle shifts in tone and instrumentation to convey the haunted echoes of the former dominion.

The first chapter ‘Loremaster’ opens with a ritualistic hammer of a gong crashing through the cavernous expanse. Recurring throughout as a motif albeit in differing levels of reverb and dank, shadowy drones and Gothic vocal choirs percolate deep within the stone fortifications before a sharp interruption of unearthly organs and martial drumming, the ghosts of old warning you not to tread further. ‘Shadow Over Thy Kingdom’ has an industrial clangour in its bowels, the distant pomp of ceremonial might and the metallic resonance of the swordsmith striking together around a mid-section of celestial choral intonations like the conjuring of a once great power. Final chapter ‘The Fallen One’ is a more subdued affair, a meander around collapsed archways and decrepit stone of atmospheric strings and funereal advance, the king wearily resigning himself and his empire to the slow, certain erosion of time. The track is sodden with the hissing fall of rain, the inevitable reclamation of nature that awaits all kingdoms.

Instead of merely presenting an album which provides fantastical escapism, Old Tower instead delivers a record which invites you to reconnect with the fertile aura that inspired centuries of storytelling and lore. The Trojan War, King Arthur, Norse mythology, all legends that stir man’s yearning for meaning and purpose in the short, terrible passion of life. The Last Eidolon is an authentic and beguiling soundtrack to the phantom trauma of the sins of our fathers and the buried empires they once ruled.

Robedoor ‘Negative Legacy’

Deep within the gruelling industrial working conditions of 19th century London, Dracula stalked the factories and workhouses in his thirst for blood like capital sucking the life from the proletariat, according to a Marxist interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For all the sweeping social change and technological advancement brought about by the industrial revolution, the toil of the labouring class still haunts the cities of Western Europe.

With the demands of late-stage capitalism as aggressive as ever, its resulting alienation and disconnect have created a new and special spectral residue for sonic alchemists to try and tap into. From Bristol’s Dark Alchemy nights, Manchester dungeon mage Primitive Knot, and the many witch house artists conjuring spooky electronica across the States, potent mystical energy seems to be growing underneath the urban sprawl. Spearheading the wave of arcane electronics is duo Robedoor, an industrial occult drone act from L.A. comprised of unrelated Alex and Britt (co-founder of Not Not Fun Records) Brown, and have built a heady discography together touching on stoner metal, psychedelic explorations and space rock.

Their latest offering via Deathbomb Arc comes Negative Legacy, a four track journey of synth sorcery and sonic hypnosis which feels less performed and more exorcised in some forbidden ritual. While the swampy murk as heard on previous records still engulf, traces of melody ooze within the mire. Album opener ‘Entity Undertow’ creeps in with monk chants and febrile winds before swelling with hissing beats seductive bass, as if one were under a trance at the hands of the encroaching vampire. Putrid electro palpitates on the ravaged ‘Execution Myth’, cavernous drums pounds like the awaiting of the condemned against the feverish hellscapes of squealing synths and alien effects followed by the most evil, nastiest keyboard throb in this life or hereafter. The drum machines penetrate the smog on penultimate track ‘So Unknown’ while album closer ‘Cauldrone’ is a stirring meander through old-world strings, octave pedal manipulations and Martin Hannet style spatial snares.

This is a dark record, but we live in dark times. As the cogs of neoliberalism continue to grind, the workers and city dwellers yearn to touch the beguiling and ethereal. Negative Legacy is both a successful channelling of ancient mysticism and an unholy trip of detachment all too contemporary in the exploitative and disillusioned world we’re subject to.

Witch Root ‘Windswept and Cursed’

Andromeda awaits the savagery of the sea creature Cetus. Chained to a rock, the waves splash at her feet and the demons maw has widened with blood thirst, if you were to see the full uncropped painting of Gustave Doré’s 1869 piece Andromeda Chained to a Rock, which adorns the cover of Windswept and Cursed.

Witch Root is a dungeon synth side-project from Manchester electronic-occultist Primitive Knot, retaining his arcane rituals and old world mysticism, but absorbing the narrative arcs of acts like Netherlands mage Old Tower. Avoiding the genres pitfalls (no PC loops to be heard here), Witch Root has presented a debut LP that feels unearthed, an organic soundtrack to the days of plague, runes, and the Danse Macarbe.

The primal, natural awe of a thunderstorm haunts the title track on album opener, cryptic drums and whispery mellotrons take refuge from the open heavens, building to a gripping melodic mood piece. Analogue synths pulse and swell against the cawing of crows on ‘Gallows Kiss’, doomy keys droning unforgivably. The weathered mellotron returns amid the crackle of campfire on ‘Cruel Whip and Tender Heart’d’, expert lo-fi production brings an ‘aged’ quality to the track, like a conceptual interlude off a black metal album. ‘Hillfort Ghosts’ is all muffle and murk, tapering off at the end with the pure haunt of febrile wind and electronic throbs. The door is pulled of its hinges, the gale merciless in its ferocity on ‘Bedded and Beheaded’, the steady pound of the executioner beats alone amid the storm, before beating with urgency on the jubilant ‘May Day’, an elation that lifts you from the preceding dread and ending with the simple delight of a running stream.

Was the condemned granted a last reprieve, or did he lose his head and reach nirvana? Such is the evocative power and narrative skill of this album, you find yourself asking questions to whatever concocted legend conceived in your head. Windswept and Cursed is an honest and sincere conjuring of the sodden ghosts and relics which haunt old Europe.