Dungeon Synth

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.