Dungeon synth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dungeon synth is a genre of electronic music that merges elements of black metal[5] and dark ambient.[6][7] The style emerged in the early 1990s, predominantly among members of the second wave black metal scene.

The genre employs aesthetics and themes typically associated with black metal[10] juxtaposed to the typical heavy tremolo-picking, blast-beats, and harsh, shrieked vocals of black metal by way of compositions of instrumental or ambient music commonly used as introductions, interludes, or "outros" in black metal,[11] death metal, and heavy metal[12] albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Though often paired with medieval and fantasy motifs throughout the 1990s onward, some prominent contemporaries of dungeon synth reject the excessive prevalence of high-fantasy themes.[13] Dungeon synth is contentiously likened to video game music,[18] due to fantasy influences, the usage and layering of synths, and a focus on ambience, but the Norwegian musician Mortiis (Håvard Ellefsen)[19] and others[20][21] have rejected the influence of video game soundtracks on dungeon synth.

Mortiis is a major performer of this genre and the style is heavily prevalent in early releases such as Født til å Herske[22] and later releases from the return to the "Era I" sound, chiefly Spirit of Rebellion.[23] Other prominent contemporaries of the genre include Old Tower, Sombre Arcane, Thangorodrim, and Depressive Silence; most of which have toured or regularly performed live[24][25] on top of publishing music. Mortiis, alongside Burzum, is normally cited as the de facto progenitor of the genre proper, and each is regularly cited as having influenced later acts associated with dungeon synth.[35]


Proto-dungeon synth[edit]

Since the coining of the term, dungeon synth fans have on occasion identified disparate influences on early dungeon synth pioneers and on the rare occasion, have had their suspicions corroborated. Namely, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze have been cited by Mortiis as early influences,[36] as well as Skinny Puppy and Enigma.[37] Varg Vikernes has cited Das Ich, Dead Can Dance and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky among his own influences.[42] Finnish dungeon synth musician Tuomas M. Mäkelä of Jääportit[43] has cited Dead Can Dance and Arcana among their influences. Robert Nusslein (founding member of Ritual) of Casket of Dreams has listed Tangerine Dream, Velvet Acid Christ, Dead Can Dance, and Death in June among his influences.[44]

Several industrial and post-punk artists are often invoked as proto-dungeon synth artists or influences on early dungeon synth pioneers including Nurse with Wound, Death in June, In the Nursery, Cocteau Twins, Throbbing Gristle, and many other prominent industrial artists of the 1970s and 1980s.

Traditional heavy metal[edit]

Though almost universally associated with the orchestral, atmospheric, and ambient intros, interludes, and outros of 1990s black metal albums, proto-dungeon synth can also be found heavily interspersed in many of the same sections of traditional heavy metal and other extreme metal genres of the 1970s and 1980s.

Similar instances of fantastical ambient, orchestral, or neoclassical music can also be heard in Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon"[45] from Long Live Rock 'n' Roll.[46]

While less prevalent in the black metal albums of the 1990s, heavy metal has borrowed heavily from high-fantasy imagery and motifs since its fledgling days.[47] This indelible link between heavy metal and high fantasy would eventually lead to the colloquial moniker "castle metal" to describe acts of the genre that are mired in the motifs typical of high fantasy art and literature.[48] Mortiis has cited Venom, W.A.S.P., Angel Witch, Kiss, and others among his own heavy metal influences, even citing their high-fantasy leanings on occasion.[53] Sigurd "Satyr" Wongraven has cited Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and other heavy metal bands among his own influences,[54] and the members of Summoning have made similar claims regarding their earliest influences.[55]

Kosmische musik[edit]

Various musical methods of composition prevalent in dungeon synth are often attributed to German kosmische musik artists.[56] Kosmische musik themes were largely inspired by space travel, futurism, and industrialism[57] rather than typical fantasy tropes, but contributed to subsequent genres by way of normalizing "beatless"[58] music which would permeate industrial music and derivative forms such as Ambient and New Age, eventually influencing earlier dungeon synth musicians (or perhaps proto-dungeon synth musicians from the 1980s) and their minimal compositions which were occasionally purely ambient. While only occasionally sharing thematic overlap, dungeon synth musicians would indelibly borrow significantly from kosmische musik by way of musicology and theory.

A few typical examples of "cosmic-oriented" dungeon synth and adjacent releases can be found in early releases, though the style is more prevalent in contemporary works. Mortiis published a seven-inch single of comparable music on his own record label Dark Dungeon Music from his early side-project Fata Morgana. Fenriz published two albums of similar music from his own side-project Neptune Towers. The works of Solanum (one half of Depressive Silence) bear comparable themes of space in the artwork, titles, and other errata, though are not as explicitly composed with sounds reminiscent of kosmische musik. The early works of black metal musician and composer Henri Sorvali also present similar characteristics which could be associated to kosmische musik, including Lunar Womb's Astral Grief and Planets.


The origins of dungeon synth as a genre unto itself are largely rooted in the early 1990s with the release of a few specific pieces of music now retroactively called "dungeon synth".[59][better source needed] These include Jim Kirkwood's "Where Shadows Lie" released sometime in 1990, followed by "Master of Dragons" in 1991. During this time, Mortiis was still a member of Emperor and had yet to publish any solo material. In 1992, Kirkwood published two more releases on cassette and a new name enters the canon: Vidar Våer of Ildjarn,[60] formerly of Thou Shalt Suffer (also connected to Emperor[61]), and his 1992 black metal/dungeon synth demo tape "Unknown Truths".[62] In March 1992, roughly a year-and-a-half before his murder, Euronymous published the Burzum self-titled debut album through his record label Deathlike Silence Productions, marking the first time a prominent member of the 2nd wave of black metal released material combining black metal tracks with ambient, synth-driven tracks and industrial-esque atmospheric tracks on the same record. This is also the first known use of the word "dungeon" on a record that would later be cited as proto-dungeon synth.


By 1993, dungeon synth as a style of black metal separate from the traditional instrumentation of black metal would become visibly apparent with the beginnings of Mortiis' "Era 1" material. Ellefsen, after his departure from Emperor, purchased a Roland keyboard and created the first Mortiis demo:[36] The Song Of A Long Forgotten Ghost.[63] This first demo, clocking in at just under an hour in length, marked the first time a black metal musician would publish a work that "looked"[64] like a typical black metal demo tape but contained entirely instrumental and non-traditional black metal instrumentation.[65] The first iteration of this demo, self-released by Ellefsen, was circulated in an unknown number of copies on consumer-grade cassettes with a Xerox copied insert; a do it yourself practice typical of black metal and other genres of underground music.

The second iteration of this demo tape would be the first time Ellefsen would use the phrase "dark dungeon music"[66] to refer to this burgeoning style of dark ambient music.

Also in 1993, and worthy of mention, is the short-lived Danish project Dark Funeral[67][68][69] (not to be confused with the Swedish band of the same name). This demo is occasionally invoked alongside Mortiis' earliest works as another example of nascent dungeon synth but the project quickly ended after releasing two demos.

Again, in 1993, Jim Kirkwood[70] would publish two more works which would retroactively be touted as influencing early dungeon synth music: Through A Dark Glass[71][72] and Tower of Darkness.[73][74] Though each work can only tenuously be called dungeon synth, Kirkwood's overall influence is indelible when considering the prevalence of the Berlin School on dungeon synth, overall.


1994 saw the publication of several albums, E.P.s, and demos now considered canon in dungeon synth; of particular merit is the seminal work Født til å Herske, Pazuzu's ...And All Was Silent (featuring both Richard Lederer and Michael Gregor later of Summoning),[79] Tears of the Weeping Willow and Lost Woods by Cernunnos Woods, and several others including Lamentation, Black Wailing, Erevos, Equitant, Asmorod, Landscape, and Wintergods.


  1. ^ a b Neill Jameson (October 16, 2017). "Mortiis: From Black Metal to Dungeon Synth and Beyond". Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  2. ^ Kahler, Charles (21 November 2017). "A Beginner's Guide to…Dungeon Synth". Indy Metal Vault. Indy Metal Vault. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  3. ^ Clementine Zimmer (6 February 2019). "On dangerous paths: an introduction to dungeon synth". Berkley B-Side. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  4. ^ "Is Dungeon Synth A Black Metal Offshoot, Or Something More?". Excuse the Blood. 27 September 2020. Archived from the original on 6 April 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  5. ^ [1][2][3][4]
  6. ^ "Masmorra #1 A Dungeon Synth Zine". Hollywood metal. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  7. ^ "Days of Yore: Dark Ambient, Black Metal, and the Birth of Dungeon Synth". February 15, 2016. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  8. ^ Editorial (30 March 2017). "A Guide Through the Darkened Passages of Dungeon Synth". Bandcamp Daily. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  9. ^ Stuart Maconie (2020-05-24). "Dungeon Synth". BBC Radio 6 Music. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  10. ^ [1][8][9]
  11. ^ "Intros, Outros and Instrumental Interludes…yes or no?". Man Of Much Metal. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  12. ^ Hannum, Terrence (March 18, 2016). "Instigate Sonic Violence: A Not-so-Brief History of the Synthesizer's Impact on Heavy Metal". Vice. Vice Media. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  13. ^ Göransson, Niklas (1 May 2019). "Old Tower Interview". Bardo Methodology. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  14. ^ "Rumbling Under The Mountains: A report On Czech Dungeon Synth". Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  15. ^ Curtis-Brignell, Andy (6 April 2017). "Out of the Dungeon: In Conversation with Mortiis". Vice. Vice Media Group. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  16. ^ "The Adventures of Mortiis".
  17. ^ Bannister, Sasha (28 January 2020). "Mortiis - Spirit of Rebellion". www.noizze.co.uk. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  18. ^ [14][15][16][17]
  19. ^ "Mortiis Interview with Dungeon Synth Zine" (PDF). Dungeon Synth Zine (3): 12. 1 September 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Dungeon Synth - Music Out of Joint". DataSwamp. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  21. ^ "Old Nick Interview". The Call of the Night. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  22. ^ Norman, Joseph (2 April 2018). "(((O))) Interview: Mortiis". Echoes and Dust. Echoes and Dust. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  23. ^ "Mortiis - Spirit of Rebellion". Official Mortiis Website. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  24. ^ "Roadburn Festival - Old Tower". Roadburn Festival. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  25. ^ "Sombre Arcane, Francis Roberts, Nan Elmoth, Fvrfvr". Lost Coast Outpost. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  26. ^ "Mortiis: Inventor of dungeon synth!". Permafrost Today. 4 November 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  27. ^ "The Legendary Mortiis Returns To His Dungeon Synth Roots On Meritorious New Album, 'Spirit Of Rebellion'". Dungeons in Deep Space. 14 February 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  28. ^ "Dungeon Synth Conjures Black Metal Fantasy". Legendo. 25 November 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  29. ^ "Mortiis – Era 1 North American Tour – Live Coverage in Baltimore". This Is Darkness. 29 March 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  30. ^ "A return to the dungeon: Feature article and interview with Mortiis". Sounds and Shadows. 30 January 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  31. ^ Tiwari, PJ (20 January 2020). "Interview: Mortiis on Masks, the Spirit of Dungeon Synth, and Not Letting The Bastards Get You In The End". New Noise. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  32. ^ "Mortiis - Spirit of Rebellion | Album Review". www.noizze.co.uk. 28 Jan 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  33. ^ "Summoning Interview". The Lodge. 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  34. ^ "Interview with Old Tower Dutch Dark Ambient Dungeon Synth". Burders des Lichts. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  35. ^ [26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]
  36. ^ a b Jeremy Saffer (July 25, 2019). "MORTIIS: Behind the Mask of Mortiis". Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  37. ^ "Mortiis: 10 albums that changed my life". Metal Hammer. Louder Sound. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  38. ^ "Burzum: Heart of Darkness "Guitar World" Magazine". Burzum Official Website. April 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  39. ^ "Interview with Varg Vikernes". Burzum Official Website. 12 August 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  40. ^ "I am much scarier in real life... because I am - real". MetalScript.net. 24 February 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  41. ^ "Interview with Varg Vikernes". Burzum Official Website. 14 April 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  42. ^ [38][39][40][41]
  43. ^ "Jääportit Biography". Jääportit Official Website. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  44. ^ "An Interview With Robert: Ritual Of Ritual". Metal Underground. 9 July 2009. Archived from the original on 2021-04-29. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  45. ^ "Rainbow - Gates of Babylon". YouTube. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  46. ^ Mank, Justin. "Dungeon Synth Tree - A New Division". Dungeon Synth ProBoards.
  47. ^ "SONGS OF ICE AND FIRE: WHY METAL LOVES FANTASY". Louder Sound. Metal Hammer. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  48. ^ "10 Castle Metal Albums You Need to Hear Read More: 10 Castle Metal Albums You Need to Hear". Loudwire. 9 January 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  49. ^ "Mortiis – Interview (Era 1 focused)". This Is Darkness. 19 June 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  50. ^ "Mortiis - What's In My Bag?". Amoeba San Francisco. 29 June 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  51. ^ "Mortiis - Five Albums That Changed My Life". Noise Creep. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  52. ^ "Mortiis: 10 Albums That Changed My Life". Louder Sound. 5 February 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  53. ^ [49][50][51][52]
  54. ^ "Interview: Satyr – Satyricon". Metal Refugee. 22 April 2004. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  55. ^ "Loud Music Of The Sky: An Interview With Summoning" (PDF). Darkside.ru. Archived from Darkside.ru. 5 May 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  56. ^ Seabrook, Thomas Jerome (2008). Bowie in Berlin : a new career in a new town (1st ed.). London: Jawbone Press. ISBN 9781906002084.
  57. ^ Harden, Alexander C (31 December 2016). "Kosmische Musik and its Techno-Social Context". IASPM@Journal. 6 (2): 154–173. doi:10.5429/2079-3871(2016)v6i2.9en.
  58. ^ Dorston, A.S. Van. "Krautrocksampler: German Kosmische Music". Fast 'n' Bulbous. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  59. ^ "Dungeon Synth". Dungeon Synth Blogspot. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  60. ^ "Ildjarn". Discogs. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  61. ^ "Thou Shalt Suffer". Discogs.
  62. ^ "Ildjarn - Unknown Truths demo". Discogs.
  63. ^ "The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost". Encyclopedia Metallum. Metal Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  64. ^ "Demo Archives - The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost by Mortiis". Demo Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  65. ^ "Mortiis – The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost (Remaster)". Echoes and Dust. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  66. ^ "Mortiis - The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost". Demo Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  67. ^ "Dark Funeral - In Thy Forest". Demo Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  68. ^ "Dark Funeral - In Thy Forest..." RateYourMusic. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  69. ^ "The Dark Funeral - In Thy Forest... demo 1993". Asmodian Coven Blog. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  70. ^ "Jim Kirkwood Biography". Last.fm. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  71. ^ "Through A Dark Glass - Jim Kirkwood". Dungeon Codex. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  72. ^ "Through A Dark Glass". Music Meter Netherlands. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  73. ^ "Tower of Darness - Jim Kirkwood". Dungeon Codex. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  74. ^ "Tower of Darkness - Jim Kirkwood". Music Meter Netherlands. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  75. ^ "Pazuzu - ...And All Was Silent". Encyclopedia Metallum. Metal Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  76. ^ "Pazuzu - ...And All Was Silent". Metal Music Archives. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  77. ^ "Pazuzu - ...And All Was Silent". Metal Storm. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  78. ^ "The Soil Bleeds Black Interview". RusMetal. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  79. ^ [75][76][77] the self-released The Soil Bleeds Black demo tape,[78]