A little bit about me: I love video games. I especially love old RPGs. I’m a fan of whether they be CRPGs, ARPGs, SRPGs, or JRPGs. I especially love old chiptune music, and video game soundtracks. So when I discovered Dungeon Synth music at the tail end of last year, I fell instantly in love. I fell down the rabbit hole hard, as one who loves and appreciates this kind of music. I won’t go into the history of the genre, as a YouTube creator by the name of Pseudiom has already done an incredible job breaking down the history of the genre. Please check out the video below.
One way to describe Dungeon Synth is to think of the intros, outros, and interludes to 2nd wave Black Metal albums. Another way to put it is the way Kaptain Carbon says it in his incredible blog on Invisible Oranges, Naïve Magic, “It’s fantasy synth music for 100 nerds on the internet.” Whatever you want to call it, it is a microgenre that stems from black metal. Lo-fi in nature most of the time, and shares artist lineage as well such as Mortiis, who is often regarded as the godfather of the genre. Again though, definitely watch the fantastic video above to really get the history of the genre.
Below are what Sounds of the Void consider to be the 25 best Dungeon Synth albums released in 2022. I tried my hardest to provide the country/state of origin, and if they were associated with a label with its release. This is a true DIY genre and therefore a lot of secrecy is involved. If I am incorrect, please let me know below in the comments or on the Sounds of the Void Instagram page.
One last thing, when it comes to Dungeon Synth, I’ve been listening to the genre for a year. I definitely won’t be able to convey in words why I think one album is better than the other on a technical level. I can only talk about how the releases make me feel. I am not going to be reviewing everything, just the Top 10, and they will be mini reviews at best. However, I do believe that what matters most about music is how it makes you feel, so in that, I hope I do the artists justice, and of course, thank you for taking the time to check out this List. Like Dungeon Synth, this is 100% DIY. Now, here we go…
25. Elminster – Caern Mist
Grand Rapids, MI
Ithildin Tape Production
24. Sequestered Keep – Sorcerous Steel
Salt Lake City, UT
Out of Season
23. Arthuros – Ultraromance
22. Tidemancer – Book 1
21. Erreth-Akbe – A Lantern Swathed
20. Tales Under the Oak – Swamp Kingdom
Dark Age Productions
19. Elyvilon – Drums in the Deepwood
18. Castle Zagyx – Oath of the Dark Chivalry
17. Hole Dweller – Another Chance at Peace
Dungeons Deep Records
16. Spellbound Mire – Spellbound Mire
Dungeons Deep Records
15. Arcanist – Hyperborea
14. Ulk – Restoration Magic
13. Archierophant – High Mass, Vol. 1
The United Kingdom
12. Erang – A Season of Frost
Out of Season
11. Frailord – Descending from Realms of Bizarre Aristocracy
Serpent’s Sword Records
10. Fogweaver – Labyrinthine
Based out of Denver, CO, Fogweaver takes a more ambient approach to Dungeon Synth. Labyrinthine Definitely has a very relaxing vibe that definitely dances with darkness throughout. The best way I can describe it is it feels like you are outside in a forest during daylight as the light filters through the orange and yellow leaves of autumn. Evergreen, the artist behind the music dedicates their entire work to Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic fantasy series; Earthsea. Labyrinthine is based entirely on the second book of the series, The Tombs of Atuan. Here is a quote from Evergreen briefly describing the process of coming up with the concept of the album.
“Tackling the themes of The Tombs of Atuan was a bit of an intimidating process for me. I knew I had to explore this aspect of Earthsea at some point and, for those of you who have read Earthsea, you know how much Atuan stands out from much of the rest of the books. The darker tone, the dread, the melancholy, the isolation, is all so different from other aspects of Earthsea in its adventurous yet, at times, somber nature.” -Evergreen
And yes, this album did make me go out and buy the first Earthsea book.
9. Cefaris – Profound Misery in the Radiance of the Bloodmoon
Serpent’s Sword Records
I don’t know why I think this, but I am fairly certain the very first dungeon Synth experience I ever had was with Cefaris’ 2019 release, Ritual of Vampyric Blood. I remember being super intrigued by the idea of what I could only call at the time, “super lo-fi orchestral black metal.” When I say orchestral I mean no guitar, drums, or bass, just the most bloodcurdling wails of an absolute madman and a synthesizer.
That sound continues on with, Profound Misery in the Radiance of the Bloodmoon. From the very beginning, you are met with a dark and dreary piano that leads right into a synth intro of the second track that quickly becomes hostile. As if Nosferatu himself is welcoming you into this castle that has truly unspeakable horrors that will haunt you for the rest of your days, while the undead vampiric souls scream at you in a way that you will truly feel all hope is gone.
This is as lo-fi as this list gets. This is definitely not a release for those wanting a nice romp with fantasy synth music, no no. This is what the vampiric medium needs to take us away from the sparkles and chiseled jaws we have come accustomed to.
8. Grimdor – Evenstar
You may ask yourself after looking at the length of this particular Grimdor demo and wonder why I would recommend something that is around eight minutes, let alone something in my top 10, especially when Grimdor has released so many other projects this year in both the black metal and dungeon synth world. Well, I recommend starting from the beginning, close your eyes, and you’ll understand.
More so than almost any other piece of music, this demo portrays the emotion, love, and heartbreak of Arwen when she is longing for her one true love Aragorn. This release takes place from the perspective of the noble maiden Arwen, who is also known as Evenstar, while Aragorn is traveling with the fellowship.
While lo-fi for sure, the beauty of this music transcends that sound and truly takes you to middle earth during a heavily troubled time.
7. Frostgard – Valaquenta II
Keeping with our theme of Tolkien, we have Frostgard with Valequenta II. Valaquenta I was released at the very end of 2021, and it blew me away. Probably my favorite release of that year, and the Dark Elf Sisslith has had an even stronger 2022. This was the first of her six releases this year, and all are absolutely fantastic.
Frostgard is a Tolkien-inspired project so you know what context the music is made with, but it scales so much. From beautiful sweeping ambient interludes as well as soft, yet dominant melodies that would certainly motivate any fellowship during their journey.
Here is a comment from Sisslith herself about what this release is all about…
“Valaquenta II is the second part of the Valaquenta ritual, the music that guides the story of the Valar according to The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. In Frostgard’s second release, the stories and thoughts of the Valar are told through dark and ancient melodies of Dungeon Synth music” -Sisslith
At the beginning of the year when this was released, I was playing a lot of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, and this was pretty much on a loop during those play sessions. Fantastic release!
6. Royaume des Brumes – La Dimension Inconnue
The Weeping Kingdom
As we are entering the top of the list you’ll start to see a theme. Lots of old-school Dungeon Synth. On the artist’s Bandcamp page for this album, we even see that this piece is, “dedicated to the old ways.” What you have here are two tracks at around 20 minutes each of lo-fi, atmospheric, romantic Dungeon Synth music. The Weeping Kingdom, the label that produces the artist has released several works this year from several artists, and alternative identities of one Lila Starless, who in my opinion is one of the most prolific figures in the genre today. Even her rehearsal demos are nothing short of fantastic. Seriously, I could have picked a release at random and it would have been a must-own for this year.
My reasoning as to why La Dimension Inconnue is because it feels romantic, but in an extremely archaic and ancient way, and pays tribute to legends of the genre such as Secret Stairways, and Depressive Silence, all while maintaining a fresh sound and unique identity that is truly Lila.
5. Dragon King – Dark Creations
Dungeons Deep Records
I truly don’t know much about this artist other than they are from the Netherlands, and they make music inspired by the Forgotten Realms. It is also the first release of the artist, or at least the artist going under the Dragon King moniker. While certainly still possessing that lo-fi dark sound that encompasses the genre, you also hear a twinkle of medieval sword and sorcery, which I believe is exactly what the artist was going for. Listening to tracks like Aeon really does a great job in transporting you to a stretch of long unaccompanied road where the dangers of a threat are present, but ultimately, all is quiet. While this work isn’t as epic, and as dynamic as some of the others on this list, it does an incredible job of building a world where the threat of danger exists at all times. An absolute gem in the genre.
4. Ithildin – Arda’s Herbarium: A Musical Guide to the Mystical Garden of Middle-Earth and Stranger Places – Vol. I, II, and III
Within the Dungeon Synth genre, there are spin-off genres. Micro genres to the already micro genre of dungeon synth. One of those is referred to as comfy synth. While Ithildin doesn’t reside in a Hobbit Hole exclusively with the Comfy Synth genre, he definitely has a vacation hole there as the Arda’s Herbarium trilogy is one of the most charming pieces of music this year.
Last year Ithildin released one of my favorite more traditional DS albums with, A Long-Expected Party. Which is a more peaceful take on the journey that resides in The Hobbit. With Arda’s Herbarium we basically are treated to a composition for each element of Flora inside Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. This is a super unique take and quite a gamble as unless you are a true nerd who has read the book, “Flora of Middle-Earth” by Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd, you may not care or even think about the vegetation that envelopes Middle-Earth. Below is an expert from Ithildin regarding the idea behind the trilogy…
“Humans suffer from a condition referred to as “plant blindness”, which leads those afflicted by it to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and to appreciate their role in human affairs.” -Guillaume P. Trépanier AKA Ithildin
How could you not fall in love with that thought process?!
While technically a trilogy that was released throughout 2022, I am lumping in all three parts to this slot as you can’t have just one. The story, atmosphere, and everything in between must all be experienced.
3. Old Sorcery – Dragon Citadel Elegies
Dungeons Deep Records
Dragon Citadel Elegies is the third part in what is called the Castles Trilogy. In an interview for The Sword That Sang blog, Old Sorcery states when asked about why the obsession with castles, “There is no complicated or a deep answer to this. I just think that castles are fucking cool.” Well, hard to argue with that logic. Old Sorcery at this point is one of the most well-known acts in the genre and a lot of people’s first experience. With Dragon Citadel Elegies, all elements of lo-fi traditional dungeon synth are gone. Sure you have moments of dark ambient brooding along the backdrop of a foggy castle morning. But oftentimes you are greeted with a sweeping elegant orchestra, and even at times this psychedelic synth as well as narration. It definitely has a Berlin School vibe for sure.
This album is epic, beautiful, dark, and quite simply a masterpiece of the genre. It is also one of the more accessible listens as well. This is a must-experience for any fan of dark, ambient, or orchestral music.
2. Wraith Knight – Deep in the Dungeons of the Dragonlord
Dungeons Deep Records
This album spoke to me in ways that most albums can’t. This is SNES JRPG soundtrack heaven. Epic in the landscape, it tells the story of a cloaked conqueror traveling deep into the dungeons of the dragonlord to slay the mighty foe. It immediately gives off vibes of a late-release SNES JRPG, or if you’re a huge dork like me, a PC Engine CD game from the mid-90s, with an epic soundtrack. Old Nick, not to be confused with the Old Nick of Bloody Keep, this is OldNick of Ceremonial Castings fame. Beyond anything chiptune, this is an epic soundtrack suited for any AAA fantasy game out there or just an epic DnD adventure with your friends or solo. Hell, you can do what I do, and listen to this while you solo The Lord of the Rings LCG!
Well produced, not very lo-fi, but that is perfect for this release. It’s number 2 on this list for a reason.
I am kicking myself for not getting this tape when it was released! Also, this was actually my favorite release of the year until…
1. Vanishing Amulet – Nocturnal Heritage
If someone were to ask me, “what should I listen to first to get into Dungeon Synth?” Before hearing Nocturnal Heritage, I would have said Depressive Silence II, or Enchantment of the Ring. In a post-Vanishing Amulet world, I would have to add Nocturnal Heritage to the list. This is one of the best examples of what Dungeon Synth was, is, and always will be at its very core.
Just looking at the artwork of this piece of music is enough to describe the atmosphere of what this record will be. Upon hearing the very first note, you know you are going to be transported to an ancient world of lo-fi synth the way the genre was perceived in the days of Mortiis, and even though I hate to say his name, Burzum.
I also know nothing about the artist behind the music. I know it’s an individual who goes by, Withering Prince. When it was released back in August it was accompanied by a 25 DIY cassette that is sold out and basically unobtainable (holler at your boy if you know how to get a copy), although it appears Out of Season will be releasing a vinyl version in early 2023.
I would say the most interesting aspect of this album is how it makes you feel. I have listened to Nocturnal Heritage several times this year, and I can tell you when I am having a good day, I hear a beautiful, dreamy lo-fi synth telling the tale of a heroic journey. But on bad days, and down days, I hear nothing but absolute melancholy, and sadness, and am surrounded by a bleak and hopeless atmosphere that envelopes me in a comfortable fog of nothingness.
Earlier I said I would show somebody this piece if they want to get into the genre. That’s because not only is it the best Dungeon Synth release of 2022, but I believe it is one of the best Dungeon Synth releases of all time.
We did it! I want to thank all the labels, artists, writers, content creators, and of course artists for keeping this fantastic genre alive. Yes, it is very DIY, and yes it is small, but it is lovely and it feels like home for so many of us who sometimes want to take a break from the heavy.
And of course, thank you for taking the time to read this list. I love the little community we have built with Sounds of the Void. If you haven’t already, join the party over on Instagram!