The overlap on the Venn Diagram between metal fans and ambient fans is one that might surprise outsiders to either scene. But it’s a real and strong relationship nonetheless, and perhaps nowhere is this better typified than in the dark corners of dungeon synth.

“Dungeon synth” seems to have originated as a retronym for artists like Mortiis and Summoning, metal-aligned musicians who took as much inspiration from electronic acts like Tangerine Dream as they did from Venom. Over the last couple of decades, it’s grown into a genre of ambient music unto itself, though, carving out its own distinct niche and fan base. Artists use synths and sequencers alongside pseudo-medieval instrumentation to conjure up the eerie sounds of a past that never was.

For the layman who’s totally unfamiliar with the concept, it essentially utilises black metal aesthetics in a dark ambient setting. An even glibber, if not entirely inaccurate, explanation would be “Dungeons & Dragons soundtrack music”.

The artist behind today’s review, Mountain Warlock, leans heavily into this aesthetic on their debut release, Malefic Wizardry. Early Mortiis is the obvious sonic touchstone, though genre aficionados will no doubt be able to point to more contemporary influences.  

The music summons images of ruined castles, stony peaks, barren landscapes and quiet nighttime uncertainty. It’s not about the stuff of high adventure, but rather the lull between quests. Danger can still strike and may be even more deadly than when you were expecting it. Perhaps that treasured artefact you acquired was actually cursed? And is the cave you chose to rest in safe?

Despite its slightly ominous undertones, Malefic Wizardry is still a soothing solo listen. And it also makes for a great addition to your soundtrack for your next sojourn into tabletop gaming.

Malefic Wizardry is available now. Purchase here.

Words: Tom G. Wolf

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