A common misconception of dungeon synth is that the genre is an offshoot of 90’s Norwegian black metal, stemming largely from the more grandiose side of the genre. Yet scratch the surface and it soon becomes clear that the genre has far deeper, older roots than that would suggest, claiming lineage from the meeting of progressive rock and Berlin School electronica, perhaps most clearly exemplified by Tangerine Dream on landmark albums such as Phaedra. Jenn Taiga’s synthesiser wizardry draws heavily from this sound, with previous album Plight being a fantastic modern version of that classic approach. Given the success of that album, it might have been tempting for her to double-down on its lengthy soundscapes and offer more of the same. But instead, Lunar Nocturnes and Esoteric Incantations takes a different approach, with shorter – but no less effective – songs.
Even though it’s broken into two halves focusing on different aspects – suitably, “Lunar Nocturnes” for the first half and “Esoteric Incantations” for the second – Lunar Nocturnes and Esoteric Incantations still manages to present a unified, consistent vision. The first half focuses more on shorter, more aggressive tracks, unusually brief durations for music influenced by the Berlin School. The longest songs clock in at just over five minutes, alive with movement and an edge of violence, an uncomfortable tension simmering away even at their most subdued. It demonstrates that there are more ways to be aggressive than to simply bludgeon the listener over the head, and that sustained low-level anxiety can be just as vicious as anything else. It’s also remarkably accessible by the standards of the genre, thanks in large part to the relatively short durations of the songs and Taiga’s knack for melody.
The last two songs which make up the “Esoteric Incantations” part of the album, follow more familiar structures for Berlin School-influenced electronica – well, mostly anyway. The opening burst of noise that ushers in ‘Braziers are Burning’ is a jarring moment that stands out strongly. It provides a moment of incredible discomfort that contrasts strongly with the more typical synthscapes that came in later, and makes them seem all the stronger for it. Extended, hazy atmospheres and stirring melodies are the order of the day here, all lent a retro-futuristic feel thanks to the nature of the synths used. It could well be some lost artifact from the early 70’s, and I hope that fans of this style of music recognise this as the compliment that it is intended to be.
As all this might imply, to simply tag it as “dungeon synth” is slightly misleading, and a different descriptor – “sci-fi synth”, perhaps? – would provide a better summary of what Lunar Nocturnes and Esoteric Incantations offers. It’s not music for dark caves, and it will never bring to mind stereotypical imagery of goblins and warriors as your typical dungeon synth release would. Instead, Lunar Nocturnes and Esoteric Incantations is music of glistening silver rockets and vast skies of stars stretching out into infinity, heavy with promise and mystery, and even hope.
Lunar Nocturnes and Esoteric Incantations is out today via Tridoid Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain