Dungeon Synth is the genre of music I’d like to think I’m better than, except I’m not. I mean, it’s basically the kind of music you make when you buy your first keyboard, click it over to “choral” and GO TO TOWN in the simplest manner possible. It’s naïve, repetitive, and somehow both half-baked and overwrought at the same time. It’s the kind of stuff that’s good for a 20 second black metal intro–but when stretched out to 20 minute opuses of dubious merit, it makes even the most stalwart of basement dwellers start to question their life choices. It’s also undeniably atmospheric and evocative of, well, dungeons (with or without dragons), so all black metal fans are natural born suckers for this stuff despite their best efforts.
Despite burying dungeon synth in the intro here, there are plenty of examples of good (even great!) dungeon synth out there, so I thought I’d take a look at one of my second favorite dungeon synth bands. The best dungeon synth band is Burzum, but I’m not about to make my 88th Minor Key Monday post be about Burzum, so I’ll take a look at the much more ideologically neutral (Swiss) band Paysage d’Hiver instead–specifically their song Eishalle (translated as a not exactly badass sounding “Ice Rink”…according to Google) from their Die Festung (the much more appropriately epic “The Fortress”) ambient release in 1998:
First off, like Burzum, Paysage d’Hiver is a black metal band that occasionally dips their troll toes into dungeon synth. It especially makes sense with Paysage d’Hiver since their typical black metal production is just a few steps above “vacuum cleaner in a wind tunnel”–so ambient work suits them.
The requisite slow synth chords are there, but a more rhythmic piano melody floats over the top adding a massive amount of interest. Then, additional slow chords drift in throughout the long song adding layers to the typical 3-note dungeon synth repetition. However, the most interesting addition is absolutely the ephemeral, almost random scatterings of high register, quickly played synth notes. This is similar in style to the synth inclusions found in Paysage d’Hiver’s later black metal song Isa, and it’s just as effective there:
Bottom line, “Ice Rink” takes a solid dungeon synth base and adds more than enough interesting additions to the usual framework to make the song instantly stand far above the rest of the field. It might not be quite as staggeringly romantic and emotive as Burzum’s ambient work, but at least Paysage d’Hiver aren’t quite as ideologically problematic (we’ll just turn a blind eye to that split with Drudkh).