One of the more interesting developments in the underground over the past half-decade or so is the renewed interest in dungeon synth. This was no doubt brought on by the rise of Dutch practitioner Old Tower, who released the excellent Stellary Wisdom this year on Profound Lore, as well as the recent reissues of Mortiis’ early works, coupled with his recent tours focused strictly on this “era one” material as opposed to his current industrial rock/metal incarnation.
But did you know that Glenn Danzig is the true OG of dungeon synth? That’s right my friends, not only did the Evil Elvis invent horror punk with the Misfits and gothic metal with Samhain and Danzig, he also quietly birthed one of synthesizer music’s most unusual subgenres when he wrote and recorded Black Aria.
“First, this is not a rock record. It does not sound like anything I have done previously. Some people won’t get it. That’s ok, I’m used to that. But for those who will understand and apperciate the true power and majesty contained within, may this take you someplace you have never been, but have always longed to be.” – disclaimer written by Glenn Danzig for Black Aria
Released on September 22, 1992, Black Aria arose from the depths of darkness over nine months before ex-Emperor bassist Mortiis independently released his debut demo The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost, in June of 1993. It also predates other black metal adjacent synth projects from the same period, such as Satyr’s Wongraven and Fenriz’s Neptune Towers, by at least two years.
Although Danzig and Mortiis were part of very, very different scenes, their respective approaches to synthesizer music are surprisingly similar. Indeed, Black Aria‘s moody, medieval-tinged atmospheres aren’t terribly far removed from what Mortiis was doing on early albums such as Fodt til a herske (1994) and Anden som gjorde oppror (1995). The layers of synths and sparse percussion used by both musicians to realize their gloomy visions make them the darkest of kindred spirits.
But whereas Mortiis sought to create his own shadowy kingdom through music, Danzig looked to interpret some of the world’s most sinister myths and legends. The first six tracks of Black Aria are based on Milton’s Paradise Lost and although they only comprise about fifteen minutes of music, they capture the spirit of Lucifer’s rebellion against Heaven and eventual banishment to the depths of Hell far better than most metal songs dealing with similar subject matter.
Following the epic Paradise Lost based movement, the final three tracks each tackle a different mythological creature. “Shifter” appears to be about werewolves (a theme which runs throughout Danzig’s vast discography), “The Morrigu” gives musical life to the Celtic queen of phantoms and “Cwn Annwn” depicts the ghostly hunting dogs of Welsh legend from which the Christian concept of the hellhound is likely derived.
In spite of the diverse subject matter, the nine tracks hang together cohesively thanks to Danzig’s knack for crafting short but highly immersive songs. The entire album is less than twenty-five minutes long, but it feels much longer (in a good way), dragging you ever deeper into the total aural environment it creates. Danzig started working on Black Aria as early as 1987 and it’s evident that the five years it took for the album to come to fruition was time well spent on honing and refining his craft.
Black Aria still sounds fresh today even when compared to current leading lights (torches?) of the dungeon synth genre, such the aforementioned Old Tower, Hedge Wizard and Forgotten Kingdoms and proves that in his prime Danzig was capable of innovation no matter which direction he chose to take his music in. Although it’s a bit of forgotten chapter of the man’s legacy, it has stood the test of time and remains an early touchstone of the dungeon synth genre.
Do you agree that Danzig is the OG of dungeon synth? Do you know of any dungeon synth artists who’s work predates Black Aria? Sound off in the comments!