Exploring Synths: Vol. II with Neill Jameson

Back in 2017, I did a few pieces here exploring various subgenres of electronic music, mostly synth stuff, because I was becoming re-obsessed with dungeon synth, something I hadn’t really paid attention to in decades. I’d lost touch with it when genre-progenitor Mortiis went into early Ministry territory and (at the time) I thought that shit was shameful. Anyone else from the “ambient” scene I was following around then began to switch over into these ham handed orchestral sounds and samples, similar to a lot of the atmospheric black metal bands who were their contempyboraries, just overly processed and shrill and thought that shit was shameful, too. Only after rediscovering my love of Mortiis through breaking down and listening to Old Tower because people couldn’t shut the fuck up about the project (with very good reason) did I begin delving into synth’s multitude of subgenres, mostly to make jokes at its expense, but ended up with the unexpected effect of doubling my cassette collection.

Fast forward a few years and I stumbled upon a few absolutely ridiculous subgenres within the dungeon synth subgenre, things that honestly seemed like such absurdity to me that I didn’t think they should exist. And so I set out to make jokes about them because, if you’ve ever read even a sentence of what I’ve tricked this site into posting, you’ll come to realize that I’m a deeply depressed person who lashes out at everything and is in deep need of some sort of therapy. And, if I’m being quite honest, some of these niche corners of the ambient world are soul-crushingly melancholic to me, which I’ll get into as I go through them.

This is a sonic journey that I didn’t expect to take and now we’re going to share some time and take it together. Fucking swell, huh? Let’s start with the least timely.

Christmas Synth

Sure, I’m two months after the fact on this, but, like a period, better late than never. I mean, this one kind of makes sense more than any of the other things I’m covering here. I’m not talking about the Perry Como shit or even the King Diamond shit, nothing with any sort of whimsy to it. I don’t know the median age range of whoever is still with me, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say you have a passing familiarity with the fucking deeply religious and frankly goddamned ominous Christmas music your grandparents would sit and pray to before having missionary sex through a hole in the sheet with every light in the entire house extinguished, right? Perfect for dungeon synth, though until 2017 when Krampusnacht released his first (and arguably best) recording, distorting and crafting medleys out of traditional religious Christmas songs with a Mortiis-like touch (similar to his other projects if you listen hard enough)  Of course “winter synth” has existed for years and I’m sure you could somehow shoehorn it into your holiday parties if your parents let you, but until this arrived, I don’t think there was anything specifically Christmas-themed. Besides the three Krampusnacht recordings, there really isn’t much in the way of holiday synth unless you count “Yule Log” by Kastronata Prototype but (listen for yourself) it doesn’t really have a December feel unless you’re thinking about homeless people freezing to death, then this should put a star on your tree.

Dino Synth

While, for some reason, Christmas synth didn’t cause a momentary seizure within me, dino synth caused a nearly instantaneous negative reaction, mostly in my bowels. The first time I remember feeling that kind of a sense of agitation at the synth subgenres that were popping up like zits was when I saw some kind of pumpkin spiced themed synth project and, while Halloween honestly is a really good source of material and I used to play Mortiis out my windows when I gave out candy to trick or treaters, something in me snapped and I hated it without even giving it a chance. I hated it more when I actually gave it a chance and probably not in a very unbiased manner. I think the idea of whimsy (a word I’ll continue to plaster throughout this) in music is just the most nauseating shit possible and I approach anything “fun” with a bad taste in my mouth. So, when I saw “dino synth” continually pop up on my YouTube feed alongside whatever else the Dungeon Synth Archives was putting up, I did my best to avoid it. To my knowledge, there’s only one project that’s doing this, Diplodocus, and finally one night I decided to give it a whirl, mostly so I had something to complain about on Facebook that wasn’t my job.

I know it’s rare when I’m the asshole in a situation, as every woman I’ve ever dated can attest to. This is one of those rare occurrences where I was dead wrong. My preconception was that this project was going to be some slapped-together bullshit on a Casio that was only getting attention because it had a different theme than fair maidens and fucking broadswords.

Just listen to this. If you’re like me, and slightly jaded at dungeon synth because there are 40 new projects of nearly universal liquid-shit quality, this is a recording that will get your head back in the game. Incredibly well-constructed and thought out, giving off that impressively dark Mortiis/Old Tower/Thangorodrim vibe, the kind of music that takes you somewhere, even if you’re like me and lack imagination and/or enthusiasm. I had such a heel-turn on this one that it ended up in my yearly No Clean Singing list for my favorite synth recording of 2019.

Plant Synth

I mean, I guess.

Cozy/Comfy Synth

This. This is a thing that exists. And it’s rapidly expanding.

I suppose this is sort of the natural end of things, the edge of where a genre goes. Sort of like when dude from Mortification decided to invert the inverted cross and created the first Christian “unblack” metal band, Horde, some musician decided to start making sickly sweet synth about Grandmas and cookies and innocence, a concept that really doesn’t seem to gel with the rest of the genres and subcultures where all roads led to this.

As far as I can tell, this all started with a dungeon synth project called Tiny Mouse, which inspired others to do more childlike projects, more Peter Rabbit and less Of Mice and Men. Then I started seeing people posting about Grandma’s Cottage but before I could do anything besides send a screenshot to our Editor in Chief with promises of mockery to come, there were like half a dozen recordings, low-fi synth melodies dedicated to Grandma, Grandpa, Mum & Dad, the family cat, the whole fucking nuclear family unit as described with a hard-on by people who dream about bombing abortion clinics. I was waiting for some project about the drunk uncle that gets a little too handsy around Thanksgiving. There’s probably someone teeing up a recording about two kids listening to their parents fight and that will plant the seeds for another subgenre to come.

Like everything else, this subgenre is done with varying degrees of quality. And some of it really is fucking depressing, though I highly doubt that’s the objective. If I can take a break from cynicism for just a moment, this is all a manifestation of an idyllic childhood, the ultimate expression of nostalgia. Speaking purely for myself, some of these projects are incredibly effective at this and considering I had a less than terrific childhood, as well as the constant battle of depression and anxiety throughout my adult years, some of these projects are exceptionally poignant in manners that I’m just not thrilled with. It’s the ultimate expression of my discomfort at happiness and fun, proof that I’m the “black hole” I’ve been accused of being for years.

Remember how I said this was spreading? Since I began writing this, these videos popped up and I’ve only been in front of my laptop for an hour or so. The last one even seemed to manifest itself into life after I made that in-poor-taste joke. It’s basically Skynet now.

I could probably dig deeper into various synth groups to find a bunch of dudes complaining about how women should fuck them, spend hours on various themed synth playlists created by some fancy marketing company, or I could get lost in the comments section of projects that contain NSBM elements, loaded with “cryptofash” or whatever made up bullshit the more annoying parts of the internet use to describe the most mentally disinclined citizens in these subgroups, but all that does it give attention to shitheads and I’ve lost merch deals for less. But after showing a modicum of vulnerability thanks to comfy synth doing exactly the opposite to me, I need to leave with a palate cleanser.