Wuodan's Wunde - Es glimmt empor aus ewger Nacht (Altare)

At least to my untrained ears, dungeon synth can sound like a brittle plywood board of synthetic horns, strings, and kettledrum bongs. It's cute, and a good arrangement can transport me to quirky MIDIæval worlds, but on its own the genre only rarely makes a lasting impression. Instead, I've tended  to gravitate toward savvy black-metal (BM) acts like Old Nick and Esoctrilihum, who dip into dungeon synth's spackled sound palette to avoid the tropes of their subgenre's other flings with electronic instrumentation. The seemingly inescapable Bandcamp fad not only provides textures that 'symphonic' and 'industrial' BM do not; there's a dash of much-needed humor in there, too. Different as they are, both A New Generation of Vampyric Conspiracies and Dy'th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath spike their poppy and melodic BM hooks with this campy diction. Though I didn't necessarily expect an appealing answer to these excursions from the dungeon-synth side of things, the mysterious Austrian(s) of Wuodan's Wunde have just risen the bar.   

Indeed, Es glimmt empor aus ewger Nacht ('it glows up from eternal night') struck me in no small part because it's initially hard to classify either as a proper dungeon synth release or another BM hybrid. On the one hand, chugging guitar chords play a meaningful role in almost every song; on the other, they get unceremoniously shoved into odd nooks and crannies of the mix. Mechanized or not, blast beats do bring pace where necessary, and you'll even hear some tom play hearkening to Ulver's Bergtatt. But Wunde really dazzle by coming to the table with: (A) a librarian's knowledge of the dungeon-synth archive (those synthetic horns, strings, bongs, et al.); (B) the creative genius to crack open the rolodex, fold the title cards into origami figures, and stage a five-act play in its five numbered songs. Much time is spent exploring the dismal, antique setting, so as to draw more attention to the occasional scene-stealing set pieces (see the viol round at the end of "II"). Yet there is also a warbling, shadowy action to every moment, thanks to a deft layering of reverbs and overall familiarity with the tenets of hauntology, as laid down by the likes Boards of Canada. This attentiveness to the curvature of sound is what identifies Es glimmt primarily as a serious electronic release, rewarding every new listen with a splash of chimes, a drum pop, or some other Easter egg. Occasionally, Wunde will shine light on aspects of their borrowed black metal, but never outside the context of other aural mise en scène. That's what makes this debut some of the best and most sophisticated dungeon synth you'll ever hear.