Vetus Supulcrum’s new album, Windswept Canyons of Thule Credit: Courtesy the Artist

When I first heard the term “dungeon synth,” I imagined a style of dance music you’d hear in a subterranean goth club, but it’s actually a dark hybrid of neoclassical music, ambient, and black metal, heavily influenced by medieval lore and fantasy literature. What it lacks in grooves, it often makes up for in atmosphere and imagination—both of which are special strengths of Vetus Sepulcrum. The brainchild of Dutch musician Maurice de Jong, aka Mories, who’s so prolific you could fill an entire record collection with releases from his various projects (Gnaw Their Tongues, Seirom, Aderlating), Vetus Sepulacrum infuses its enormous blackened soundscapes with lush textures and a profound sense of majesty. On the new Windswept Canyons of Thule (the fifth Vetus Supulcrum release since its launch in 2019), Mories creates something that feels strikingly real in a genre known for escapism—and it’s also bold and cinematic enough to appeal to music listeners outside dungeon synth’s admittedly narrow niche. I’ve never made it through a Lord of the Rings film, let alone the books, but I found it easy to get lost in the cavernous layers of sound on “Call of the Nazgul” (even though I had to look up what a “nazgul” is). “Funeral Procession” feels like an exploration of a somber and beautiful land, with a cloud of hushed, chantlike vocals leading the way. Mories saves one of the album’s most devastating pieces for last: “Lord Werewolf Howls for War” combines growled vocals, martial drum patterns, and stately atmospheres, and despite its title it feel less like a battle cry than a warning of the horrors of conflict from someone who knows them too well. If you thought ambient music was meant to blend into the background, think again.   v