Musician Spotlight: Lunar Cult (Dungeon Synth)

Musician Spotlight, where musicians share their own project and write about key albums that influenced them

Lunar Cult is my (SW) solo project, which started off making black metal-influenced chiptune, but has since progressed into dungeon synth territory. I started the project as a way to channel my creativity after accepting that my talent (or lack of) with a guitar would never enable me to make the black metal I wanted to, and so focused my musical energies in a different way. The move into dungeon synth was just the result of me playing around with different sounds and stumbling onto combinations I liked. I had been playing around with 180 BPM chiptune songs and needed something much calmer to play about with as a bit of a cleanser.

Despite being instrumental, the music has always been anti-fascist from the outset – I feel like I’m lucky to have this platform and wanted to use it to say something meaningful. For Death Cannot Contain You, my approach was a little different – the album is still anti-fascist, but the narrative that runs through it can also be read in much more personal terms. It was written during a pretty bad time, and making (and listening to) this album helped me deal with that. I know it’s a bit cliché, but I make music primarily for myself, to explore sounds I want to hear but couldn’t find, or just for the fun of it. That other people seem to like it too is a big plus!

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Anyway, onto the albums/influences.


Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile

This is an ever-present influence on pretty much any music I play, regardless of instrument or style. The Fragile was the album that made me realise that music could be something important, more than just something to listen to and enjoy, and it changed how I thought about music – initially as a fan, then later as a musician. The way the songs are constructed, with so many layered elements that range from incredibly simple to remarkably complex, is a huge influence, and something I definitely learned a lot from!

The dominant use of melody to help give a song its character is one of the most overt influences NIN have had on my song-writing, but the other way they’ve had a big influence on me is seeing how a band can change whilst holding onto a core identity.

All of NIN’s records have a distinct sound, but they still work together as a cohesive discography. The change of styles from my last record (Ageless Defiance) to the new one was pretty big, and I did wonder for a while if it made sense to release them both under the same name. But the mindset and song-writing approach was similar, and so I took inspiration from NIN and realised that a change in sound shouldn’t require a change in name.


Cex – Role Model

There’s probably three intelligent dance music (IDM – the stupidest genre name ever made) records that had a huge influence on me – Nobukazu Takemura’s Funfair (released under the Child’s View name), Kid606’s GQ on the EQ++ compilation, and this, the first album from Cex. None of these artists are considered especially fashionable anymore, and it’s been a long time since I checked out any of their new releases, but those albums were huge for me. Role Model is probably the biggest influence on me of the three.

I can distinctly remember the first time I heard it. I was staying over at a friend’s house after going back to uni too early to move into my own accommodation, crashing on his sofa and taking up space with books and notes on sports psychology. I wanted to listen to some music whilst studying, but none of the CDs I had with me were what I wanted to hear. I saw this CD sat on a table, and recognised the name, so put it on my Walkman, and wow! I could practically see my neurons lighting up in delight – this was the music I’d been looking for without knowing it. The opening track ‘At Least I Can Say I Tried’ is just everything that is good about IDM and electronic music. What really stands out are the melodies – the song is driven along by some incredible melodies that weave between one another. Each one in isolation is quite simple, but they combine to something that’s mind-bending, pulling in different directions yet simultaneously moving with combined purpose.

It’s so, so powerful, and few songs have ever moved me in the way that one has, and still does. Strong melodies atop glitching rhythms are prominent aspects of songs on Funfair and GQ on the EQ++ too, but I think it’s Role Model that I take the most influence from.

Something else all three artists have in common is their inconsistency. When they’re good, they’re superlative. But they also have a tendency to dwell on an idea for too long, or spread their ideas too thinly over a rush of releases. There’s definitely a lesson in there, especially as I’m finding myself writing more and more music recently (the next album after Death Cannot Contain You is almost done already, and another EP is halfway to being done!)


Lamp of Murmuur – Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism

Oh Christ, this album! If you follow me on Twitter, you might have an idea of how highly I rate this album, to the extent that I wrote a 1,000 word essay for Astral Noize on it . I like a lot of black metal – it’s my favourite genre – and I’m convinced this is the best black metal album of the last 20 years. It’s incredible! A total rush of energy and character. And it’s totally different from the music I make, so might seem an odd choice of influence. It came out as I was really pulling the songs that would make up Death Cannot Contain You together, and I feel I learned a lot about structuring an album from this record. 

What makes black metal my favourite genre is that, at its best, the music can feel larger than life – it’s a genre that’s easy to get hyperbolic about, especially if you consider it be a style that has spiritual potential like I do.

And it’s that aspect which I was heavily influenced by when writing and editing Death Cannot Contain You – I wanted to make something that felt large (even if musically it’s often quite ambient), like it had meaning beyond what was obvious, and could leave a lasting impression. I don’t know if it achieved it, but at least I tried.


Puddleglum – Should We Have Tried?

I only had a mild interest – if that – in dungeon synth prior to hearing this EP, but when my friend Will (who also plays guitars in Wretched Empires) put this record out, it expanded my horizons as to what dungeon synth could be and do. There’s a conception that the genre is rooted in the more intolerant side of black metal, and it’s true that dungeon synth is as full of problematic characters as black metal is. But it also has a long history, that seems to have been largely erased in popular culture by fans and musicians who would have you believe that a certain neo-fascist murderer invented the style.

Should We Have Tried? got me interesting in looking deeper into dungeon synth, beyond my preconceptions of it as a fascist-dominated genre and led to me discovering a lot of wonderful records. But this is the one that started it all for me, and I’d be completely dishonest if I minimised its influence on me, both as an individual as from the perspective of Lunar Cult.


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