Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Under the Dice Fest 2024


On the last weekend of January, I was fortunate to be able to attend Under the Dice Fest 2024, a small festival in Massachusetts celebrating miniature-based tabletop wargaming. The festival was designed to appeal to those who shy away from the mainstream iterations of the miniature wargaming hobby, focusing on those who want play the games on their own terms, sometimes outside of the scope of the game rules as written, or those who want to play old games which are no longer supported by their publishers. It is highlighting those who are more concerned with telling a story with the miniatures they build than with creating something that would be optimal in terms of a game’s rule system. A punk rock approach to the miniature wargaming hobby, if you will. Beyond the opportunity to play games like Mordheim (a fantasy skirmish game released in 1999 by Games Workshop, set in the remnants of a city destroyed by a comet), a host of musical performances were planned for Saturday evening. The musical guests were from around the New England area and thoroughly rooted in the underground music scene.

The majority of the artists that performed fit somewhere in the ambient electronic/dungeon synth genre to provide a fitting backdrop to the games being played. The first performance was by Basilisk, who had composed a soundtrack for the New England Mordheim Open (NEMO) event in 2023 titled Into the City of the Damned. Basilisk is a solo musical project of IIII, though to perform live, IIII enlisted their friend Ryan to perform dramatic readings to accompany the music. It was exciting to hear live renditions of some of the material on Into the City of the Damned, and despite the gloomy nature of the music, it was evident that both IIII and Ryan were having a good time.

IIII sets down ominous beats as Ryan intones portents of our doom as Basilisk!

The second performance was by Ozeregroth, a Providence, Rhode Island dungeon synth artist. They performed in a cloak and their face was adorned with corpse paint in the style of the black metal bands that helped define the dungeon synth genre. With a simple keyboard, Ozeregroth was able to whisk us away to forlorn corridors in a lonely castle.

Ozeregroth in solemn reflection, undoubtedly pondering lonesome winter nights and snowy vistas.

The third performance was by Unsheathed Glory, a dungeon synth artist from Boston, Massachusetts. Unsheathed Glory had never officially performed live before, though you would not have known based on how deftly they handled the keyboard, effortlessly transporting to a world of high adventure.

Unsheathed Glory beckoned us to momentarily forget our troubles and be enveloped in warm and adventurous sound.

The final dungeon synth performance (but not final performance of the night) was by the Worcester, Massachusetts dungeon synth band, Sombre Arcane. The band consists of two members, Shane (Phranick the wizard) and Josh (Naginah the bard), both sharing keyboard duties. Throughout the performance, Josh played a plucked string instrument and some percussion, and Shane played guitar, nicely complementing the keyboards. It was quite the theatrical performance, with both thoroughly dressed the part, Shane in a cloak with a staff and sword and Josh in leather armor. Their brand of dungeon synth is one of adventurous grandeur, evoking more of the high fantasy vibe of the genre rather than the reflective tone of some dungeon synth artists.

Phranick the wizard and Naginah the bard enchanted their audience with the sounds of high adventure. 

The final musical act of the night was the Springfield, Massachusetts sludge metal band, Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean. I had written about them last year, shortly after they released the album Obsession Destruction, which I can now safely say was my favorite metal album released in 2023. While the other musical acts of the night were melodic and auditorily pleasing, Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean was an oppressive barrage of guitar feedback, searing riffs, pummeling drumwork, and screeched vocals (in the best possible way). The sound system at the venue was dialed in perfectly to distinctly hear the contributions of each of the band members. Even the vocals were clear enough to make out the words the singer was screaming, a rarity amongst the metal shows. It did not take long for most of the room to be enthusiastically banging their heads to the audible misery erupting from the speakers.

"Walk into the room with nothing to lose. Watch how fast I fade. Watch me fucking seethe. Walk into my life then walk right back out".

For Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean, playing music is grim work.

Misery loves company.

Under the Dice Fest was an awesome experience, combining two of my favorite things, music and miniature wargaming into a single event. I had not had the opportunity to see any dungeon synth artists perform before, though now I have seen a few! I am hoping to attend Northeast Dungeon Siege (a dungeon synth festival in Worcester, Massachusetts) in a few months to see even more!

1 comment:

  1. Great write up. I'm sure it does the artists justice!
    Really cool to see a reading performed while music is being played in the background. Kind of pushes the edge of what we think of live musical performances, at least to me