Sunday, September 25, 2022

Eldritch Ætherium III

"To Moon and Stars: Heart of the Lord of the Undermountain of Gilead & Ashkeeper"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

Oftentimes volume II of a mix is just a continuation of volume I, and so volume III tends to go off in new directions.  However, you may recall that, with this mix, last volume was the departure, and so in many ways volume III is closely following the model of volume II.  Last time, I noted that

... many things are the same: Midnight Syndicate and the Shards of Eberron album are back, as are zero-project and Nox Arcana, and there’s a Renn-Faire-sounding bridge from Dead Can Dance.  Still nothing with any real vocals to speak of, so we’ve got another volume title cobbled together out of song titles, and once again I’ve tried to arrange the tracks so as to suggest an adventurous journey.  But there are differences as well: we stray from Midnight Syndicate’s Dungeons & Dragons album for the firs time, for instance, and Shards and zero-project give us one fewer track each.  And no V Shane this time around: oh, I’m sure we’ll see him again eventually, but there were just many better options this time around.

Sooo ... we have the same number of Midnight Syndicate, Nox Arcana, and zero-project tracks, not to mention tracks from Shards of Eberron; V Shane is back, and there’s a return to the Dungeons & Dragons album for MS; and I’ve doubled down on the Dead Can Dance: not only a Renn-Faire-sounding bridge-esque track, but also a longer one that’s ... well, also a bit Renn-Faire-sounding, if I’m honest.  Not to mention all the things that weren’t on volume I but are repeated here: another slow Colm McGuinness track for the back third, another track that Ian Fisher Peter rebranded to tie into Critical Role, more tracks from Loreena McKennit, Faith and the Muse, Epic Soul Factory, and the Game of Thrones soundtrack ... and, yet ... and yet I still feel there’s enough new stuff going on to make it worth your while.  So strap in and let’s see what we’ve got.

First, let’s talk about why it took me so long to get around to Jeremy Soule.  Soule is rapidly emerging as the pre-eminent composer for fantasy videogaming: he’s done the last 3 Elder Scrolls games, including the big one (Skyrim), Guild Wars, and many D&D games such as Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, and one of the Baldur’s Gate games.  I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to get there, although I still think that Skyrim, which he appears to be best known for, is not really the pinnacle of his work.  For his first appearance on this mix, we’ll be sticking to Neverwinter Nights, with just a touch of Icewind Dale, and we’ll get out Baldur’s Gate infusion from composer Michael Hoenig (late of Tangerine Dream) and his score for Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.  Of course the other favorite gaming soundtrack of fantasy music YouTubers everywhere is the Witcher 3 soundtrack, composed by a variety of mostly Polish musicians; we’re going to just barely dip our toe into that with one my favorite of its mellower tracks.  The other videogame source I’m drawing from is the World of Warcraft soundtrack, with two tracks from composer Jason Hayes.  This soundtrack has a few stand-out songs on it, and I thought these two (especially our opener “Legends of Azeroth”) were among the best.

I also mentioned that composing music specifically for roleplaying games is getting to be much more popular: we’ve come a long way since David P. Davidson and V Shane, and I wanted to put some of the newer fare up against the old classics.  So, yes, there’s a track from Shards of Eberron, and a particularly meandering electronic piece from V Shane, but we also look at the soundtrack for 13th Age, a TTRPG by the designers of D&D’s 3rd and 4th editions.  Coming just 2 years after the release of the game itself, a soundtrack for a TTRPG was still considered somewhat unusual, and this was in 2015 (just seven years ago as I write this).  Nowadays, while I doubt anyone would consider it common, I’m sure no one would be particularly surprised by it either.  The soundtrack for 13th Age brings together 5 different composers, of which I feature 2 here: a short bridge from Tristan Noon, and a longer piece by Marie-Anne Fischer.

And, yes, once again there’s a long, silly title cobbled together from bits of the track names.  Who are Gilead & Ashkeeper, and why do they have an undermountain?  And why aren’t either of them the lord of it?  Yeah, I got nothin’.  Sounds cool though.

This time our journey bursts into a darker tone; the “Legends of Azeroth” are a bit creepier and tenser than last volume’s opener, so they plunge us into immediate danger.  From there, we journey “To Vaes Dothrak,” a quiet but exotic trip which brings us to the “Sun, Moon and Stars” of another Balkan/Bedouin/Gaelic campfire, though this one is bit mellower than last outing’s.  Which flows nicely into the “Radharc” (Irish for “vision”), itself containing some Middle Eastern strains, which of course leads naturally to “Waukeen’s Promenade,” which seems like it would be right at home in a Moroccan bazaar.

Then we slow it down to ponder our “Journey’s Thoughts,” meditate a bit on the “Harai” (a Shinto religious ceremony), and finally come to “The Heart of the Forest,” where it seems that fairies and other mystical creatures abound.  This wood is apparently “Elwynn Forest,” a contemplative place which is perhaps located on the island of “Spikeroog” (also a place for meditation and thought).  But that’s just a brief stopover, because the anticipation of the “Startup Screen” is leading us to an “Escalation,” which pays off in the lovely medieval-style ballad “As the Bell Rings the Maypole Spins.” But it’s a brief respite, as we’re soon off on a “Ride to Destiny” where we’ll “Clash with the Lord of Blades,” a dark and suspenseful chapter of our journey indeed.  After that, it’s more “Exploration,” where danger seems to be around every corner, and that’s where we meet the “Knights of the Darkness,” with their awesome military might.  Then, after a tense trek across “The Wastes of Xhorhas,” we arrive at the “Secret Chamber,” where magic seems imminent, but perhaps not the good kind.  We’re soon lost in the “Tunnels of the Undermountain,” which leaves us “Exploring Xen’drik” and hoping nothing too scary jumps out and tries to eat us.

Bad news though: at the “Black Spires,” something is definitely looking to consume us, which just lead us to “Unrest in the East Wing” and a flight for our lives.  In “Upper Dorn’s Deep Interior,” all seems lost; indeed, “The Fall of Gilead” is inevitable, as dramatic as it may be.  Which is why there must be “Battle & Aftermath,” leaving only the “Ashkeeper” to take us back to our homeland, where perhaps a bit of wistful “Romance” can provide some closure.

Eldritch Ætherium III
[ To Moon and Stars: Heart of the Lord of the Undermountain of Gilead & Ashkeeper ]

“Legends of Azeroth” by Jason Hayes, off World of Warcraft Soundtrack [Videogame Soundtrack]
“To Vaes Dothrak” by Ramin Djawadi, off Game of Thrones: Music from the HBO Series [Soundtrack]
“Sun, Moon and Stars” by Loreena McKennitt, off Lost Souls
“Radharc” by Dead Can Dance, off Aion
“Waukeen's Promenade” by Michael Hoenig, off Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Journey's Thoughts” by V Shane [Single]
“Harai” by Faith and the Muse, off :ankoku butoh:
“Heart of the Forest” by Jeremy Soule, off Neverwinter Nights [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Elwynn Forest” by Jason Hayes, off World of Warcraft Soundtrack [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Spikeroog” by Mikolai Stroinski, off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Soundtrack [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Startup Screen” by Jeremy Soule, off Neverwinter Nights [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Escalation 1” by Tristan Noon, off The 13th Age Suite [RPG Soundtrack]
“As the Bell Rings the Maypole Spins” by Dead Can Dance, off Aion
“Ride to Destiny” by Midnight Syndicate, off Dungeons & Dragons [RPG Soundtrack]
“Clash with the Lord of Blades” by David P. Davidson, off Shards of Eberron [RPG Soundtrack]
“Exploration” by Marie-Anne Fischer, off The 13th Age Suite [RPG Soundtrack]
“Knights of the Darkness” by zero-project, off Fairytale
“The Wastes of Xhorhas” by Ian Peter Fisher [Single]
“Secret Chamber” by Midnight Syndicate, off Dungeons & Dragons [RPG Soundtrack]
“Tunnels of the Undermountain” by Jeremy Soule, off Neverwinter Nights [Videogame Soundtrack]
“Exploring Xen'drik” by David P. Davidson, off Shards of Eberron [RPG Soundtrack]
“Black Spires” by Nox Arcana, off Grimm Tales
“Unrest in the East Wing” by Midnight Syndicate, off Gates of Delirium
“Upper Dorn's Deep Interior” by Jeremy Soule, off Icewind Dale [Videogame Soundtrack]
“The Fall of Gilead” by Epic Soul Factory, off Volume One [EP]
“Battle & Aftermath” by Jocelyn Montgomery with David Lynch, off Lux Vivens
“Ashkeeper” by Colm McGuinness [Single]
“Romance I” by Michael Hoenig, off Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn [Videogame Soundtrack]
Total:  28 tracks,  80:17

(Just like last time, there a number of links to YouTube videos; still a number of tracks here where that’s the only place you can find them.)

In the unexpected category, I suppose we shouldn’t consider Loreena McKennit too unexpected—I did after all say last time that we’d likely see a tune of hers on every volume from here on out—but I’m still pleased at how well an artist that Wikipedia as worldmusic, folk, and even new age(!) can slot so beautifully into a fantasy-gaming-inspired mix.  Faith and the Muse deliver us another great meditative bridge that is pretty far off their normal gothic fare, backed by birdsong and the subtle sounds of a stream flowing by.  And Dead Can Dance are still here, pulling two tracks this time, still both from Aion, which I’ve always felt had a particularly D&D-adjacent feel to it.

The really new kids on the block this time out are Jocelyn Montgomery (one of the founding members of Miranda Sex Garden) with David Lynch producing an album of songs by Hildegard of Bingen, a.k.a. Saint Hildegard, who Wikipedia describes as “a German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages,” as well as “one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history.” Lux Vivens is a very interesting album, and this track doesn’t necessarily showcase it very well, but it sure fits in with the theme of this mix.  “Battle & Aftermath” is just what it says on the tin.

Next time, we return to the ambient autumnal mix, possibly just in time for fall.

Eldritch Ætherium IV