I have made mention before, in various articles, how these dungeon synth compilations gravitate towards a split between traditional and experimental. There has been a lot of discussion on the nature of experimentation and where fans and artists draw the line between acceptable and not. Perhaps this discussion on experimentation is apart of most underground scenes. I have always been a proponent of experimentation and the exploration of a style. This does not mean all experimentation is fantastic or even productive just as much as not all traditional material is inherently good. While I encourage and am enthusiastic to listen to weird and wild interpretations, I am just as excited to settle into the sound and themes we have all come to love in a style. Manuscript of a Different Age is the 5th compilation released on the Summer Solstice. It was created from the submissions of artists from the Dungeon Synth Facebook group and it proposes, perhaps what the title suggests, a document of a time long ago somewhere very far from here and without the trappings of a modern age.
Continuity important for compilations. Arranging nine different artists to fit into a mixtape of sorts can be difficult given style shifts. This is why the traditional compilation is perhaps the most simple as the sounds and styles while unique from each other share lineage and direction. These nine tracks are very familiar with each other and for immersion, it adds to the possibility of getting lost in its sound. The narrative from Knell of Dawn to Frostveil to ElixiR feels natural and is apart of some theme music for a tabletop or CRPG game. Argonath’s dreamy “The Wooing of Emer” feels fitting when put right up next to the reserved magic of Isegrimm. And while artists like Nortfalke, Order of the Black Eagle, Urangst, and Crescent Fantasies have been completely new to me, their selections were not a chore to find homes for. Sometimes the most natural decisions are easiest and strongest as the track order for this compilation was not stressed or poured over rather these artists knew where to go and what to do.
The artwork for this compilation comes from the talented works of MAUSOLEI. Just as with the previous compilation Artifacts of the Shadow Realm with the work of Moonolith, the covers for these compilations come from the gifts and offerings from the community. MAUSOLEI is an artists that has always struck me both musically and visually. Every album from this artist came with an illustration depicting some impossible cave structure which was both perplexing and immersive. The artist was gracious enough not only to supply a drawing for this compilation but let me look through 10 or so unpublished drawings. The grim nature of the mound of skulls spilling out of the crypt ofs both haunting int ext but possesses a magical spirit which is anything but dark. This drawing is perhaps fitting to the style of music presented on the compilation as sometimes slow and brooding, this style is far from the realm of darkness rather it exists in a land of its own muted by multiple shades.
I often wonder what good these compilations could be used for. Aside from giving me the opportunity to listen to as many different artists as possible, I have always hoped these would exist as resources for other artists to advertise and experiment in short form. While I do not think these compilations give an entire picture to the dungeon synth sound as a whole, they could be a cross section of what is currently being made. Perhaps it is nothing of that nature and is just a fun project to arrange willing participants in groups and get excited over music. Maybe that is all that is needed.