Game Music

“Deus Ex Musica” – DX:HR Soundtrack Review

November 23, 2011 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook “Deus Ex Musica” – DX:HR Soundtrack Reviewon Twitter

Deus Ex: Human Revolution hit RPG-hungry gamers like a tidal wave of sci-fi goodness earlier this year. There are going to be some top contenders in 2011 for best RPG. This, Skyrim, and a few others will be at the head of the pack.

And these triple-A titles haven’t disappointed in terms of music, either. Next month, Jeremy Soule’s mammoth soundtrack (four discs!) for the aforementioned Elder Scrolls title will hit. But even with all that music, it has tough competition in the form of Michael McCann’s amazing score to DX:HR, whose official soundtrack was published (CD and digital) by Sumthing Else on November 15th.

We (specifically, Gideon) already wrote about the game (including a lengthy section about the music) back when it was released. But now that an official soundtrack is out, we’re talking about that too.

If you want the short version of why I love this soundtrack, I think it’s just that the music works great both in and out of context. But if you want more details (and I know you do), you’ll find them after the jump.

Disclosure statement: I didn’t play DX:HR yet. Even worse, I’ve never really played any game in the series. When I say “didn’t play,” I don’t mean that I’ve never touched the games. Just that I’ve not played any of them for a significant amount of time (say, more than 2 hours). So that previous statement about the music working in context? That comes from watching a boatload of live streams on justin.tv. Without question, these songs fit their settings well, from Detroit to China and back again.

For those living under a larger rock than myself, here’s the DX:HR premise. Cyberpunk-ish future. Adam Jensen (protagonist) has all manner of robotic upgrades. He’s trying to out-espionage his opponents in a tale of international mystery and intrigue. There are lots of computers and heavy industrial equipment, and mankind is … well, about what you’d expect from this setting. The disparity between rich and poor continues to grow, and life just feels a little more utilitarian.

And yet, there’s this sense that something powerful, meaningful, even angelic is happening in these days, in part thanks to Adam’s efforts. This brings us to the theme song “Icarus” and many other choir vocal tracks such as “Penthouse” and “Endings.” Semi-dystopian tech-heavy future with moments of elegance and meaning… makes me think of the film GATTACA. But even more intriguing.

McCann’s score works so well in-game because, like Jensen and his peers/rivals, it’s deeply human and simultaneously dark, droning and mechanical. Striking this kind of balance, in my mind, seems nigh impossible. I can’t imagine pulling it off. And that’s why the music works so well as a standalone album.

Right from the start, with the main theme “Icarus,” you get the church choir vocals with Oakenfeld-esque techno trance, a small orchestra, and heavy percussion. This track title is so fitting for the game. Think about it. Icarus, with his wax wings, trying to do what man was not “meant” to do. And he does it just fine until he goes too far. The song invokes the sense of human achievement, but also that devilish human pride that lowers us just before we think we’re on par with the gods.

Writing music to express such thoughts in the 21st century is quite the task. McCann was up to the task, and I think this is exactly why so many people have clung to the music. A universal, human resonance can be felt in this music. It’s not new age wish-wash (though my review might make you think it is, or perhaps that I am!).

But it’s not all so high-minded. Some of these tracks work because they are atmospheric, even “forgettable.” I never thought I’d use that word as a compliment. But the fact is, this soundtrack strikes a perfect balance of memorable and forgettable. The filler works! It’s like a perfect intermission between two other awesome songs. I’ll also argue these tracks work super-well in context of the game (which you’d expect).

For those previewing the album elsewhere on the Internet, some other favorite tracks of mine include: “Hung Hua Brothel (Extended),” “Everybody Lies,” “The Mole,” and “Home.”

And if you’re ready to buy, there are multiple ways to do it. Sumthing Else is the publisher: the CD catalog number is SE-3017-2. You can also go for the digital-only album on Amazon or iTunes. You’ll be getting roughly 70 minutes of music, and if it wasn’t obvious, I highly recommend it. I haven’t been this infatuated with one album since Shatter in 2009. Five stars, two thumbs up, etc. Go get it!

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