Game Music, Reviews

Just Nazis, no Zombies. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 Soundtrack (Review)

March 9, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Just Nazis, no Zombies. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

Halfway through the last decade, World War 2 shooters were at the height of their popularity, and gamers were faced with a number of titles to choose from. When the original Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 was released in 2005, it brought about a new level of strategy by focusing on squad based combat, while attempting to simulate the chaos experienced on the battlefield. In September of 2008, the game was repackaged and released along with it’s sequel, Earned in Blood, as a 2-in-1 game titled Brothers in Arms: Double Time for Nintendo Wii. While the recent port hasn’t received the critical acclaim achieved in the initial 2005 release, and may have been viewed by some as dated— the music certainly is not.

Until recently, the soundtrack wasn’t made available in it’s complete form. Back in 2005, a CD sampler containing pieces from both Road to Hill 30 and it’s sequel was released with only select tracks. However, in October of 2008, Stephen Harwood Jr.’s original soundtrack was finally released as a digital download via Sumthing Digital. Stephen was kind enough to provide us some his personal notes regarding the score, so I sat down and gave it a listen.

For another World War 2 shooter, could this soundtrack be a steal at merely $10? Find out after the jump.

In all honesty, I’ve never expected much from first-person shooters, at least when it comes to the scores. There are always exceptions, like Bioshock, which featured a hauntingly good score. On the other hand, we have the soundtrack for Call of Duty 4, which reminds me of that scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton had fun destroying something beautiful— except the score wasn’t beautiful and writing about it certainly isn’t fun, but I digress. My point being that I find myself disappointed, or even angry at the lack of attention given to the music in these games. Even the third installment of this series, Hell’s Highway, provides us with only twenty-some minutes of music; which makes me happy to say that apple fell very far from the tree. Stephen’s score clocks in at about 45 minutes in length.

It’s also very refreshing to find a heavily orchestrated score that’s recorded by live musicians, without having a “Hollywood” name attached to the project. Having caught a glimpse of the recording process on Stephen’s site, I’m amazed with how cleanly the recordings came out, considering the sometimes cramped recording spaces these orchestra sections fit themselves into while at studios. Listening to the production itself—despite Stephen claiming there wasn’t much planning involved—it becomes evident that there was a fair amount of care taken when creating the score, along with engineering and mastering the individual takes. As a result the production is solid and leaves very little to be desired.

The first piece, “Brothers in Arms Main Theme,” features some beautiful brass harmonics that continue to build upon themselves with layers of strings and winds. Perhaps what impressed me most—and I must admit that it might be sad that I even have to mention this since for most orchestrations this should go without saying—was the use of dynamics in the percussion. Even at its loudest portions, the percussion itself was kept in the back, accompanying the melody. I mention this because it’s usually the smallest details like this that are telltale signs of a composer knowing exactly what they’re doing when writing a piece. Aside from this, the melody itself is quite stunning, and the strings and brass do an excellent job of providing the on and off counterpoints to each other. For a piece that was supposedly written and recorded in 72 hours, with a surprise deadline, it’s quite good.

Several of the other pieces provide an excellent feeling of foreboding, or general uneasiness which certainly help to set the mood for some of the darker points of the game. “Night of Nights” in particular does an excellent job of conveying the previously mentioned emotions with well placed bells, booming low brass, string runs and the occasional horn flare. You’ll also be pleased to find the motif used in the main theme repeated in some fashion throughout these tracks, though some may be easier for the average listener to spot than others.

“Buying the Farm” is another track that exudes a dark, uneasy feeling, with perhaps a tinge of mystery thrown in for good measure. This is conveyed through a clever use of horns mixed with light string work, and a well placed glockenspiel, though the tubular bells used early in the track were also nice. It sounds very similar to the track “Objective XYZ” at times, though I would argue that it’s actually the most different of the mood themes based entirely on how each section progresses. It doesn’t surprise me either, as Stephen himself claimed that “Buying the Farm” was mostly improvised.

Perhaps my favorite track on this release would be the aptly titled “Brothers In Arms Theme – Reprise (End Credits).” More often than not, I find that when composers reprise their titles, they fail to really change much aside from a phrase or two, however, Harwood Jr. does a great job with moving around the instrumentation, and while it might come down to a matter of taste, the lack of percussion—aside from the crashes placed few and far between—actually sounds a bit better to me.

All in all, this is an outstanding value for mere $10 download. The score is beautifully orchestrated, and goes a long way towards restoring my faith in the first-person shooter genre, at least in terms of music. Of course, this brings me to my next point: why haven’t we heard more from Stephen Harwood Jr.? The man can obviously write one hell of a score, so I suppose it may only be a matter of time before we do hear from him again. And, can any of our readers tell me why this is only being distributed digitally? I mean, I get that digital mediums in general are on the outs, but really? In the meantime, what I’d like to know is when I can purchase this on CD so I can throw it up on my shelf and proudly display it next to my copy of the Metal Gear Solid 3 soundtrack. That’s right, you heard me, it’s that good.

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