Game Music, Reviews

StarCraft II: Being Liberated Never Sounded This Good (Review)

July 30, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook StarCraft II: Being Liberated Never Sounded This Good (Review)on Twitter

“If Raynor can seem to pull his revolver a little faster, or if Tychus Finlay’s presence can feel more imposing due to a theme or flourish in the music, then the composers and musicians have truly called down the thunder.” – Russell Brower

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, arguably the most anticipated game of the year, arrived in stores and digital download this week and ActiBlizzard/Blizzardvision is sure to have another monster success on its hands. Although it is quite in fashion to bash the gaming evil empire, I must say that the treatment the soundtrack has received is exceptional from all fronts. The production values, sound quality, and iTunes LP treatment (digital liner notes with videos, track descriptions, etc.) are all top-notch and make the listening experience truly an experience. A tremendous amount of dramatic energy is added to the tracks as a summary of the contextual inspiration for the tracks is presented for each track.

But, even with all the pomp and circumstance of a wonderful presentation, a soundtrack is not much without quality music. So, do Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford, Neil Acree, an co. deliver us with a soundtrack of rich minerals? Or has it come and gone like a bad case of Vespene gas? Read on as we conquer the galaxy!

From the outset, the soundtrack to StarCraft II attempts to weave together vastly different genres of music and style. In fact, listening to the album straight through is somewhat of an exercise in schizophrenia. The first track, “Wings of Liberty,” begins with ascending horns that climax with a Western-styled twang guitar? Obviously representing the different races/factions of the StarCraft universe’s conflict, the music changes dramatically again to a brass and choir-heavy main theme. This theme, worthy of the great sci-fi marches of Star Wars, comes with all guns blazing. Russell Brower helms this long, exciting, and well-crafted opening theme incorporating the themes of all the races and their respective composers. With all due respect to his work on World of Warcraft, this theme made it immediately obvious that the entire soundtrack here is superior to both World of Warcraft and the previous StarCraft.

Reprising his music involvement from the first StarCraft, Glenn Stafford writes the Terran music with a Western flare. It’s no secret that I love Westerns and Stafford’s first entry, “Public Enemy” reaffirms all those emotions. Twang guitar themes give way to a stunning acoustic medley worthy of being played by the great Andres Segovia.

“The Deal” brings back our old friend, Cris Velasco (of God of War and Darksiders fame) along with Sascha Dikiciyan, who bring us a percussive, eerie, and exciting action piece. The track delivers the goods doubling low brass with strings and piano. This track is the first on the soundtrack that is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s great Remote Control Productions. Likewise, Neal Acree’s two solo outings on the score, “Prophecy” and “Escape from Mar Sara,” are exceptional pieces of action music incorporating a haunting choral line and some great, nefarious chord progressions. This track is something one might hear accompanying a fantastic trailer for an intense and dark action/sci-fi/horror flick.

The most fascinating piece on the album explores the life of Emperor Arcturus Mengsk aptly entitled, “I, Mengsk.” This multifaceted musical poem includes a beautiful art song sung by a very competent tenor (the same tune featured in the original StarCraft with a slightly different arrangement and different vocalist – not a soprano this time), some more fast-paced action themes to accompany Mengsk’s life’s deeds, and ends with a menacing choir passage. This piece is fitting of the man himself and might very well be the gem on this lengthy soundtrack.

Derek Duke’s “The Hive” highlights the Zerg. The track is unsettling, complex, and mean – much like the Zerg. The creators refer to the Zerg as an “insidious race” and through the use of great sound effects and clashing tones, Duke creates a score more than fitting.

At a crucial, emotional, and desperate moment, Russell Brower’s “Fire and Fury” soars with the most elegant of themes sung by male chorus initially, then joined by percussion and female voices. This is a spectacularly heroic piece that could easily find its way alongside the great film and game anthems of today. I could feel myself clenching my fists in anticipation of a battle about to be won as I listened to this.

It is a decidedly daring venture to combine the music of a world known for its total lack of technology and sheer brutishness with a futuristic, science-fiction struggle, but the folks at Blizzard have made it work to the point that I could not imagine it differently. I would like to keep blathering endlessly about this score but I think you get the idea.

StarCraft II might very well be the best soundtrack this year. Not only is it expertly crafted (Ha! “Crafted.” Get it? That was an accident, I swear), beautifully produced, and stunningly diverse in styles, it is also truly a musical and fantastical journey. I apologize for this hyperbole-laden review as I know that reading such dribble in other places never makes me take the reviewer seriously, so I can only imagine what you might think. If nothing else, know that I did not think much of the first StarCraft score. World of Warcraft‘s music always sounded a bit too derivative for my taste. In short, I was skeptical and it serves me right. The soundtrack for StarCraft II is a thundering, gut-wrenching piledriver of a score that made me want to jump into one of those ridiculous mech suits and fight for a cause I knew nothing about. If ever you have listened to music that grabbed you, threw you through your computer screen, and didn’t look back, you know this feeling.

Buy StarCraft II. Now. Oh, and the game is great, too.

[I highly recommend reading Jayson’s interview with the composers from earlier this week, as well!]

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