Game Music, Reviews

Your Ears, Torn Asunder: World of Warcraft Cataclysm Soundtrack (Review)

December 13, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Your Ears, Torn Asunder: World of Warcraft Cataclysm Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

The day more than 10 million people around the world have been waiting for is finally here. While there has been a lot of excitement about what the Cataclysm expansion pack would mean to the World of Warcraft experience, players were finally able to dig in last week to re-explore new areas, discover new ones, and enjoy over 8 hours of new music that was added to the game.

Included with the Collector’s Edition version of Cataclysm was a soundtrack album, and you probably know from our past reviews of these limited edition pack-ins as well as the BlizzCon exclusive albums that we’re huge fans of the music from the game. Cataclysm has a lot to live up to, not only in terms of being the newest addition to the franchise, but also in that it revisits several themes from the past.

Does the Blizzard Entertainment sound team live up to the challenge? Find out in our review after the jump.

As is customary, the album begins with a massive live recording composed by Russell Brower that acts as the “theme” for the expansion. “The Shattering” is a 12-minute long epic that opens with contorted string stabs and dissonant brass letting you know you’re in for something horrific right from the start. Throughout the massive piece, you’ll hear familiar melodies from the original World of Warcraft that have been twisted and hardened. There are, however, moments of hope tucked away within the piece, including a beautiful section of sweeping strings and harp and later a triumphant and adventurous string and brass section.

You may recall that Russell Brower mentioned that the team wasn’t going for exotic locales this time around. “At the core of Azeroth, bad, chaotic things are happening. The instruments you know and love from a standard orchestra handle that very well.” You’ll hear strings, brass, and woodwinds, and none of Pedro Eustache’s world woodwinds or Cajsa Ekstav’s nychelharpa to catch your fancy this time around. But the score is still as powerful and captivating as ever.

Besides “The Shattering,” there are three major themes featured on the soundtrack, one each for the game’s core races. “Reforged” tells the story of what the Horde has been up to since the The Shattering. It opens with a more ferocious version of the music heard in Ogrimmar, letting listeners know, as Brower put it, “Oggrimar is under new management.” The piece then takes a tenuous journey through both uncertainty and despair in a number of more subdued sections over the course of 8 minutes. The Alliance counterpart, “Defenders of Azeroth,” takes a similar approach, reworking some earlier themes into something more resolute and defiant, but eventually finds its way into hopelessness and desperation as well. Finally, “Gaurdians of Nordrassil,” which is the shortest of the trio at around 6 minutes in length, takes a more measured response to the chaos confronting Azeroth. Slow, sweeping strings, somber choir sections, and soothing harp hint at the tired yet steadfast night elves. Of note is the fact that one of the pieces David Arkenstone performed live at BlizzCon 2010 is found here, which is a real treat to hear again.

From here, the remaining pieces contrast quite nicely. “Tempest’s Wake” teeters from serene to hopelessness within the same piece, while Restoring the Balance” opens with emotional string swells and a meandering harp that creates a healing atmosphere along with the exotic woodwinds and gentle rhythmic percussion in “Call of the Elements.” “Castaways” provides a moment’s reprieve with a playful xylophone backing that makes room for an exotic string and woodwind melody. There’s certainly a “tropical” element, and I love the addition of a jazzy brass section about midway through, adding an element of fun to the otherwise dreary soundscapes featured on the album.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ethereal choral backing and melancholy chromatic melody in “Depths of Vashj’ir” hint at something much more dark, while “Curse of the Worgen,” one of my favorite tracks on the album, is truly frightening with an ominous string progression accented by harpsichord and the sound of pouring rain. “Eventide” is just as dark with its stop-and-go string swells with lots of vibrato paired with faint choral phrases that sound like an evil chant in the background. Likewise, “Uldum,” one of the new high-level dungeons, will also leave listeners lonely and in despair. While minimalistic in terms of instrumentation, the staccato strings, bassy choir, and lead woodwind create an otherworldly atmosphere.

The final track, “Nightsong,” is the Blood Elves’ response to “Lament of the Highborne” that Brower mentioned during our talk. Composed by Neal Acree, it opens with serene female vocals in the native Blood Elf tongue. There’s a certain element of desperation found in the piece which is highlighted even further when the Taiko drums enter. The combination of the vocals, percussion, and heavy strings almost sound like something out of the Panzer Dragoon universe, which is definitely welcome.

While I can’t say there are as many moments on this album that grab me like some of the previous World of Warcraft albums did, I appreciate the return of many of the core World of Warcraft themes from the original soundtrack. The atmosphere generated by this album is amazing, and I once again applaud Russell Brower for creating this truly immersive and contiguous listening experience together that even somebody like me who’s never played the game can enjoy. It’s also available on iTunes for those who passed up the Collector’s Edition of the game.

Now, how about another album featuring all of David Arkenstone’s contributions? I loved his Taverns of Azeroth spin-off album.

What do you think of the music featured in Cataclysm? Does it live up to your expectations, and do you like what they’ve done with some of the most important themes from the original World of Warcraft?

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