Game Music

Call of Duty Black Ops: Sean Murray Fights the Commies in His Own Style

November 22, 2010 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Call of Duty Black Ops: Sean Murray Fights the Commies in His Own Styleon Twitter

In a seemingly impossible feat, Modern Warfare 2‘s ridiculous sales numbers were toppled by its series successor, Call of Duty: Black Ops. By nearly all accounts, it boasts a more interesting narrative and holds its ground unapologetically in the multiplayer space. Hans Zimmer blasted our faces with his themes in last year’s Modern Warfare 2, and for Sean Murray, composer of Call of Duty: Black Ops, these would be enormous shoes to fill in both musical integrity as well as sheer size and scope.

Click the jump and find out how Sean Murray fared in his death match against the Treyarch naysayers and the specter of Hans Zimmer’s stealth bomber of a score still fresh in our minds!

Beginning with largely ambient “Cube One”, it is immediately obvious that Sean Murray took no cues from Mr. Zimmer in any way. In short, this score is completely different and it was a wise move by Mr. Murray to not touch Zimmer’s approach or style. In fact, I would be surprised if Sean Murray listened to a note of Hans Zimmer’s Modern Warfare 2 score. “Eagle Claw, Pt. 1” tears onto the scene with a fast-paced rhythmic pattern of strings and percussion. However, this is a much more organic orchestration than the usual digital madhouse of Remote Control Productions we saw earlier this year in Medal of Honor, for instance. The theme is carried through with higher brass but is not as bombastic as one might expect. This is clearly a more intimate experience – perfect for the much more character-driven story; an awesome track.

When we think of the Cold War, Russian imagery immediately comes to mind. Kruschev banging his shoe on the table, the sickle and hammer, and the Red Army marching through the Red Square. For music dorks like us, we also think of the deep, male choruses that would accompany these events and images. Sean Murray beautifully combines his heroic and driving score with Russian chorus notes in the aptly titled track, “Commies.” This may be the gem of the collection as Murray brings the piece to a silent conclusion after driving us through with great fervor.

I was nearly thrown for a loop in the seemingly unassuming “Hard Target.” The main theme from the first track is reiterated here in a more reflective mode, only to swell into a heroic anthem. I don’t mean to speak down to the genre of action scores (I own plenty of them), but an artful variation of the main theme is not what I expected to hear and was very pleasantly surprised.

“The Wall” is a cello-led hymn that grows into a string-ridden Russian dance. Playing on the minoric sensibilities of Russian folk music, this is a more dissonant and nightmarish tune that scintillates with its bizarre harmonies and striking strings.

The undisputed anthem of Call of Duty: Black Ops is undoubtedly “Virus.” This is an ass-kicking metal theme in the ilk of a Remote Control Productions, perhaps a bit too modern sounding to accompany a piece set in the late 1960s. A treat, nonetheless.

The most remarkable feature of Sean Murray’s score is how listenable the soundtrack is. Each track of the score stand on its own. It works spectacularly well in context and on its own. In fact, the in-game musical experience far exceeds its predecessor. However, the main themes of Modern Warfare 2 (found mostly in the cut scenes) do overshadow most of Murray’s. But, again, Call of Duty: Black Ops‘ soundtrack is clearly not interested in anything the previous title had to offer and it is all the better for it. Additionally, a game which takes us all around the world might suffer trying to box itself in with one set thematic ideas.

Overall, Sean Murray has done a fine job with this score and I highly recommend it to fans of the action genre. His ability to weave a narrative within each piece is remarkable and helps drive the player (and listener) further into the experience with no hesitation. Finishing the journey with Murray’s score as my companion (and Ed Harris, of course) made this one a far more satisfying journey than any preceding Call of Duty game.

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