Game Music, Reviews

To Hell and Back: Diablo 15 Year Anniversary (Review)

December 5, 2011 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook To Hell and Back: Diablo 15 Year Anniversary (Review)on Twitter

Blizzard Entertainment has some of the biggest franchises in the business under its belt, but none has spoken to me more over the years than the Diablo series. It’s always been one of my favorite game franchises, and the scores Matt Uelmen crafted for the first two games in the series are among my favorite soundtracks of all time.

While Uelmen left Blizzard Entertainment in 2007, we were able to glean some details about how the Diablo III soundtrack and this special BlizzCon 2011 exclusive album have drawn from the musical legacy of the series, and we were impressed with what we heard in the Diablo III Beta that was released earlier this year which showed us that the team is on the right track with sticking to the franchise’s musical roots.

Is this album a worthy celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Diablo series? Find out in our review.

To repeat what audio director Russell Brower told us at BlizzCon 2011, this album is intended to fill in the gaps of what has been previously released and provide a couple special pieces to fans of the series. Contained within are the soundtracks to the original Diablo, extra pieces from Diablo II that didn’t make it onto the official collector’s edition CD (or the iTunes release that came out a couple years ago), and a few conceptual pieces that Uelmen wrote for Diablo III.

Let’s start from the top with the original Diablo material. This music has never been released on CD and was only found around the Internet because the MP3 files were installed in the game’s music directory where fans could find them for outside listening. While short, this really is a fantastic soundtrack, and fans should be pleased to finally have access to the legendary “Tristram” theme in full CD quality (although this is actually the elongated version from Diablo II). “Caves” is also one of my favorite Diablo pieces of all time with its distorted electric guitar, heavy tribal percussion, and demonic groans in the background. “Dungeon” also stands out with its siren-like patches and decisive progression that really set the tone for the game as one of the first dungeon themes.

I now want to take a moment to comment on how this album is put together. While there’s material here from a number of different sources, Russell Brower, as the album’s producer, has worked his magic with cross-fades and the removal of the gaps between the tracks, allowing them to flow into each other which really works amazingly well with the Diablo II and Lord of Destruction material.

Lord of Destruction comes first in terms of track order and will capture your attention with its difference in approach. Uelmen was able to record a live orchestra for much of this score which is not only reflected in the quality, but also in how Uelmen approached the composition. The themes here are much more majestic and sweeping as opposed to his grittier themes heard elsewhere throughout the series. Both “Fortress” and “Ice Caves” have a distinct beauty about them, while “Siege,” my favorite of the Lord of Destruction tracks, proceeds with string stabs and lots of brass, and I love how the Diablo theme is interwoven throughout many of the pieces here.

It’s then on to music from Diablo II proper that didn’t fit on the collector’s edition / iTunes release. I could have swore I had heard these pieces before outside of the game, and I realized that I had, as they were released as extras long ago through the “MP3 of the Week” feature that Uelmen ran when Diablo II was released. In addition to extra pieces that were in the game and didn’t fit on the CD were also some outtakes that I hope get to see the light of day again in the future as well (there was no room for them here). In terms of what’s here, however, some of my favorite Diablo II tracks are included with the festering “Maggot” and “Sewer” as well as the exotic “Harem” complete with ethnic stringed instruments and vocals.

That brings us to the two conceptual pieces found at the end of the disc that were written by Uelmen early on in the development of Diablo III. “Hydra” is an early version of the Diablo III main theme that Brower used as the basis for his “Overture” theme that was used to announce the game. The star, however, and one of the biggest gems found on this album is “Lord,” a powerful and brooding orchestral pieces with a memorable ascending melody that immediately caught my attention. Uelmen confirmed with us that these pieces were written in 2005 for an early build of the game where he was given the privilege of recording a live orchestra. As it turns out, much of the material recorded ended up be used in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, but these two themes were shelved as the former referenced the Diablo theme and the latter used a Stravinsky motif as a foundation.

In all, this is the Diablo CD I never knew I wanted. It’s wonderful to finally have the original Diablo soundtrack on CD as well as get my hands on the Lord of Destruction material that is nearly impossible to find on CD these days. The conceptual pieces are just icing on the cake, and “Lord” in particular is truly great. The best part, though? While BlizzCon exclusive albums have been, as that title would suggest, exclusive to the event in the past, this album is available from the online Blizzard Store for only $10.00, which is honestly a steal. Fans of Diablo music and Matt Uelmen owe it to themselves to pick it up, and I’m impressed with the work that Russell Brower put in the make this a continuous listening experience much like the many other collector’s edition soundtracks that have been released since he joined the company.

Let us know what your thoughts are on the music of the Diablo franchise, and let us know what you’re looking forward to the most with Diablo III.

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