If you're a gamer who digs dark and violent adventures, chances are you've heard the sinister, explosive and often beautiful works of composer Jesper Kyd, best known for scoring the epic Hitman and Assassin's Creed game series. Attendees at this year's San Diego Comic-Con got a chance to sample a wide assortment of Jesper's musical creations – not only did they catch a preview of the epic game Darksiders II featuring Kyd's amazing score, they also got a look and a listen to Metal Hurlant Chronicles, a live-action TV series based on the classic magazine (you know it here as Heavy Metal), which is currently seeking a US distributor.
But even if you're not a regular gamer or sci-fi/fantasy buff, you may have heard Jesper's score to Staunton Hill, the debut horror feature from Cameron Romero, son of horror legend George A. Romero. What I'm saying here is, Jesper's music has become the soundtrack to many dark dreams and adrenalin-pumping fantasies, so I've really been looking forward to this little chat... and I hope you dig it too. We've also thrown in a few clips, plus a wicked cut from the Darksiders II soundtrack. Enjoy!
What kind of feedback did you get from the Comic Con previews?
Darksiders II was very successful. It was also amazing to see the support for Metal Hurlant Chronicles. The audience was very enthusiastic and really into what was shown. It was a great place to unveil the first US preview of the series. I’ve also heard a lot of positive stories about people’s reactions to the music.
What's the chief difference between the way you approach an epic horror game like Darksiders II and a straight action game like Hitman?
For Darksiders II, I focused on the environments. They are so extreme and so different from each other, going from hell to heaven and everything in between, that we needed to support the contrast between all the worlds. So the majority of the score is focused on the environments, which is why the score lends itself to fantasy as well. Hitman is a character-based score. Though I also supported the environments in the Hitman series, the large focus of those scores were written from an interior mindset and perspective – music you would imagine Agent 47 hearing as he was carrying out his missions. That's the main difference.
I love the atmosphere of doom in cues like "City of the Dead." Are there specific go-to instruments or techniques you like to use to create that mood?
I was asked to really push the creativity, so every track was an exercise in abstract darkness. I combined lots of different ways of creating the dark atmosphere in Darksiders II, but the recurring technique is that I’m using a lot of analog equipment and analog synths.
How much original music did you compose for the game?
Almost three hours of music.
The percussion is my favorite element of that score. What kind of techniques did you use?
It’s a mix of a whole bunch of different techniques, and a lot of levels of processing. I really worked on making the tracks organic-sounding; there’s a lot of dynamics and analog flow that I worked on with the mixing, EQ and compression. The score is very “hi-fi.”
Your score for Staunton Hill has lots of dissonant metallic effects that reminded me of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What was your creative process with Cameron Romero like?
Staunton Hill was a very interesting project, and a very different process. I had about three weeks to write and record the entire movie, so everything was carefully calculated due to the limited amount of time. Creatively, I went with my gut and instinct, since I didn’t have much time to experiment. I’m pleased with the score and particularly because Cameron was always there to answer my questions. We talked for hours almost every day about the movie. I’ll also be working with Cameron on his next film project.
I imagine the Metal Hurlant series will have some horror elements mixed with sci-fi and fantasy, just like the magazine. Are you a fan of the comic itself?
I am a huge fan of the comic series. I grew up in Denmark with Heavy Metal, and Moebius is my favorite comic book artist and writer. His work had a big impact on me, so it was a dream come true to be asked to work on the television adaptation.
What did you think of the animated film?
I must admit I quite enjoyed it... I’m a fan of everything Heavy Metal.
It seems like the linking device for the TV episodes is similar to the meteorite that tied the movie stories together.
The meteorite features in the TV series as well; it's a recurring element in all the episodes.
Can you reveal one of the more horror-themed episodes?
The episode “Shelter Me,” starring James Marsters of Buffy, could be categorized as psychological horror, with two people being locked inside a bomb shelter... and of course things go horribly wrong.
Since each episode is a unique story, were you called upon to score each episode in a different style, or is the music consistent throughout the series?
Each episode is a completely different style of music. The music ranges from 1960s Cold War-era to ritualistic music set in a different dimension, to futuristic music for space travel. There is a huge twist at the end of each story, so this is where we tie the episodes together musically.
I see Borderlands 2 is also coming out soon. Any other score projects in the pipe?
Heroes & Generals is coming out soon as well, created by Reto-Moto, the founders of IOI and the Hitman series. I’m also involved with another yet to be announced video game.
The 2-CD Darksiders II soundtrack will drop on August 14th, to coincide with the game's release, and you can hear more tracks at Jesper's official site. More news on his upcoming projects coming soon to these pages.... including a zombie-themed game that is still top-secret. So keep watch!