Upon its release three years ago, Konami's epic horror-fantasy game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (check out Carl Lyon's game review here) received acclaim for its sweeping symphonic score by Spanish composer Óscar Araujo, whose credits include the dark fantasy game Blade of Darkness and the 2008 thriller Transsiberian. Araujos' work on Lords of Shadow won him the “Best Original Score for a Video Game” Award from the International Film Music Critics Association in 2011, and he was subsequently hired to score Lords of Shadow 2, set to drop next February.
The original US release of the Lords of Shadow soundtrack CD was included as a bonus disc in the Collector's Edition of the game, but serious horror soundtrack junkies will be stoked to get their hands on the recently-released Ultimate Edition album, which includes additional content and new arrangements taken from the 120-plus music cues Araujo originally recorded. For hardcore completists, the downloadable “Director's Cut” version, available exclusively from Sumthing Else Music Works, contains a whopping 42 cues total.
The cinematic magnitude of this soundtrack left a strong impression on gamers, thanks in part to the outstanding work of the 120-piece Bratislava Symphony Orchestra with an equally large choir. The game's story-driven approach lends itself well to this kind of epic treatment, and the results often call to mind the mythical majesty of Howard Shore's Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings scores. Cues like "Besieged Village" and "The Evil Butcher" make excellent use of brass sections to signify grand-scale battles; rich strings give emotional weight to more pensive moments like "Waterfalls of Agharta"; and tribal-style percussion blends with the strong choral elements on tracks like "The Warg," “Carmilla” and “The Hunting Path” to give the story a massive, legendary resonance. One of the album's clear peaks is the appropriately-titled "Final Confrontation," which brings all these ingredients together for a wild, dynamic ride. Listen:
The obvious emphasis on action, adventure and drama outshines the decidedly horror-oriented slant of previous Castlevania installments, but the darker tones are still very evident in atmospheric pieces like "The Dead Bog," and the tension runs high in fast-paced attack cues like "The Swamp Troll" and “The Ice Titan.” Callbacks to the familiar Castlevania theme are conspicuously absent, but since Konami seems to have stepped back from many of the game's more familiar motifs with this entry, it's possible they wanted the music to forge its own path as well.
While it's not as gritty and menacing as its predecessors, the grandiose feel of the Lords of Shadow score ranks it as one of the more impressive soundtracks in the series, and fans of epic fantasy scores will find much to love here – whether they choose to go all-out with the Director's Cut (which retains nearly every cue, even if it's only a few seconds) or prefer the symphony-style arrangements of the Ultimate Edition. I'm partial to the latter myself, as it offers a dynamic theatrical experience best enjoyed with the lights down. Either way, it's a worthwhile collection that even non-gamers will appreciate.
This album is one of several Castlevania soundtracks recently acquired by Sumthing Else, who will be following up later this month with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Stay tuned for more info on that release... and be sure to check out our review of the game itself.