Review

Review

Jesper Kyd: 'Darksiders II' Original Soundtrack – CD Review

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Last month we got to chat with talented and prolific composer Jesper Kyd (be sure to check that interview here), whose music has been an integral part of blockbuster game series like Hitman and Assassin's Creed... and now the epic dark fantasy RPG Darksiders II, which made a bloody splash at this year's Comic-Con and rolls out to most game platforms next Tuesday. Kyd's impressive score for DSII makes its CD debut on the same date, and I've got a detailed breakdown of the double-disc album for you, as well as another preview track. Read on!

 
 
Jesper composed more than three hours' worth of music for Darksiders II, spanning a huge variety of musical environments which he described as “an exercise in abstract darkness.” The game designers encouraged him to push the boundaries of traditional game music, which led him to experiment with analog synthesizers and multiple types of sound manipulation. “It’s a mix of a whole bunch of different techniques, and a lot of levels of processing,” Kyd told FEARnet. “I really worked on making the tracks organic-sounding.” As a fan and devoted user of analog synths myself, I pretty much fell in love with this score from the get-go... but even setting aside my knob-twiddling geekery to put on my official music reviewer's hat (it's a very comfy hat, by the way), the scope and range that spans these 26 tracks is still mighty impressive.
 
When it comes to the textures Kyd summons from his analog equipment, cues like “The Corruption” and “Trouble in Eden” shine out with their Tangerine Dream-syle synth arpeggios (which make a softer appearance later in “Crystal Spire”) and tracks like “The Makers in the Outlands” blend some of the more traditional mythic quest motifs with nightmarish elements – after all, our protagonist on this adventure is none other than skull-faced death personified (as in one of the mythical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), so it's kind of a given that he's not going to play nice with others... and by that, I mean he tends to bodily dismember a hundred enemies in less time than it takes most people to tie their shoes. On top of that, Death is crossing some seriously nightmarish domains over the course of the game, which means the dark ambient tones are always shifting and morphing into unexpected new configurations, evolving from the establishing cues of the first disc to the full-on darkess of the second. This progression keeps you pleasantly on edge for most of the album's two-plus hours... and that's not even taking the intensity of game play into account.
 
When orchestral and ambient elements are called upon to add cinematic dimension to the story, the results are not only as sweeping as you'd expect - “The Crowfather” is one impressive example – but sometimes surprisingly quiet and intimate, such as the soft flute melody that leads “The Makers Theme,” which has the feel of a tale told around an ancient campfire. The same dreamlike mood comes though in the angelic vocal line of “Into Eternity” and the soaring synth cloudscape of “The Floating City,” which is reminiscent of Brian Eno's ambient works. Another of this score's strengths is the use of exotic and unorthodox percussion instruments, which come to bear in the game's many action and travel scenes, which bring real power, but thankfully never overplay when it comes to loudness. Cuts like “The Makers Fight Back” combine traditional Arabic beats with aggressive electronic rhythms; in the same mode, “The Abyssal Plains” is strongly reminiscent of Tyler Bates' excellent score for 300.
 
It's Disc 2 where the darkest cues come into play, setting the stage with the ominous synth & string washes of “The Dead Plains” (and the reprise of that track at the end), and the dissonant metallic undertones of “Supernatural Desert.” The grinding industrial percussion loops of “The Eternal Throne” kick up the tension, building intensity with the demonic pulse of “City of the Dead” and calling forth the armies of the underworld with the martial drums of “Death Brings Hope,” a massive cue that captures all the best elements of Kyd's compositions. Equally powerful is “Demon Realm,” which expands its dark, brooding synth lines to infinite proportions with colossal reverb before unleashing a firestorm of metallic percussion loops, and the climactic mega-drums of “Lord of the Black Stone,” interjected with orchestra stabs and twisted samples.
 
Listen to "Demon Realm" here:
 
 
When Kyd described the landscape of Darksiders II as “going from hell to heaven and everything in between,” he was pointing out the importance of contrast and variety when scoring the game's wildly different environments. But another strong component of his score is the heroic core that ties all those diverse apocalyptic elements together. Our main character may be Death himself, but he's not just a slaughtering fiend; Kyd's themes give him a nobility to go with his terrifying and powerful presence. As a lifelong horror fan, I loves me a noble monster, and music is a key component of bringing out the creature's soul. This score not only accomplishes that tricky maneuver, but provides a sweeping, dark universe for our ominous Horseman and his foes to inhabit, providing a seriously scary listening experience and a powerful compliment to the action.
 
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