God of War Soundtrack :: Review by Dave
The bestselling and award winning God of War series first hit the stores in March, 2005. Listed as one of the PlayStation 2's top 25 games by IGN in 2007, God of War features excellent gameplay, graphics, and, of course, music. The God of War Soundtrack features music from Hollywood musicians Gerard Marino, Mike Reagan, Winifred Phillips, Ron Fish, and Cris Velasco. Though Reagan and Marino contribute the most themes to the album, their fellow composers each have a couple of impacting tracks and earn their place on the soundtrack. With the game set in Ancient Greece, their themes not only try to be epic, but also try to highlight that sense of place that the game needs.
Gerard Marino's tracks use some very hard-hitting instrumentation to create a very aggressive atmosphere. "Athens Rooftops Fighting," "The Great Sword Bridge of Athena," and "The Vengeful Spartan" each feature heavy drum use and prominent strings, and are each graced with some gripping crescendos, diminuendos, and other features to heighten the mood. Two of Marino's tracks which really stick out are "Kratos and the Sea" and "The Story of Chronos." "Kratos and the Sea" features especially creative development and impressive use of instrumentation; the strings especially are used to their full abilities, both being forced to play shrilling (often frightening) sections, as well as much smoother and gorgeous melody towards the end. Despite being a short track, "The Story of Chronos" also has a distinctive and mystical texture with its use of vocals, guitar, and ethnic instruments.
Though each theme on the album is orchestral, each composer utilises their main strength to create a good selection of diverse themes. Cris Velasco's contributions for example, are of the more melodic variety and of course this is where his strengths lie too. The Borderlands and Darksiders composer seems to hit the nail on the head when it comes to attaining balance between the melody and accompaniment in each track, ensuring that he stills creates that recognisable dangerous aura upheld throughout the rest of the album. His three themes, "Zeus' Wrath Divine," "Hades God of the Underworld," and "Minotaur Boss Battle" are each well melodically developed, with the latter perhaps being the most striking and memorable.
Mike Reagan and Ron Fish's strengths each lie in creating powerful sounds through focusing on background development and ethnic instrumentation rather than melodic exploration. Some of Mike Reagan's tracks which are especially worth pointing out are the ominous "Ares Destroys Athens" and chilling "Mind the Cyclops." "Ares Destroys Athens" is a short brass-dominated track, but manages to create such an impact in conjunction with the breathtaking in-game scene. "Mind the Cyclops" features some chilling instrumentation, with a low threatening choir being its best part. Ron Fish's tracks are just as good, with "Pandoran Cyclopes Attack" and "The Architect's Mysteries" being the two most impacting ones. "Pandoran Cyclopes Attack" is one of the album's better action themes with its fast paced drum line and constant orchestral hits. After that track, "The Architect's Mysteries" does seem a little more normal in comparison and is certainly more in the strain of music presented by Mike Reagan.
Winifred Phillips' strengths lie in her ability to generate a great deal of power through a rather ambient almost empty approach. "Pandora's Box" is the most melodic of Phillips' themes, using some high pitched vocals and airy sound effects to produce one of the soundtracks most relaxing moods. Similar instrumentation is also used in "Enthroned on Mount Olympus," but this theme also sees accompaniment from sustained strings, adding a little more substance than what "Pandora's Box" touched upon. "Exploring the Ruins" and "The Underwater World of Poseidon" are actually her stronger themes though, perhaps due to the mysterious vibe which they emanate. "Exploring the Ruins" truly is exploration (or experimentation if you will) with Phillips seeming to use nearly every ambient instrument in her repertoire: from gongs to chimes, and from pan pipes to a gothic choir, this piece has the soundtracks most intriguing blend of music. What could be better in such a perplexing in-game environment? "The Underwater World of Poseidon" isn't as inspiring as "Exploring the Ruins," but presents ominous sounds from all angles through its stunning development.
One of the album's weaker points is that it contains a lot of scenes from the game during which the characters talk. These tracks are accompanied with some quite atmospheric music and are obviously included to provide some continuity between the soundtrack and the game. However, they seem a little misplaced on a stand-alone basis and are also rather clich&eaute;d. Mike Reagan and Chris Velasco's "Duel with Ares" is probably the only worthwhile addition for stand-alone listeners, since it is actually allowed some time to developed without any voices. The underlying music is warring and danger-filled in places, with this atmosphere heightened by raging militaristic drums, rampant brass, and ravenous strings. It is in many regards undermined by its stereotypical voice actors, but stands tall over the other tracks, simply due to the fact that it's allowed to breathe.
Overall, the entirety of this soundtrack is made up from orchestral pieces, and in truth, the composers generally use similar techniques to create the menacing sound which the game demands. Amazingly, despite this being apparent throughout the soundtrack, the composers seem to have fortunately avoided producing a neverending dullness of action themes, as may have otherwise been expected. Rather, their collective musical knowhow makes way for a large number of well-developed orchestral themes, with a noticeable creative use of ancient and ethnic instrumentation. If anything, it's just that small set of themes with voiceovers which affects the overall quality. I'd certainly recommend its purchase, if not just to experience the origins of the music to this fantastic series.
Overall score: 8/10