Universe at War Original Soundtrack :: Review by Jay Semerad
Frank Klepacki's downloadable version of the Universe at War soundtrack showcases more of the artist's traditional electronic sound but with a darker, less playful edge. His tracks clash and grind, the heavy guitar riffs are unrelenting, and the drums are furious.
The opening tracks have a dark, ominous scoring carried by strings that settle in to the rest of the hard rock environment rather appropriately, as in "Doom of the Aliens" or "Anticipating". Each track lets the strings carry a somber melody beneath a bed of guitar and drum work. The real meat of each piece is in the electronic processing and the depth he puts into each patch; rarely does it appear instantly recognizable, although the bass line at the beginning of "Anticipating" reminded me, pleasantly, of Morphine or maybe Rage Against the Machine.
Klepacki has gone to lengths to make the dark, alien soundtrack almost feel tangible. The atmospheric tracks like "Schematic" are both interesting and creepy at the same time, even in the way the string patches are mangled and processed. Even hard rock tracks like "Haunting" have interesting breakdowns mid-song. "Modern Design", among others, are more like updated versions of his classic sound, still containing an techno groove but with the appropriate mood for the new landscapes. Other highlights for me include the choir singing in "Display of Power", "Masari Suite", and "Disturbance", where Frank really reaches out for that grand, heroic theme that he's been striving to write in many of his past soundtracks.
In all honesty, it's not the easiest of Klepacki's soundtracks to listen to. Many of the tracks are dark, sinister, moody, or hard-edged and rough around the edges. They don't quite have the playfulness that he branded in his original scores, but that's not to say they aren't amongst his best works. Thematically and compositionally, as well as production-wise, the tracks are skillfully mixed and well written. They serve the game well, and for those who can dig this style, there are some great tracks to pick out of here as good standalone music to pump you up or relive favorite parts of the game.
I'm also a fan of the exotic instruments and percussion he introduces late in the soundtrack because they simply add another element to his music, and give him more room to work with. Certainly, game soundtracks of late have been a great melting pot of various ethnic styles and electronic music. "Ancient Presence" is one of the most cohesive examples I can provide in recent memory. It is perhaps my favorite track on the album and one of Klepacki's most interesting, given his traditional style.
Again, if you love his music, you will get a kick out of many of these tracks and be happy to see that Frank, like his tunes, is still evolving, and still rockin' out with the best. This three disc digital album was released for free by Petroglyph Games, so there's it's certainly worth picking up.
Overall Score: 8/10