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Call of Duty Black Ops Original Score :: Review by Chris

Call of Duty Black Ops Original Score Album Title: Call of Duty Black Ops Original Score
Record Label: Activision
Catalog No.: iTunes
Release Date: November 29, 2010
Purchase: Purchase at iTunes


Succeeding Modern Warfare 2 as the fastest-selling game of all time, Call of Duty: Black Ops followed the story of Alex Mason as he goes deep into enemy territories on deniable operations. Following his work on Call of Duty: World at War, veteran television composer Sean Murray reunited with developer Treyarch to score the game. The composer offers probably the series' most ambitious score to date, with his creative musical approaches and top-notch production values, after the more typical cinematic approach of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Finally aware of the marketing potential of the series' music, Activision published the score digitally soon after the release of the game.


Right from the introductory cue, Sean Murray declares that listeners can expect anything and everything from the music of Call of Duty: Black Ops. "Eagle Claw Pt. I" creates an incredibly dense soundscape with its dark electronic beats, booming strings and percussion, and dissonant brass interjections. In a marked shift from Remote Control Productions' approach, Murray doesn't attempt to glamourise war with a contrived dramatic arch or personal brass melody. Instead he portrays war as something intense, raw, and overwhelming throughout — something that can end even more abruptly than it began. This approach to scoring will be refreshing for many tired of Zimmer's conventions, though it will unwelcome for those who enjoy the typical approach and are alienated by heavy dissonance.

Murray ensures the majority of the soundtrack is dominated by intense fast-paced themes. Fusing modern scoring approaches with avant-garde influences, "Pegasus" is as petrifying as the Dead Space series with its giant textures and uncompassionate dissonance. "Blackbird" and "Virus" are some of the most affecting pieces of tense underscore in a video game, thanks to their momentous string riffs and unrelenting development, while "Panthers" offers a more ominous mood with its slowly evolving ambient soundscapes. "Commies" takes things a step further with its gigantic orchestration and bizarre, semi-operatic chorus use; there's just the right blend of anthemic brass melodies and aleatoric experiments to ensure this track is appealing on multiple levels. "Pentagon" is also a hard-hitting portrayal with its fusion of militaristic orchestration with contemporary elements.

A fascinating aspect of the soundtrack is how Sean Murray fuses a range of elements so convincingly. One of the introductory tracks, "Mac-V" manages to be quite enticing due to its blend of dissonant orchestration with retro electronic beats. The resultant fusion packs quite a rhythmic punch and is sufficiently well-mixed that it still fits the game. On the other hand, the ambient soundscapes of "Resurrection" are pierced with electric guitar riffs, like many tracks on Call of Duty: World at War. In addition to representing lurking aggressors, the instrument certainly lifts the track above bogstandard ambience and gives the track some mainstream pulling power. Once again, Murray's composition and mixing are so tight that the fusion manages to stand out without disrupting the overall musical experience.

There are transient moments of relief on the soundtrack. Tracks such as "Hard Target" with its calm soaring strings or "The Wall" with its elegaic cello solo inspire particularly deep emotions. However, even these manage to deceive listeners with their sudden developments thereafter. These dramatic shifts provide an incredible support for the game's storyline, while also giving stand-alone listeners a more personal perspective on the feelings of war. Another track that undergoes a fascinating evolution is "Beheaded", which manages to be ambient yet action-packed, subtle yet action-packed at the same time. Other more programmatic tracks, such as the multi-tiered "Invictus" or brief "Crash", are somewhat alienating when detached from the in-game scenery, but have an amazing effect in the game.

Some of the most interesting moments on the soundtrack are the more abstract ones. For example, "Dwarka" reflects expectations of another world with its Middle Eastern instrumentation and guitar reverb effects, while "Delirious" and "Anvil (Remix)" have a psychologically intrusive effect with their bizarre instrumentation and electronic distortion. Saving his darkest contribution to the end, Murray ensures "Bendz" is particularly intrusive and horrifying with its shrieking violins and prepared instrumentation. For the climax, "Rooftops" is another hybrid of all sorts of forces — atmospheric orchestral texturings, thrusting guitar riffs, motivating electronic beats, and wailing ethnic soprano — that captures both the outward scene and the psychology of the player. After this wondrousness, "Epilogue" closes the soundtrack in a stereotypical way with a brief and relieving chamber performance.


Sean Murray did an impressive thing by taking the score for Call of Duty: Black Ops in a novel and personal direction. While mainstream opinion is divided, it's so refreshing to find so many experimental musical approaches on this album after the typical cinematic fare of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The themes for Call of Duty: Black Ops aren't as prominent as its predecessor, but those present are generally emotional and memorable, while the production values are even higher with the combination of full orchestra performances and high-tech samplers and mixers. Dark, brutal, and tragic, the overall soundtrack is a fitting depiction of war, and what's more the stand-alone digital soundtrack is largely an enthralling and satisfying two hour listen too.

Overall Score: 9/10