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Empire Total War - The Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Empire Total War - The Soundtrack Album Title: Empire Total War - The Soundtrack
Record Label: Sumthing Else Music Works
Catalog No.: SE-2061-2
Release Date: June 30, 2009
Purchase: Buy at Amazon | Download at Sumthing Digital


There were mixed reactions to the news that the score for Empire: Total War was being headed by Richard Beddow's team, not Jeff Van Dyck of the previous Total War soundtracks. Beddow was able to work competently with a full orchestra to create an epic score for Viking: Battle for Asgard, though the result was highly derivative and somewhat uninteresting. In Empire: Total War, he offers a similar orchestral sound while ensuring the score seamlessly blends with its 18th Century setting and naval battles. Joining him are three co-composers, orchestrator Nic Raine, and studio favourite, the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. While Empire: Total War offers little as creative as Van Dyck's work on the series, is it at least interesting?


The "Empire Theme" reflects the tone of much of the score with an atmospheric militaristic orchestration. Soft and enchanting, the main melody is beautifully presented on woodwinds then strings against slow stirring accompaniment. While it retains a subdued tone throughout, the various nuances and affecting chord progressions in the second half sustain one's interest despite the simple set-up. The team handle other subdued themes effectively too. Short tracks such as "The Road to Independence", "The American Dream", or "The Declaration" are very personal and accompaniments to the timeline. Meanwhile scene-setters "The Colonials Plan for Battle" and "The Unchartered Waters" are filled with the weighty strings and dramatic nuances most would expect from a war epic. The latter's boundless strings and suspended chord progressions are especially effective while exploring the seas. However, many will feel frustrated with the purely functional features, particularly those used to the unique musicality of Jeff Van Dyck. There isn't any harmonic exuberance or hybridised textures to be found, just emulations of Shore or Williams and regurgitations of studies of basic harmony and orchestrations.

The action themes are generally well done on the soundtrack. "The War of Independence" reflects one of the more anthemic battle themes; briskly driven by snares and strings, the lyrical string sections glide above the rasping brass passages to motivating effect. "1775 Battle at Bunker Hill" naturally employs the brute force of the orchestra's brass section too yet the writing is such that there are many twists and turns along the way, creating great uncertainty about the outcome of the battle. While these themes are hardly ground-breaking, it's with the likes of "The Battle of Quebec" that Beddow and co. create especially stereotypical brassy game music; they're decent emulations and the Slovak National brings some drama to them, but they're clearly the works of craftsmen not artists. That said, there is some profundity to be found. "Opechancanough's Revenge" is especially refreshing since it dares to be extremely dissonant, yet it also features intensely lyrical sections more reminiscent of Williams' action writing. "The Pirates Attack" is perhaps the only genuinely breathtaking orchestration on the disc, fluidly incorporating suspenseful, heavy, and gliding sections, while undergoing many striking harmonic shifts.

There are a fair number of other emotional themes in the set. For example, "1775 Bunker Hill Deployment" certainly captures the bittersweet grandiosity of going out to battle while "The Price of Freedom" laments the fallen with passionate violins and wailing bamboo flutes. The last third of the soundtrack is especially refreshing and emotional with its stronger Eastern influences. "The Threat of War" and "Preparation For War" represent refreshing nods to the Shogun: Total War score with their beautiful Chinese flute performance against eerie backing. The battle themes for Azov, Bakhchisaray, and Panpipat are all refreshing with their blend of heartfelt oriental instrument performances, dramatic orchestration, and furious percussion, much as Van Dyck's recent scores did. The score nevertheless ends with conventional Western cinematic orchestration as it started. At the climax of the game, the suspenseful "Sailing into the Storm" and action-packed "The Fleets Last Stand" are especially memorable both thematically and emotionally. The "End Credits" brings the score round full circle given its similar composition to "Empire Theme"; however, the orchestration is a little more colourful with its trumpet solos and uplifting backing despite adhering to convention.


The score for Empire: Total War is certainly a professional one, but not really an artistic accomplishment. Beddow and co. really know how to cinematically underscore, inspire emotions, and bring action scenes to life. They use the orchestra in a convincing manner and the orchestra itself achieve a dramatic performance. What the score lacks is originality. A few exceptions aside, the cinematic writing is almost as derivative as it comes and the orchestration takes a no frills approach. This is especially significant here given the Total War franchise has always been known for Jeff Van Dyck's characteristic and evolving musicality. That said, the score is still a improvement on all levels compared to Viking: Battle for Asgard. Most importantly, it's actually an interesting stand-alone listen this time, given the strong themes, emotional writing, and stylistic diversity. Thanks to Sumthing Else Music Works, it is easily available to buy and may be a worthy investment for fans of dramatic yet straightforward orchestral music, or those who enjoyed the music in the successful game.

Overall Score: 7/10