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Medieval II Total War Music Score :: Review by Chris

Medieval II Total War Music Score Album Title: Medieval II Total War Music Score
Record Label: Sega Europe
Catalog No.: DIS-S038-CD
Release Date: November 10, 2006
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Medieval II: Total War brought gamers back to the medieval warfare of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East once more. The game was more ambitious than its predecessor in several ways and one of them was its score. Jeff Van Dyck, now far more experienced with orchestration and world music, decided to focus on hybridising epic orchestral writing with novel ancient and world instrumentation on this soundtrack. However, for the first time in the series, he wasn't alone. He was assisted by Richard Vaughan and James Vincent, though still produced the best contributions himself. The results were released in a soundtrack that game with the Collector's Edition of the game.


The opening theme "Amen" gives a sense that an ancient epic is about to unfold. Van Dyck blends deep eerie chanting, haunting recorder melodies, gothic organ passages, and ritualistic percussion to breathtaking effect. However, it doesn't lose the characteristic personal and emotional touch of the series either. In particular, the authentic lute performance from 1:30 and the boy soprano solo are absolutely heartrending. It's clear that Total War is back and even more exquisite and emotional than before. Much of the rest of the develops the epic cinematic sound featured here, though not usually in such an original way. The dark ambient soundscaping of "Bladegrass", tense tremolo strings of "Secret Sandals", or eerie electronic distortions of "Octli" are all well done and work wonderfully in context. However, it's evident they're from co-composer Richard Vaughan since the novel musicality of the series' other music is left behind in favour of more typical emulations.

The action themes are especially fascinating on this score. In "The Duke of Death", listeners are greeted with bellowing strings and brass, bustling ancient instruments, epic chorus and organ passages, and furious earthy percussion throughout. While the combination of forces is superficially interesting, it's how they're all blended across a cinematic 5:22 playtime to create such dynamism and drama that makes it amazing. Put simply, this is a masterpiece among Western game music. Featured features on the Total War: Eras album, "Crack Your Head with a Tabia" previously more on ethnic female vocals and increasing crisis orchestration against thunderous percussion. Unfortunately, Vaughan's "Song for Toomba" resembles generic cinematic music more than Van Dyck's creations with its rasping brass and pounding percussion; however, the exotic vocals and ancient instrument solos still offer a degree of originality and are highly charismatic. Meanwhile James Vincent's "Northing Left" is typical orchestra and chorus pomp, but still potent and entertaining, while "This Is It" offers a more courageous and climactic tone with its organ lead and barbaric percussion.

There are some tracks that are especially focused on ancient and world instrumentation. "Lilly" is essentially a solo from one of the most emotional ancient instruments out there — the lute — though is arguably a little too minimalistic in nature such that whole portions of the theme are entirely silent. The more accomplished "Lakota Lambada" is ideal for representing African civilization with its ethnic chanting, edgy percussion, and looming foghorns whereas "Inca" uses exocative wails from distinctive wind instruments. Others have a little more Spanish influence, such as "Grab Your Castanets" with its lively percussion use and "Lifted to the Hotplate" with its fusion of flamenco guitars and aggressive brass motifs. However, some of the most inspiring tracks are actually those that take listeners by surprise with their integration of traditional elements. For example, the warm flute solo from 1:29 in "Mare Nostrum" brings so much colour to an otherwise dark and drab orchestral composition. The album ends with a couple more top-notch dramatic orchestral and chorus creations, "Destiny" and "Crusaders", respectively enhanced by passionate guitar work and racing percussion.


The Medieval II: Total War soundtrack has the highest production values of the series. The score manages to blend orchestra, chorus, world instruments, ancient instruments, and percussion into a pleasing hybrid. The quality of the compositions is consistently high and, whether used for portraying different civilizations, the heat of the battle, or dark cinematic moments, the score always fares well in the game. There are also some amazing highlights, particularly Van Dyck's "Amen", "The Duke of Death", and "Crusaders". That said, while Vincent and Vaughan produce high quality music too, they don't quite have the same novel musicality as Van Dyck and would have been better suited for a series that demanded more generic scores. The score would have been more distinctive and interesting had Van Dyck treated it as a solo work, but then again, it may have lost some of its quality too. What's offered is all still very good, even if only a number of compositions quite capture what has made the series' music so magical over the years.

Overall Score: 8/10