After my so-so review of The Burning Crusade's score a few months ago, I'm sure a few of you thought I was barking mad. World of Warcraft is well-known for great orchestra pieces, but I stick by saying that most of the brilliant stuff stayed the heck away from Outland. Fortunately, the sound quality got a lot better when we went up north for Wrath of the Lich King in 2008.
The score was composed and arranged by Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Matt Uelmen, Neal Acree, and Glenn Stafford. As to be expected by that name sandwich, the score features a lot of variety. While there are epic chants and the like that are to be expected from WoW, there's also a lonely, savage feel to the music that represents these far-off lands. There's also a lot of blowing wind that segues between tracks if you listen to the album straight through, and if that doesn't make you envision a snow-blasted landscape, I don't know what would.
The liner notes say that "this is the music of ice and despair, a dirge and a call to arms." I couldn't put it better myself. Let's dive into my picks for the best tracks from this score, shall we?
1. Wrath of the Lich King
The main theme has one of my favorite starts, ever. It's really soft, with little tinkles and a whistling wind that becomes a soft hum. Then at 0:40, the familiar WoW tune kicks in, albeit with the sound of someone hammering metal in the background.
I wouldn't blame you for skipping over the rehash of the WoW theme to about 4:10 or so, when the tune transitions to more original themes. The fiddle feels different and yet really appropriate for the setting. My favorite part, however, starts at 6:05. It's almost a traditional fantasy movie score right there, but that doesn't mean it can't be catchy. Then there's the fan-favorite "GLORIA!" theme that swings in at 7:30. There's a lot packed into these nine minutes (!), but that means that there will probably be at least some sections you like.
2. The Culling
The Culling is an interesting track. I instantly gave it a thumbs-up for not blasting my eardrums out but taking time to construct a sad tale through song. Even if you haven't played the game and have no idea what the "Culling" refers to, from this track alone you can easily tell that it's both a tragedy and a horror.
What put this at the top of my favorites list was when the action finally kicks in at 2:12. The strings get all excited, the "ooohs" start up, then the choir gets in the action. This section is not even two minutes, but it's eminently listenable.
3. Totems of the Grizzlemaw
This track is really two tunes for the price of one. It begins with a sorrowful horn and ambient nature sounds, adding in some strings to make pretty beautiful music. That's why I'm an admirer of this soundtrack: There's really a lot of beauty in here. It's slow and soothing, not to mention uplifting.
At 1:57, an electric violin takes over the show and produces a Nordic ballad. For the remainder of the track, these two styles take turns, and the best part is that they're both quite good. It's hard to listen to this and not think of the outdoors, particularly places far from civilization's grasp.
4. Howling Fjord
Howling Fjord begins with ominous piano keys before the expansion's theme breaks out. While there are plenty of traditional WoW cues in this track, there's also a smattering of odd instruments, such as a madly trilling flute that echoes into the distance. The bagpipe, which makes appearances elsewhere in this score, is allowed a section to shine. It's Braveheart, yo. It's Braveheart.
5. Arthas, My Son
This is perfect cutscene music right here (I'm not sure if it was used as such, but if not, it should've been). With the choir slowly, deeply chanting in the background, a youthful voice sings, and you can just picture someone doing something epic in slow motion.
At 1:47, this track picks up in intensity -- no more slow motion. I actually would've nominated this tune for the main theme if I had my way. It's got an in-your-face attitude and a unified sound that carries through its short run.
6. Garden of Life
I like to throw at least one entry onto these lists that is not like the others. Garden of Life would be it. If you've ever heard Native American relaxation tapes, this would be right at home among them. It's soothing and dreamlike, with those distinctive tribal sounds that we associate with nature, peace, and Kevin Costner.
Those are my picks -- what are yours? I know we've got a few Wrath fans out there with pretty strong opinions on this subject!
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!