Jukebox Heroes: The music of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Cataclysm was the first World of Warcraft expansion that I was not there to experience. While I initially applauded the idea of the devs changing the world and bringing the new tech to old spots, that fundamental change in the land that I used to know so well ended up causing me pain. Nobody likes to think of something beloved changed and lost forever. So I stayed away and missed what is probably the worst-reviewed expansion to date.

As such, it was the first WoW expansion score that I listened to outside of the game. To my ears, it was substantially darker than previous efforts, although there contained moments of beauty and excitement. Due to the nature of the expansion, the soundtrack is all over the place thematically, occasionally rewriting old zone music (alas).

The one thing that really pops out at me from this album is how the composers extensively used various background sound effects and noises to suppliment the tunes. I'm not sure if these were added for the album or if these exist in-game, but they certainly add more in terms of atmosphere. Interestingly enough, one of my all-time favorite World of Warcraft tracks came from this expansion, so it certainly wasn't a wasted effort.

1. Booty Bay

Instead of sounding like your typical jaunty tropical pirate theme, the new music for Booty Bay is far more epic and -- dare I say it? -- serious. Maybe I can detect a hint of swashbuckling in here, but for the most part, it's loud, brash action music that builds to an explosive climax.

2. Castaways

This is that new favorite track that I was telling you about in the intro. I think this comes from the Goblin starter areas, which makes sense when you hear its obvious island rhythm. It's totally a track that you'd hear while on a Caribbean cruise or shopping at Banana Republic. What I love is how it transitions between several different sections, ending up with this memorable whistling-slash-steel drums melody that gets in my head and refuses to leave. Just an all-around excellent track.

3. Defenders of Azeroth

I think that what I like about this piece is that it's very vintage vanilla World of Warcraft, going so far as to pull elements from the original soundtrack to weave into a new track. While it begins with that trademark WoW heavy chanting, eventually that relents to allow a beautiful forest song to come in and entrance us.

4. Elwynn Forest (Westfall)

There should be a law that MMO makers cannot monkey with the music for any beginner zone. Those zones and the accompanying tunes are inextricably tied together, which is why I was dismayed to see that Cataclysm replaced Elwynn Forest's music with a new track. Now, granted, it's a good track (it wouldn't be on this list otherwise). But it's no classic Elwynn Forest.

5. Nightsong

A hauntingly beautiful female vocal track, Nightsong continues the tradition of Elves getting some of the best music in the game. However, it's the abrupt shift into thrilling action at 1:20 that got my attention. By the end of listening to this, you want to go out and do something instead of just sitting and listening. It doesn't go overboard with the beat, either, but handles it carefully enough to make it exciting without ruining the serenity of the voice.

6. The Shattering

At 12 minutes and five seconds, The Shattering is longer than some web series that I've seen. It's a tradition for World of Warcraft to have these extremely long title screen tracks, but fortunately this is a good one. It has parts of the old login themes but mostly performs the role of an overture to the new tracks and motifs. It's not something I listen to a lot due to its length, but I've heard worse WoW themes.

MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Massively's Jukebox Heroes examines game soundtracks and features the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!
This article was originally published on Massively.