I'm going to be honest with you: I've been putting off this particular column for months now. I've been dreading it, really. Because what I say next is probably going to turn off a lot of you who seem to worship this score like nothing else I've seen: I only kind of like Age of Conan's soundtrack. It's not really my favorite, nor in my top 10. And I know that this goes really against the feelings for this score that I've seen professed in Jukebox Heroes and elsewhere.
You know what? That's OK. Musical preferences are some of the most subjective things in the world, and we can't be expected to like everything, right? If Age of Conan's soundtrack gets people listening to more MMO (and even video game) scores, then that's a win for our niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche hobby.
This score (and all of Age of Conan's subsequent music) was composed by Norwegian Knut Avenstroup Haugen. He won several awards for his work on the game, including the International Film Music Critics Association Award for Scoring Excellence. If you're interested in the man, Massively's Jef Reahard did an interview with him back in 2010 that makes for good reading. Otherwise, let's head onward and I'll share my personal favorites from the original game score!
1. The Dreaming Anew -- Memories of Cimmeria
So probably the first question some of you have for me is, "Why don't you like this album?" The answer is unhappily vague. It just didn't click with me. It certainly does the job of painting a savage, foreign land, but I found too few songs that resonated and demanded to be replayed. Just how it goes, really.
That said, the one song I do adore is this one. It begins with a deep, dark chord before this haunting female solo breaks in. Without words, she ooos her way through a hypnotic three-plus minutes of pure bliss. It's at 1:24 where the "theme" of the song, if you can call it that, kicks in. I think if I was playing a game and heard this, goosebumps would be inevitable.
2. Nighttime Journey through the Eiglophian Mountains
Not having played Age of Conan much, I have to wonder how effective this music is when heard over and over. Tracks like this one seem like they'd be great to hear once, perhaps during a cutscene where something epic was occurring, but an everyday adventure? I dunno.
Here we have more female vocals, although it's a little more varied than The Dreaming. There's an insistent percussion beat that starts and stops several times, building up to a pretty cool crescendo.
3. Day of Wrath
Otherwise known as the menu music of the game, Day of Wrath trades a female soloist for a bunch of guys doing a sports chant. Out of all of the tracks I listened to, this sounded the most Conan to me, at least reminiscent of the films. Lots of heavy drums, deep chanting that gets more and more excited as the teams take to the field and the referee does the coin toss.
Sorry, I'm writing this just prior to the Superbowl, and that's the primary metaphor that everyone around here seems to get.
4. Hamlets of Aquilonia
After dozens of songs that are all dark and brooding, Hamlets of Aquilonia comes as a refreshing change of pace. It's as light-hearted as Age of Conan is willing to get, and almost -- almost -- sounds like good ol' renaissance faire tunes. Maybe if it was sped up a bit.
The song almost feels like a dance, perhaps a waltz. It's leisurely and well-constructed, and I truly wish that this album had more like it.
5. The Lure of Atali
I find this track pleasant, but also somewhat unremarkable. The female vocals are back, but it's the slightly dreamlike musical backdrop that interests me more. I think I'd actually prefer this song without the vocals, to be honest.
6. The Vista from Mount Crom
Horns take center stage in this song. I think the horns were a good choice to convey a mountain summit, because it certainly has an Alps-like feel to it. At 1:05 it pushes more sound and instruments into the works, and if you listen to the background you'll hear this faint trill going up and down. I love that little touch.
Overall, I heartily approve of this track. It's good to get away from the vocals and have an uplifting song for a change, and this one is certainly... soaring.
The Age of Conan soundtrack is no skimpy affair, with 36(!) tracks to dig through. It's interesting to note that three of those songs aren't orchestral scoring, but punk rock songs from Turbonegro. They sound so out of the place that I really have to wonder what Funcom was thinking to include them. I guess low fantasy and songs about atomic bombs go together in some alternate reality that I'm not privy to.
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!