In a world over-saturated with a plethora of different music genres, artists, and instruments, it’s sometimes hard to discover tunes that are uniquely remarkable in their own right. Lucky for us, video games provide. Now Playing is Max Level’s newest weekly segment in which I’ll highlight a video game soundtrack that deserves some serious attention.
As a musician myself, I’m pretty in tune to the music that accompanies our gaming experiences. Without a properly scored sequence, an entire game can fall apart. A soundtrack gives a fully cohesive feel to a game, setting the mood and guiding our emotions to achieve the dev’s desired effect.
This week, I’ve been completely enveloped by Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s brilliant soundtrack. It’s not often that you can throw together a slew of different unlikely elements in a metaphoric video game mixing bowl and have a pure work of tasty genius be the result.
There’s no clear way to truly label the genre that encompasses this soundtrack, as there’s a lot of industrial elements paired with electronic highs and eclectic acoustic tones. Ultimately, the entire album fits into the distortion category, and it’s probably the most fitting description. It’s heavy metal with a glitchcore opening act. Lend your ears to the full soundtrack below:
An Ode to Guitar
Upon a complete listen, you can feel every detail put into every second of its creation. Composer Michael Gordon put a lot of delicate work into making sure the music that accompanied gameplay felt natural, injecting high levels of energy and emotion into every action. Gordan and his team, comprised of Atlanta-based electronic artist Richard Devine and Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, spent three days spotting the game, making sure that every inch of musical influence found its proper place.
The team originally searched for inspiration from Richard Wagner, a musician revered and admired by Adolf Hitler himself — as he saw Wagner’s operas as a true embodiment of his vision for the Aryan race. Realizing Wagner’s influence didn’t fit the mood he was searching for, Gordon decided to start from scratch. It was then, after days of brainstorming sounds, that Gordon and his companions chose distortion.
“There’s lots of analogue distortion types, there’s all sorts of different pedals and valves and things that are really breaking up,” Gordon stated in an interview with VMG Online. “It’s raw, it’s aggressive, it’s tragic, it’s disturbing, it’s fragile, it’s irregular.”
Gordon realized that Wolfenstein: The New Order was different from a great deal of projects from his past. With a heavy, character-driven narrative, there was a lot of importance placed on the music. And, without a doubt, he nailed it. Or scalped it. Or whatever Nazi-killing analogy you’d like to use here.
The soundtrack encompasses a lot of heavy guitar and industrial sounds, as well as subtle ’60’s vibes — mainly through the use tape and reel-to-reel machines. Gordon explains the entire soundtrack as a “tribute to all things guitar,” and once you give it a listen, you’ll see he’s not kidding.
Another unique feature about the soundtrack is the unique time signatures on the tracks. Say goodbye to that 4/4 beat, nerds. One of the best tracks to hear these variations is Herr Faust, a personal favorite of mine. The song is one of Thordendal’s contributions to the album — as you’ll hear in the insane guitar — and the industrial nature of it is guaranteed to make you want punch things. (disclaimer: please do not punch things.)
A Softer Side
If you’re not imagining yourself in an epic movie shootout, then I’m not entirely sure you’re listening to the song right. While a lot of the album focuses heavily on these metal elements, it does have a softer, more playful side. When it’s not willingly harassing your earholes with some killer thrash tunes, there are some pretty ethereal tones setting a much more calming pace. The acoustic-cetnered songs that accompany the softer portions of the album can only be explained as fun… with a sadistic twist.
The most notable track is 14 Years, a song that accompanies our heroic William Blazkowicz while he spends time in an insane asylum. At first, it’s upbeat, eclectic, and spunk the asylum is not. It’s that contrast between the music and the situation that really elevates the song to a whole new level. Here we’re supposed to feel pangs of sympathy for our character, but all we really feel is excitement. The music is gearing us up to break free. It’s the breathe of air before the big fight. But the song soon turns to sudden desperation — like those happy vibes we just felt were nothing more than a dream. Turn it up and give it a listen:
Whether you’re into game music or not, Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s soundtrack is a breath of fresh air in an industry that tries too hard to tug at your heartstrings with emotional and pretentious sounds. Mick Gordon and his team have created something pretty magical here, and there’s nothing in the world that could be more of an appropriate fit for the game.
Thanks for joining me on this edition of Now Playing. After giving some of the soundtrack a good ‘ole fashion shakedown, what you do you think? Sound off in the comments!
Happy gaming, nerds!
Do you have a favorite soundtrack that you believe needs to be shared with the musically uneducated masses? Shoot Emily an email at emilyATmaxlevel.org and let her know. You can also tweet at her on twitter @yamelme, although she may be scared off if you choose to use excessive caps lock.