Believe it or not, Skyrim was not necessarily a shoo-in for our list of the best video game music of 2011. Epic first-person open world games can get into murky territory with their music, especially if the music plays too often.
The musical cues in Skyrim's open world can get as wonky as in any other open world game; sometimes you'll be walking along, minding your own business, and crashing combat music will begin to play. Or a lovely, haunting theme will play... as you watch a glitching character wander straight up a mountain and into outer space.
I went into Skyrim a bit hesitant; I liked composer Jeremy Soule's work on Oblivion and especially Morrowind, but my recent time with Bethesda's Fallout games (with apologies to composer Inon Zur) had left me wary. Both of those soundtracks had felt overly cloying and bored me to tears, and I muted them after a matter of hours.
Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded. Soule's work on the Skyrim soundtrack is bold and supremely confident, and is inextricably tied to the game it accompanies. More so than any game yet (even Deus Ex: Human Revolution), listening to these tracks makes me want to fire up the game right now and start playing. Hmm, I may do just that.
Three favourite tracks:
"One They Fear"
Well, might as well start off with this one. This tune is easily the most recognisable and heavily promoted piece on the Skyrim soundtrack, and with good reason. A ballsy-as-hell male choir reprisal of the now-famous Elder Scrolls theme, it feels as shouty, Nordic, and flat-out masculine as anything else on the soundtrack. Those beginning chants, which also play whenever players level up or enter the vicinity of a new Dragon-word, are the video-game-music equivalent of standing in a room full of football players doing a halftime chant to get themselves pumped up. I can pretty much picture the whole chorus doing a series of vigorous pelvic thrusts, is what I'm saying.
Once the theme itself kicks in, there's only one thing to do: Team up with your badass horse and kill a dragon.
"Secunda" is enchanting. Listening to it on its own, it almost sounds more like a track from Minecraft than anything from a Bethesda game, but that's what makes it so magical. I hear this song and I imagine the first time I saw the Northern Lights (or whatever the Northern Lights are called in Skyrim). I made my way out of a particularly deep cave, unaware of the time, only to find myself walking, gobsmacked, through a field while staring up at the dazzling sky. And this song was playing.
A breeze is blowing… the snow begins to fall...
This one, you guys. This one encapsulates Skyrim more than any chanting choir, any roaring dragon, any hilarious vertical-horse mountain-climb. That noble horn call, echoing over the mountains, five notes and then five more; the call of the grand horizon. This piece might go down as the most iconic theme of 2011; it so perfectly captures the soul of Skyrim.
Much of Soule's work recalls the work of Ottorino Respighi, whose "Pines of Rome" made so many of us care irrationally about flying whales in Fantasia 2000. That is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Every morning,w hen I walk out my door and look down the hill at the Golden Gate Bridge, I want this song to play.
The soundtrack can be ordered direct from Jeremy Soule, and if you place your order before December 23rd Soule himself will sign your CD. Our own Luke Plunkett has a copy of the 4-CD set (jealous!) and assures me that there is a lengthy, very cool surprise waiting on the last disc.
We'll be back tomorrow with more of the best video game soundtracks of 2011.