Assassin’s Creed -Syndicate- Original Soundtrack
Assassin’s Creed -Syndicate- Original Soundtrack
Oct 23, 2015
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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the ninth large-scale game in the Assassin’s Creed universe, has been considerably more successful and popular than its immediate French predecessor, at least in the first week of its release. Scored by Austin Wintory, the music of the game has been met with praise as well. Syndicate is a string extravaganza with trumpet cameos and the occasional murder ballad (yes, you read that right). Wintory, perhaps most well-known for his rich and meditative score to Journey, has already demonstrated his aptitude with strings. In Syndicate, he takes this talent to a different level with a very fast-paced slew of classically influenced tracks and a brand-new theme to join the Assassin’s Creed musical ranks.
“Bloodlines” is the first track on the album, and was the first track to be released before the game, generating a lot of excitement about the direction Wintory was taking the music in. As someone who has always leaned towards more traditional instruments – particularly piano – in game scores, I was certainly inclined to like it, but the theme is powerful and straightforward enough for anybody to enjoy. The melody is iconic, and one that sticks with the listener throughout the game (and not just because it shows up in a multitude of other tracks). It’s simple, which works in its favor for the variations it witnesses throughout the score. As the melody progresses and varies, the piano picks up a quick harmonized pattern against the cello, descending together through a few abbreviated scales before picking the theme back up, ending the piece ultimately on a high violin.
One of the responses I read somewhere to the initial release of “Bloodlines” was a question of whether the new theme would replace “Ezio’s Family,” the theme from Assassin’s Creed II that has shown up on a few of the other scores since, and been a fan favorite. It was an interesting question, although whether the question meant in terms of popularity or in terms of it’s role in the music, it is quickly answered upon hearing the rest of the score, in which “Ezio’s Family” makes a few brief appearances. In fact, one of the tracks featuring it is not-so-subtly called “Family,” which quite clearly distinguishes the new Syndicate theme as one meant for 19th century English assassins, and not a new Brotherhood of Assassins theme. Still, it’s not a bad comparison, as the new theme does work its way throughout the score in several settings.
The second publicly shared piece was “Top Hats and Sword Canes,” an off-beat, dance-like battle theme staying true to the rest of the album. In terms of its Classical nature (Classical with a capital “C” to emphasize the musical time period, and not just a generic use of orchestral instruments), it follows some basic counterpoint rules, and schedules an appropriate key change, and properly introduces itself before the melody really begins, but it’s also a really fun piece. Starting off quietly, the piece grows in instrumentation, dynamics, and subdivisions, and once the piece has fully picked up in force about halfway through, the main theme jumps in as a counter-melody. The same combat theme makes its way onto several other tracks in the game, ingraining itself as one of the staple themes in the score.
The Classical influences are a constant presence throughout the album. Many of the pieces have playful titles to indicate a specific type of piece. “Waltzing on Rooftops” is set in a ¾ meter, even warping the theme to fit in at certain parts. The piece is one of the longer ones on the album, and well-developed. It’s not one constant melody, but a heavily ornamented series of motifs, adored with flutes and oboes.
Many of the titles are similarly modeled on various dances, which gives the combat of the game a more artistically oriented backdrop. “The Dance Begins,” one of the first tracks on the album, opens slowly, with a bell and a shimmering high violin melody, accompanied by the occasional harmony. Once the pace picks up, the piece adopts a comfortably light rhythm and ambles on. It’s not the most energetic or dramatic piece of the score by any means, but it hints at the combat theme for the first time in the score, and paints the musical scenery of the game smoothly and simply. “Danza Daggers” begins on low strings and clearly runs through the combat melody, switching instruments and octaves each time it repeats. This is the first full realization of the theme we hear, and while – like “The Dance Begins” – it never fully loses itself in fortes and the wild drama of other iterations of the theme, it certainly kicks it up a notch, and brings in a swirling rendition of the “Bloodlines” theme before the end.
“The Assassin Two-Step” is a whirlwind of strings that moves rapidly through the melody from “Top Hats and Sword Canes.” While the instrumentation is light, each instrument uses a heavy touch to give the track more force. The cello picks up the melody and countermelody at various points, and the ensemble as a whole works its way across meters and solo parts for a very colorful effect. It’s worth noting the cellist Tina Guo in this score, whose distinctive style adds significantly to the nature of the piece. Wintory writes his strings very roughly. It’s common in Syndicate to hear coarse bowing and intense accenting that fits in perfectly with the strong notes that Guo is known for. One of the strengths of this score is the team of instrumentalists and vocalists involved, as each instrument stands out very clearly at some point in the music.
Just as the dance-titled pieces maintain a combat theme, the tracks titled after fast-paced movements of traditionally Classical symphonies introduce and uphold variations on yet another theme in the game. While the game does not really take place in the Classical Era, Classical music still would have been performed regularly at the time the game takes place. The style really fits the 19th century London atmosphere, with more than enough distortions to account for the assassins, Templars, present-day scenario, and so on. “Hooded Allegro Vivace” is a bright and sparkling piece, with buoyant cellos, violas, and violins playing a lively, frequently dissonant, melody. Trumpets make a few brief appearances in the piece, which is filled with a constant energy from beginning to end. “Bloody Presto Con Brio” has a similar approach – and melody. It’s wonderful to hear Guo open with a light melody on her cello, and as the trumpets pick it up, the instruments begin falling into place, with a strong and piercing rhythm to keep the frenetic piece structured. As the piece escalates, the instruments become more polarized, with the cello playing in low registers against particularly high-pitched violins.
“A Gauntlet Scherzo” is a playful track with a delicate violin rendition of the melody, at least at first. Even the cello seems to give up some of its coarseness to play well with the other instruments. The best part of the track is the trumpets, which bring unexpected bursts of brightness with very deliberate chords. Just after 1:00, the piece takes on a few almost-Baroque elements with a flurry of violins before a trumpet enters with the melody. At first, it seems like just another layer of texture in the piece, but as the solo violin pairs with a solo cello in a vivace duet, a soli trumpet section jumps in and recedes with a few haunting chords. The trumpets enter again later with a more detached series of warm and brassy portato notes that stand out in the album amid all the strings.
The strings on this album use a variety of techniques, from rapid at-the-frog bowing to gentle sections where the instruments work together to produce breathtaking harmonies. “It’s Business, Mr. Frye” puts the main theme in a tremolo setting against staccato strings – the contrast creates a lightly tense atmosphere, packed with energy. “London is Waiting” brings in, of course, a bell at the beginning to mark the piece’s opening. The piece alternates between a light string scherzo and a moving setting for the theme. Wintory is not above using heavy percussion in the score (as evidenced by the bass drum in the second half of the piece), but at no point does it overtake the minimal number of string instruments playing in the piece.
One of the most unique aspects of the score is the vocals. Some of them are sung by Holly Sedillos, who brings a shining soprano during some of otherwise-instrumental tracks. Her voice is used minimally, and although the lyrics are (appropriately) in English, her voice is used as an instrument in the tracks instead of as the main feature. “Peace and I Are Strangers Grown” is the first time her voice shows up in the album – and in the game – and it’s a welcome surprise. Sedillos sings for less than half the track, but the clarity and brightness of her voice beautifully contrast the violin working its way down the registers, as the two parts move from dissonance to harmony and back against each other.
And then there are the musical numbers (or “murder ballads”), which sound like Gilbert & Sullivan hijacking the score to Sweeny Todd and blackmailing Herbert Kretzmer into writing the lyrics. The first time “Give me the Cure” shows up on the album, I was certain that music had started playing from some other playlist I didn’t know I had. The lyrics are gruesome, morbid, and witty, and the voice features a raspy Cockney accent, halfheartedly staying in tune with the accompanying pub piano. The concept is fantastic, and the songs are great additions to an album that would be otherwise great, but not quite as distinctive as other string-based scores. Tripod, the performing musical comedy trio, knocks the songs out of the park. By the time “The Late Pearl Attaway” started playing, it wasn’t quite as much of a shock, although it was still, once again, an unexpected surprise on the album.
One of my two favorites in this genre was“Underground,” a longer and more gentle song that actually brings in the main theme a little bit, and even goes so far as to bring in a little vibrato from the vocalist. The lyrics are hardly less bleak, but the softer style makes the piece feel sorrowful instead of angry and irreverent. The other piece in this particular genre that I just loved was “Feasting on a Lord,” which falls squarely in that angry/irreverent category. It’s playfully soft, in the same style as “Underground,” but the lyrics are about as gruesome as they get in this score, as the action described in the song’s title is detailed quite literally throughout the song.
“Cathedrals of Steel” was a particularly interesting vocal track on the album. It stood out on in the score as it’s initially composed almost entirely of a haunting choral ensemble. The vocals, all female, move about slowly, sharply contrasting the pace of the rest of the album, and the glassy dissonance spills into sections where a solo flute occasionally takes over a more corporeal melody.
“I would have Created a Paradise” is one of the closing tracks of the album, and Wintory’s final string celebration. While “Underground” and “Family” follow before the album actually concludes, and both tracks are certainly worthwhile, neither one is particularly representative of the sound Wintory has created throughout the majority of the album. “I Would Have Created a Paradise” opens both ominously and playfully, with a rumbling piano motif, and despite the strings hinting at various combat and main themes in the album, the piano remains extremely present throughout the track. It gives the piece a sense of finality; despite the fact that the technique of the piece is not too far off from many of the other pieces in Syndicate, the liberal use of piano really makes this stand out as a conclusive track, and not just another variation. Of course, the strings – and even the trumpets – return to see this finale-like piece through. Ultimately, the piece ends with a soft nod to “Bloodline” on the piano and strings before wistfully fading away.
Wintory’s score simultaneously has a distinct musical identity while still remaining flexible. The Classical influences of the score add to its authenticity in a historically oriented game like Assassin’s Creed, but it is by no means a classical score. The murder ballads and Sedillo’s contributions demonstrate a range of temporally relevant sounds, and the dynamics and pace of the album vary as it continues. Syndicate is a wonderful score, and it is exciting to see Wintory push his musical boundaries even further in this engaging and intricate soundtrack.
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Posted on October 29, 2015 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on January 22, 2016.