Company of Heroes 2 Original Soundtrack
Company of Heroes 2 Original Soundtrack
Sumthing Else Music Works
June 25, 2013
Buy at Amazon
The two games that comprise the main Company of Heroes series, developed by Relic Entertainment, have been musical successes. The first game takes place in the final days of World War II, focusing on the liberation of France; the player takes a birds-eye view in this RTS and controls various stages and operations during the Battle of Normandy. Jeremy Soule stepped in to score this title, released in 2006, and created one of one of those cinematic masterpiece scores that has given him such a strong name in the video game industry. The second game, Company of Heroes 2, takes place on the Eastern Front and begins in 1941. Cris Velasco, most well-known for his previous work on the God of War games, wrote an impressive score for the title. While this game did not receive ratings as high as its predecessor’s, I would argue that the score is at least equal, if not superior, to Soule’s.
I can’t go into his work without first mentioning the production values of the score. Velasco’s writing and orchestration is incredibly rich. Not only are the pieces performed a live orchestra, but the performance quality is top-notch. The score features cello, violin, and viola soloists backed by a full strings, a somber choral section, and brassy wind instruments of the Capellen Orchestra & Choir; sometimes they perform separately, and sometimes combine in incredible tutti. Most of the pieces have a deep, rich quality; in particular, the soloists and the choir are striking. Even among other World War II scores, this isn’t your average studio orchestra effort and there is some serious talent in this performance.
Velasco himself approached this score with some similar ideas to Soule’s. The score sounds more cinematic than the average video game, partly because of the orchestration and partly because of the musical themes Velasco used. Velasco wrote this score to sound distinctly Russian, and he succeeded. Many of the themes and styles sound like Russian marches and anthems straight out of Maurice Jarre’s Dr. Zhivago, although the melodies are all original. The tracks fluctuate between being tense or brooding ambiance pieces like “Epitaph,” featuring the occasional solo oboe against the drawn-out chords of a string orchestra, and more dramatic adrenaline-inducing works like “Blitzkrieg”, which only features hints of melody and is all about the punctuated bursts of brass and strings stamping out a jarring rhythm. Reflecting the focus on solo instruments throughout the score, the final track, “Prayer for My Company,” consists only of a mournful melody line on a solo cello for the first half, briefly met by other strings in the second half before ending, once again, solo. By contrast, “Sneak Attack” is another tutti that takes advantage of a pulsating rhythm to override a distinct melody in favor of creating an atmosphere of urgency (and often frustration, depending on how easily you are able to complete the various tasks and assignments in the game).
The score also features some more substantial tracks like “O My Brother, Be Strong,” “Not One Step Back,” and “In Russia, Rubik’s Solves You,” (take a moment to enjoy the title of that last one). While following the “Blitzkrieg” example of emphasizing drama, have more of a structure. “O My Brother” begins with a fanfare-esque introduction which alternates between winds, strings, and choir; however, as the piece continues, the melody becomes apparent, first in the choir and then in the strings, and reemerges throughout the piece with some variations. “Rubik’s” follows a similar pattern, but saves any serious melody until closer to the end, in a more climatic form. “Not One Step Back” begins with some rough alto strings hinting at one of the major themes in the soundtrack, playing all at the frog and even utilizing double stops. About halfway through the track, the lower strings come in with a counter-melody, and by the end, the Velasco has up to four or five lines of music taking place at once in counterpoint.
The piece that drew me in was the “Main Theme,” the first track on the album (also the menu music of the game). Beginning quietly, with some low strings followed by soft harp and piano before the higher strings and wind instruments join in, as the piece swells, a solo cello plays a striking melody harmonized by a subtle choir. The choir then takes over as a solo violin embellishes on the melody with some ornamentation. Finally, the entire orchestra plays the melody together before breaking down into a militaristic march rhythm. The piece does not end on this march, but back with the cello, which leaves behind a few notes reminiscent of the earlier melody before fading away. The melody is beautiful, it’s so well orchestrated, and the performance is wonderful. But I have mixed feelings from the fact that we don’t get more of this theme throughout the score. It’s hinted at many times in other tracks, like “Onward to Victory” or “Red Army Rising,” but never completely realized. To me, this soundtrack would have received a perfect score with one more track: something centered on that theme, fully developing it in a way that was more thoughtful than dramatic, more ebb-and-flow than attention-grabbing – maybe a closing theme of some type, a suite. As it is, if you only have money to get one song on this track, I would recommend “Main Theme” without hesitation.
Overall, the Company of Heroes 2 Original Soundtrack is excellent. It’s so rare to hear orchestration and instrumentation this good in any kind of soundtrack, video game or film, and when combined with the quality of writing that went into this score, makes this soundtrack stand out. After hearing this soundtrack, I will be keeping an eye out for his work on the new World War II title Enemy Front and his next opus (which, according to some cryptic hints dropped by Velasco in several interviews, will be for an “epic fantasy” game). Company of Heroes 2 is a soundtrack with a whole lot of thought, effort, and talent put into it, resulting in a dark and heartfelt track that both fits perfectly with the game and functions beautifully on its own. It is available in physical and digital editions through Sumthing Else Music Works now.
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Posted on June 21, 2014 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on June 21, 2014.