Dark Souls Original Soundtrack
Dark Souls Original Soundtrack
From Software (JP); Namco Bandai (USA); Namco Bandai (EU)
September 22, 2011; October 4, 2011; October 7, 2011
Buy Used Copy
From Software hired freelance veteran Motoi Sakuraba to score their latest dark fantasy experience, Dark Souls. Sakuraba takes over from Shinsuke Kida and provides us with a fully orchestrated score. The one disc soundtrack is a short one for Sakuraba. Most of the game’s musical cues occur during action sequences, while exploration is left mostly in sound effects and ambience. Nevertheless, the music follows in a similar vein to Demon’s Souls, with its emphasis on Gregorian and sometimes ethnic chanting, and it is performed with a heavy array of live instruments. Sakuraba is no stranger to using live instruments, but he has more at his disposal. The last time this happened, on such a scale, was the first volume of Star Ocean -Till the End of Time-‘s soundtrack. He is armed to the teeth with the Hiroyuki Koike String Group, but the surprises here are the choir and, for those who fear the dreaded brass synth, fear not — all the brass here is live! Masanori Hirohara, Shinsuke Torizuka and Ryota Fujii are some of the players that help make Dark Souls a riveting, yet spine-chilling supernal epic to our eardrums.
Unlike many previous works by Sakuraba, this game does not seem to have a recurring main theme. The majority of the soundtrack provides tension themes for the enemy characters of the game, in familiar symphonic fashion akin to the composer’s other works. Indeed, when trailers came out for the game, many fans were well aware of Sakuraba’s involvement before he was officially announced, since his trademark sound is so integral. I must say that this score is no lighthearted listen, compared to say Eternal Sonata, and it serves to palette the darkest sides of Sakuraba composition. The music for Dark Souls is often colder and, at times, more frightening than its spiritual prequel.
We are eased into the score with “Prologue”, which sets the mood immediately. It starts with subtle intro of harp and rising strings, before throwing in those rich live vocals. There are chilling interludes that elevate into a short fanfare of brass and soprano, before the descending bridge plays out in strings and harp, concluding the piece. A short tranquil moment for this score is “Firelink Shrine”. For me this is what I love of Sakuraba’s orchestral side — when he uses string orchestras. A harp and gentle violin solo lead the piece with soft bells and chimes.
No time for relaxing, as we are thrown straight into the battle music! In “Taurus Demon”, we are treated with familiar Gothic styled battle themes, along the same vein of Infinite Undiscovery. The brass section holds the composer’s trademark bombast to the full, adding a depth and clarity to his music. “Bell Gargoyle” breaks in immediately with the choir, with creeping movements before erupting into a soaring chain of string and brass, topped with a further contrasting demonic chant. The strings rattle and pluck, adding to the shear terror of this track. “Gaping Dragon” builds on the previous boss track, adding more Medieval and Celtic undertones, with vocals building in epic tones. “Choas Witch Quelagg” is a much slower in pace, but relies almost entirely on vocal harmonies — sometimes bordering on wailing — to percussive instruments.
“Iron Golem” sounds very Basiscape-esque in its nature; ethic percussions and whirling harp progressions adding touches of piano woven in with bell chimes. The track climaxes with brass fanfares, the choir going from strength to strength with tubular bells before looping . It’s a fantastic battle theme overall that utilises some elements from the prologue. My personal favourite action music is “Ornstein & Smough”. Opposed to relying purely on the malicious urgency of previous tracks, this is one of more heroic styled battle themes on the soundtrack. Starting out with screaming choir and soaring harp, the main melody is played through with a rising brass movement accompanied with pipe organ. It is majestic in every measure, and doesn’t leave the listener without a sense of apocalyptic dread.
As for area and event music, “Pinwheel” is discordant and medieval; it is the sort of music you would expect from a cavern theme or a ghost town, knowing Sakuraba’s previous works. The strings prove their worth providing harrowing chasms and the occasional solo here and there, underlying the whispering and chanting that dominates the track. “Daughters of Chaos” features female vocals accompanied with a cello. The track is rich though stands on the edge of its darker undertones and timpani. “Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight” is an example of a spiritual yet grand track, and my, what a tune. The strings and harp are dominant in this track with gentle sopranos. “Great Grey Wolf Sif” continues the female harmonies of its previous track with gentle violin timpanis and occasional woodwind. The tracks sores with moments of gentleness, soaring then falling while a bass octave is thrown in with moments of percussion. Sakuraba really takes advantage of all the instruments at his disposal and provides a wonderful mix. “Dark Sun Gwyndolin” is another beautiful track with ethereal vocals.
Returning to the action themes, the noisy “Ceaseless Discharge” is signature roaring brass and deep vocal chants. It is more ambient; it doesn’t progress very far, but serves its purposes. “Centipede Demon” sets up the insect like atmosphere by utilising plucking strings and a low pitch within the brass, and throws in the occasional pipe-organ chord. It is slower than the other battle themes; the choir roars and chants ultimately keeps the track together. “Four Kings” is a cacophonous blend that formulates closer to the loop — an unrelenting piece of boss music. More uniform in structure is “Seath the Sealeless”, with mostly rising percussion, timpani and piano. It is catchy in places and the strings scratch to build on tension, urgency and atmosphere. “Gravelord Nito” is much slower to start, rising progressively to choral layers and harpsichord /piano. This one really reminds me of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey in its utilisation of the choir. “Bed of Chaos” has more harp progressions.
“Ancient Dragon” is introduced with bass vocals, rising and falling with the occasional break of silence before linking with soprano and alto. I am speculating this to be some kind of final boss music, though it has no other obvious form of instrumentation — what there is in the backing serves as emphasis the choirs’ tones. “Gwyn Lord of Cinder” is a welcome piano solo that rounds up a slightly lighter tone from the previous entries of the soundtrack. Finally we have Emi Evan’s providing vocals to a Nameless Song. Emi and Sakuraba featured separately on the Etrian Odyssey II arranged album, though Dark Souls marks their first collaboration. I assume this to be the Staff Roll theme, cloaking in as the longest track at six minutes; harp, chime and cello are some of the instruments that accompany Emi’s haunting and wonderful vocal harmonies. The song is graceful end to this gothic treat.
The score for Dark Souls is certainly on of Sakuraba’s most Gothic and he unsurprisingly pushes his darker traits to the limits. It is a short work, but makes up for this with production values and sound quality. It lacks a broad expanse of strong melodies, but we have is a complexly layered score with soaring harmonies and countermelodies, and rich instrumentation. There is nothing exceptionally new with this score — it is full of the Sakuraba clichés that fans either love or hate. The choir is essential to the dark atmospheres of this score, with heroic tenors and melachonic soprano. The strings reiterate the minimalistic looping and progressive tensions that make Sakuraba’s battle themes exciting and fast paced. The brass, though in places subtle, is a welcome element to the score, which proves that Sakuraba can provide rich textures to his music despite the overly bombastic nature of the soundtrack. Certainly, star of this soundtrack has to be the choral passages of the soundtrack — they add a vibrancy and texture to a work that really wants to push the player and listener to the edge of their game.
Like its predecessor, the Dark Souls is currently available as a promo package with the limited bundle of the game, including the Japanese, North American and European releases. The pricy bundle comes with the standard game, guide, making-of DVD and artbook as additional bonus material along with the soundtrack. As of October 2011, no stand-alone soundtrack release has been released. Players of Dark Souls will probably savour the epic atmospheres this score invokes; progressive rock fans might skip this one, but is a worthy addition to a fan of Sakuraba’s orchestral work. It’s choral, majestic, and bombastic.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Christopher Jones. Last modified on August 1, 2012.