Diablo II Soundtrack
Diablo II Soundtrack
June 30, 2000
Buy Used Copy
The Diablo series is probably the least well-known series of Blizzard’s, though this is because one of Blizzard’s franchises is a national Korean sport and the other has the most popular MMORPG in the genre to its name. This being said, the Diablo series is still very popular and has sold almost 20 million units as of October 2010 (at the time of release Diablo II was the fastest selling game ever made) and a third game, Diablo III, is on the way. Diablo II was very well received with many still calling it one of the greatest PC games of all time, and it is still played by many people over battle.net.
The music, composed by Matt Uelmen, is very different from what you would normally expect from Blizzard scores. Instead of an epic orchestral score or a rock inspired soundtrack, we’re treated to an understated atmospheric world music score. The score is mostly dominated by a wide range of percussion instruments from various parts of the world, as well as a blend of orchestral sounds, guitars, choral samples and atmospheric sound effects. All of these elements combine to create a very interesting and unique soundscape. The actual music itself won’t appeal to all, though. In game, it’s incredible and complements the action and moods brilliantly. On its own, I’m not sure that soundtrack makes for a great standalone listen, given many of the tracks sound very similar and the music is perhaps too discordant to appeal to people outside of fans of the game. There is also a lot of music missing from this soundtrack that perhaps should be on there, especially considering that the first game doesn’t have a soundtrack release.
The soundtrack opens warmly with “Wilderness”. This track introduces some of the sonic elements of this soundtrack, including some great guitar work, moody atmospheric underscore, and interesting choir work. The percussion on this track is done on the drum kit, which compliments the rest of the music well. Towards the end of this track, some electric guitars enter the mix and there is a light rock section. This is the first example where I feel that an idea should be a lot more developed than it is; I almost feel like the music is teasing and then disappointing the listener, when it doesn’t naturally develop to where it perhaps should. The track then ends and seamlessly blends into the next track, “Rogue”, which is the main town theme in the first half of the game. This use of blending could have been a very effective device if used sparingly, but it is used throughout the entire soundtrack to tedious result. As a result I often found myself completely unaware that I was listening to a different track until I had a look on my iPod.
“Rogue” is quite multifaceted for a town theme. It is introduced with some discordant string work, which I really wish there was more of in the soundtrack, before portraying a flute melody over an acoustic guitar backing. The guitar work here, and in the following track “sisters” is very interesting here, and recreates the peaceful atmosphere of the town very well. However, again I wish some of the ideas presented here were further developed, perhaps even into their own individual pieces. The town theme from the original game, “Tristram”, has been omitted from this soundtrack despite being reprised in the game. This was a bad decision as it’s one of the most popular pieces from the Diablo series. Instead we get “Toru”, which is still one of the more interesting pieces of the soundtrack, featuring the atmospheric discordant strings and woodwinds that we’ve already heard, and a very dynamic use of the Chinese wind gong.
This brings me to mention that the percussion work for this soundtrack is one of its high points. Throughout the soundtrack you can hear many different percussion instruments from all around the world, all skilfully played by Mustafa Waiz, including the doumbek, djembe, finger cymbals and the Chinese wind gong. “Desert” is worth listening to just for the expert djembe work, and as mentioned above “Toru” features a very dynamic use of the gong. Scott Petersen’s drum kit work is great too, with most hits being on the tom-toms, adding a bit of energy to some pieces such as “Sanctuary” while not being too overbearing. In “Crypt”, the drum kit drives the edgeier, faster paced section, while in “Tombs” some of the wave forms of the drum hits have been reversed to cool effect.
Despite being entirely composed of samples, the choral work is actually quite interesting and appropriately atmospheric. The choral samples come from three different sample libraries, Symphony of Voices, Heart of Africa and Heart of Asia, all of which were cutting-edge for their time. “Crypt” uses Symphony of Voices to include the choral piece “Miserere”, which sounds suitably creepy. In other pieces such as “Cave”, there are choral undertones and other uses, sometimes with some effects like pitch bending. However, like much of the soundtrack, I wish there was more of it, and I wish what was there was more memorable.
The rest of the soundtrack is essentially stuff we’ve heard before, which could get tedious if listening to the whole soundtrack from beginning to end. There are some really interesting melodic and harmonic ideas throughout this soundtrack, but they often don’t progress or go anywhere making it feel a bit empty in places. However, there are a few other interesting things about the soundtrack. “Coda” features an excerpt from Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, which works well, though the track is far too short “Leoric” is the only other interesting piece in the soundtrack; it is a weird militaristic yet gothic march, which features some chordal and melodic ideas but with some unconventional sounds (you can even hear an orc’s voice in some places).
Diablo II‘s music is definitely interesting in its own unique way, but you need to have played the game to appreciate the music properly. Even then, I feel that the music of Diablo II isn’t that well suited to a soundtrack release compared to other Blizzard games with more melodic soundtracks — Matt Uelmen even admits a lot of what I’ve said in this review himself in his liner notes. It features a fantastic and unique range of sounds and some interesting musical ideas, but many of those ideas don’t develop beyond the initial concept. Plus there is a lot of music omitted from this soundtrack that probably should have been featured, especially considering the lack of a soundtrack release for the original Diablo. This album is more like one big experimental ambient symphony, which I think would have worked better for an original album rather than an official video game soundtrack.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Joe Hammond. Last modified on August 1, 2012.