Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment
Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment
EMIN-00001 (Legendary Edition); EMIN-00002 (Standard Edition)
November 22, 2008
Buy at Eminence Store
When I sat down to begin contemplating Echoes of War, I thought very carefully about what I would be hearing. Consisting of a series of tracks from the Blizzard Entertainment music catalogue (Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo), these arrangements have been given a careful tuning to develop them to the point where they can be performed as a symphonic piece, instead of the traditional looping forms from the games. Until now, my experience with Blizzard Entertainment has been very limited, consisting almost solely of a few forays through the world of Diablo II. However, when I had the opportunity to review this album, I jumped at the chance. This is mostly due to the Eminence Symphony Orchestra. I have been a big fan of their music for a while now, and really admire the careful attention to detail given to every track that they perform. So, bringing them onto this album sold the work for me, even though I wasn’t familiar with the pieces.
On this album, the original tracks have been re-arranged and melded together into symphonic pieces, usually ranging between the five and eight minute mark. The pieces have also been recorded in a very interesting way. They were recorded in sections, and then merged together later in an editing studio, instead of being preformed in one go. In some cases, this editing became a focus for the treatment given to a particular track. This really raises the quality of the album, as each instrument and each individual part is seamlessly mixed together, creating a sound that I have not heard on a game album (original score or arrangements) to date. In my opinion, if all game music were recorded as such, we would truly have something magnificent on our hands.
But onto the review. Because this is a symphonic album, I’m going to look at the pieces in sections, looking at them as movements belonging to a greater suite. I also won’t be referring to the original pieces very often, as the differences in how they’ve been developed for this album are distinct enough to label them on their own. Also, in contrast to my other reviews, I won’t be discussing major strengths and weaknesses, and thereby omitting pieces that display neither end of the spectrum. I’m going to look at the entire album, because I feel it deserves the attention. Throughout the review, I’ll be referring to the liner notes that accompanied the album to provide any back story that might be necessary, as they reflect specifically to the inspiration for each track.
As we enter the World of Warcraft, lets take a moment to remember the many valiant warriors who fought for their lives in the world’s lore. No story is perhaps more prominent than that of Thrall, the Orc. “Journey to Calimdor,” the first piece in ‘The Third War Symphony,’ is a commanding tribute to the orcs and their trials. Taking its inspiration from “Blackrock and Roll” and “Doomhammer’s Legacy” from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, this piece is a grand way to open the album. It begins with a roaring fanfare, followed by a structured and sharp base line, echoed by drums and low brass. Light strings fill in the higher values, before merging once again with the fanfare style of the opening. Briefly, strings and woodwinds share a lone segment, before being joined again by the growling brass. Just a brief note on this brass sound. Usually, this type of sound becomes distorted when played, or sounds a bit like the player is working too hard at the instrument. I’m happy to say that in this piece, that is not the case; everything is well controlled, and the notes are clear even in their raw, harsh state. Later in the track, after a suitable pause, strings and drums herald a different speed and tone for the overall piece, introducing more melodic brass combined with the previously heard lower resonating hits. Strings and flutes find themselves echoing the melodic brass, before emerging into a final grand fanfare lead by the brass. This portion of the piece has a very regal, commanding presence to it, and ends this movement extremely well. Continuing on, the second and final movement, “Eternity’s End,” features cues from “Loredaeron Fall” and “Eternity’s End”. Echoing the inspiration of unity, the piece begins with strings and woodwinds trading melodies, before growing in sound and introducing the brass briefly into the mix. Choir makes its first appearance on the album in a powerful way, by continuously growing in strength while supported by the strings. Later, the piece becomes very peaceful, yet strong — a fitting accompaniment for the resolution of the conflicts between the races.
From here, we stay in the World with ‘The Shadow of the Legion Symphony’. “A Tenuous Pact” is the opening movement, featuring “The Shaping of the World,” “A Call to Arms,” “Seasons of War Legacy”, and “Echoes of the Past War” from World of Warcraft and World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade. The piece begins very quietly with extremely high strings and soft choir accented by a solo violin — a great way to hint at the fragility that exists within the world. Low strings then join in with hard brass and percussion to drive the piece forward before picking up speed and extending a sense of growing tension. The choir makes a triumphant return, spiking through the instrumental portions, before heading into a familiar cue lead by the brass. This is traded off to strings and eloquent harp, and then to an oboe and bassoon, allowing the strings to fade and the woodwinds to take over. Solo cello and violins begin a sad melody, then are snuck up on by louder and slightly militaristic strings and brass, led by low male choir. Flutes and female choir join in, blending the two themes together, before being punctuated by brass. Later in the piece, the quiet returns with the strings and oboe, providing an excellent balance between sections in the piece. The movement then takes a turn for the dramatic, bringing in soaring strings and light brass, before moving into a faster, more intricate melody highlighted by a piccolo. Later, the orchestra comes together, propelling a distinct melody while countering it with elegant quick movements in the upper register. We then return to the first notable theme of the piece, this time merged with the other themes heard throughout, creating an interesting and unique mix of melodic elements. This piece is a fantastic example of how the editing process is an asset for this album. This piece features many solo instrumentals, yet each one can clearly be heard among the other instruments – something that is sometimes lost in other orchestral game recordings.
The second movement, “Anar’alah Belore,” is best described as a perfect transitional piece. Inspired by “The Sin’dorei” and “Silvermoon City,” it features a prominent melodic theme in the game, the “Lament for the Highborn” performed by a violoncello. The piece as a whole is incredibly moving, utilizing harp, strings, woodwinds, and light choir. Having heard the original Lament, I am incredibly pleased with this treatment. The violoncello is an excellent instrument to relate the emotion and mood of the original vocal performance, and it blends in incredibly well with the rest of the ensemble. I’m going to avoid discussing the intricacies of the piece that I normally discuss, mostly because while I write this, I continuously find myself drawn into the piece instead of talking about it. The haunting melody and the subtlety of the piece is incredibly moving, and you should hear it. Now. *waits for you to go hear it* Enjoy it? Good. Continuing on, we enter the portion of the track featuring cues from the city, where things get a bit more epic with the introduction of brass and percussive elements into the piece, creating a grand and regal impression for the Blood Elves. The piece ends with a delicate return to the Lament with the harp.
The third and final movement with “The Betrayer and the Sun King,” brings us to the climax of the Symphony, bringing inspiration from “Gates 9,” “Storm 2,” ‘Arrival 2,” “The Sundering,” “Flyby,” and “Sunwell Bombing Run v2”. The piece begins with a strong vocal progression backed by the full orchestra, then drops away into a string and vocal driven segment. From there, the piece becomes animated with strong brass and string dissonance before moving into a grand, slightly on-edge melodic segment. Powerful brass punches through in this section before merging with strings. A nice melodic segment follows, accented by the brass, but propelled by the strings. Changing speeds, the strings, particularly violins, come to the forefront with quick, repetitive rhythms, eventually being joined and mirrored in the brass. In the next section, the brass remains a focal presence while the strings keep the pace. Switching gears entirely, we are treated with a segment expressed through harp, woodwinds, strings, and quiet vocals — a very nice contrast to the previous sections. The violoncello makes another appearance echoing the Lament, before being joined by harsh brass and vocals which begin a transition into the next section of the piece. Here, we return to the heavy brass heard at the start, while merging with the quiet harp and expressive vocals. The piece comes to a strong finish with the brass leading the way, closing with an epic fast succession of notes. This isn’t one of my particular favourites on the album, simply due to the repetition of vocal sounds — there is too much brass for my tastes — but the piece is solid and well put together.
Moving on, we come to the final piece on the first disc, “The Visions of the Lich King Overture”, a piece labelled as part of ‘The Wrath of the Lich King: The Visions of the Lich King’. It features the Main Title for the game, as well as the music from one of the trailers. From beginning to end, this is a very epic sounding piece. We begin with quiet strings and vocals, percussive elements, and a flute, before moving into a familiar seven-beat rhythm kept in time by the strings and timpani. Brass provides the melody while strings whirl in the background. Occasionally, strong vocals pierce through the orchestral component, further enforcing the powerful nature of the track. Strong vocals continue into the next section of the piece, before giving way to a strong string, woodwind, and brass melody. This is interesting, as it is one of the few places on this album that most of the orchestra is playing the same melodic line. Gorgeous chord vocals fall into place with the rest of the orchestra before coming to the forefront with quiet low strings. The volume grows as the next segment is introduced, which features once again the full orchestra and choir using the same melodic line. Everything then drops away for a violin solo, which eventually becomes supported by low strings and additional solo instruments. This portion of the piece is incredibly done, as it sums up a lot of what was previously heard, but brings it down to a solo element that is very moving and oddly peaceful, compared to the previous sections. After the solo, the entire orchestra comes back to mirror the melody heard earlier in the piece, keeping the strength and power in the track. As the choir begins to change things up, the orchestral elements drop away to low strings, before growing once again in volume. The piece then makes a dramatic shift, heading into a percussive driven segment with strings, brass, and vocals. It is short lived, however, as the piece quickly returns to solo harp, woodwinds, and low strings, gradually growing in volume with brass and vocals before fading out to a quiet and haunting finish. One thing that I particularly like about this track is the chorded vocal work. These chords are very powerful and the note choices themselves are interesting to hear together. When combined with the orchestral elements, it makes the piece have some real spark to it.
As we move onto the second disc, we see a dramatic shift in the style, as well as the material that is explored in the music. With “The Koprulu Symphony” we leave Warcraft behind, and enter the stellar world of Starcraft. The first movement, “No Matter the Cost,” introduces us to the Terrans, merging melodies from “First Contact,” “Terran 1,” “Terran 2,” “Terran 3,” “Terran Ready Room,” “Terran Defeat,” “Terran Victory,” “The Death of the Overmind,” “Funeral for a Hero,” and “Dearest Helena.” Phew — long list there. One can’t help but imagine how that many pieces made it into a six minute track, but let’s take a look. The piece begins with a bit of a brooding sensation, bringing strings, brass, and vocals together in a slow and dramatic melodic segment. This quickly disappears though, making way for a fast string transition into the first rock-oriented drum rhythms heard on this album. Considering the source material, this treatment definitely suits its purpose and I like how its been adapted into the main piece. As the Starcraft pieces relied heavily on electronic elements in their original form, adapting them for orchestra is a tricky move. In this piece, the main melody is given by the high brass, supported by the strings and driven forward by the drums. In the center of the track, the piece drops away to feature solo woodwinds and strings, before returning to the heavy beat oriented melody of the piece. Later on in the piece, we are given the first piano solo on the album, which is full of emotion, and more importantly, it implies a real history. Strings join the piano as the solo comes to an end, eventually being joined by the brass before heading once again into beat driven melodies. Here, the strings are given a lot of suggestive improvisation in the way the piece is preformed, which is a nice contrast to the earlier somewhat plodding brass. The movement then takes another side turn for strings, woodwinds, and light brass before coming to a strong yet overly happy ending. Some may find this piece to be a strange evolution in performance, but I think it suits the material very well. It’s quirky, but not in a bad way, which I like.
Keeping the Starcraft wagon rolling, we enter the second movement which honors the Protoss. “En Taro Adun” features “Protoss 1,” “Protoss 2,” “Protoss 3,” “Protoss Ready Room,” “Protoss Defeat,” “Protoss Victory,” and “The Ascension.” The one word I can think of to describe this piece is otherworldly. There is less of an emphasis on beat and more of an insight into the Protoss culture. Strong vocals and brass begin the track before fading into plucked strings, soft vocals, and woodwinds lead by an oboe. Compared to the first movement, this one is much lighter, focusing on melody through subtlety and mood. This entire section is very haunting in a way, but is also very fluid. Things change slightly about half way through, where quick articulate string work makes an appearance, supported by strong vocals and brass. In this section, there is an emphasis on changing rhythms and everything is very crisp and clean cut. From here, the piece becomes subdued, with soft piano and strings, led by quiet brass. That quickly changes direction, leading into the next section of the piece. Here, we get the full regal nature of the Protoss race expressed through strong brass ans choir. Things also begin to speed up as the piece comes alive, leading into the final section of the track. I really like how this piece comes to a close, as everything simply drops away and allows a piano roll to ring through while the choir fades out — the perfect ending for this piece, I think.
Time to meet the third of the races, the Zerg. “Eradicate and Evolve” features “Zerg 1,” “Zerg 2”, “Zerg 3”, “Zerg Ready Room,” “Zerg Defeat,” and “Zerg Victory,” and is actually the longest movement of the three races despite having the fewest tracks. This is also the most experimental piece on the album, and thus I’ll be discussing it a bit more. This piece deftly merges orchestral elements with electronic manipulations, and is one of my two favourite pieces on the album. The piece opens on a quiet note with low percussion and vocals before ethnic vocals pierce through, leading into the main speed of the piece. A short build transitions into the first melodic theme, played by the strings. Vocal manipulations and oboe follow with the strings, heading into the first electronic portion of the piece. Quick, sharp vocals can be heard while percussive elements and low strings keep the melody moving. Some electronic bass can also be heard, giving the section a real rich low tone. Solo trumpets and flutes continue the melody before being joined by the strings and vocals. A solo male vocal blends with strings and woodwinds until building in volume to the next section. This is where things get interesting. Ethnic vocals introduce the section, immediately followed by sharp synth, accented by loud vocal hits and other electronic elements. Here, the melody becomes focused in the electronic synth instrumentation, and the male vocalist returns, but this time heavily reverbed. This continues into the next section, where all the previous elements begin to build. A heavy electronic bass feeds the low strings, while choir and percussive elements keep the pace. Soaring solo vocals merge with more electronic synth, before combining together with the full orchestra. Here, everything in the piece comes to the forefront, combining the various portions together. This then gets transitioned into a similar section with a different melodic line. The piece then returns to the electronic elements and the strings, trading short blows with the choir. The piece comes to a close with a haunting solo reverbed vocal and a reverbed guitar riff. I mentioned early on that there were pieces on this album that benefited from the post-edit work done with the various recorded elements. This piece in particular is an excellent example. The combination of electronic and orchestral elements is well done; you can hear that a lot of work, and more importantly an extreme attention to detail, has been given to this track. It’s quite an interesting listening experience, but one that can’t help but provoke thoughts of “this is way cool”.
Heading into the final movement of this symphony, “Victorious But Not Unscarred” features the “Brood War Aria” and “Starcraft Ghost Intro”. I really like this piece due to it’s very central contrast. The first few minutes of the track feature a very pleasant aria and is the first piece on the album to specifically use a vocal as a major contribution. The aria is simple, yet very elegant, focusing on strings and piano to accompany the solo female vocalist. From the liner notes, I understand that this piece focuses once again on the Terrans, and I have to say that it definitely fits. I think, above all, this aria is a great show of restraint — it doesn’t try to be more than the sum of its parts and altogether blends very well into the second part of the track. As a nice contrast, it features a harsher, louder sound that focuses on the brass. The choir starts things off powerfully before giving over to the brass. From there, the piece drops a bit, allowing melodic segments to filter through in a nice succession of different instruments. This part in particular mirrors the slightly more fluid nature of the aria, then heads into an intense percussive section, supported by quick movements in the low piano, strings, and brass. There is a slight mix of both loud and soft elements for the remainder of the track, but as with “The Betrayer and the Sun King,” there is a little too much repetition for my tastes.
Keeping with Starcraft, next up is ‘The Hyperion Overture’. Perhaps it’s no surprise that this symphony features a track called “The Hyperion Overture”! This piece features the first version of the overture from the game, as well as some of the trailer music. This is another clearly sectioned piece, beginning with very soft and dissonant lead ins with the instrumentation. Next, we get a semblance of a march, propelled by the brass and percussion, while supported by straight strings. The next segment gets a bit more fluid though, bringing in a legato approach to many of the instrument patterns. The brass still plays a heavy role, but blend better with the strings. After a short return to the first melodic theme, the piece enters a slightly more full arrangement, using harp and deep drums to fill in the upper and lower registers while strings and brass mellow it out in the middle. Melodic themes repeat themselves fairly often in this piece, lending perhaps less to the traditional overture structure, but there is enough variation to keep the piece interesting. The next section focuses on low strings with low brass hiding in the background. Overall, things get a bit spooky with the instrumentation, complete with small flute hints and percussive hits. Heading towards the end, we get another repetition of the main melody from the piece before moving to a strong finish. As with the previous track, this piece has a little too much repetition to make it interesting throughout, but it does have solid elements inbetween those sections.
Continuing on into the final symphonies of the album, we get a crack at the world of Diablo II, Diablo II: Lords of Destruction, and Diablo III. “The Symphony of Sanctuary” begins with the movement “The Eternal Conflict,” arranged and inspired from “Tristram,” “Rogue,” “Baal,” “Halis,” “Ancients,” “Seige,” “Ice,” and “Fortress”. The piece begins in a light fashion with flute trills, steadily supported by strings as a solo oboe performs the first prominent melody. Additional woodwinds make a steady appearance, while strings and harp keep everything nice and fluid. From here, we enter quite grandly into the next segment, featuring stronger brass and strings, which gradually blend into one of the most prominent melodies from the franchise. The notable twelve-string guitar of “Tristram” becomes the focus, with an occasional clarinet and violin solo. Low strings also come into play during this piece, but for the most part it is quiet, allowing the guitar and strings to create the atmosphere and mood all on their own. Plus, it’s all in a minor key, which I love. From here, the woodwinds lead us into more elements of tension, while keeping a steady if not somewhat haunted melodic segment. This builds nicely into the first orchestra-heavy portion of the track, lead by the vocals. This section quickly dissipates, though, before building into a brass lead melodic segment. One thing about this piece that strikes me, particularly when compared to Warcraft and Starcraft, is the abundance of woodwind instruments. So far on this album, they’ve been sort of in the shadows, but during the Diablo pieces, they get a bit more presence, which is nice. The piece continues to the end with a return to the strong, somewhat harsh brass and louder strings, before coming to a quick and short end sequence. The second movement, “Legacy of Terror,” features the overture from Diablo III. The piece begins on a quite note, with high strings and a solo oboe. Additional instrumentation gradually joins in, building the overall sound of the piece. Short, quick strings and brass make an appearance, accented by subtle percussion and light vocals. This portion is a little odd, however, as the volume doesn’t seem to be quite right. A little further in the piece, a very nice adaptation of some of the “Tristram” themes emerge, this time preformed with chorded vocals and strings. The faster portions return slightly, before fading into harp, strings, and light vocal work. More oboe presents the melody here, while a cello gives a beautiful counter melody that gradually fades into a flute. The various melodic portions repeat again throughout the remainder of the track, but as with “The Hyperion Overture,” it just doesn’t seem to capture me the way I would expect it to.
The final movement, in comparison, is a real gem and is the second of my favourite pieces on the album. “Children of the Worldstone ~ Dark Diablo Fantastique” features the “Diablo III Overture,” as well as themes from “Tristram”. The opening sections of the piece are nice, but I want to get to the meat of the track, so I’ll look at it briefly. Slow, melodic strings gradually lead into the first instances of orchestral hits, leading into a stronger full orchestral segment punctuated by heavy electronic percussion. An electric guitar can also be heard in the background. It remains brief however, as the strings return a short time later, leading into the vocal portion of the piece. Aika provides the vocals, and I must say that while I rather enjoy the power and emotion of her voice, I can’t stand the gradual downward slides at the end of each phrase. But, to each their own. The opening vocal is very powerful, keeping with the soft and mysterious tone of the background strings. A short time later, a chorus comes in to support Aika’s melody, bringing in some fantastic strong chord work. The string elements gradually build in the background, but the vocal phrases are the focus. All of this, however, continues to build leading into the second half of the track, where Aika and the choir belt the melody out with incredibly power. The orchestral elements aren’t as strong in this portion of the piece but they blend well with the vocals. Moving ahead, the piece begins to get a strong percussive beat near the end of the track, supported by the brass and quick moving strings. This dies away however, and you can tell something big is coming up. Aika starts holding the final notes, which have moved into a major key. Everything builds to a great finish, accented by the drums while the vocals punch their way through. I also rather like how the electric guitar that has made slight appearances throughout the track gives off the final notes.
The final piece on the album, “Last Angel,” is a tribute to the Diablo series, inspired by the themes of the world, but otherwise is an original composition. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of it. The piece consists of a piano, a violin, and Aika’s vocals. While the piano elements and the violin solos are quite beautiful, I find Aika’s voice to be a bit strong for the piece and a bit overpowering at times, particularly with the harshness in the upper register. However, despite my personal tastes about the vocals, I think the piece fits the intent quite well — it sounds like ‘Diablo’. The slightly folky and expressionist approach to the composition is also a nice contrast to the rest of the tracks on the album and is a nice way to end the performances.
At the end of it all, Echoes of War is a strong album that does a lot of things right. On my first listen, I was ready to give it one of my extremely rare perfect scores. However, after hearing the tracks more, there are some notable flaws. The way the pieces have been put together both from an arrangement standpoint and the editing process of the recordings is done seamlessly. However, my biggest issue with the tracks is that they don’t contain a rich substance as far as melody is concerned. A handful of the movements do wonders with melodic segments, but I find that many of the tracks are quite fragmentary with how melody is sued, resulting in pieces that sound stitched together. That being said, I still think that there is a lot on this album to like. Some pieces are very enjoyable to listen to, and the actual presentation of the pieces — meaning the performances themselves and the post-production work — is top notch. If you’re a die-hard fan of Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft, you probably already have this album. If you’re getting into the music for the first time, definitely give this album a listen; my first experience with the album is still my favourite, and good first impressions are hard to achieve with me. If you’re not a fan of this music at all, then I recommend that you consider it, even if you end up disliking it. Out of the many orchestral arrangement albums that exist for games, this one is definitely unique and offers an interesting listening experience for any music lover.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andre Marentette. Last modified on January 17, 2016.