The Elder Scrolls V -Skyrim- Original Game Soundtrack
The Elder Scrolls V -Skyrim- Original Game Soundtrack
November 11, 2011
Buy at DirectSong
The Elder Scrolls series was not the first time I have heard of Jeremy Soule. In fact, my very first encounter with his music was in Icewind Dale and shortly afterwards Total Annihilation. His style really was different from what I had heard in games at the time, offering a strong thematic emphasis and mature orchestration. Soule can evoke such emotion — giving nods to classical composers while perfectly depicting the settings in which his music describes. His work on the Elder Scrolls series is proof of that statement. First I listened to Morrowind, which introduced me to the famous theme “Nerevar Rising”, which can be heard throughout each of Soule’s entries in the series. In Oblivion, he depicted beautiful meadows, cobblestone streets, and gigantic mountains with vast diverse music. In Skyrim, Soule had upped the ante. In terms of production quality, he combined live instruments, synthesized elements, and a full choir. In terms of quantity, he presented three discs of music for the album release, plus a disc of a sound effects. Did the score keep my interesT?
The soundtrack starts off strongly with the most famous theme on Skyrim, “Dragonborn”, based partly on Morrowind‘s “Nerevar Rising”. The opening combines the rhythmical thrust of taiko drums with the sheer power of astring section and male choral chants. The horns edge in wonderfully and the choir assist in leading the melody — a variation on the Elder Scrolls theme presented in the language of the dragons. The brass and strings enhance the power of the choir, creating harmonies that give the melody a darker tone, before the trumpets go into a fanfare. 2:09 reprises the main melody and is the perfect set up to the Dragonborn melody. The shouts in the choir and the pounding, driving orchestra really fill me with utter awe. I can’t listen to this composition and not feel empowered. “Dragonsreach” is a further example of how Soule can write a song that emanates power without being loud and aggressive. The low strings, taiko drums, horns, and male choir portray such masculinity.
The first soft scene-setter on the soundtrack, “Awake” starts with the fantasy staple of somber strings. A timpani roll soon ushers us into the province of Skyrim with motives from the main theme. “Unbroken Road” sounds urgent, like one is spurring their horse onward through the tundra in pursuit of bandits. The string melody that soars here can be heard in Oblivion as well, while the flutes add nice airy textures which make me think of the cold winds of Skyrim. Soule continues to rely on existing motives in numerous other additions for the score. Notably, “The Jerall Mountains” relies heavily on the theme that is also first heard in Oblivion‘s soundtrack. The ethereal opening immediately treats us to the familiar melody and memories of Cyrodiil come to mind as the horns start. Soon enough, busy strings usher us over the tips of the mountains, with the horns soaring over the top. The timpani sustains a crescendo that perfectly leads us up and then down to exchanges of the melody between winds and strings. It really reflects how one can get this urge to explore the realm of Skyrim, while inspiring some nostalgia.
It may seem cheesy or cliché, but in addition to hearing, I feel emotions of the score — not only from being familiar with the game, but from those that resonate within my very being. Jeremy Soule is among very few composers that have achieved this with me. “Secunda” is another primary example. With the lighter piano textures and harp, combined with the ethereal vocal soloist and soft strings, I am just taken to a heavenly world and I feel mentally at peace. That is a powerful reaction that tells me, as a composer myself, how every note Soule writes is smartly placed to create each and every effect. It isn’t always fancy orchestration either, for even in simplicity Soule can create beauty in breaking down the elements to their bare essentials. Speaking of beautiful, “Far Horizons” is another gem to this score. While initially reserved, it builds up emotions with each reiteration of the main melody or otherworldly interlude and gives a sense of the long adventure ahead. Another dreamy addition, “Distant Horizons” mainly features dissonant string chords and a beautiful oboe melody. I cannot stress how beautiful that oboe is — it inspires perfect imagery of a sunrise.
In addition to inspiring deep emotions, the score works perfectly with the fantasy imagery. “White River” is relaxed and peaceful. By using the French horns and strings, Soule creates the effect of rushing rivers and waterfalls. At 1:32, the music sounds like Debussy in La Mer with its silky impressionistic soundscapes. “Kyne’s Peace” is a personal favorite thanks to its lovely organic timbres. With soft choir and string textures, the piece has the warmth of a peaceful forest shielded from the troubles of the world. It conveys melody without the need to make it blatantly obvious that it is melodic, while the section starting at 1:0 contains such emotion without it having to be over mezzo piano. “From Past and Present” features gorgeous string passages that swell and flow so nicely, just as the waterfalls on the mountains flow off the rocks and into the streams. This plays at night, which is hinted by the soundscape — even for those that haven’t played the game, Soule expertly clues the listener that it is night time. “Dawn” is another example of how Jeremy Soule can write music that perfectly fits the mood and visual, making me imagine leaving the inn and traveling while the dew is still on the trees.
Going into battle, “Death or Sovngarde” is one of several notable combat cues of the soundtrack. It features more grandiose orchestration than the setting themes, complete with the performance full orchestra and choir. The brass chords and drum rhythms, combined with the ethereal sound of the strings and the power of the choir, make for one thrill rise musically. It’s astonishingly well-produced. “Blood and Steel” is far more impressive, a loud and visceral action cue. The drums boom, the brass raw unrelenting. It is epic orchestra music and top-notch epic music at that! I also enjoy the series’ main theme sprinkled throughout (especially at 1:21). The ending is abrupt, but I like it as the tension subsides and becomes overwhelmed by warm strings thus ends the composition. Talking of reprises, my favourite battle theme on the entire soundtrack is “One They Fear”. It combines the motif of “Dragonborn” with the main theme of the past Elder Scrolls into one epic, rich, and bombastic composition. I just love the raw brass sound, especially at 0:44 alongside the aggressive choir. When hearing this, I feel inspired and empowered.
“Ancient Stones” is a town theme and employs lighter textures bringing a joyful sound reassuring that all is safe within the city. The dulcimer makes its first appearance and is implemented nicely. The melody is well written and memorable. “The City Gates” is also another worthy mention. It features a calm sound, yet sounds cheerful. The focus on lower string timbres and the cello are welcome from the higher registers in the last piece adding a bit of warmth to our musical journey. “Solitude” definitely depicts a sense of sadness mingled with security. The string writing is superb as well, while the soprano soloist definitely moved me upon listening. “Streets of Whiterun” is also warm but saddening, with its chords giving a sense of uncertainty with dragons flying about. The melody in the cello is sublime and very memorable. “Journey’s End” is another peaceful composition and features very lush, flowing orchestration. This is primarily a string feature that retains a very classical form utilized by the likes of Bach. It is nice to see Soule paying homage to his roots.
One further unique difference that Skyrim has above Soule’s entries in The Elder Scrolls is that there is special music for the taverns. They all have the style that one might associate with Medieval music, using instruments pioneered in the dark ages. “A Winter’s Tale” sounds very cheerful depicting a fun winter tale by a bard, while the similarly styled “Out of the Cold” makes me ready for a tankard of fine mead! “The Bannered Mare” is another tavern theme, but unlike the previous piece, this features the lute and is very lyrical in its style. “A Chance Meeting” is a very soft composition that has a haunting melody played by an ancient flute above a steady percussion beat. “Around the Fire” is perhaps my favorite of the entire bunch. After all, it combines a strong and memorable melody with a full ensemble of instruments such as fiddle, lute, drums, and flute. Overall, I love the flavor of all of these pieces and they differentiate Skyrim from the rest stylistically.
There are some tracks that are more for completist purposes, such as the short pieces used for the special sequences or the more ambient themes used in the dungeons. “Caught Off Guard”, for instance, captures an awkward atmosphere with its stumbling strings and percussion. “Tooth and Claw” is relatively brief and tame compared to the other action tracks, focusing mainly on urgent string and drum rhythms. However, it’s too short and unmemorable to make a major stand-alone impact. The largely choir-based “Masser” is very beautiful to listen to, but the length is a little too long and I usually skip it waround the halfway mark. What’s more, the fourth disc which is just sound effects that create a specific atmosphere in the game. While they work beautifully in context, they probably won’t be of interest to stand-alone listeners. Many have argued that the album release would be even stronger if it were condensed into a shorter release. But regardless, these tracks do not hinder my enjoyment of the score too much and it’s great that the release is complete.
Among the most ambient additions to the score, “Frostfall” is a piece that sounds cold, yet one cannot be freezing with the warmth presented by the cello and lower strings. It is surreal, mystical, and majestic all in one package. The vocals are sublime and are reminiscent of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings compositions. The sound ebbs and flows throughout — capturing the sun setting as the shadows then dance across the fields. “Standing Stones” opens with ominous male chorus and suspended strings. The dissonant strings from the 0:49 sound particularly striking, especially in contrast with the heavenly female vocals. The rest of the piece is peaceful and relaxing, making me think of glaciers melting. It is all layered so well and that shows Soule’s mastery in writing music of this style. “Tundra” uses similar techniques and motives, but this is even better than “Standing Stones” due to the calmer and more deliberate approach. I love the Middle Eastern instrument implemented, also which sounds like a dubuk. Even when it loops, there are new parts and new harmonies to listen to.
“Aurora” is a vast but excellent composition that creates soaring timbres that perfectly describe the mysterious auroras of Skyrim. It’s a composition full of contrasts, mixing dissonant and consonant writing, quiet openings with dramatic build-ups. It’s full of ethereal effects and carries a dark sound, but can at times be serene. Prior to the conclusion, “Sovngarde” returns to the primal sound of the opener with its Norse male chanting and references to the Dragonborn theme. It’s a solid composition to depict the realm of dead heroes. Speaking of moving music, “Wind Guide You” is a wonderful way to end a brilliant score. It starts off with the strings in a dark tone than anticipated, but it quickly changes to a warm, yet ominous sound with the strings and choir. The orchestration is lush and gorgeously realized. The cello plays some of the most beautiful melodies ever made by Soule. I just love the chords created in the strings especially at 4:10. At 4:30, the strings and choir work in tandem to create a heavenly effect which leads to a soaring climax. Just beautiful beyond further words and a perfect ending to the definitive Elder Scrolls score!
From the beginning, I knew this score would not disappoint, but to completely exceed all of my expectations over three discs is a feat that many composers cannot do. The sound mixing and sequencing is top-notch, with Soule blending live orchestra and chorus with convincing samples and amplification techniques. I have listened to many of Soule’s scores and Skyrim is what I would call the definitive Elder Scrolls music experience. The lush and emotionally rich orchestration, as well as the smart writing techniques, paints some powerful imagery. And indeed, is Soule’s best quality and he is able to paint such vivid pictures with his orchestral writing. True music transcends the physical and speaks to one’s very soul and I experienced that frequently in Skyrim. The price is simply a steal for three discs of wonderfully scored music. For those into the sound effects and atmospheric textures of the game, the fourth disc will be a nice bonus. I highly recommend a purchase to those who want to experience one of the best scores (if not the best score) of 2011.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Josh Barron. Last modified on August 1, 2012.