The Guild 2 Official Soundtrack
The Guild 2 Official Soundtrack
Buy at Sonicminds
Tapping into German computer gamers’ fascination for Sim City/Civilization-like society building game titles with a historical subject matter, Die Gilde was released in 2002 and met with sufficient success to merit a sequel in 2006. Both titles give players the chance to choose among a number of occupations that were common in Germany during the 15th and 16th century, and to then build up their own might dynasty in this turn-based economy simulation. To accompany this medieval scenario with the appropriate musical backdrop, German sound production company Dynamedion was drafted for the job, benefitting from a budget that permitted the soundtrack to be recorded by a full symphony orchestra (the Thüringen Philharmonic).
It doesn’t take long to realise that Dynamedion’s composing team (consisting of Pierre Langer, Tilman Sillescu, Alexander Röder and Markus Schmidt) didn’t aim to evoke Germany’s late-medieval epoch foremost through period-specific instruments or historical accuracy. Instead, what the listener gets with the album’s opening tracks is a lush orchestral sound that one is likely to find in epic fantasy movies or other films that take place in (quasi-)medieval settings. And when this approach is pulled as well as it is here, with a masterful control of the whole orchestra and a knack for enrapturing melodies, that musical focus is certainly not a bad thing. Die Gilde 2‘s first track, “The Guild”, opens with swaying, sensuous violins that seem to evoke an RPG’s hero setting off to a new adventure, rather than an economy simulation game. After a slightly less interesting, more dramatic middle-section, the track closes with a lyrical passage for solo soprano and harp, before the brass lead the piece to its expansive climax. And while later tracks of the same ilk provide less multi-faceted moods, the composers ensure that within one piece, sufficiently varied orchestrations prevent this wave of full-bodied orchestral lyricism from becoming stale.
The following tracks continue to please fans of gloriously harmonious orchestral material. “Beautiful Ages” evokes dawn nicely with its intertwining flutes and oboes against soft strings, which lead to one of the soundtrack’s most beautiful outbursts of melody, all the while engulfed in rich counterpoint. The composition finishes on a slightly whimsical note with a sole flute set against a harp. “Waking Forest”, “A Farmer’s Life” and “The Bakery” all continue in the same vein, and like their predecessors, they’re not particularly dramatic; there’s hardly any percussion to be found, and all of the pieces (not only here, but on the whole album) flow in a broad andante tempo. However, at the moment, the compositions don’t really need to be all thunderous drums and drama, and the impression of enhanced lyricism is emphasised by the composers’ decision to focus on the woodwinds as solo instruments and primary deliverers of melodic material, while the strings and brass provide harmonic support and understated countermelodies.
If there’s one thing to criticise about these opening tracks — and the whole soundtrack in general, actually — it’s the less than ideal way the orchestra has been recorded. While it’s understandable that the soundtrack’s recording engineers would go for a rather wet, full mix to appropriately highlight the rich orchestral sound, this approach occasionally results in mushy textures that would have benefited from more crispness. The foggy horns at the end of “The Keep” are one example among several. Another annoyance caused by the album’s recording is the fact that several times, orchestral climaxes sound too muffled to actually create the rousing effect they’re supposed to elicit, as evidenced in “Waking Forest” at 2:48 and in “A Farmer’s Life” after 1:38 — that majestic violin melody just sounds too muted to truly shine. And the sampled choir in the middle section of “The Guild” might as well have been left out, since it’s almost made inaudible by being placed way too backwardly against the orchestra.
After “The Bakery”, one might fear that while Die Gilde 2‘s soundtrack provides orchestral beauty in spades, its remaining 60 minutes of running time will run the formula into the ground, but fortunately, that’s not the case. First of all, variety is provided through those compositions that most straightforwardly try to represent the middle ages, always through the same well-proven means: a small ensemble, consisting of solo flute, light percussion and acoustic guitar, provides light dance rhythms and lilting flute melodies, while the orchestra contributes pleasant harmonies. The pieces that follow this blue-print are those that underscore locations in this medieval world that are attended by the common people of the time (“Tavern”, “Festival”, “Towncenter”), and it thus not surprising that these tracks try hardest to musically evoke this particular epoch.
However, it’s noteworthy that all of these pieces, while being more rhythmic than the rest of the soundtrack, are still rather restrained and used to set the appropriate atmosphere, instead of making the player tap his feet, particularly in “The Fool”. Then again, a wild dance is probably not the ideal aural background for a Civilization-style simulation. Musical variety is provided here through the varying degrees to which the orchestra is incorporated into these compositions. Particularly “Hamlet” marries orchestral and mediaeval sensitivities well by mixing a string and brass backdrop with tuneful solo woodwinds and tambourine.
Later tracks make further adjustments to the formula. “Nightfall” uses the medieval ensemble not to perform dance rhythms, but instead to evoke a nocturnal atmosphere by playing at a slower speed, while carefully backed by orchestral elements such as harp arpeggios and ethereal female choir — an approach that works surprisingly well. “The Court” has the flute playing another bouncy motif, but now it’s set against an oppressive string backdrop, with the brass answering the flute by throwing in short fanfares. It would have been fascinating to see this tension between the different musical elements explored in greater detail than the track’s short running time permits. Again, the only reason to nag is the album’s recording: the hand percussion in the first half of “Tavern” seems to have been recorded in a completely different location than the rest of the ensemble, and with its low volume and heavy echoing sounds like it’s being played in a distant cavern.
A number of tracks underscore other locations in the game’s world that are less closely associated with the hustle and bustle of medieval life, and while these compositions’ take on scoring these places and events is not surprising, it’s certainly effective and well-executed. “The Keep” is, relatively speaking, the weakest of these pieces. Predictably, it includes some martial-sounding elements that set it apart from many other tracks, for example resolute string rhythms, drums and a fanfare-like motif that is picked up by different instruments throughout the piece. All these elements, just like the lighter touches that the cue’s sprinkled with, work well and produce pleasant results, but since the orchestra’s playing and recording lack punchiness, the track’s militaristic atmosphere and power is lost to a degree. The later track “Victory in Combat” suffers from similar problems, and certainly isn’t helped by an aimless second half that pits rapidly ascending and descending unison string and woodwind figures against a stately horn backdrop, without producing much of an effect.
“Beware of Robbers” gives us the soundtrack’s first hint at darkness, with an ominous five-note cello figure and fragments of melodies played by the woodwind and horns. This eerie atmosphere is soon brushed aside for more lyrical material, but a slight change of mood remains, aptly underscored by tolling bells. “Church” and “Monastery”, again rather predictably, deploy choirs and a scaled-back orchestration (for example sparse metal percussion and sustained horn chords in “Monastery”) to communicate spirituality. Both tracks feature beautiful melodies delivered by the choir, which again is placed quite backwardly. But this time around, this seeming lack of presence works well in recreating a church’s or monastery’s hollow acoustics and contributes to the piece’s atmosphere. Shrill woodwinds and violins opens the soundtrack’s most dissonant cue, “Disease”, before a jagged flute solo emerges against a fragmented orchestral backdrop. As one of the most cleverly composed tracks on the album, “Disease” skillfully underscores both the terror induced by the raging epidemic and the sadness caused by losing loved ones. The latter emotion is best expressed after 0:50 through a duet for flute and celli, and between 1:20 and 1:35 with an elegiac passage for strings. This outburst of mournful sentiments is balanced by harsh timpani suddenly interrupting the piece’s flow, backed by high, quivering violins.
By the time the album reaches its second half, the overall mood has become a lot more serious and subdued, particularly compared to the sunny warmth that permeated the soundtrack’s first few tracks. “Medieval Landscape”, the album’s longest cue, mostly does away with the violins, with the solo woodwind now juxtaposed against a starker, more percussion-dominated backdrop. The resulting rugged atmosphere fitfully evokes the seeming vastness of the relatively unexplored medieval world outside the city gates and its dangers — this is certainly not a sweeping RPG-type overland theme. At 3:46, the piece builds nicely into a stirring passage for the brass section, which takes up the flute call that opened the cue. However, mention must be made again of the piece’s recording quality: the fact that the woodwind and brass calls at the beginning of the track sound strangely remote may be excused by the fact that this helps to establish a slightly eerie atmosphere that portrays the medieval world’s perils well. But there’s no good reason, for example, why the horn call at 2:08 almost disappears behind the other instruments, or why the orchestra during the track’s climax again lacks punchiness and presence — an occurrence that is made all the more obvious because this is one of the few soundtrack’s more martial passages.
“The Village” is another atmospheric example of the changing mood of the soundtrack, with its brass figures adding an air of muted nobility. The composition also offers a welcome, although brief, glimpse at faster tempi through its string quaver ostinati, which on two occasions provide the propulsive backdrop for orchestral buildups. “In the Woods” recalls the opening tracks’ rich orchestral lyricism, but conveys a mystical nature feeling well through its opening horn melody, set against a harp and swelling and ebbing strings. This atmosphere is reinforced when the harp is later pitted against high string tremoli. “Forlorn” does its name justice, offering the listener plenty of moving musical material that tucks at the heartstrings, whether it be the mournful horn melody at the piece’s beginning, the later yearning passage for solo flute, or the sweeping strings after 1:50. If one needed proof of the composers’ capability to engulf the listener in atmospheric sounds or to craft beautiful melodies, it would be found here.
In a case of clever album sequencing, another change of atmosphere takes place at the end of soundtrack, successfully communicating that the listener is close to the end of the journey. This time, the pieces take a turn towards the mystical, almost supernatural. “Enchanting Verses”, “Netherlands” and “Winter Woods” all base their exploration of this particular mood on plaintive melodies for solo flute, which again sounds rather remote and recorded with a lot echo, but now this choice makes perfect sense in creating the described mystical, icy sounds. The instrumentation is scaled back further, with the pieces clearly highlighting the solo flute and its sparse accompaniment, such as harp arpeggios on “Enchanting Verses” or sustained high violin chords on “Netherlands”. Another feature these two tracks share is the addition of a female solo voice, which only serves to enhance the tracks’ otherworldly, elating atmosphere that would do any epic RPG soundtrack proud.
“Winter Woods” then provides the score’s grand finale — or at least that’s the plan. The solo flute is now joined by vibraphone, chimes and a light choir, to spine-tingling effect. As more and more orchestral elements are integrated into the composition’s texture, the piece works towards a stirring climax with brass and timpani rolls at 2:30 — which unfortunately falls a bit flat, again due to the album’s recording, which makes the orchestra sound as if it barely switches from mezzo forte to forte. “Winter Woods” is still an impressive track, but due to the described technical issues, it doesn’t quite top off the soundtrack as spectacularly as it intends to, undoing the intelligent album sequencing and the created musical build up somewhat. But these remain minor quibbles, and by the time the following piece “Springtime” comes around, the listener will enjoy that cue’s lighter mood with its gorgeous melodies and harmonies, which bring the soundtrack full circle with a return to the opening tracks’ musical style. The remaining three short tracks are nothing but superfluous appendages, and “Execution”, with its deep brass, jabbing strings and foreboding atmosphere, is a bizarre track to close such a magnificent album.
One may not expect much from a soundtrack for a “built your dynasty/city/empire” simulation such as Die Gilde 2, but Dynamedion’s composing team raises the bar with a score album that provides richly orchestrated fantasy atmosphere in spades. Historically accurate it is not, but who cares, as long as we get such skillfully varied moods and rapturous atmospherics as on this soundtrack. There’s hardly any filler to be found, and the only snag is a recording that doesn’t always let the orchestra’s power and beauty shine through. But that ultimately doesn’t distract from what is a fantastic listen from start to finish. Available from online shop Sonicminds, this album is highly recommended listening for all lovers of romantic, multi-faceted orchestral sounds.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on January 16, 2016.