Might and Magic VII -For Blood and Honour- Original Soundtrack
Might and Magic VII -For Blood and Honour- Original Soundtrack
Good Old Games
March 10, 2011
Download with Game at GOG
After Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven had revived the long-dormant Might and Magic franchise, RPG fans only had to wait for another year to see Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor hit store shelves. But that short waiting period had its price. As with its predecessor, For Blood and Honor‘s reception was positive, although more than one reviewer noted that the game felt more like an improved version of The Mandate of Heaven and that it kept the outdated graphics engine. For Blood and Honor also brought back Paul Anthony Romero, Rob King and Steve Baca, who by now had squarely established themselves as the go-to composers for all Might and Magic-related titles. However, for the first and only time in the history of the Might and Magic franchise, Romero created the music for the game on his own, while King and Baca took on sound design and production roles. Once more, his score for For Blood and Honor was only released years later when GOG.com made the game available as a download and offered the music as a free bonus item.
As a game, For Blood and Honor might not be very different from The Mandate of Heaven. But music-wise, it is a quantum leap over its predecessor. While The Mandate of Heaven felt like a cautious exercise in eclecticism that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, For Blood and Honor throws more ingredients into the mix than most game soundtrack ever dare to and manages to pull them all together with impressive panache. The base of the score’s exceedingly rich sound are classically-inspired, luscious string melodies and textures. While the melodic material is still more repetitive than on the composers’ Heroes of Might and Magic scores, it is more varied than on its predecessor. And what’s more important, the melodies’ recurring nature is no deterrent, but in fact only increases the score’s hypnotic pull. It was the gorgeous melodies that made the first four Heroes of Might and Magic scores so outstanding, and Romero bring the same instinct for delectable tunes to For Blood and Honor. The range of superb string material on For Blood and Honor ranges from the luxurious melodies on particularly the album’s second half to the touching adagio strains of “Track 16” (yep, no individual track names on this release unfortunately).
On this foundation, Romero builds a colourful construct that’s impressive not only in its versatility, but also in its emotional affect. Acoustic guitar and wordless, siren-like solo soprano lines join the orchestra already on “Track 1”. Soon after, “Track 2” introduces middle-eastern scales that will return on later tracks and merge seamlessly with the seductive nature of the orchestrations. That particularly quality is enhanced further through the use of waltz meters on several cues, gently but irresistibly sweeping the listener further into the fantastical realm that is For Blood and Honor‘s music. The score’s beguiling rhythmic lilt is helped by the inclusion of light drum kit and hand percussion sounds which are always inserted tastefully into the overall textures of a piece. And human voices not only appear during enchanting soli, but also in the form of a full choir.
The way For Blood and Honor deploys choir vocals marks another immense improvement over The Mandate of Heaven. Listen to “Track 5”, where the male choir performs a spiritual rendition of the Agnus Dei, coupled with an similarly-natured violin solo. Soon a light electronic beat kicks in while the choir retains its solemnity, and the resulting mixture is a much more convincing New Age track à la Enigma than its predecessor’s “The Hive” was. “Track 12” contrasts a moving cello melody with monk-like choir chants whose austerity and calmness make the cello’s emotional material feel all the more poignant. Best of all is “Track 9”, where tinkling and swooshing sound effects open up a vast space that is filled with the elating, electronically manipulated sound of a full male choir and deep string chords. This ethereal landscape is completed on the opposite end of the spectrum by a soaring violin solo and glistening violin textures, creating a near-celestial atmosphere of impressive emotional fervour that contrasts with the soundtrack’s usually dark-hued atmosphere.
To combine all these elements, Romero conjures a heavy, otherworldly mood that is as warm as it is mysterious. If one were to choose an image to describe For Blood and Honor tone, it would be that of a decadently decorated underground palace, lights flickering on the walls to reveal the wonders of this dwelling, but not bright enough to disperse the shadows that lurk in the corners. For Blood and Honor is easily the most nocturnal soundtrack in the whole Might and Magic franchise, but in the most alluring way possible. Key to the creation of this mesmerising mood is the chromatic nature of the melodic material, which is heavily reminiscent of early 20th century classical composers like Karol Szymanowski. In fact, that composer’s often scintillating, shadowy works are an apt comparison to describe For Blood and Honor’s peculiar mood.
The chromaticism of the melodies isn’t limited to the strings, but also extends to the woodwind soli which often turn out to be mischievous, cunning creatures that destabilise the harmonic structure of a piece just enough to make the listener wonder where the composition might be headed next. “Track 14” and “Track 17” offer particularly convincing showcases of this characteristic. The latter cue, like many others mentioned so far, also highlights that the music achieves its lush nature not only through its sensual textures, but also through the extensive development of most pieces. In the case of “Track 17”, wild, jagged string figures interfere with the soft waltz rhythms and slightly cheeky woodwind melodies to modify the piece’s original atmosphere and keep it fascinating until the very end.
This delectable, multi-layered atmosphere and feel for gratifying development manages to take a hold on the soundtrack’s more ambient pieces as well, ensuring that these cues tie in seamlessly with the rest of the soundtrack. It helps that these more subdued compositions are still quiet colourfully orchestrated, but what’s most important is that they all manage to sustain their eerie atmosphere in a way that draws the listener in. Take “Track 7”, which opens with a bed of uncanny sound effects before the piece adds a fluttering woodwind ostinato and a heavy-heartedly trudging piano line. More disorienting woodwind figures gather in the background and then the composition builds into a forte climax for full strings that play a sweeping yet ominous melody, interestingly underpinned by bubbling chromatic woodwind fragments. “Track 6” undergoes a similar transformation from foreboding opening to a massive rendition of a string melody that was first presented on solo cello. Other ambient compositions stay closer to where they start out, but they still manage to weave their spell. “Track 8” only needs a wandering piano melody, various creepy sound effects, a hummed choir background and the occasional melodic string line to hold the listener’s interest, thanks to the effective layering of these sparse materials. The same goes for “Track 13” with its nervy harpsichord ostinato and moody string layers which for once don’t feel like stereotypical tension track ingredients, but instead like potent forebearers of danger waiting around the next corner.
Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honour is a most pleasant surprise. Coming on the heels of the promising, but scattershot Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, this is the most stylistically original work within the whole Might and Magic canon. Taking luxurious string textures and decadently chromatic melodies as their foundation, Romero fuses the sensibilities of tonal early 20th century classical music with middle-eastern scales, waltz rhythms, tasteful hand percussion and drum kit inserts and an occasional serve of electronica. The result is a spellbinding brew that’s in equal parts mysterious and bewitching. Bright choir vocals sometimes pierce the nocturnal atmosphere like shafts of blinding light, while at other times the choir’s humming sounds emphasise the score’s subterranean mood. For Blood and Honor is the most eclectic score of the Might and Magic series of games. But miraculously, it’s also one of most consistent soundtracks of the whole franchise and free of filler material, even during its more ambient moments. In its intricate, daring personality that rewards repeat listens, For Blood and Honou is easily the strongest Might and Magic score and compares favourably with the best soundtracks in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. This is a hidden gem that you should pick up as soon as possible.
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 August 1, 2012.