Planetary Annihilation Original Soundtrack
Planetary Annihilation Original Soundtrack
June 6, 2014
Download at Bandcamp
Planetary Annihilation, a real-time strategy game developed by independent company Uber Entertainment, is the result of an incredibly successful Kickstarter project, earning over 200% of their asking price. Kickstarter is more commonly used to fund games than may be expected; looking at the top-grossing projects on their website, only 24 projects have received more money than Planetary Annihilation, nine of which are video games from independent companies. Planetary Annihilation is a game about destruction in the largest scale imaginable, involving the colonization — or, well, annihilation — of entire planets and galaxies.
The music is on a similar scale; after the Kickstarter project hit two million dollars, composer Howard Mostrom was able to have his music performed and recorded by a live orchestra, with an impressive result. Monstrom, who traditionally doubles as a sound designer in the games he scores, has also written music for the Supreme Commander franchise and has worked with Uber Entertainment on other projects like Toy Rush and Monday Night Combat. Performed by Northwest Sinfonia and Chorale, Mostrom’s Planetary Annihilation becomes a little dense at points, but is a richly orchestrated and dramatic work.
Mostrom is intent on conveying the magnitude of this game with his music, and the resulting soundtrack is a fast-paced, non-stop collection of pieces. The opening track, “Destiny into Darkness,” begins with heavy bass percussion, followed by murky, dissonant strings that fall into a steady rhythmic pattern; about a minute into the piece, a heroic theme arises which is developed as the piece continues. Almost two minutes into the piece, the instruments are met with a heavy choir belting out a theatric set of notes — not quite a theme — reminiscent of an X-Ray Dog or E.S. Posthumous film trailer. By the end of the piece, the choir has conformed to the theme introduced at the beginning, and the piece ends triumphantly, marking an appropriately exciting introduction to Planetary Annihilation.
“Preservation” has a similar pattern, beginning slowly and crescendoing with the help of the choir. I enjoyed the harmonic pattern in this piece, which repeated several times and culminated with a delightfully dissonant suspension cadence. About halfway through the piece, the pattern changes, and I found myself missing the catchy beginning. At this point, we run into the one of the problematic aspects of this soundtrack, which doubles as its strength; almost every track uses almost every section of the orchestra. Each track sounds like Mostrom pulling out all the stops with his live orchestra, and while this nearly ensures the quality of each piece — Mostrom is, after all, an impressive composer — it also leaves the listener gasping for breath after a few songs.
There are thankfully some interludes on the soundtrack. For example, “What we Built” is a more mellow piece: lighter on the percussion and with a completely absent choir, introducing a new theme, and alternating between stately brass instruments and strings. Despite its comparatively mild nature, it still isn’t a soothing song, and sandwiched between two seriously dramatic pieces and several choir-heavy epics, I need more breaks. “Requiem for the Fallen,” one of the final tracks, consists of only choir, and serves as a nice break in the action; although had the choir been more conservatively used up to this point, it could have had a sweeter effect on the listener. Instead, many of the tracks follow the pattern of the first few pieces, building up some theme, adding choir, and concluding dramatically.
For better or worse, there is easily enough thematic content here to write several symphonies (or several soundtracks). There are several really striking themes going on in the entire soundtrack. For example, “Remember Who You Are” begins with a haunting oboe solo against some light percussion (quickly met, again, with choir), while Formed for Greatness” begins with a cello solo playing what could have been a predominant theme. While both are excellent in their own, had either of these themes resurfaced elsewhere in the soundtrack, it would have created one of those necessary binding motifs that bring a soundtrack together. Likewise, “Tides of Steel” has a slightly more unusual 6/8 meter for much of the track; the theme that plays over the rhythm is a good one, and could easily have been one of those that is realized in several other settings throughout the soundtrack. It’s hard to find fault with the tracks individually, but one of my cardinal rules for composers is to use a only small portion of thematic material and expand it as far as it will go.
The resulting soundtrack certainly fits the epic game, and is highly impressive for its compositional and production values. It’s also a lot of fun to listen to in all its bombast. That said, the stand-alone experience may have benefited from more emotional variety and thematic consistency. Mostrom is a talented composer with a lot of really great thematic ideas; if he spreads them out over his next few soundtracks, he will produce some truly memorable works. This soundtrack is certainly worth sampling on Bandcamp and, if you like it, purchasing.
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Posted on June 13, 2014 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on June 13, 2014.