Red Orchestra 2 -Heroes of Stalingrad- Original Soundtrack
Red Orchestra 2 -Heroes of Stalingrad- Original Soundtrack
1C Company (Collector’s Edition); Sumthing Else Music Works (Commercial Edition)
September 16, 2011; November 15, 2011
Buy at Amazon | Download at iTunes
Tripwire Interactive’s Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad was a first-person shooter set in the Battle of Stalingrad. While the battle was a decisive turning point in World War II, it was also bittersweet — causing millions of casualties and utter destruction over six months. A soundtrack based on this epic but tragic battle had plenty of potential and inspired much interest. Mass Effect‘s Sam Hulick was selected as the title’s composer and he crafted orchestral scores to contrast the German and Russian sides of the battle. Following much buzz, the soundtrack was released with the Russian limited edition of the game and later by Sumthing Else commercially in late 2011. And sadly, the final release didn’t entire live up to its potential…
The main theme “Storm Clouds Over Stalingrad” demonstrates how Hulick referenced classical stylings for Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. After a moody cinematic introduction, the track transforms into a Soviet anthem conveying patriotism and defiance. The subsequent section explores the deeper emotions of the Russians much more, with its sombre string passages — inspired by Tchaikovsky’s beautiful phrasing — while the piano-laced Rachmaninoff-esque finale is gushing with emotion until the open-ended conclusion. By contrast, “The Unstoppable Wehrmacht” focuses on conveying the aggression and confidence of the German army. Wagner-inspired choral chants, piercing trumpet fanfares, and strong march rhythms prevail here, with only a brief interlude capturing the dark fate awaiting them. But while such tracks were inspired by classical composers, they are not authentic imitations — instead Hulick incorporate a taste of both country’s traditions while focusing more on conveying the outward and inward emotions at the two fronts.
While such pieces are striking, the soundtrack leaves much to be desired in terms of implementation, particularly for 2011. Due to the title’s small budget, Hulick sadly wasn’t able to bring his music to life with full orchestra. Instead he was forced to rely on samplers, most of them surprisingly outdated for a composer that has scored the Mass Effect trilogy. All the samples lack the weight and realism of those used by industry leaders, e.g. Jason Graves or Cris Velasco, and the string parts sound especially drab. Soft cinematic tracks such as “The Story of a Soldier” and “Steady We Must Stand” are rarely engaging as a result. Hulick demonstrates the nuances a live performer can bring by occasionally featuring violinist Jeff Ball, notably “Ghosts in the Snow” and “Red-Painted Steppe”, while a small men’s chorus is also featured on several aforementioned tracks. But while these moments are impressive, they also highlight what the rest of the soundtrack is missing; Hulick does not incorporate soloists otherwise and even neglects to explore the piano stylings featured at the introduction.
Nevertheless, Hulick continues his emotionally-driven, classically-guided approach to considerable success in context at least. Having clearly researched the Stalingrad conflict, he produces plenty of pieces that capture the depth and subtleties of the scenario. “Reinforcing Pavlov’s House” and “Pursuit of Pavlov”, for instance, provide contrasting perspectives on the enduring battle at a Stalingrad apartment — the former capturing Russian resolve with its unwavering strings and occasional spiritual elements, the latter a more sinister and tragic depiction featuring another gorgeous violin solo. “Taking Station No. 1” and “Devils in the Tower” are serviceable action pieces, both developing from their suspenseful introductions into robust tutti, while the breathtaking “Zugzwang” captures the changing tides of the battle with its sudden dramatic buildup. The tragic loss of life is explored further on “Ghosts in the Snow” and “The Bitter End” with their sombre pacing The contrast of the choral writing in the latter with “The Unstoppable Wehrmacht” is particularly revealing.
The intended consumers for this album are orchestral soundtrack collectors, not classical listeners. Whether the muscular string ostinati of “Not One Step Back”, proud brass fanfares of “Taking Station No. 1”, or ferocious ensemble writing of “Devils in the Tower”, Hulick tends to favour the clear, direct scoring techniques of movie composers than the more subtle, artistic approaches of classical greats. There a few tracks that feature deeper displays of melodic prowess, for example the Shostakovich-esque “The Great Soviet Showpiece” with its uncertain yet resolute phrasing. However, very few tracks feature unusual textures or inspiring harmonies like those of Hulick’s stated influences. Even those featuring more ambiguous tonalities, for example “Steady We Must Stand” and “Red Fortress”, have more in common with ambient scoring techniques than impressionistic greats. Furthermore, any harmonic intricacies of Hulick’s score tend to be lost due to the excessive reverb and muddy mixing. When combined, such compositional and technological limitations ensure the score does not live up to its potential.
There’s no doubt that Hulick captured the scenes and emotions of the Battle of Stalingrad with this soundtrack, with his blend of classical and cinematic elements. However, the soundtrack slightly lacks on a stand-alone basis despite plenty of highlight moments. Classical listeners, in particular, will find this work starved of musical ingenuity — there are plenty of brash scoring techniques and half-baked composer references, but few interesting techniques or harmonies. What’s more, the implementation of the score is very poor — the lower-end samplers prevent Hulick’s music from really coming alive and inspiring deep emotions from listeners. Up against similarly styled World War II scores like Michael Giacchino’s Medal of Honor: Frontline or John Williams’ Saving Private Ryan — both written by classically-trained artists and recorded with full orchestra — Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is quite weak. Indeed, it may sometimes enthrall or enpower, but it is unlikely to ever inspire a tear. While generally enjoyable, the soundtrack is still disappointing given its wonderful premise.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.