A Warrior’s Odyssey
A Warrior’s Odyssey
Howlin’ Wolf Records
October 2, 2012
Purchase at iTunes
Penka Kouneva is perhaps most well-known in the game music world for her work on the Prince of Persia series, but she has produced some noteworthy independent work as well, most recently a Kickstarter-funded project called The Woman Astronaut (reviewed here) musically detailing a journey across and beyond Earth. A Warrior’s Odyssey is an older album from 2012; during November and December of that year, half the proceeds of the album went to Hope for the Warriors, a U.S. nonprofit that supports soldiers and families of soldiers wounded or killed in action. The album, like A Warrior’s Odyssey, is divided up into sections that represent different aspects of war, from the missions and their often tragic conclusions to journeys to new lands and foreign cultures. The album is packed with motifs, diverse compositional techniques, and variation that give A Warrior’s Odyssey its own unique musical identity very much separated from Kouneva’s other works.
“Waiting for the Dawn to Break” opens the album on an anxious note, beginning a steady pulsing beat to make the melody sound more resolute than it actually is. Each time the rhythm drops away for a moment, the melody plays alone on a solo string, and eventually breaks into a sprawling electric guitar scale, moving upwards with each note, and laced with streaks of electronic sounds. At the end, the melody is picked up on some horns that somehow, along with the guitar, make the melody feel less mournful and more triumphant. “Storming the City Heights” is much quicker and more energetic, with a soaring melody that spans across octaves and a racing string bass motif that sticks in your head long after the piece is over.
The third and fourth tracks were two of my favorites on the album. “Mission Fail 1” opens with a piano motif that later becomes a recurring one, marking downbeats for a gorgeous cello solo that spreads upwards across a viola and later, a violin. The piece is far too short, but luckily we get its successor, “A Soldier’s Odyssey – Part 1: At a Soldier’s Grave / Part 2: Engaging the Enemy,” which, while not quite as long as its title, is still much more satisfying, reaching over five minutes in length. The piano-and-cello combo from “Mission Fail 1” is back in a variation, and it swells to new dynamics, the piece suddenly shifts to become much more driven and energetic. The new piece starts swelling again, with a fresh, proud melody. Kouneva maintains a mild theme of cadences; twice before the piece ends, a series of cadences become almost a melody, and ends dramatically amid sounds of sirens and bombs.
“Confrontation from a Lo-Fi Dimension” features Kouneva’s abilities with synth tracks in a heavy, bass-oriented track. The different lines of music alternate between being lines of movement and lines of big chord-holding. The resulting piece is dramatic and weighty but mobile; the trumpets carry a motif that’s half rhythmic and half melodic high above the buzzing bass. “Forgotten Steeples” uses a beautiful harmony between string lines to softly echo some melodic wisps that quickly fade away.
The middle section of the album brings in melodies and techniques from areas other than Western Europe. Opening with with “Forgotten Steeples,” it is quickly followed by “Chase Through Crete,” which makes me think of a potential Grecian Assassin’s Creed game score, and “Between Eden and Distant Fields,” which sounds like a string quartet elegy. It’s gentle, mournful, a tiny bit syrupy, but well-written. It’s a solid string piece, and a good thoughtful pause in the album. “Minor Battle” ends the more foreign quartet of tracks with a fun and spritely three-note motif and a more powerful bass than “Chase Through Crete.” It’s also slower and more deliberate, which gives more power to the piece. It’s certainly still fast-paced, but not quite as hard to pin down. These three pieces were a delightful addition to “A Warrior’s Odyssey,” giving the tracklist a little more spice and diversity (and harmonic minor scales).
“The Wanderer” is tied with “A Soldier’s Odyssey – Part 1 and Part 2” as my favorite track. One of the best parts about the album is that there are so many pieces I want to return to. The haunting and memorable melodies on this album are incredibly beautiful, and perhaps best represented by this fantastic track. It’s primarily a piano-and-strings piece that picks up in pace very gently as it continues. The melody is extremely lyrical, but works well on its instrumentation. The piano opens with the melody, and at no point does the melody feel forced. As the strings slowly pick up the melody, and elevate it across several octaves, it wanders, as one might expect from the title, but not quite aimlessly. In fact, these intermediate parts stretch the piece out to a more satisfactory length – given the gorgeous nature of the piece as a whole, it is hard to be happy with any kind of ending, but the piano picks up with a little more power to resolve resolutely just as the strings are fading away.
The album closes with some decent pieces, including “Airplane Bound to the Skies,” which ends the album on a much brighter note than it began. I was a huge fan of this album on the whole – the melodies in a few of the tracks in particular really stuck out to me, and they are integrated so beautifully throughout the album. Many of the pieces tie in with each other, which makes the A Warrior’s Odyssey feel like one unified work. I would have loved if a few of the tracks had been more developed – particularly since it’s an independent work, a full development of some more of the themes are expected. Too many feel cut off too soon. However, the biggest problem with the album is also its biggest success; it makes for a fantastic listen with its spectacular themes and varied instrumentation, and unquestionably showcases some of Kouneva’s greatest compositional strengths.
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Posted on October 2, 2015 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on January 18, 2016.