Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales Composed by Yury Poteyenko
KeepMoving Records (2005)
“The latest in the
series, AGE OF PIRATES: CARIBBEAN TALES, is a pleasure to listen to,
though its appeal may vary depending on your tolerance for
non-standard western moods.”
Review by Marius Masalar
It’s probably fair to say that not many of you are familiar with too many
of Akella Interactive’s games. The Russian company, while prolific, has
not yet enjoyed a huge surge of attention in the west, and as a result
some truly interesting titles have escaped the notice of many folks on
this side of the ocean. Ironically, oceans have come closest to bridging
this gap, as the titles that you probably are familiar with come from the
SEA DOGS series, published by Bethesda Software, who you recall because of
the ELDER SCROLLS series. Clearly appreciators of the organic touch,
Akella have furnished both games in the SEA DOGS series with a fully
orchestral score, and YURY POTEYENKO is responsible for both of them — for
some perspective, not even MORROWIND, which was released shortly after the
first SEA DOGS, was granted a live orchestra.
The latest in the series, AGE OF PIRATES: CARIBBEAN TALES, is a pleasure
to listen to, though its appeal may vary depending on your tolerance for
non-standard western moods. It is, you see, a very subdued score for the
Emerging from the mists of the sea, “Hymn of Corsairs (Main Theme)” (1)
gently rocks out a main motif. It is simple, but features a lilting horn
counterpart that helps balance it out and make it stronger. Sadly, this
main theme lacks the overwhelmingly memorable theme from the first game,
choosing instead one of the smaller themes to reprise and build on. A
pity, but not a deal-breaker. Those horns are back in the forefront for
“Caribbean Archipelago” (2), where they offer another calling of nobility.
Gentle string and woodwind rumblings offset the powerful brass, and the
relative openness of the orchestration keeps the music from getting
“Morning Breeze” (3) opens with a stirring string hymn before gradually
unfolding into a huge statement of the main theme and introducing AGE OF
PIRATES’ secret weapon: a large male chorus. In this track, the choir fits
supremely well into the mix, but in “Fierce Close Fight” (4), the first
action track, they stick out. This is largely because their tuning is
sometimes quite noticeably off in the latter part of the track. We can
forgive them though…they are pirates, after all, right? The track
otherwise handles action well, though in a decidedly European style,
without any of the electronic or percussion-led propulsion we’ve come to
expect of such cues. It’s a pleasant change.
Tension never lasts long on this album though, and so we move on to the
cute “Island Colony” (5), where light woodwinds dance a sprightly jig.
Despite being a long track, very little in the way of development occurs;
understandable considering it’s a gameplay track, but nevertheless a
little detrimental to the album listening experience. If you’re doing
nothing else while listening, it can get a bit dull. In the game, the main
theme is tied inextricably to storms, so it’s no surprise that it shows up
in “Approach of the Storm” (6), a quiet tension piece with a slow pace. It
picks up past the three-minute mark, but only very briefly before crashing
back down like a wave. The tension is resolved somewhat in “Mortal Combat”
(7), where we re-enter combat. Fierce brass stabs tied together by an edgy
trombone theme are underpinned by strong timpani rhythms and churning
strings. Unfortunately, the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying, and it’s
followed by an inexplicably short cue, “Life & Death” (8), that barely
passes twenty seconds in length and hardly registers.
One of the score’s most charming cues follows though. “Quiet Bay” (9)
opens with liberally ornamented woodwind solos trilling pleasantly over
pizzicato strings. The track develops into a strong statement of the main
theme and closes with the almost medieval woodwind motif. The almost
oriental “Moon Way” (10) presents a soothing flute melody, echoed by the
bassoons and then strings over sweet harp arpeggios. It is absolutely
gorgeous and develops patiently over the track’s generous 5:15 length.
Dispensing with gentleness, “To Boarding!” (11) is an aggressive call to
arms, with spitting woodwinds and brass bolstered by the shouting choir.
It gets the blood pumping for sure.
What becomes evident in listening to the AGE OF PIRATES score is that
there isn’t much in the way of overarching development. The album doesn’t
really build in any meaningful way over the course of its 16 tracks.
Consequently, as we approach the end there isn’t a great sense of having
made a journey to get there. In any event, the last few tracks offer some
pleasant moments. “Town Life” (12) plays like an extension of “Quiet Bay”
(13), albeit a less distinctive one. “Filibuster’s Revenge” (14) has an
almost Spartan sound to it, and it raises the intensity beyond what we’ve
encountered in any of the previous action cues.
The final three are all more peaceful and noble tracks, beginning with a
beautiful motif in “Sunrise” (14) that grows in volume but otherwise
remains rather strangely underdeveloped. There is, of course, a rousing
return to the main theme in “Hymn of Corsairs (Storm Theme)” (15). It’s a
solid reprise, though the theme still fails to evoke the same memorable
quality as its predecessor from SEA DOGS. Closing with “Boundless Ocean”
(16), the album saves one of its best for last. This is another rendition
of the main theme, but it is a much more emotional one, with some gorgeous
minor key harmonies thrown in to great effect.
The quality of the music is never in question in AGE OF PIRATES (though
some of the orchestral performances occasionally betray their low budget
nature), so what ultimately holds this album back from a higher score is
its static nature. It never soars too high, and remains fairly flat
throughout, so while the music makes for excellent and rich background
stuff for gameplay, it has a hard time keeping one’s full attention
outside of the game. Especially for those with ears that have been trained
to appreciate a more aggressive, propulsive pace. Those who like their
orchestral scores soft and contemplative will find lots to enjoy in AGE OF
PIRATES, but it’s doubtful that even they will find much to draw them back
for more than an occasional listen.