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Call of Duty: Black Ops by Sean Murray

Call of Duty: Black Ops

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Call of Duty: Black Ops (Soundtrack) by Sean Murray
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Call of Duty: Black Ops (Soundtrack) by Sean Murray

Call of Duty: Black Ops
Composed by Sean Murray

Rating: 5/10

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“Like the game itself, the score will probably garner mixed responses from its fans. Those expecting more of the same have got it, and those who wanted a little something extra will feel it comes up short.”

Just Doing His Duty
Review by Marius Masalar

Whether or not it’s entirely fair to do so, I often find myself expecting the best scores from the titles with the most familiar gameplay. In the case of CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS, the latest entry in the most popular first-person shooter franchise of all time, the game’s familiarity led me to hope that where it would set itself apart would be the music. The plot’s twisting darkness and mind tripping time jumps seemed to offer plenty of opportunities for creative interpretation, not to mention the strong Russian undertones and the usual military bravado found in this kind of thing. With the stage so conveniently set for him, SEAN MURRAY shows us what he’s capable of.

To help pull us into the game’s complicated mindset, the opener “Cube One” (1) introduces not only the notion of the number stations that are crucial to the plot, but also the general instrumentation we can expect — synths, distortion, and percussion. “Eagle Claw, Pt.1” (2) is the first real dose of music, and it’s a tense action sequence. Strings churn away under layers of synths and manipulated drums. They don’t have much to say, but they do keep pace, and when the synth brass enters three quarters of the way through, we get some semblance of theme to hold on to; it’s nothing you’ll be humming, but it’s serviceable. The minimalism continues in “Mac-V” (3), a groovy and evocative track that elicits memories of Tron: Legacy with its prominent synthetic pulses. Despite some unexpected vocal and violin flourishes, it fails to pull itself out of the realm of cool background music though.

The synth strings are back in “Blackbird” (4), along with some eerie guitar work and what sounds almost like twisted throat singing. MURRAY escalates the pace with a tempo change midway, but the track otherwise remains very static until it reaches its end climax. “Pegasus” (5) is the first time we hear the orchestra offering something other than a repeated pattern. Various sections weave and clash to form a propulsive atmosphere. Strong synthetic percussion supports the cue where needed, but manages to stay out of the way. In “Dwarka” (6), we get a dose of a slightly ethnic feel from the airy processed guitar, but the novelty quickly dissolves back into tired string ostinatos before we can celebrate.

“Melville” (7) returns us to the fray with another strings-and-synth combo that tosses in a bit of percussion and brass to liven things up. There’s no real enthusiasm though, and the cue melts into the background. “Crash” (8), as expected, is an intense and visceral (if very short) cue that nevertheless offers a good deal of excellent musical material, including a haunting female vocalist to carry us into “Commies” (9). As one might expect from the title, this track characterizes the experimentations of your enemies. The atmosphere is unnerving, and builds into a subtle action cue featuring a fresh male choir and continual synthetic washes of colour. “Hard Target” (10) is one of the album’s most musically satisfying. It begins very quietly and builds patiently to a noble and melodic conclusion, featuring a strong male vocalist and the force of the orchestra.

A smaller string section mourns steadily in “The Wall” (11), another beautiful track. The metallic percussion that joins in is a welcome and interesting addition that helps push us back into the action. “Virus” (12) is the first time on the album that we encounter a raw rock sound. Heavy guitars and drums blend with the distorted synths and some poignant solos to deliver a multi-layered and extremely engaging conflict cue. The sound is continued in “Invictus” (13), though less aggressively and with more of a focus on the supporting elements, including vocals and some very eclectic percussion. The terse march, “Foe” (14) is a staccato cutscene cue that resolves into a more melodic atmosphere of string pads and soothing vocals. The ethnic plucks come to the forefront in “Beheaded” (15) and, along with the occasional female vocals, help to lift an otherwise typical rock-driven action cue out of the realm of blandness.

Passing the album’s midway point, “Resurrection” (16) breaks up the action with some steady gameplay ambience. It’s unnecessarily long and brings the energy down. “Pentagon” (17), with an almost amusing combination of rock and military bravado, only partly recaptures the mood. In “Albion” (18), the Tron parallel is once again valid, with string arpeggios forming the backbone as other parts of the ensemble come in and out overtop. Continuing on from the second track on the album, “Eagle Claw, Pt. 2” (19) is let down by its painfully fake strings and brass — more noticeable after having heard live strings in previous tracks. The music is otherwise engagingly agitated though, and leads nicely into another gameplay ambience, “Panthers” (20), which once again feels longer than necessary. This one, though, has the advantage of reaching into more active territory as it erupts into percussion-led action sections over the course of its 5-minute length.

“Flaming Dart” (21) is a track from the ‘make everyone play the same note very loud’ school of composition, and although the sound is massive — especially when the rock band joins in — the music fails to muster too much interest. Ironically, it is the subsequent track, “Delirious” (22), that manages this much better. Its combination of quiet and bizarre percussive effects, not unlike sounds we’ve heard in Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes and Rango, perfectly capture the delirium of the protagonist. A cello solo even recalls some memories of BioShock. “Drexel” (23) is another forgettable ambience, somewhat more upbeat than its predecessors but still mindless. The remix, “Anvil (Remix)” (24) is also very basic, but is composed of such unusual sounds and textures that one cannot help but pay attention.

Unfortunately, by the time we reach “Revenge” (25), it is clear that the album’s finest moments are behind us. Serving as another serviceable but utterly banal action cue, it signals a descent into more mundane tracks. “Punch Through” (26) has some brief moments of interest with manipulated vocals and some orchestral might, but they are repetitive and unconvincing. Musicality makes something of a comeback in the hesitant and creepy “Deviant” (27), another march-like cue, if only because the music explores many different moods before soaring to one of the album’s few instances of unbridled melodic expression. Some Joker-like string squealing in “Bendz” (28) and the bland distorted action in “Rooftops” (29) do little to redeem the album’s ending stretch. The “Epilogue” (30) itself is so short that its lovely orchestral chords can do little to remove the sour taste left by this album’s fluctuating listening experience.

Coming out the other end of this disk, it becomes clear that the album presentation is once again (at least partly) at fault for an uneven listening experience. While SEAN MURRAY’s score is by no means bad, it only very occasionally transcends expectations and reaches for the stars. This fact is unfavorably highlighted by the album’s excessive length, the majority of which is filled by uninteresting and borderline generic action game scoring. It may set the tone and fit in-game, but albums are made for listening independently, and the way it is now, I can’t imagine many people listening to this one all the way through. Picking out the 4-5 star tracks results in a much more streamlined, dynamic, and consistently interesting listening experience, not to mention a more flattering depiction of MURRAY’s efforts.

Behind The Score:  Call of Duty Black Ops with Sean MurrayLike the game itself, the score will probably garner mixed responses from its fans. Those expecting more of the same have got it, and those who wanted a little something extra will feel it comes up short. In other words…grab it if you need some edgy workout music, but don’t expect it to keep your attention.

Rating: 5/10


Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Cube One 0:58  **
2 Eagle Claw Pt. 1 4:15  ***
3 Mac-V 2:17  *****
4 Blackbird 3:12  ****
5 Pegasus 3:10  ***
6 Dwarka 3:10  **
7 Melville 3:14  ***
8 Crash 0:44  ****
9 Commies 4:16  ****
10 Hard Target 3:18  *****
11 The Wall 3:15  *****
12 Virus 2:30  ****
13 Invictus 2:17  ***
14 Foe 3:21  ****
15 Beheaded 3:57  ***
16 Resurrection 4:56  **
17 Pentagon 3:14  ***
18 Albion 3:06  ****
19 Eagle Claw, Pt. 2 2:16  ***
20 Panthers 5:08  **
21 Flaming Dart 3:04  ***
22 Delirious 3:38  ****
23 Drexel 4:09  **
24 Anvil (Remix) 2:19  ***
25 Revenge 3:19  **
26 Punch Through 4:55  **
27 Deviant 4:45  ****
28 Bendz 3:34  **
29 Rooftops 3:32  **
30 Epilogue 1:22  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 97 minutes  


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