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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by Oscar Araujo

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

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Castlevania:  Lords of Shadow (Soundtrack) by Oscar Araujo

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Composed by Oscar Araujo
Promo Release (2010)

Rating: 10/10

 

“Standing defiantly against the stereotype that gameplay music must be unobtrusive in order to be successful, OSCAR ARAUJO’s magnificent score for CASTLEVANIA: Lords of Shadow elevates an already strong production to dizzying heights, and sets the bar high for games to come.”

A Beautiful Re-Invention
Review by Marius Masalar
 

Not too long ago, the International Film Music Critics Association announced their award winner for best video game score. The winner, who was also nominated for best breakout composer of the year, beat out such critically acclaimed titles as 007 Bloodstone, Dark Void, and Lego Universe — each of which was penned by marvelous and well-known composers. The unexpected bolt of lightning that took the IFMCA and your humble writer’s breath away was the score for CASTLEVANIA: Lords of Shadow, a 3D reboot of the iconic Konami franchise, developed by Mercury Steam and released on the major consoles earlier this year. The musical mastermind behind this achievement was OSCAR ARAUJO, whose name is likely unfamiliar to you.

ARAUJO is a Spanish composer whose work on CASTLEVANIA will surely catapult him to more mainstream work, though he is certainly no stranger to the craft, having worked on a number of smaller scale projects in his homeland. For CASTLEVANIA, ARAUJO pulled out all the stops and recorded an absolutely immense score with a 120-piece orchestra and choir in Bratislava. An immediate gauge of the score’s success is that even die-hard Castlevania fans, ones who were demanding another gothic-rock musical offering in the vein of all the previous titles in the series, have unashamedly admitted that ARAUJO’s score — while certainly unexpected — takes the franchise in a very strong new direction.

From the opening low strings rhythm in “Besieged Village” (1), the pace is set and the score’s main theme soon unfolds majestically in a huge choral statement accompanied by the full ensemble. It is only a tease though, as the scale quickly shrinks back to a more modest level, only to build back up several times over the duration of the cue. The ebb and flow of intensity is effortless, and never interrupts the propulsive action underscoring, a trait that is consistent across all tracks on the limited edition soundtrack album. “The Warg” (2) feels like a straight continuation, with more of the same aggressive orchestral pacing to underscore combat. The fact that these are standard in-game tracks rather than cinematic cues goes to show just how literally epic the game experience itself is made to feel.

Continuing the strong opening portion of the album, “Hunting Path” (3) re-states the main theme before sweeping into a shiver-inducing choral interlude. This progression from action to choral peace is echoed several times, with the action eventually wearing itself out. “The Dead Bog” (4) is basically the first point where the score lets you take a breath. Dropping the quick pace and action of the previous three cues, it presents a moody atmosphere for the bog. It is hardly an understated background cue though, featuring a dramatic climax. There are no filler tracks here. When the action returns in “The Swamp Troll” (5), it is in a more subdued manner, with dark low woodwinds growling about as the strings and percussion gallop along. Though it grows back to a huge scale by the end, it pales in comparison to “The Ice Titan” (6), a truly fantastic boss battle cue. With shades of the God of War series shining through, this track manages to convey a sense of grandeur without becoming too busy. There’s also a spectacular reprise of the main theme.

The album’s calm middle portion is one of its strongest aspects. Beginning with “Labyrinth Entrance” (7), we finally begin to feel some untainted gentleness. A cooing clarinet carries the theme over a bed of strings and woodwinds. The restraint is refreshing and offers a sense of contemplation. While soothing, the track is also fairly anonymous, which is one of the few instances where that adjective can be used to describe this album. That being said, the next tracks more than make up for it. “Waterfalls of Agharta” (8) is a work of beauty, with stirring harp, cello, and violin figures painting a scene of natural splendor. It leads us to “Agharta” (9), where the material is lifted to a new dramatic height in a manner that would feel right at home in the Lord of the Rings scores.

In terms of peaceful material, the standout track may well be “Cornell” (10), a patient and noble piece of music that hovers in the quiet middle between background and foreground, only occasionally pushing out in either direction. Whenever it does, as in the string theme that appears near the end, the result is worth the wait. “Maze Gardens” (11) begins lifting us back out of reverie, with dramatic swells leading to an operatic conclusion. By the time we reach “Castle Hall” (12), the tension is creeping back in, and the sweet sound of the female chorus does little to mask it. As the orchestra continues building back its energy, a deep, throbbing rhythm emerges in the climax to deliver us to “The Evil Butcher” (13). Conflict returns with a vengeance here, with a soaring horn line leading a sharp brass-led march.

Sheer terror ensues at the onset of “Laura’s Mercy” (14), with shifting choir whispers and slithering violins. The effect is all the more poignant since it is followed by the album’s most glorious statement of pure romance. One of the most distinctive battle tracks is “Carmilla” (15), which somehow feels more in tune with the gothic nature of previous CASTLEVANIA scores. The choir is firmly the centre of attention, and twisted variations on many previous motifs from the score make brief appearances in the brass and strings.

Opening the album’s final stretch is “The God Mask” (16), a brief but powerful thematic offering for the mysterious artifact at the heart of the game’s plot. What follows is perhaps the only true disappointment: “Belmont’s Theme” (17). Considering the fact that it is the theme for the protagonist, there is definitely a lot of expectation for it to be impressive, and ARAUJO only half delivers. While the music is definitely unique, lively, and just as well crafted as the rest of the score, it doesn’t feel much like a theme for the character. It fails to really represent all facets of his struggle, and so falls somewhat flat despite being pleasant to listen to. The might of “Final Confrontation” (18) swiftly makes us forget all about that though. Bringing together the full breadth of orchestral and choral forces at his disposal, ARAUJO’s parting battle theme is a lengthy, satisfying, and unerringly motivational cue. Amid the choral stabs and brass flourishes, a dark theme is presented and developed, and by the time we reach the ending that consists of a reprise of the main theme, it’s almost overwhelming how powerful the effect is. “The End” (19) does for the score’s quieter material what the previous track did for its action fare. The game’s more somber and subdued moods are wrapped together and put to rest. Rounding everything off is “Love Lost” (20), a moving and plaintive dirge, beginning with a crying violin and ending with one final triumphant statement of the theme.

What makes CASTLEVANIA: Lords of Shadow an impressive score is not only its success as an album listening experience, but also its success in the game. Where there is usually a divide between the scale and sophistication of cinematic music vs. in-game tracks, here no such divide exists, and I challenge you to try and decide which of the tracks from the CD fit into which category. I guarantee you would be surprised. Standing defiantly against the stereotype that gameplay music must be unobtrusive in order to be successful, OSCAR ARAUJO’s magnificent score for CASTLEVANIA: Lords of Shadow elevates an already strong production to dizzying heights, and sets the bar high for games to come. ARAUJO is already working on the score for the sequel, and given the amazing quality of work he’s displayed here, it’s surely just the first of many more great things we can expect from him.
 

Rating: 10/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Besieged Village 4:23  *****
2 The Warg 3:26  *****
3 Hunting Path 2:28  *****
4 The Dead Bog 2:13  ****
5 The Swamp Troll 5:03  ****
6 The Ice Titan 4:12  *****
7 Labyrinth Entrance 3:17  ****
8 Waterfalls of Agharta 2:45  *****
9 Agharta 1:26  *****
10 Cornell 4:12  *****
11 Maze Gardens 3:18  ****
12 Castle Hall 4:09  *****
13 The Evil Butcher 4:10  ***
14 Laura's Mercy 1:38  ****
15 Carmilla 2:03  *****
16 The God Mask 1:18  *****
17 Belmont's Theme 2:53  ****
18 Final Confrontation 6:09  *****
19 The End 5:47  ****
20 Love Lost 1:27  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 66 minutes  

 

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