Friday, January 29, 2016

Into the Heart of the Jungle

Heart of Thorns soundtrack cover (Source:
After completing the score of Guild Wars 2, original composer Jeremy Soule signed a contract where he was to exclusively write music for the Everquest series. With Soule refined to his tiny MMO cage, we now have the pleasure of Maclaine Diemer and Lena Chappelle (featuring a bit of Stan Le Pard) creating the music behind this absolutely spine tingling addition to the Guild Wars musical canon.

The music couldn't be a further departure from Soule's style. Whereas Soule's work is fantastical, this team know how to capture that fantasy sound but also create atmosphere. The score is lyrical, blending amazing orchestration (brass, strings and percussion being the strongest featured) and the traditional fantasy soundtrack with inspiration of indigenous voices and Eastern tonalities. The results are gorgeous, forlorn, and overall, exceptionally powerful.

There are no throw away tracks in this score. The thunderous 'Heart of Thorns Theme' is brilliant - a brooding, dark overture which pulsates with a rhythm driven by powerful percussion, strings, and brass. It's nothing short of awesome. Other picks are the mysterious and serene 'Quaggan Command' (dat name tho), the escalating 'Maguuma Overture', the exquisite candor of 'Tarir, the Forgotten City' and the ethnic and jaunty 'Jaka Itzel' (which along with 'Faren's Flier' provides some nice light relief to the otherwise serious score). There is also this beautiful discourse of intoxicating mystery which comes across in tracks like 'Rata Novus', 'Dangerous Beauty' and 'Taming the Jungle'. The score closes with 'Mordremoth', a final ode to the treaterous jungle which encapsulates the whole score with lightning strings, intricate rhythms and percussion and alien languages and ritualistic chanting.

There's also a very impressive preservation of themes previously appearing in the series - Soule's Guild Wars motif echoes throughout, featuring prominently on 'Leaving Tarir', and Crystal Oasis (all the way back from the original Guild Wars: Prophecies) features on 'An Exalted Lullaby'. However, the team integrates them only as brief fragments before they evolve to take on a life of their own. And I won't go into great detail on excellent battle tracks like 'Attack on Tarir' or 'Mouth of Mordremoth' - all you need to know is that they feature far more melody and structure as Soule's work, but unlike Soule, manages to actually make something enjoyable.

The recording of the orchestra isn't the highest possibly quality, but that's what makes it such a refreshing listen to after hearing so much of Soule's scores. You hear little scuffs, pages shuffle and people taking breaths, and at one point you can even hear someone's muffled cough in the background. These don't detract from the music - on the contry, it gives it a magical, living and breathing feeling. I understand there is a certain amount of instrumental patches used, but I couldn't be happier that there's a real orchestra in use to some capacity, and I hope it carries on for the next Guild Wars expansions.

I can't comment on how appropriate this music is within the game's instances, but the quality of music and melody here is extremely strong, and easily stands alone as an excellent soundtrack. My jaw dropped from the moment I hit play on a sample up until the final note had settled on the finale. I hope Diemer & Chappelle stay with ArenaNet for a long time, and I'm eagerly going to await their foray into Cantha, Elona, and beyond.

''Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Original Soundtrack' by ArenaNet, composed by Maclaine Diemer, Lena Chappelle & Stan Le Pardl is available digitally on iTunes and Available for pre-order on physical vinyl. I wish it was available on CD, but who actually buys them anymore?

Friday, January 22, 2016


The latest soundtrack by Cirque du Soleil (Source: Spotify)
I guess that Cirque du Soleil is past the point of caring about creating exquisite melodies and transportive works. Joyá is a clumsy and bombastic half-hour of music that we could've all done without, and will go in one ear and out the other whether you want it to or not.

This Spanglish (read: what white people think Mexican music sounds like) product is brought to you from the dinner show which performs at the Riviera Maya Resort in Mexico. From what I gather, the performance itself takes a backseat from the food - and it sounds like the music is an after-thought to even the background. 

The composition is very slap dash, nothing special and certainly doesn't 'feel' like a Cirque du Soleil score. There have been competitors knocking off Cirque for years with foreign sounding lyrics and 'zany' compositions, but it seems we've reached a full cycle where Cirque du Soleil is now imitating that exact style. There isn't really anything in terms of lyrics, and while there is a use of 'motifs' they are so basic it's like listening to a nursery rhyme on repeat.

One of the lines is 'Ai yi yi yi yi'. Guys, we get it, we're in Mexico.

The mix of instruments just doesn't work. The core instruments are guitar, keyboards/percussion and trumpet, with a female and sometimes male voice joining them. Even when the score tries to be upbeat, it sounds cheesy and low energy. The mixing of the CD is really bizarre too (instruments surge and pan between ears, weird effects on instruments), and there's also an unfortunately gross sounding synthesised strings plug-in that features prominently (and when it does it sounds ridiculous). The whole recording feels very lifeless.

If 'Comedy of Errors' had been in another show as a clown act, I would've commended the composers for finally making a cute, goofy and interesting cue. But it's not for a clown act - it's literally the only stand-out in the score for simply not being derivative, and even then it's not something you could listen to for an extended period of time. Nothing here is going to endure over time or become a proud hallmark of the company's musical catalog.

Even if you've been to the show, I can't think of a single reason why you'd want to listen to this boring mess. If you're a diehard Cirque fan and you need to own it, be prepared to go through some annoying lengths as the physical record is only available at the show. It's cheesy clichés galore and it sounds like hackneyed background noise at a family friendly themed restaurant - oh wait, that's *exactly* what the pitch is.

'Joyá' by Cirque du Soleil is available digitally on iTunes, and Spotify. Available on physical CD at Joya's Official Boutique onsite. .