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Assassin's Creed 2 by Jesper Kyd

Assassin's Creed 2

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Assassin's Creed 2 (Soundtrack)  by Jesper Kyd
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assassin's Creed 2 (Soundtrack) by Jesper Kyd

Assassin's Creed 2
Composed by Jesper Kyd
Ubisoft Music (2009)

Rating: 9/10

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“ASSASSIN’S CREED II is a score I will be returning to time and again for the sheer artistry and beauty on display, and it reaffirms JESPER KYD as a composer to watch. Its impact grows with each successive listen.”


Coming of Age
review by Marius Masalar
 

I don't know about you, but every time I see a white feather on the street nowadays, I look over my shoulder in the hopes of glimpsing some cloaked figure as he dispatches any nearby Templars. ASSASSIN’S CREED, Ubisoft's 2007 action platformer, is of course responsible for this strange behaviour. But while the first game was a compelling proof of concept, it wasn't until the sequel came out that the series truly came into its own. Meet ASSASSIN’S CREED II, all grown up.

Critics of the first game will argue that the original title's story was only sporadically interesting and left the majority of the game to wallow in a thread of repetitive and uninteresting quests, all leading up to virtually identical assassination missions. Thankfully, Ubisoft has upped the ante significantly this time around, introducing us to Ezio, a rambunctious and instantly likable youth who actually has a personality and whose experiences in the beginning of the game believably justify his progression from teenager to assassin. The much larger variety of quest types, the fleshed out and well-acted characters (including some surprising cameos from history), and the vibrantly realized and detailed landscapes of Renaissance Italy all come together to form a package that finally feels like a complete game and not just a giant sandbox of murder and eagle metaphors.

And, of course, the audio department is also back in full force, with a beautiful musical score by JESPER KYD that presents Renaissance Italy by way of Sigur Ros and ACDC. It is a mature and extremely dynamic score, generously presented on two discs, and it finally transcends the game itself to offer a consistently excellent listening experience on its own too — something its predecessor fell just short of.

KYD’s matured musical voice for this sequel is immediately evident in the opening track of the first disc, “Earth” (1-1), which is one of the most amazing cues in recent game audio. It won’t bowl you over with lush orchestral fire or unnecessary percussive pyrotechnics…it won’t need them. Over a simple bed of guitars and gentle airy synths, a stunning female voice cries out the main theme of ASSASSIN’S CREED II. This rising, propulsive theme manages to carry some tragedy despite its structurally uplifting nature, and the edgy percussion and electric guitars that enter further along only serve to contribute a sharper edge to KYD’s musical blade.

“Venice Rooftops” (1-2) extends the theme further with some clever development that brings in a string section and a faster tempo, driven by strong toms and a pulsing synth. The combination of organic and synthetic elements is seamless in ASSASSIN’S CREED II, a fact that works in its favour as there is no longer such a profound disconnect between those two aspects of the game’s story — past and future. As is appropriate for the plot progression, the two’s similarities are being emphasized here, rather than their differences. Nice and early, we are treated to one of the album’s strongest tracks: “Ezio’s Family” (1-3). This remarkable track is essentially a continuation of the opening track, but this time the string section replaces the aggressive electric guitars and percussion and almost all distortion gives way to softer but powerfully dramatic sounds, all building to a stirring conclusion. In an interesting juxtaposition, one of the game’s saddest cues is immediately followed by one of its lightest. “Florence Tarantella” (1-4) is a unique and memorable piece of music not only because of its placement in the game but also because of its extra dose of historical authenticity.

Our first interaction with the score’s more purely synthetic elements comes in the form of “Home in Florence” (1-5), a peaceful gameplay ambience that you’ll hear while walking the streets of Florence. One would think, looking from the outside, that hearing such synthetic sounds in what is meant to be an historic game environment would be jarring, but there is an organic quality to KYD’s synth work that creates what is truly an appropriate atmosphere. The string elements accompanied by soft synthetic plucking are simply gorgeous.

Several tracks on the album are offered in multiple alternate versions. In fact they’re not actual alternate versions of one cue, they’re more like different cues for the same subject matter. The first of these is “Approaching Target 1” (1-6), a sparse but unsettling cue that accompanies you as you close in on your prey. This first version is the least tense of the three that appear across the two discs, and it flows very nicely into “Approaching Target 2” (1-7). The second has a stronger melodic presence and a more definite pulse, subtly carried by a quiet harp. There’s something magical about how KYD sculpts moods so minimally — this is undoubtedly a tense cue, but there’s nary a string tremolo or brass rip to be heard.

Another spurt of action takes place across “Venice Fight” (1-8) and “Florence Escape” (1-9), both of which feature distorted percussion and synth elements interacting with processed guitars and brisk rhythmic figures. The latter is significantly more interesting in its construction and the vocals that creep in are an excellent effect, dissolving in and out of the background to highlight the urgency. The relaxing “Tour of Venice” (1-10) brings us back to soft and organic instruments, including the solo vocalist whose gentle cooing emerges attractively from the string accompaniment. The tour is a pleasant one, but there are undertones of menace to be heard, foreshadowing darker times in the city to come.

The next of the multi-part tracks is “Flight Over Venice 1” (1-11), another marvelous cue that follows one of the best parts of the game as you make use of Leonardo Da Vinci’s prototype glider to soar above the city at night. It’s a bright and energetic piece of music that conveys the elation of flight very well. “Back in Venice” (1-12) is a brief and cinematic cue that pushes into the haunting “Dream of Venice” (1-13), where KYD calls upon the same elegiac monk chanting that he employed for the first game’s score. The sub-theme for Venice is also nicely reprised, along with some nods to the main theme. “Home of the Brotherhood” (14) is an unassuming ambience featuring a blend of very quiet choirs and sustained strings shifting beneath a solo guitar.

The last of the tracks that has multiple versions is “Leonardo’s Inventions Pt 1” (1-15). In this instance, the second ‘version’ is in fact a direct continuation of this cue to be found near the end of the second disc. Piano arpeggios swirl out the pensive theme for Leonardo’s machinations. The first disc of ASSASSIN’S CREED II ends less distinctively than it began, with “Venice Combat Low” (1-16) and “Venice Escape” (1-17) both being effective but less overtly interesting gameplay cues, the placement of which is fairly self-explanatory. The insistent 4-note motif in the first is sitting on the border of annoying. Luckily the second offers more variety and a lot more energy in the form of a distorted but not overpowering rhythm and a strong entry from the lead vocalist.

Launching into the album’s second disc, “Darkness Falls In Florence” (2-1) is an appropriately dark and menacing ambient piece, with nervous strings and some vocal swells. It’s not terribly interesting but it sets up the overall tone of the second disc well and leads into the beautiful “Sanctuary” (2-2). Piano, a rare presence on the score, returns to solo over a bed of strings and synths. It is a peaceful cue, but seems fraught with underlying complications and drama — perfect, in other words, for its placement. “The Madam” (2-3) is one of the most creative tracks on the album. It makes interesting use of the lead vocalist’s shimmering voice as a very exposed solo element. The track is very brief, but as she dances over the synth pad, there is an unmistakable sense of grace and elegance conveyed by the singer.

“Approaching Target 3” (2-4) and “Flight Over Venice 2” (2-5) are both alternate versions of tracks from the first disc, and though both remain faithful to the spirit of their precursors, both are weaker tracks, failing to muster the same energy or interest. This, unfortunately, is a smooth transition into the album’s weakest portion. With the exception of a few notable moments, “Ezio in Florence” (2-6), “Venice Industry” (2-7), “Stealth” (2-8), and “Notorious” (2-10) are all rather underwhelming. In fact, to be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with the tracks except for the fact that they represent the only segment of the album where one doesn’t feel the same strength and significance to the music outside of the game. They’re ‘just’ successful gameplay ambiences, and so while the rest of the album can keep your active attention without much effort, these tracks release it and are probably too insubstantial for anything but background listening — which is what they were intended for.

“Venice Combat” (2-9) breaks them up with an insertion of activity that recalls the motif from “Venice Escape” — clearly a conflict theme for the city. In any case, the second disc picks up again in its second half. “Night Mission in Venice” (2-11) is a very film-y piece with theatrical strings lending some gravity to one of the game’s most important assignments. “Chariot Chase” (2-12) is possibly the strongest cue on the disc, and certainly one of the most elaborate action sequences overall. KYD does an excellent job of bringing together most of the instruments and sound colours he’s used in the rest of the score, resulting in a large and dynamic listening experience. The percussion is particularly engaging, with many different layers and textures employed.

With “The Plague” (2-13), we encounter one of the creepiest ambiences on the entire album. Distant vocals, slightly detuned bells, and a brooding synth pad mingle with strings to paint an eerie picture. From there, heading to the end, “Wetlands Combat” (2-14) and “Wetlands Escape” (2-15) are very cool action tracks with a heavy, murky feeling to them, supported by large percussion and low distorted guitar chugging. The second one brings vocals into the mix as well.

In a nostalgic nod to the first disc, “Leonardo’s Inventions Pt 2” (2-16) continues to develop Leonardo’s pensive theme, this time with guitar and strings supporting the piano more prominently. “Hideout” (2-17) follows, pushing us toward a more synthetic atmosphere — not unlike the first album’s ending. It is a deep and contemporary cue with clean electric guitar lines. As a necessary acknowledgement to the fans of the previous score, “Animus 2.0” (2-18) concludes the ASSASSIN’S CREED II score with a wholly synthetic, broad, and menacing ambience. Unfortunately, it lacks the range and complexity of “Access the Animus” from the first game’s score, and results in a rather unrewarding end to the album. I suppose, if nothing else, it makes us anticipate the next installment more fervently.

ASSASSIN’S CREED II is a mighty achievement. From the first track, it absorbs you and brings you to a world of intrigue, history, and rich environments, and its greatest strength is its ability to convey those elements independently, without needing to rely on the game’s visuals as a crutch. It’s encouraging to see JESPER KYD’s musical ideas from the first game mature so smoothly and successfully here, and the stylistic melding he’s known for is on display here. Also worth mentioning is the superior quality of the audio production — instruments that aren’t supposed to sound synthetic no longer do, there are more live elements, and the juxtaposition of synthetic and organic elements is more seamlessly handled. Nevertheless, the second disc of the album is undoubtedly weaker than the first, if only because it provides less material to pay direct attention to.

That being said, ASSASSIN’S CREED II is a score I will be returning to time and again for the sheer artistry and beauty on display, and it reaffirms JESPER KYD as a composer to watch. Its impact grows with each successive listen.
 

Rating: 9/10

 

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Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
  Disc 1    
1 Earth 3:58  *****
2 Venice Rooftops 3:18  ****
3 Ezio's Family 3:58  *****
4 Florence Tarantella 1:52  *****
5 Home in Florence 4:30  ****
6 Appraching Target 1 3:36  ****
7 Approaching Target 2 6:07  *****
8 Venice Fight 2:01  ***
9 Florence Escape 2:49  ****
10 Tour of Venice 3:16  *****
11 Flight Over Venice 1 5:10  *****
12 Back in Venice 1:33  ****
13 Dream of Venice 4:24  ****
14 Home of the Brotherhood 3:26  ****
15 Leonardo's Inventions Pt. 1 2:12  ****
16 Venice Combat Low 1:44  ***
17 Venice Escape 3:26  ***
       

Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
  Disc 2    
1 Darkness Falls in Florence 4:05  ***
2 Sanctuary 4:06  ****
3 The Madam 1:04  ****
4 Appraching the Target 3 5:52  ***
5 Flight Over Venice 2 5:19  ****
6 Ezio in Florence 2:18  ****
7 Venice Industry 3:09  ***
8 Stealth 2:23  ***
9 Venice Combat 2:04  ****
10 Notorious 1:14  ***
11 Night Mission in Venice 2:11  ****
12 Chariot Chase 3:20  *****
13 The Plague 3:30  ****
14 Wetlands Combat 2:48  ****
15 Wetlands Escape 2:37  ****
16 Leonardo's Inventions Pt. 2 2:47  *****
17 Hideout 2:40  ***
18 The Animus 2.0 4:14  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 113 minutes  

 

 
   

 

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