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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 + Director's Cut
by Oscar Araujo

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (Soundtrack) by Oscar Araujo
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (Soundtrack) by Oscar Araujo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (Soundtrack) by Oscar Araujo

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Composed by Oscar Araujo
Sumthing Else Music Works (2013)

Rating: 10/10

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DIRECTORS CUT EDITION AVAILABLE AT SUMTHING.COM

 

“It sounds like LORDS OF SHADOW, but there is most definitely something different brewing under the surface, and the final product is nothing short of exceptional.”

Something Different Under the Surface
Review by Richard Buxton

 

The release of a video game sequel is frequently met with a unique level of expectation, an expectation that forms a set of parameters within which the game must fall. There’s the inevitable need for the advancement of a game’s plot and the improvement of its visuals, but the decisive factor in the success of a game comes down to the treatment of its gameplay. The particular demands of gaming audiences set out a need for familiarity in the constructs of the gameplay, but also add a need for devices that innovate in ways that provide fresh experiences, all the while never straying from what made the original release a success. The problem with these parameters is that they are largely unwritten until the benefit of the audience’s hindsight comes to the fore. When these expectations are met though, the results can mean significant boosts to a franchise’s reach - as in the case of the Electronic Arts published MASS EFFECT 2 and DEAD SPACE 2 for example - whereas a failure to live up to such demands can see a franchise brought to its knees - a fate not foreign to Capcom with the critically maligned DEVIL MAY CRY 2, and RESIDENT EVIL 5 and 6. This type of expectation is one rarely found in the film industry, where more of the same, as long as it advances the overarching plot, is generally accepted. Can this level of expectation affect a video game’s score? In many cases yes, and CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW 2 is one of these. Crucially, MercurySteam have found themselves a loyal composer whose ability seems boundless, his talent unwavering.

After the twisting climactic events of the first LORDS OF SHADOW and the 3DS release MIRROR OF FATE, players once again find themselves shrouded in the cloak of Gabriel Belmont who now goes by the name of Dracula. Forewarned of Satan’s return, Dracula ventures in search of powers once wielded, but not without facing the wrath of his own son, Alucard. Developed for release on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows, LORDS OF SHADOW 2 is one the last standout major releases exclusive to the seventh generation of consoles, a generation that has seen video game music grow at an astounding rate so as to presently sit alongside film music as no less than an equal in the realm of orchestral music. Developers MercurySteam have branched out from the linearity of their first CASTLEVANIA entry and placed the transformed Gabriel in an open world; one that travels beyond the series’ famed medieval setting and into the modern-day. This is clearly MercurySteam’s answer to the aforementioned omnipresent expectations, and with this new outlook come significant shifts in the musical score. As with LORDS OF SHADOW and MIRROR OF FATE, LORDS OF SHADOW 2 is scored by Spanish composer OSCAR ARAUJO. Surprising almost nobody, ARAUJO has vanquished any obstacles presented by the changes in this sequel, and has produced another score of generation-defining quality.

The interchange between the grandiose orchestral action and sweeping gothic hymns of the first score are present as one would expect and hope, but the methods in which these are communicated have undergone some noticeable changes, and this is evident from the very opening of the score. “The Throne Room” (1), much like “Intro” from the LORDS OF SHADOW: ULTIMATE EDITION (LoS1) score release, can be interpreted as a teasing introduction to the two sides of the score - the opening understated string theme provides a basis for many of the calmer and more cinematic-driven themes, whereas the churning second half is a subdued introduction into the score’s more action-intensive cues. Both halves of this opening track are developed upon significantly further into the score, but this score’s differences to the first are laid bare from the outset. The tragedy of Gabriel’s past is laid on thick in the predecessor’s score, and while LORDS OF SHADOW 2 is no less melancholic, it is a different breed of despair that is described in ARAUJO’S opening cue. The washing of the first half’s strings has an ever-so-slight tinge of optimism, hinting at Gabriel’s resignation to his fate as the immortal legend rather than a conflict against it, and this is a mood that perpetuates through the entirety of the score. Gone is the glorious tragedy of a love lost, replaced by a stately wistfulness. This is a change that proves intensely engaging, and the development of Gabriel as a character is immediately obvious through the music, but admittedly it lacks some of the raw emotional depth heard in the first score.

The next, and most notable progression of ARAUJO’S music comes in the second cue, “Brotherhood Assault” (2). Moments in, the orchestral elements are accompanied by propulsive electronics that drive much of this first action-oriented cue. The immediate impression given by the electronics is one of greater simplicity than what one might expect from ARAUJO, and while it would be easy to dismiss this shift as derivative of the average Hollywood action score, the electronics serve a clear purpose. Not only do they drive this particular cue forward with great impetus, they also reflect the changing circumstances for our hero, a man stuck, seemingly eternally, in a time not his own. This second cue is one of the weaker of the action variety however, and the electronics are used more effectively further into the score.

In terms of themes, LORDS OF SHADOW 2 is comprised of numerous, a number of which have foundations in “The Throne Room” (2). The common thread between many of the cues is often subtle and demands repeated performances in order to be fully appreciated. The initial evidence for the first track’s influence on the score can be heard in “Dying for a Drop of Blood” (3). Like the first cue, this possesses a duality of optimism and understated gloom, which is achieved through the similarities in the string progression . The sweeping notes of string and choral combinations, each drawn out to full measures, rise triumphantly, gaining momentum until the hushed ending reprisal draws the cue to a close. “Return to the Castle” (22) echoes this sentiment with a greater emphasis on the choir as the female and male voices intertwine beautifully with long statements. This track in particular exemplifies the effective use of more pronounced electronics in LORDS OF SHADOW 2. Never do they snatch attention from the orchestral elements, instead softly driving them and the choral elements with an almost ethereal glide.

A more prominent motif comes in the form of “Dracula’s Theme” (8), a new central melody for the protagonist. It is in this cue that his mourning, not only for his long-passed wife but also for himself, is finally expressed. In stark contrast to his musical depiction in the first game, “Belmont’s Theme” (LoS1), “Dracula’s Theme” (8) is a dark, minor poetic piano motif that paints Gabriel as the pitiful being depicted at the end of LORDS OF SHADOW, before an orchestral eruption reveals the vengeance stirring inside him. The theme is briefly restated in both “Carmilla” (11), and the beautifully resolving “Carmilla’s Spell” (19), but largely takes a back seat, never receiving the full statement that it often threatens to grow into. It takes the arrival of “Satan” (18) himself for the theme to be unleashed in a menacing, doom-laden cacophony of choir brass that intimidates as much as it entertains.

The theme for Void, Dracula’s health-replenishing sword first encountered in MIRROR OF FATE, debuts in “The Power of Void” (12) as a development of the the theme heard in “The Throne Room”. The opening three note statement, mirroring that of “Dracula’s Theme”, develops into a beautiful but agonisingly brief sweeping of emotion. The theme later reappears in the electronic-infused “Void Power” (23) in a longer, more ominous statement. An earlier forerunner of the Void theme, can be heard in hushed violin tones at the start of and in the middle of “Descent to the Castle Dungeons” (6), and the combination of these two motifs can eventually be heard in “Underground Forge” (26). The theme for Void is very understated and delicate, particularly when considering that it is in fact a harbinger of destruction placed in the hands of the vengeful Dracula, and is ultimately an insight into the legend’s reluctance towards his own continual existence.

Despite a focus on newer themes, LORDS OF SHADOW 2 does not neglect its forebears as the main theme from the first game makes numerous appearances, although in somewhat reduced forms. The standout return comes in “Satan” (18), as the theme for Dracula segues effortlessly into the heroic LORDS OF SHADOW theme in all its glory. With sporadic and often subtle hints at the theme scattered across the thirty-one cues - the opening of “The Paladin of God” (5), the ending of “Descent to the Castle Dungeons” (6), and also “Toy Maker’s Heart” (20) to name a few - this full rendition brings with it a great sense of fulfillment and outright excitement given the theme’s unparalleled thrills within the game’s musical universe.

Alongside the return of the main theme come notable new arrangements of four MIRROR OF FATE (MoF) cues. “The Siege Titan” (7) injects fresh life into “Daemon Lord” (MoF) with swirling strings and aggressive brass rallies, while “Toy Maker’s Heart” revives both “Theatre” (MoF) and “Carousel” (MoF) from the 3DS release. Perhaps the highlight of these rearrangements can be heard in the reflective and beautifully moving “City in Flames” (13), appearing in MIRROR OF FATE as “Gabriel’s Farewell” (MoF). It should be noted that each of these rearrangements is by and large identical to the original MIRROR OF FATE version, but with the more than welcome orchestral upgrade.

As should be evident by now, much of the heavily thematic material is to be found away from the action cues. In contrast to the first game’s score, much of the action music heard here is more rhythm-dependent in its use of percussion and subsequently has a more linear progression. This does not make the action music on offer any less spectacular however. The action truly gets started with “The Toy Maker” (4) as the choral chants clash with electronics before venturing into incomplete statements of the main LORDS OF SHADOW theme that make for a breathtaking conclusion. “Hunter and Prey” (9) swirls and swells inexorably before a new heroic theme bursts into life just past its halfway mark. This theme is later restated with a twist in one of the score’s most thrilling climactic sequences, at the end of “Castlevania” (14). Perhaps the most consistently enthralling action cue though comes in the form of “Chaotic Battle” (17). Flurries of string ostinatos and waves of brass conjure an immense intensity that peaks multiple times within the track, only to be re-injected moments later, making for a stunning combat cue. The action cues are brilliant across the board, and are arguably an improvement over those heard in the first game. This is largely down to an audible boost in conviction. The action cues heard in LORDS OF SHADOW would occasionally ever so slightly waver when straying from the major themes, though their overall excellence is never questioned. The rhythmic injections heard in LORDS OF SHADOW 2 provide a stronger platform from which ARAUJO launches these action cues. They are forceful and relentless, as they rightly should be.

Surprising as it may seem, LORDS OF SHADOW 2 does have its faults. They are few and far between, but nonetheless real. “Back to the Present” (24) emanates a thick atmosphere in its similarity to “Void Power” (23), but shows very little evolution beyond its pulsing synth, while “Enough Talk!” (28) is an effective, but somewhat musically uneventful tension builder.

A first listen through LORDS OF SHADOW 2 may prove slightly jarring. There are a number of elements that set it apart from its predecessor, at times proving almost imperceptible while at others unmissable. It sounds like LORDS OF SHADOW, but there is most definitely something different brewing under the surface, and the final product is nothing short of exceptional. The changes in MercurySteam’s franchise have seen changes in ARAUJO’S stellar contribution. The Spanish composer has, like the developers, not so much revolutionized his landscape as augmented it. There is just enough musical evolution here to provide a thrillingly fresh, but reassuringly familiar experience. Aside from a few inevitable dips, this score is just tremendous. OSCAR ARAUJO has retained what made the first score so irresistible, whilst skillfully incorporating narrative-driven shifts that could potentially have derailed the score, but ultimately did not. This infinitely talented composer had already secured his immortality, and has just raised the benchmark he himself so masterfully set in 2010. Essential.
 

Rating: 10/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 The Throne Room 4:32  ****
2 Brotherhood Assault 2:49  *****
3 Dying for a Drop of Blood 3:47  *****
4 The Toy Maker 5:15  *****
5 The Paladin of God 1:10  ****
6 Descent to the Castle Dungeons 3:53  ****
7 The Siege Titan 5:15  *****
8 Dracula's Theme 1:59  ****
9 Hunter and Prey 5:29  *****
10 Gods Chosen 2:26  ****
11 Carmilla 2:07  ****
12 The Power of Void 1:02  ***
13 City in Flames 3:02  *****
14 Castlevania 3:24  *****
15 Carmilla's Fight 5:09  ****
16 A Man of God 1:52  *****
17 Chaotic Battle 4:30  *****
18 Satan 6:02  ***
19 Carmilla's Spell 4:49  *****
20 Toy Maker's Heart * 3:21  ****
21 Titanic Struggle * 4:54  *****
22 Return to the Castle * 2:17  *****
23 Void Power * 4:43  ****
24 BAck to the Present * 3:26  **
25 The Lair of the Gorgon * 3:17  ***
26 Underground Forge * 2:39  *****
27 Second Acolyte * 2:15  ****
28 Enough Talk! * 2:00  ***
29 The Stronghold * 3:24  ***
30 Credits 1 * 2:10  ****
31 Credits 2 * 1:18  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 104 minutes  
  * Tracks only available on Director's Cut edition.  Exclusive to Sumithing.com
Standard edition running time is 69 minutes.
   

 

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