Bear McCreary has outdone himself yet again with God Of War; a loud, grandiose and vocal-heavy score that coupled with its rather fantastic main theme makes for one hell of a listening experience, and one of the best videogame scores in recent years.
Bear McCreary’s exceptional compositional work has been a rather recent discovery for me. Prior to the last year or so, I was only really aware of him by name because of his scores for The Walking Dead, but if I’m honest I didn’t really listen to them much either. Then – one day on Twitter, I came across somebody who was praising the hell out of some newly released film score track, which just so happened to be McCreary’s end credits suite from 10 Cloverfield Lane. I was curious so I gave it a listen, and the rest is history. The score to that film and its sequel The Cloverfield Paradox (which of course is also McCreary’s) remain some of my favourite film soundtracks, and as of right now I’m in the middle of discovering the composer’s remarkable work for Battlestar Galactica.
So after those rather wonderful discoveries, I was fully aboard the praising-Bear-McCreary train. You can of course then imagine my joy in early 2017 when I first heart that he would be composing the score for Sony’s brand new God Of War game. If I’m to be completely honest, I’d never held much interest in the scores for videogames (primarily because of their usually odd release structures and from my experience at the time – general inferiority to film scores) but for God Of War I decided to make an exception. Nearly a year post release (I am a tad late, apologies) and after many a listen, I can safely say that McCreary’s work here is fantastic, so much so that it made me reevaluate my not-to-be-sniffed-at attitude to game scores, and I’ve gained many a good album as a result.
The score begins with the aptly-named track God Of War, a piece that serves as the main theme for the game and incidentally also the standout cue of this review. Deep and dramatic vocal chanting opens the music, instantly setting a dark and rather war-like tone with the opening notes of the main theme. Brass then begins to creep into the background before briefly taking centre stage in a proud and epic rendition of the theme’s B-phrase. Strings, percussion and additional vocals then also join the fray as the music starts to build up, and after a minute or so we get a pretty spectacular explosion of score with a very loud and powerful playthrough of the full main theme (including both phrases). At this point we’re just four minutes into the album, and in my mind McCreary’s has already nailed it. His theme hits all the right notes; sounding very bold and brave with just a touch of sombre, and that combined with the deep and dark vocals expertly gets across the game’s medieval-Norse tone. All-in, the track is a pretty much perfect introduction to the album.
McCreary then introduces a somewhat gentler side of the score in Memories Of Mother, a slow and rather melancholic piece. Much like with the main theme this track also begins with vocals, although that’s where the similarities end. Unlike track one, these vocals are far softer; gently guiding the strings and percussion along rather than leading the charge, although they are still very much the centre of attention. In subsequent track Ashes, these lighter vocals then join up with the much darker and louder main theme ones, and this rather striking team-up combined with powerful backing strings makes for one of the more breathtaking moments on the score.
It’s not long however before the gentle side of the score starts to fall away, and in it’s place is the fast-paced, dramatic and action-oriented music – the part of the album that I was most looking forward to. The Dragon is first up, and what an introduction to battle it is. Naturally, it begins with rapid chanting vocals, and before long brass then joins the fray, and rather interestingly this particular style and usage brass sounds rather similar at points to the sort Howard Shore used in his Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings scores. Given the genre-based similarities between the two franchises, perhaps some inspiration might have been taken. At any rate, it sounds absolutely sublime here, and said brass with the vocals and dramatic strings makes for one hell of an action opener. Valkyries is up next, and after a particularly melancholic vocal-based opening minute, percussion emerges and a rather frantic rendition of the main theme then plays through on brass. This musical desperation then continues for a good few minutes before combining with some again interestingly Witcher-sounding vocals, and then finishes up on a somewhat hopeful strings-based note.
With the finale of the album fast approaching we are treated to a particularly good pair of standout action tracks; the frantic strings-based Deliverance and rather victorious brass-heavy Salvation. Together they make for a highly enjoyable thirteen minutes of pure McCreary-style wall-to-wall action, with many a fast string and clash of brass. The score then finishes up with The Summit, a primarily strings piece that makes a welcome return to the softer and somewhat lighter side of the score. After a rather somber opening to the track, the gentle vocals also return, reprising the main motif from Memories Of Mother. Loud and epic brass then joins the fray, and the score simply explodes, with said motif sounding more powerful and dramatic than ever before. This amazing musical moment is sadly short-lived, but what a moment it was. If not for the main theme, The Summit would have been standout cue.
Overall, Bear McCreary’s score to God Of War is pretty fantastic. The grandiose and rather booming main theme fits perfectly as it expertly captures both the tone of the game as well as the character of Kratos, and of course the chanting vocals are the star of the show. Said motif is used just enough to boost the score where needed, but not so much that you begin to grow tired of it. The action music here is also simply sublime, with near-perfect blends of brass, strings and percussion that damn nearly rival Howard Shore’s work in terms of dramatic flair, and the gentler tracks are great too, as they break up the battle cues nicely and are also quite enjoyable just on their own (The Summit is a great example, I mean wow).
God Of War is a mind-blowing score, and that should come as no surprise really. It’s Bear McCreary, after all.
Standout Cue: 1. God Of War