God of War is a Game Series for Playstation consoles, with early titles from the series being based around characters in Greek mythology. For this particular game entitled simply "God of War" and released in 2018, the story shifts to encompass elements of Norse mythology. The main ongoing character is Kratos, a Spartan God of War who in this story heads on a mission with his son Atreus (following the death of his second wife and the boy's mother) to keep his promise to scatter her ashes at the highest peak of the Nine Realms. Unknown to the boy, Kratos is a God with a troubled past and on their journey they meet characters, gods and monster loosely based on ideas from Norse mythology. The "God of War" series has often been praised for its music and has employed several acclaimed composers including Winifred Phillips, Jeff Rona, and Tyler Bates among others. A new composer was engaged to create the music score for this latest "God of War" title, Bear McCreary, who has scored a number of movies including some from the "Cloverfield" series, but is probably best known for his music to a variety of TV series including Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead and Outlander.
The composer's challenge was to musically define this setting and the overall story arc. McCreary describes it as follows in his album notes: "The game is rooted in Norse mythology, and as such, introduces many characters, complex story arcs and layered relationships." The composer has certainly captured a unique Viking sound-world using "Nordic folk instruments and musical modes". There is a substantial vocal and choral contribution to the score and the text is sung in "Old Norse" whose closest modern relative is Icelandic so they engaged the vocal ensemble "Schola Cantorum" and the Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir, and adopted a palette of folk percussion, Nordic stringed instruments such as nyckelharpa, the superficially similar hurdy gurdy, and the viola da gamba. But other choirs and a variety of orchestras were used in different locations for the score's recording session across Europe and the US. However despite this use of diverse recording locations, orchestras and choirs, the score is remarkably unified and achieves this in several ways - with the aforementioned sound palette based on old Norse vocals and a group of regional folk or ancient instrumental sounds, plus a well-crafted set of inter-related melodies, and a coherent set of modal-like harmonies and harmonic progressions. All these elements combine to give this fictional realm an unexpected authenticity which brings the whole story to life, and well-deserving of its recent BAFTA awards for Game Music and Game Audio Achievement.
The first track "God of War" starts off with a rising 3-note motif sung by some very deep male voices. The track continues with this motif and builds and extends into a full title theme. Then track 2 "Memories of Mother" establishes another very important theme for the score with the solo vocals of Eivør Pálsdóttir. The theme is hauntingly sad in its initial statements and then rises to suggest hope and the possibility of redemption. Track 3 "Witch of the Woods" is atmospheric and brings in some unusual instrumentation for quite a spooky feeling, but with a forward momemtum and layered with a new theme. Track 4 "Lullaby of the Giants" starts with some jangling bell-like sounds and then male voices intone another new melody with an almost religious reverence, later followed by higher female voices. Track 5 "Ashes" returns to the Mother Theme and features some of McCreary's unusual instrumentation and folk-like delivery, before soloist Eivør Pálsdóttir returns to the plaintive theme.
"Peaks Pass" marks a change of pace and there is a definite feeling that the scene-setting exposition has completed, and the action now starts with a martial beat and ostinato strings, punctuated by instrumental/vocal hits which is then augmented by wailing voice. This middle section of the score is episodic in nature as the story progresses through a mix of locations and charaters towards the ultimate goal, with a mix of melodic tracks and action tracks, the latter typically consisting of percussive beats and ostinato string figures with brass or strings providing a slower thematic layer but with little identifiable melody. "A Giant's Prayer" gives a temporary return to the Mother Theme (delivered by solo female voice supported with male harmonies) and the chanting Giants' Lullaby theme, before the action returns in "The Dragon". "Mimir" hints at the earlier Witch theme, "Magni and Modi" return to more action, before "Echoes of an Old Life" slows right down, with hints of earlier themes such as the titular god-theme.
"Helheim" is dark and foreboding with sustained vocal notes and dischords, an overblown wind instrument and gong-like temple beats, "The Healing" seems to struggle with the Mother theme, witch theme and god-theme as though these are just memories at this stage. "The Reach of your Godhood" seems equally lost melodically with hints of other themes trying to form around a new concept, before "Stone Mason" brings back the Giants' Lullaby with male chanting, evolving into a martial theme with purpose. The score then comes to a climax over the next few tracks. "Valkyries" features female voices singing a new hymn-like refrain with basic 2-part harmony, before reverting to action mode, and then "Deliverance" feels like it is approaching a crux with a 332-beat quickly joined by new folk string theme, and a full-on drum beat then carries the 3-note God motif.
"Salvation" is ultimately sad with a dejected version of the deliverance theme, female & deep male choral elements, the witch theme, the 3-note God motif and a strong folk version of Mother theme. "The Ninth Realm" returns to the monk-like plainchant of the Giant theme, progessing through a solo horn and waterfall strings to a poignant restatement of the mother theme, almost taking things onto another plain with a final resolution of the original quest. Then "The Summit" feels subdued and post-climactic, finishing on a mother-theme sigh, while "Epilogue" seems to round things off enigmatically on the 3-note motif of the god-theme.
McCreary's "God of War" is a gorgeous music score, one of the best in recent years for any media, and truly demonstrates that game music is on a par with music for film and television. It has a marvellous set of related themes and its use of voices and unusual instruments with a folk idiom really transports the listener into its mystical world. The album is available in various formats from these links at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.