Posted on September 19, 2012, Phil Hornshaw Darksiders 2 Soundtrack: Invoking Other Greats
It’s easy to forget exactly what you’re listening to if you let the Darksiders II soundtrack run among other music. It’s a testament to its ability to capture the atmosphere of the game’s many worlds — at once, the soundtrack can invoke vast open plains, fiery, demonic depths, and the foreboding stillness of death.
There are times when Darksiders II can sound a bit like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Other times, it drew up memories of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series and the sci-fi-Western settings of that show. It’s a soundtrack that fluctuates wildly over the course of all 26 tracks, but never wildly from one track to the next. Listening in sequence, it ebbs and flows like as if you’re moving through the world it’s meant to depict. And it does a great job of doing it.
If there’s one way to describe the Darksiders II soundtrack, it’s that it creates an incredible atmosphere — it’s likely responsible for much of what makes the game’s disparate worlds interesting as you’re playing it. Extracted from the game world, the soundtrack still manages to be powerful and engaging, while I suspect the game would be less so without it.
Darksiders II’s soundtrack also has a respectable pedigree to go with it. It’s composed by Jesper Kyd, a well-known and loved composer of game soundtracks. Kyd is responsible for Borderlands 2′s music, and you’ll know his work from games such as the Assassin’s Creed series, the Hitman series, and the Borderlands series. Part of what makes Darksiders II such a quality production is that the game gives Kyd a chance to work with a number of different sounds — the opening eight tracks on the album feel like they’re channeling a bit of the work of Bear McCreary and his work on Battlestar Galactica and Dark Void.
Then protagonist Death moves on to another world, and Kyd moves on to new sounds. For the angel world, the tones are lighter and more ethereal, invoking a feeling of holiness that’s twinged with doubt and darkness — much like the events of the game, where Death finds himself combating corrupted angels. That section also features a visit to the “Earth realm,” as seen in the first Darksiders game, and the music picks up notably when venturing to the war-torn lands of humanity. Visiting the Earth realm is fraught with danger, and Kyd’s corresponding track carries quite a bit of that desperation and danger.
Much of the soundtrack takes interesting inspiration. There’s a lot of reliance on acoustic guitar and the whole album almost has a bit of a Western feel. It’s an interesting contrast to the scythe-play Death exercises throughout the game and his magical reliance on calling corpses and crows to his cause. Many of the tracks are sufficiently mystical and fantastical in their scope and subject matter, but Kyd is definitely playing in different genres here, and Darksiders II is stronger for it.
Some of the coolest tracks come toward the end of the soundtrack (and the game) as Kyd attempts to evoke the deadly, evil Demon Realm. It’s Death’s last destination and potentially the most outwardly menacing — while the other realms have been the victims of the creeping corruption that has turned them against their natures, the Demon Realm is filled with creatures that would kill Death merely because he has shown up. Kyd’s turn for these areas is a bit more menacing.
My trouble with Darksiders II’s soundtrack as a whole, atmospheric though it is, points to it being perhaps a little too hands-off. The soundtrack, by and large, augments the scenery of the game; quite a few of the tracks can become especially captivating on their own, grabbing the listener and projecting the feeling of the otherworldly settings they’re meant to represent. But much of the work as a whole is a bit too ethereal. The opening portion of the soundtrack is particularly affecting, projecting a feeling of sweeping Skyrim-like environs — but while these and tracks that go along with boss fights and other big moments show Kyd really flexing, some of the other tracks are almost too minimal, or too atmospheric.
That said, Darksiders II is an impressive soundtrack even when at its lowest points. It flows extremely well and is commendable for capturing a number of different genres and sounds within the larger framework. There’s a lot of diversity here, and a lot of creepy tracks of various types. It refrains, for the most part, of falling into the trap of being background music even as it augments the foreground that is the game — it’s a soundtrack you can enjoy listening to, even when you’re not playing.