The first Castlevania: Lords of Shadow soundtrack rebooted the series' sound with an entirely orchestral focus, and though the orchestrations and performances were excellent, few themes made as strong an initial impression or had as true a Castlevania sound - even a rebooted Castlevania sound - as fans might like. This sequel, Mirror of Fate, maintains the orchestral emphasis but offers more striking compositions with a much more evil and Gothic sound befitting the series, balanced out by a few beautiful interludes.
The bulk of the soundtrack - about forty of its sixty-two total minutes - is comprised of boss battle themes. (I'm going only by sound here as I've never played the game.) These are - in a word - wicked. Whereas many of the battle themes in Lords of Shadow 1 sounded like they could have just as well come from Lord of the Rings, the ones here have a more Castlevania-like Gothic quality, and most of all a permeating sense of malice. There's also a strong rhythmic quality that really ratchets up the intensity of each piece as it progresses. The greatest among them is "Succubus", which combines rhythmic low brass tones with absolutely eerie strings and a haunting soprano. This sort of horror-like fare usually isn't my cup of tea, yet it's easily one of my top tracks of the year, and ranks right up there with "Bloody Tears" and "Young Nobleman of Sadness" among epitomical Castlevania themes.
An album completely full of even well-scored battle themes would likely get tiresome, which is why a few beautiful respites play a large part in making the album an enjoyable experience. As wicked and haunting as "Succubus" is, "Carousel" is equally poignant and beautiful, combining piano and strings with ethereal electronic embellishments. Lords of Shadow had some pretty, atmospheric pieces, but none had the emotional impact of the ones here.
I had originally intended to write that in contrast to Lords of Shadow 1, a few of the pieces in Mirror of Fate use a sampled orchestra instead of a live one. On closer inspection it turns out that most of them do. It took a concerted effort to notice. The orchestral sampling for the most part is extremely well done, and in some of the intense, rhythmic boss themes you could legitimately argue that the same effect might have been difficult to achieve with a live orchestra. The chorus as well is mostly sampled, but its usage is less prominent than in Lords of Shadow and, again, often more effective in the context of these pieces than the live chorus was there.
Only at the end of the score, in "Trevor's Farewell", "Daemon Lord", and "Final Fight", does the sampled instrumentation become really noticeable, and with those compositions being some of the lesser ones of the score it makes the conclusion anti-climactic. The soundtrack for me reaches its climax at the intense and at times heroic "Lady of the Crypt", which still leaves us with a solid sixteen-track, fifty-minute album.
Between the wickedly intense boss themes and some very pretty pieces in between them, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow ~Mirror of Fate~ has much of what you'd expect of a great adventure soundtrack. The only thing missing is a few more memorable stage themes, but in this case two out of three isn't bad in the least. For listeners open to an orchestral re-interpretation of the Castlevania series true to its demon-hunting roots, it's well worth the listen.