Powerful orchestral battle themes and a dark, Gothic narrative quality in the best of the Lords of Shadow trilogy.
Editor's review by Adam Corn (2014-05-10)
The first Lords of Shadow soundtrack was a solid action-adventure score boasting excellent orchestral performances, but it often sounded as much like a typical Hollywood adventure epic as it did a Castlevania title. The sequel, Mirror of Fate, brought a more Castlevania-like Gothic sound and an abundance of wicked boss themes, at the slight cost of lesser production values. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Original Soundtrack is the culmination of those efforts, combining the high orchestral production quality of the first score with the stronger thematic focus and more Gothic sound of the second, plus a stronger narrative quality than either. It's an impressive finale to the Lords of Shadow trilogy.
As in Mirror of Fate, the boss battle themes comprise the greatest portion of the score. Once again they're outstanding, striking a balance between the rhythmic, intensively evil battle themes of Mirror of Fate and the epic orchestral-choral ones of the first Lords of Shadow. "The Toy Maker" is one track I turn up the volume on every time just to revel in its sheer intensity. Its rhythmic background synth, heavy brass and powerful chorus are accompanied by a dramatic falling string effect - an instrumental cry of despair - that starts subtly but helps brings the piece to an epic close. Composer Oscar Araujo is a master at building dramatic tension through repetition - the themes themselves aren't always that striking, but Araujo layers new instrumentation into each successive pass until you think it can't grow any more intense. And then sometimes still it does.
The complaints I had with the first Lords of Shadow not sounding Castlevania enough are by this point ancient history. To be clear the score is still nothing like the Castlevania soundtracks of old, but it most certainly has the dark Gothic quality that you would expect of a medieval story about demons and vampires. This Gothic quality is most apparent in the haunting main motif, "Dracula's Theme". The piano-and-strings title arrangement is haunting enough to fit right into a black-and-white Dracula movie, and when combined with the heroic Lords of Shadow series theme and massive, apocalyptic orchestration in the final battle "Satan", it brings the score to an epic close.
A few pretty interludes like "Descent to the Castle Dungeons" and "The Power of Void" help prevent the frequent boss battles from feeling excessive, with the solo violin in the former and the ethereal electronic accents in the latter maintaining the Gothic sound of the score. The epilogue "Carmilla's Spell" is both haunting and beautiful, tragic and redemptive, concluding the series in the best way imaginable. My only real complaint with the soundtrack is that there aren't more moments of strong emotion like these, but from what I know of the game's story, it's no surprise that the score stays largely focused on darkness and danger.
Two versions of the soundtrack were released: a standard edition available on CD and digital, and a "Director's Cut" available exclusively on MP3 through Sumthing Else's website. The Director's Cut includes 12 extra tracks for 36 extra minutes of music, and though the extra tracks largely play a supporting role, a few stand out strongly on their own. "Titanic Struggle" is one of the most exhilarating battle themes of the soundtrack, again showcasing Araujo's propensity for building dramatic intensity. "Underground Forge" is a pretty, atmospheric stage theme, and "Credits 1" and "Credits 2", though not as poignant or as developed as the main album's ending, are still nicely done. For people who generally buy their albums on MP3, I'd recommend paying a few extra dollars for the Director's Cut edition, and for those who would rather have the CD, "Titanic Struggle" and "Underground Forge" in particular are well worth downloading separately.
After a respectable but slightly generic start in the first episode, it's nice to hear Oscar Araujo develop his own unique Castlevania sound for the series, and it's great to hear a series finale not coast on the work of previous installments but instead offer the most ambitious soundtrack of the lot. Make no mistake, it's still nothing like old-school Castlevania. But as a cinematic orchestral interpretation of a story about mortal conflict between humans and vampires, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Original Soundtrack nails the heart of the Castlevania series as strongly as I can imagine.