Anyone with even a passing interest in videogames cannot have failed to have caught wind of Anthem, an online action RPG developed by the highly lauded BioWare and published by EA. Surpassing 80 minutes, its score is a grand orchestral set with electronic incursions that evoke the sci-fi elements of the game’s world. So far so expected. But there are more ~ and surprising ~ elements fused into the bodies of these pieces that make them well worth a listen.
The significance of the soundtrack’s synchronised release (through Lakeshore Records) with the game itself shouldn’t be overlooked either. Ubisoft has in the last one or two years set a benchmark for the exposure and timely release of its OSTs that other AAA publishers now need to follow. Many are still lagging, even when there’s no question of budgetary constraints (we’re tapping our cowboy-themed watches at you, Rockstar). Kudos to EA, then.
Like the experience of flying around in the exosuits that players pilot in the game, the Anthem OST is a fusion of high drama and surprising grace. Compositional duties fell to the increasingly high-profile Sarah Schachner, whose modest list of prior VGS work already features industry leviathans Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. From her lead the orchestra sweeps us through melodies that veer toward stirring, but rarely embrace it wholly; for despite its name, this is far from an anthemic set (excepting “Valor”, whose cello melody comes straight from the Game of Thrones playbook). With pleasing sequencing, the set progresses from a spacious and low-key early phase. Compositions dive into smouldering passages of tension before re-emerging to Zimmer-esque brass crescendi in bludgeoning minor keys. The duo of “First Flight” and “The Monitor” glide through all these phases alone, eschewing archetypal ‘soaring’ melodies of flight in favour of more nuanced, complex string polyphony that introduces wisps of ill-ease.
Electronics are scattered throughout like ubiquitous collectibles. Sometimes they gently guide the compositions with ambience synth layers, as in “The Anthem of Creation” and “The Freelancers”; at other times they forcefully drive them, as in the frenzied arpeggiators that portend the start of “Outlaw Ambush” ~ an impressively restrained piece of tension whose second-movement strings section harkens to JRPG battle music.
Giving Anthem greater distinction is Schachner’s use of synthesized vocal effects. Infrequent but impactful, these are wisely introduced in the spacious, hymnal opener “Legion of Dawn” to immediately characterize the exosuits that dominate the game’s marketing. But just as distinctly does the music portray the game’s ancient yet futuristic world, with indigenous textures emerging through pounding percussive rhythms, myriad flutes and synth dirges. These are most effective in the guise of sinister (“Ancient Mysteries”) but are equally able to convey a sense of alien beauty amid the set’s many calm moments (“The Enclave”, “Tarsis Nights”).
‘I wanted to create a sonic world that felt familiar yet alien … It’s a musical fusion of heroic adventure, tribal, and sci-fi influences’ ~ Sarah Schachner
The more you listen, the more apparent yet seamless that fusing becomes. Much like the game, the soundtrack of Anthem doesn’t break new ground, but does succeed in combining diverse elements both expected and surprising. Danger is never far away from this set, but in its reflective moments is captured that distinctly human tendency to imagine the scary unknown yet colour it with our own, warming familiar. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)
Note: Lakeshore Records has also announced that it will be releasing soundtracks from past games published by EA, including debut releases and reissues. Among the promised releases are Dragon Age, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Need For Speed, Command & Conquer, Titanfall, Medal Of Honor, and The Sims.