- Composed by Michael Salvatori, C. Paul Johnson, Martin O’Donnell and Paul McCartney
- Bungie Music / 2014 / 139m
2014 saw the release of one of the most eagerly-awaited video games there has ever been, Destiny, a new story from the makers of the extremely popular and successful Halo franchise. The story sees the player travel around various locations in the solar system killing aliens and collecting things for a reason that probably makes sense to someone, but not to me (and I’ve played it). Like many things subject to that much hype, there was inevitable disappointment from many when it was finally released after literally years of build-up, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming quite phenomenally successful.
Musically, the game had a strangely chequered history, with Martin O’Donnell – who had worked with the Bungie studio with great success on Halo, with fellow composer Michael Salvatori – being fired by the developers after completing his work on it. The final score is credited to those two along with sound designer C. Paul Johnson and Paul McCartney, who used to be in a band. He wrote and performed a song which plays at the end of the game (and is not on this album) but quite what his involvement was with the score I don’t know – it’s hard to imagine it was particularly hands-on. The four are given equal billing on the album cover and it’s not made clear anywhere who did what, but listening to the gargantuan album (139 minutes!) there are various distinct styles which would suggest people worked independently.
I’ll note immediately that there’s a potentially really good album contained within this bloated offering and what I will do first is go through the tracks that would be part of that potentially really good album. Things on the actual album in fact start very strongly, with a number of fine cues stuffed at the beginning. This begins immediately with “The Traveler”, a noble theme developed either side of a burst of action; the second half, ethereal and powerful with its choir, is outstanding (a little like Alan Silvestri’s “magic and wonder” type cues from Contact and Cosmos). “Excerpt from the Hope” is absolutely beautiful, choir and orchestra used to create a kind of sweet lullaby; “Excerpt from the Ecstasy” ramps things up further, soaring and emotional in its earlier moments but achieving a great sense of intimacy as it develops, particularly in the heroic trumpet solo.
“The Warmind” sees the mood shift, suddenly aggressively exciting, with an unmistakably martial air plus an epic sweep – it’s not pure action, more like a prelude to action, and works very well in that capacity. “Guardian” is a return to the kind of noble sound heard earlier in the score. “The Tower” has a great sense of mystery to it, expanding on some material heard briefly in the opening cue, using electronics nicely to add to the atmosphere. Then there’s a really impressive, lengthy piece of action, the seven-minute “The Last Array”, built in the classic Jerry Goldsmith way with little figures used, repeated and developed through the cue, the energy levels at times absolutely frenetic, the excitement constant and breathless – and I just love the furiously aggressive fanfare that bursts through from time to time. “The Collapse” slows things down, allows a much-needed breather after all the excitement, a brief and beautifully introspective piece.
“Excerpt 1 from the Rose” is a lovely piece, quite intimate, and there’s a great contrast in the soaring majesty of “Excerpt from the Tribulation” which follows, more beautiful ethereal choral music joining the orchestra. There’s a religious sound to it which is really quite inspiring. “Lost Horizons” is a brief and fairly simple suspense cue, but it is well-composed and does leave an impression. “Sepiks Prime” is a decent action track, nicely fast-paced and aggressive, a close cousin to the earlier “The Last Array”. “Excerpt from the Ruin” is a nice combination of the “awe of space” style heard early in the score with some unexpected lighthearted-sounding flutters for winds and chimes. It’s back to action after that in “Untold Legends”, with another fine motif developed over the course of the cue. There’s a hint of Rambo-style heroics for part of the cue, leading to the surprisingly upbeat concluding section, which is impressive.
“Cabal Stomp” is a very different – but no less exciting – piece of action, full of dark energy and hints of terror, built as a kind of macabre fugue. It’s probably not by the same composer as the other action cues I highlighted before, but isn’t jarringly out of place alongside them. “Dust Giants” is back in the “other” action style, split into clusters which are then separately built and ultimately combined, drum kit being used effectively (but the mastering does make it sound a bit thin). “Exclusion Zone” is predominantly electronic, quite nasty in a way, but a great example of its style, with the contrast from the beautiful choir what really makes it work so well. “Eye of the Gate Lord” is back in more traditional territory, another of the fine orchestral action pieces. “End of the Line” is the culmination of that style, so full of energy. “Siege Dancers” is a brilliant piece, elaborately-constructed layers of percussion and snarling brass.
The last three cues, which are all very brief (only five minutes between them), see the album conclude in some style. “Excerpt 2 from the Rose” has an epic grandeur to it, the feel of a great action spectacle. “Excerpt from the Union” continues the thrills, with just a hint of the great 1980s fantasy adventure film scores. Finally there’s “All Ends Are Beginnings”, a sweat-soaked and heroic conclusion. All those tracks I’ve mentioned so far in this review run a shade over an hour between them, and if you edit this album down to that hour then you have something very special. The tracks labelled “Excerpt…” are reportedly from an album O’Donnell prepared in advance of the game being finished, “Music of the Spheres”, which will hopefully get a release by itself some time (I suspect it would be absolutely spectacular).
There are some other moments of note, which for one reason or another I haven’t mentioned as components of that playlist (mainly simply because they’re in a very different style), and it’s only fair to report on those now. In “The Fallen”, an orchestral reading of the main theme is sampled and manipulated with complex layers of sound effects added – it tries to be creepy and is, to a point, but more than anything it’s just quite irritating, like a buzzing fly that keeps going round your head which you can’t quite swat away. The addition of a drum kit for the second half of the cue doesn’t really help. It’s actually the second piece on the album and were it a one-off then that would be fine, but it isn’t. “The Journey Home” is very different, a weirdly effective blend of electropop with heavenly choir that works to a point but simply outstays its welcome. “The First Challenge” is fairly representative of the bulk of the action music that I didn’t mention in the highlights package above, generally fairly slowly building brass over a bed of both real and electronic percussion – it’s not bad, but there’s a lot more of it than anyone really needs to hear. “Prey” is also somewhat unpleasant, but for a different reason – this time it’s predominantly orchestral dissonance, designed to be uncomfortable and unsettling (which it achieves).
“Tranquility” is something very different, very slow and contemplative electronic ambiance – it’s actually quite soothing and relaxing and I like it (the only reason it’s not in my suggested playlist above is that it’s stylistically so unconnected). “Reborn” is possibly the pick of the ambient tracks, a bleak soundscape coloured with vocals – it’s very well done. The largely (possibly entirely) sampled “Traveler’s Promise” sounds a bit cheap, but it’s got some very nice ideas in it, and the same could be said of the following “Deconstruction”, with some inspiration from 1980s electronica that is very well done. I love the fusion of orchestral and rock elements in “Ishtar Sink”, the contrast provided by the rugged synths and guitars very effective. “The Hive” is the most “industrial”-sounding action cue, with some very modern elements to it, and it’s not really the sort of music I enjoy but there’s no doubt it’s done well.
There’s so much A-grade music in Destiny, it’s a shame it’s diluted somewhat by some rather less inspired material. There’s no great justification for that in the game – a single musically unifying voice, preferably writing in the style of the best music, would have been brilliant. But it’s hard to get too upset about that – it’s easy enough to edit it down to a more manageable playlist, and the fact it’s a very long album doesn’t affect its price. So I’d certainly recommend it, with the caution that amongst all the great music is some much more challenging material and from my own perspective that cut-down playlist I identified above is by far the best way of experiencing it.