Castlevania: Curse of Darkness OST Review by Diplo
or Curse of Darkness, Michiru Yamane returns to fill her role as the composer of the series' console-based games since Iga's arrival. Aggression is the name of the game, now, many compositions going hand in hand with the title's vengeful storyline. In an interview, Michiru stated, "I admit that the whole game concept made to a broader audience influenced my vision for composition." Vague as it may seem, Yamane's comment helpfully explains the increased modernization and more immediate flavor within Curse's soundtrack; though, don't take this to mean that the output has been "dumbed down for the masses." Whereas Symphony of the Night and Lament of Innocence were romanticized and prettier, Curse of Darkness considers fanciness the last of its concerns, generating a heavier, more reiterative, hard-edged accent. Impelling motifs and build-ups are common; walls of sound are conceived. It's bombastic in a way Yamane has never been bombastic before. In all of this, there are connections to the earlier soundtracks – that same layered vigorousness. It's kind of the modern musical equivalent of Dracula's Curse. There's that catchy luster hovering around, and a similar resolution in the passages. It's a soundtrack that takes a deeper drink of contemporary music, while also referencing past game scores, themselves extensions of pop-bands' output, like Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Still, Yamane's trademark "divine" ingredient is present. At the game's menu, precise harpsichord notes and high-pitched, glorifying vocals in "Green Serenade" play out to welcome everyone. Hector starts his quest in a massive castle, and as he does, "Abandoned Castle" whisks players off into a brisk, powerful flurry of organ notes. Vehement successions of strings merge themselves with a moody guitar. Then, a shattering sound erupts from below, carrying the main melody into several segments with an organ crashing through. It's an immense track, emanating the atmosphere of a wind-swept world of tumultuous feelings.
After departing from the castle, Hector finds himself in the Baljhet Mountains. Arabic vocals and strings start the piece off before an irresistible bassline gives the piece its muscles, melding in with a sound – comparable to a sitar fused with a harpsichord – that moves the composition along. The tune's upward-building catchiness nicely mimics the mountainous region. At some point in the rocky pathways, Hector encounters Julia and is invited to her house. Initially, "Sarabande of Healing" doesn't start out as super-special. But after some harp and delicate sounds pluck away, a mesmerizing, layered flow of string notes seep out and draw you in. Though a "side track," it's one of Yamane's best – luxurious, consolatory, inventive.
Where battle music is concerned, this is the most involved effort in years. "Followers of Darkness – The Second," the song used in the first couple boss fights, maintains a menacing balance of orchestral and rock. It's my personal favorite of the rock themes. "Belmont – The Legend" does justice to its subject, being suspenseful and boisterous. "The Visitor in the Silk Hat" has a melodramatic sound that matches the distinguished character of St. Germain. Then there is "A Toccata Into Blood Soaked Darkness", which is certainly the best combative theme in the series, and one of the best in the medium.
Yamane's work is especially pleasing because she does something a lot of composers don't do when working with higher-quality sound systems: she pays attention to writing great melodies. Too often, contemporary soundtracks try to rely on the quality of instrumentation to overshadow the possible soul of a strong melody, such as the mundane and overly trumpeted soundtrack to God of War. Michiru stays true to the roots of games, when the songs had to get by on tunefulness and structural creativity.
In spite of the aforementioned points, there are a couple faults with the sound quality herein, not due to out-of-the-blue expectations, but because of what came before. Rather than utilizing the samples for Lament of Innocence, or even newer ones, dated synths are consulted. In fact, some of them are nearly seven years old (this is mostly evident with the violins and voices). The mixing bumbles a little bit, too: songs can get muddled or overly reverberate at times, whereas Lament's music was crisp and significantly defined in pretty much every way.
Yet, the magnitude of the songs keeps going. "Garibaldi Temple" encloses people as they enter the awesome establishment with a rapturous jolt of smooth strings. The harpsichord makes its return again in glorious fashion, moving the piece along at a vivacious, rich pace, while vocals elevate it in the background. Yamane shows her admiration and knowledge of Bach's style, shifts it around to make it her own, and infuses a dreamy tinge in it all, producing a gorgeous composition with a noble overtone.
Both themes to the Mortvia Aqueduct are a blast. The first section begins with shuddering strings, signifying a misty ambience, and a descending bass kicks in quickly. Soon, it's paired with a harmonic and vaguely dissonant tune of strings and piano in a unique, instant-classic way. Every portion of the rollicking song is a joy to experience. While I don't feel "Mortvia Fountain" is as good as the first (and is oddly in a much larger section of the aqueduct), it is still well crafted and infectious, pouring its snappy presence out from a brisk construction. I would lodge a complaint against it for an incongruous bit that feels too much like "Lost Painting" found its way in, somehow.
Unassumingly capable, "Forest of Jigramunt" is one of Yamane's most natural songs to date. There's nothing I can impose on it (besides a bit of synth quality) that makes it better. A harpsichord relentlessly follows the piece along while a constant rising and dipping of strings and bass develop a winding and shadowy sensation. Like some of her best work in the past, Michiru patches every bit together in an incredibly intuitive manner. It all feels so right, and could be the soundtrack's most arresting example of horror and sophistication coming to terms.
"The Town Called Cordova" is a very different thing to be heard in Castlevania. It begins with Cowboy flair of sorts and transforms, after building up a layer of beats, into a meshing of grungy rock and a hard, buzzy synth. A bit of "Vampire Killer", "Reincarnated Soul", and "Beginning" come in here and there. It's not one of the soundtrack's best, but it's in a league of its own when it comes to sound and styling.
The tick-tock of a clock is used to keep a beat in the beginning of "Eneomaos Machine Tower", and in other portions, of the composition, emitting an urgent mood. Yamane even cuts nearly everything out at one part, focusing on the ticking of the machine and the bleak pounding of the piano. There is something I can't quite place my finger on about the melody; it lacks an indefinable factor to give it a touch of real finality near its stronger parts, but that void is something that makes it all the more consuming.
Yes, "True to Your Dreams" has a cliché title, and yes, it is opera. It's also pretty okay! Russell Watson, a British tenor, has contributed his talents to this piece, and if it appears to be lacking balls in execution, we should at least give it a hand for having (weird) balls in concept. It is not an expected medley of past successes or the like. To be honest . . . I'm not sure how it connects to the actual game. I can imagine tenuous relations, but basically none of CoD feels related to the "live for love" message of Tru 2 Ur Dreemz. Perhaps the prologue manga?
Cutscenes' music may be lost on a lot of people, inside and outside the game. The overall effort is not very inspired. Most of the melodies are tiring, almost irritating bombings of arpeggios. When they are good, notes slide into one another in cunning fashion, maybe even incorporating other themes from the game in specifically chosen sections. Continuing the negative attitude, it is the last three areas that have the weakest environmental compositions. They're not horrible, but they're boring and forgettable. It's as if Yamane lost interest in the final stretch (perhaps she just wanted to mimic the game itself). To focus on one, "Dracula's Castle" just doesn't make that much of an effect – it pressures, if only because of its mundanity, and forgets to be moving or intriguing. Why Yamane didn't make a greater effort for one of the most important places in the game, I don't know. It's also with annoyance that I have to dub the regular fight theme, "Followers of Darkness ~ The First" one of the worst (no joke) songs that I've heard in an OST. When I trekked through the Tower of Eternity, I had to turn the music off.
Curse of Darkness possesses remarkable songs for roughly more than half of its whole. The rest are so-so or best left forgotten. This was Yamane's biggest work to date, and Castlevania's largest score yet. That, the above statement, and the fact that she was also composing for Dawn of Sorrow and O.Z., suggests that she was, unfortunately, overworked. Regardless, even if you don't like the game, many of its compositions are good enough that they almost justify its existence.