Someone must've been rolling for initiative while taking so long to conceive a novel project such as a roleplaying game soundtrack, especially for one as long established as the legendary Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards of the Coast (who purchased the originators TSR) has finally authorized the release of a full-length music score to accompany its veteran gaming product, not far after the release of the CGI-Interactive DVD movie, Scourge of Worlds. The timing is right for high fantasy, naturally, with the runaway success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Dark Horse comics adaptation of the original Conan stories, not to mention CGE Comics' gorgeous Sojourn series which is pretty much a week's worth of D&D sessions wrapped into one monthly, 22-page fantasy package.
Likewise, since it seems pliable enough that with today's undeniable trend of returning to things old-school, why not make a serious run at pushing Dungeons and Dragons again, to challenge the dominator of the gaming subculture, Yu-Gi-Oh. Okay, so the New Line feature film of D&D kinda blew chunks, but with the commissioning of established Gothic score artists, Midnight Syndicate, it seems as if Wizards of the Coast is onto something viable. The tag-team of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka meet their challenge head-on by creating a 65 minute score that rings novelty from the get-go, yet when taken in the context in which it was birthed it serves as perfect background for a night's session. Those who've played the game either faithfully or casually will tell you: Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here or The Wall have historically been mandatory music choices for gaming sessions, but now comes a disc truly worthy of the event.
Prelude and Troubled Times ring ominously like Danny Elfman scores with sweeping choral maneuvers amidst the doom marches. Kind of like the first two Batman or Sleepy Hollow soundtracks composed by Elfman. Before one begins to wonder if they have wandered into a lost Tim Burton movie, Midnight Syndicate strips itself down a tad sounding more like the TV Beastmaster series. There is a minor bit of cheese to Ride to Destiny, but it is written in the spirit of the game; that is to be expected. What is somewhat surprising, though, is the hint of Russian/Slavic classical influence heard on Destiny.
As The Fens of Argath introduces us to our primary enchantments in the soundtrack's story, a hollow resonance is played out. Using the game itself as comparison this moment is equivalent to the characters getting to know one another and since many are undoubtedly lawful-evil or lawful-neutral there is a sense of doubt at the table, which is set to music by Midnight Syndicate. Descent Into the Depths brings an air of continued cautiousness which, in game-time, is probably the most opportune moment for the Dungeon Master to set the tone of the session. It is obvious that Midnight Syndicate are the DM's for the audio session with their slow, lumbering and menacing overtures that ring like a second prelude. This atmosphere of the unknown is realized with Stealth and Cunning and Behind Door #1 until they blow the hinges off with Skirmish, a gallant, into-glory-ride composition that is supposed to simulate an attack sequence, complete with subtle sword clangs that don't overpower the score.
Eternal Mystery is almost predictable in its positioning with the spooky "ohm" mantra that calls to mind Conan the Barbarian skulking inside a forbidden temple he's about to wreck bloody havoc upon. Heroes' Valor features more Beastmaster/Xena-like scoring with its urgent march suite leading into Relic Uncovered, which is a soothing choral movement that has a John Williams inspired foreshadowing. Deep Trouble continues the foreboding danger with excitable, rapid synth notes as Chant of the Wizard is led by a melodic piano lead that creates a suspicious ambience with a wondrous back score and subversive chanting.
Beasts of the Borderland calls to mind the score of the first Conan movie with it powerful riding march until it finds its own personality with integrated crackles and brisk synths. The pacing of this track is excellent, only to be slowed down in Secret Chamber which, like any good dungeon, throws confusion into the mix of rousing adventure. Lair of the Great Wyrm jumpstarts things once again as the action heats up with an ambivalent tempo and heroic build-up, striving for an epic quality with quick, ascending synths, sprinkling key notes and clashing drum strikes. The battle seems to take a turn for the bad, judging by the prevailing darkness of Ancient Temple. An obligatory composition to increase the insistence of the conflict. How Strange... has a familiar suspense score, not altogether unlike the music of Unsolved Mysteries complete with creaks, clangs and slams as the quest begins to reach its climax.
Unfortunately, the final two tracks of the adventure are not as strong as those preceding them. Army of the Dead has an impending doom feel to it, maybe not as exciting as most of the genre, but effective enough to set the stage for Final Confrontation which is not as powerful as the other battle scores, yet is valiant enough with the return of the swordplay sound effects especially in the final forty seconds. Perhaps this is intentional for the purpose of allowing gamers to think at the height of their decision-making in mid-play. Depending on the amount of hit points left to a player, and the presence of any healers in the party, Final Confrontation is somewhat of a letdown especially for a non-gamer simply listening to the score by itself.
The bonus tracks more than redeem the somewhat anticlimactic ending with Ruins of Bone Hill, which features somber, ethereal and downright pretty piano work and City of Sails, which is appealing and invigorating. A resounding call to arms that sounds like a movie credit score. The final track invites players to return once again, not only to the game, but the soundtrack especially with the hidden parting shot. A nondescript but savvy marketing ploy in the guise of dice shaking and rolling. As if you didn't have enough twenty-sided in your felt pouch!
Primarily executed electronically, Midnight Syndicate's Dungeons and Dragons score is what it is. Do not expect Hans Zimmer and the glory of his Gladiator soundtrack, also a recommended gaming score. Midnight Syndicate has the benefit of escapism at their leisure and while their work is not as accomplished as a Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman, they have a creative force that is obviously tailored and designed for at least half of a regular gaming session, depending on the seriousness of the dungeon. What is also to be said in Syndicate's favor is that their D&D soundtrack is also good for a mere chillout session in front of the lava lamps and a muted episode of Enterprise. Whether you're a gaming geek or not, this is a nice way to spend an hour of your time.
Post: Midnight Syndicate, 7100 Rushmore Way, Concord, OH, 44077-2301, USA
Phone: (440) 350-4747