Demons of Asteborg Soundtrack, 2021, Jacob Altmann / Roland Sepherulo
The number of retro games that fashion themselves as new Sega Genesis titles isn’t huge, but since the 2010s, there has been a steady trickle of such projects. 2021’s Demons of Asteborg was one of the stronger Genesis look-alikes, combining aspects of classic titles like Ghouls’n Ghosts and Castlevania: Bloodlines – and even a bit of Space Harrier. Developer Neofid Studios seasoned this Gothic platforming action with Metroidvania elements – and following a successful Kickstarter campaign, they even released Demons of Asteborg as a physical Sega Genesis cartridge (in addition to Switch and Steam ports). The game met with positive reviews praising the title’s polished gameplay and lovingly crafted presentation.
Part of that appeal lay in the quality of the game’s score, delivered by Jacob Altmann and Roland Sepherulo. At the time of writing (just after the game’s release), these two composers remain an intriguing mystery. There is next to no information on either artist available online – other than Altmann’s fairly sparsely populated Soundcloud account and some Reddit posts presenting his tracks (including a couple of NES compositions). Sepherulo doesn’t appear at all outside of a press release advertising Demons of Asteborg. Then again, arguably his only consistently excellent contribution to the Demons of Asteborg soundtrack is “Cemetery”, so it’s fair to identify Altmann as the lead composer on this project.
Tackling the Demons of Asteborg soundtrack, Altmann delivers the expected mix of orchestral, pop and rock elements that often merge seamlessly. He flavours this melange with the required Gothic fantasy flair, giving the music a sense of mythical, cinematic grandeur that is evident from “Intro: Scenario” onwards. The composition confidently moves from a spooky, escalating march into an almost lullaby-like interlude. A chromatic, threatening reprise of the march then segues into an animated, racing climax for rushing arpeggios over urgent snare drums. It’s a convincing demonstration of Altmann’s ability to tease richly varied moods out of the Genesis’ FM synthesis and shape them into a fluidly developing cue that organically rises and falls.
Heading into the body of the score, Altmann takes two different approaches. He fills the Demons of Asteborg soundtrack’s first half with a series of enticingly creative compositions that depend on powerful ambiences rather than melodies or rhythms. “Swamp” starts out in a fittingly subdued manner with a slow bass line and a wandering, echoing melody, which subtly builds into a fuller arrangement bolstered by a circular drum pattern. Altmann effortlessly builds tension between the repetitive rhythms, chromatic melody arpeggios, and ominously swelling background chords. The composer’s decision to use sampled drums pays off in spades, since their thunderous quality contrasts nicely with the muted synth atmosphere surrounding them. “Caves” – the soundtrack’s longest and most ambitious cue – takes a similar approach. Here, the opposition between muted atmospherics and nervous tension in the melody ostinato erupts into a B section for hammering rhythms, topped off by a thin, sharp chiptune lead.
The other side of the coin are those cues where Altmann leans into the Demons of Asteborg soundtrack’s rock/metal stylings, revealing his skills at writing rock-solid grooves and melodies that are both catchy and extensive enough to sustain their respective tracks. Altmann’s gothic-tinged rock anthems appear early on the score when “Village”’s bopping mid-tempo rhythms encourage gamers to head off into the adventure. Altmann provides the music with extra depth and complexity through his clever use of counterpoint via short, layered motifs that fall somewhere between melody and rhythm.
It takes until the second half of the score before this melody- and riff-heavy style reappears – but then, it absolutely takes over. “Mountains”’s attempts at emulating jagged guitar riffs via FM synthesis are ultimately too intrusive. However, after that, “Castle”, “Portal”, and “Lost Dimension” form a trifecta of exemplary hard rock writing for the Genesis. Each track powers along on mid-tempo, chugging rhythms that are the perfect backdrop for Altmann’s catchy pop/rock melodies. These easily attain the required Gothic stature as they develop and unwind beautifully, leading into majestic climaxes. This kind of melody writing that is both sprawling and instantly memorable is a rare gift, and Altmann surrounds his tunes with substantial layers of succinct countermelodies. “Boss Theme” expectedly cranks up the speed, adding a power metal feel to the proceedings, while crescendoing synth notes create a fittingly eerie sense of encroaching horror.
Two compositions bridge these two approaches shaping the Demons of Asteborg soundtrack. “Fields” opens in measured fashion with a strummed acoustic guitar and another circular drum rhythm, paving the way for the cue’s pleasingly medieval tone that presents the short, snappy melody bits in atmospheric fashion. Sepherulo’s “Cemetery” manages to feel both coldly cosmic and intimate, pitting yet more sturdy rock rhythms, ethereal arpeggios and a dignified melody lead against each other. Again, it’s an example of carefully implemented contrasts as the stately melodies continue unabated when the rhythmic backdrop turns into a hammering march. Arguably, not the entire Demons of Asteborg soundtrack is as convincing as the above examples – but when all is said and done, there’s half an hour of excellent FM synthesis to be found here, full of adventurous spirit, memorable melodies and impressive scale.
- 01 - Intro Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 2:17
- 02 - Village Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 03 - Fields Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 2:44
- 04 - Cemetery Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 2:56
- 05 - Swamp Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 06 - Cave Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 07 - Castle Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 08 - Portal Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 09 - Lost Dimensions Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 3:00
- 10 - Boss Theme Altmann, Jacob / Sepherulo, Roland 2:55