Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Soundtrack, Mikael Karlsson, 2010
Battlefield: Bad Company’s soundtrack had turned heads through the involvement of classical composer Mikael Karlsson. As a successful writer of modern (sometimes avant-garde) classical music and with an impressive body of well-received orchestral works, ballets and operas under his belt, Karlsson seemed like an unusual choice to score a first-person shooter. The link between Karlsson and the Battlefield franchise was Stefan Strandberg, sound director at game developer DICE. Friends during their study years in Stockholm, they reconnected when Karlsson moved to New York and a demo tape of his made it into the hands of Strandberg.
Ultimately though, the Battlefield: Bad Company score album felt underwhelming. Its compositions were usually too short to develop meaningfully. Additionally, the music wasn’t as adventurous and refreshing as the references that Karlsson and Strandberg quoted in interviews (Rachmaninoff, Schnittke, Bartok) would suggest.
The Battlefield: Bad Company 2 soundtrack – while stylistically more conventional than its predecessor – is a considerable improvement. Ignoring some shorter tracks that feel like filler, the score album’s meat are four substantial orchestral cues. While they run for just over 15 minutes altogether, they are among Western game music’s best developed orchestral compositions. In fact, particularly “The Secret Revealed” and “The Ancient Weapon” feel more like small concert works than soundtrack compositions. Karlsson’s background in classical music is consistently manifest in his intelligent handling of orchestral forces and dynamics. It helps that according to Karlsson, “BC2 has a much more developed, cinematic story line than BC1”.
The fun kicks off with the robust “The Storm (Main Theme)”. Its opening gestures – a resilient, solemn trumpet solo over somewhat anonymously driving string ostinati and percussion – have become musical clichés of the FPS genre. But Karlsson establishes his credentials early on. His trumpet lead melody is more long-spun and less predictable than the vast majority of competitors in this field. Countless game (and movie) soundtracks have tried to mix traditional orchestral sweep with rhythm-focused modern action score writing – far too often to underwhelming results. “The Storm (Main Theme)” is one of the few game music compositions that gets the balance right. The piece never sacrifices carefully crafted dynamics and orchestrations for the constant forward surge that this type of composition requires. The track’s requisite sense of heroism never feels cheap and doesn’t have to rely on the tired, simplistic major chord progressions of other action games.
One of the surprising things about the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 soundtrack is that “The Storm (Main Theme)” is the only composition with the expected militaristic bravado. The other three substantial cues take more subtle approaches.
“Snowy Mountains” positions itself on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum to “The Storm (Main Theme)”. It’s a far more abstract, but still accessible composition, due to its immediately striking atmosphere. As the base for “Snowy Mountains”, Karlsson uses ear-catching layers of plodding, resonant string ostinati. The music’s motoric progression remains steady to suggest constant pressing forward to fulfill a mission in white, barren lands. At the same time, rhythmic subtleties and additions like busy string pizzicati keep the mood sufficiently unpredictable and tense. Massive French horn blasts underline “Snowy Mountains”’ stark atmosphere, which is alleviated through measured woodwind melodies.
If “The Storm (Main Theme)” is the barnstorming opening track and “Snowy Mountains” evokes a particular locale, the remaining two tracks deliver the bulk of the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 soundtrack’s cinematic drama – in remarkably mature and subdued fashion. Both “The Secret Revealed” and “The Ancient Weapon” surprise with their hushed, nocturnal atmosphere.
“The Secret Revealed” shifts gears after “The Storm (Main Theme)”’s swagger, opening with a rolling four-note piano motif on flute. The motif’s refusal to harmonically resolve sets the composition’s mysterious, agitated mood. A sense of foreboding flows from a high-pitched violin drone and ruminative deep string utterings. The melodic material is purposefully fragmented, but still developed smartly enough to tie the piece together. Composed with classical sensibilities and making judicious use of chamber music-sized orchestrations, all the tension that “The Secret Revealed” has carefully built up explodes in a towering brass variation of the four-note motif – suitably awe-inspiring to justify the track’s title.
“The Ancient Weapon” visits similar emotional territory, but with a more melodramatic flair. Karlsson writes a solo violin part that ranks among Western game music’s most fully-developed instrumental soli. By turns delicate, passionate, trembling, intimate, and always impeccably performed, the mesmerising solo violin is pitted against thumping percussion and hammering piano chords. Compositional subtlety once more leads to emotional ambivalence and intrigue. “The Ancient Weapon”’s solo violin part lacks any continuously flowing, comforting melody line. It refuses to deliver any definitive emotional payoffs, but offers constant allure and fascination. Karlsson’s background in modern classical music shines through once more, allowed to produce far more multi-faceted statements of intent than on Battlefield: Bad Company. Ultimately, “The Ancient Weapon” ends on the album’s most ambiguous, cliffhanging note, receding back into the darkness. It’s a welcome invitation to replay this anything but ordinary first-person shooter score.
- 01 - The Storm (Main Theme) Mikael Karlsson 4:30
- 02 - The Secret Revealed Mikael Karlsson 4:01
- 03 - Snowy Mountains Mikael Karlsson 3:03
- 04 - The Ancient Weapon Mikael Karlsson 3:50