The Castlevania video game series has been alive and kicking (and in some cases one might say "screaming") since its initial eponymous title was released in 1986. Though polarizing opinions exist about the quality of some of the series' titles to date, one thing that cannot be called into question is the legacy of Castlevania's music across all its various platforms and consoles. In most cases catchy, sometimes captivating, and let's face it, perpetually and resoundingly cool, the music of the Castlevania franchise has evolved from the MIDI keyboards of 1986 to the full orchestra of 2010's Lords of Shadow. Along the way, fans have borne witness to such spellbinding classics as the scores to, among others, 1991's Super Castlevania IV, 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, 2001's Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and 2003's Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. But aside from the repeat appearance of such songs as "Bloody Tears" and "Vampire Killer," there are few central themes to Castlevania's music, and the scores' structures in many cases mirror the stage-based gameplay of its various entries. Lords of Shadow changes all that, setting a new bar for Castlevania and its future music despite a seemingly large departure from the series' gothic influence.
What Spanish composer Oscar Araujo has done with Lords of Shadow, finally being properly released on CD by Sumthing Else Music Works, is truly remarkable. Though the Lords of Shadow game has been criticized by some for its abandonment of both thematic material and hat-tipping to Castlevania games of yore, Araujo's score almost singlehandedly provides for a new and yet classic Castlevania experience to fans both old and new. In place of mutually exclusive tunes, Araujo has crafted overarching themes for Lords of Shadow, from the majestic bombast of "Hunting Path" and "The Ice Titan" to the delicate, heart-wrenching beauty of "Waterfalls of Agharta" and "Maze Gardens." His music aurally writhes in conjunction with the twisting and turning plight of protagonist Gabriel Belmont, on a quest to revive his deceased wife Marie, as it splashes color and emotion both striking and anxious to haunting effect. Araujo's use of masterful orchestral sound, no better exemplified than with his forays into male and female choral-driven melodies and thundering percussion, adds a palpable bleed to the story it accompanies, thrusting the plot to epic proportions with an almost obvious ease. Tracks like "The Swamp Troll" and "The God Mask" advance with beautiful causality to amazing conclusion, wrapping up string and horn fanaticism to Hollywood blockbuster heights, nearly giving Lords of Shadow a sheen of unforgiving reality. Album closers "The End," "Love Lost / The Final Battle," and "Ascension" gild Araujo's score with an emotive shroud originating both in serenity and tumult, wholly effective in their relaying of Belmont's ultimate destiny and the terrible truth of his existence.
The compositional skill Oscar Araujo displays on Lords of Shadow is outstanding. Scoring a Castlevania effort is challenging at best, and carries with it a monumental set of expectation. But as a lifelong Castlevania series fan, I can say with complete confidence that Araujo has helped to usher in a rebirth of the Castlevania series and its music, with a hugely successful score that's simply one of the best of its generation. Missing this towering work would be inane and completely ridiculous to be sure.
Note: Sumthing Else Music Works' release of "Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition" is identical to the 2010 game's Collector's Edition soundtrack, except that it contains the bonus tracks "Intro" and "Ascension," an additional 6:44 of material. Sumthing Else Music Works' website (www.sumthing.com) is offering 20 additional tracks for digital download, not featured on the CD release, totaling 33:16.