The Israeli composer Inon Zur is one of the most succesful and prolific video game composers in the genre. However, it is not a genre I am particularly familiar with, and so before I review this score I must admit that I have never heard any of Inon Zur's scores before, which includes the popular Dragon Age: Origins. Therefore I was not really sure what to expect when listening to this brief album.
The first cue is entitled 'Main Theme', but in reality it presents several motifs in several different ways, making it a schizophrenic - albeit enjoyable - two minutes. It opens with a female vocalist wailing in the tried-and-tested, arguably clichéd Gladiator style, before presenting an ominous low brass motif and then launching into a cello solo playing what I suppose must be the theme. It picks up steam, adding noble, anthemic horns and a chugging string-and-percussion ostinato as it goes, before shifting abruptly into a choral interlude and closing with the same low brass motif. This had the potential to become a very strong main theme, but unfortunately its most attractive and memorable portion only lasts about half a minute from 0:52 to 1:26 - not enough to make a serious impact.
Light strings, piano and rambling acoustic guitar accompany another solo cello in the pleasant, but unassuming 'Hawke's Theme', before the score makes a turn for the ominous in the percussive 'Qunari On the Rise', which also introduces a synthetic male choir. The next cue begins in much the same fashion, before launching into the score's real action music - and this is where the score's major problem surfaces. Perhaps it's Zur's style, perhaps it's what the game called for, but the action music beginning at 1:15 simply did not work for me. On paper, it ought to, with plenty of brass fanfares and strident strings and percussion, even choir...but it all seems very aim- and directionless. Never is a rhythm or motif allowed to develop for more than a few seconds, and constant random staccato blasts from the low brass soon become highly irritating. 'Arishok', 'Mages' and, most disappointingly of all, the conclusive 'Kirkwall Nights' are more of the same.
Fortunately, the softer material in between is more engaging, though never truly memorable. The 'Love Scene' cue creates a dreamy atmosphere with harp strumming and female voices accompanying a gently rolling melody on solo cello. The source-like 'Tavern Music' might irritate some, but I found it surprisingly entertaining and evocative. It's a little bit like the sprightlier Hobbit music from Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings scores, without the beautiful, knockout themes of course, and it becomes rather more dramatic towards the end. The pseudo-dramatic 'Viscount' cue is harmed by its obviously synthetic rendering, moreso here than anywhere else in the score (check out that thin brass - Hans Zimmer would be proud). Fortunately, it's short. 'Fenris Theme' features yet another lovely solo cello moment.
It's hard to really recommend Dragon Age 2. It contains good stuff, but only in very small, tantalizing doses. The action music is some of the weakest I've ever heard composed for a full orchestra. Maybe the game contains much more than was released, but you wouldn't know it from this album. The fact that no themes are ever carried over between cues is a further detriment, especially considering that the noble idea established all-too-briefly in the first track has a lot of potential. Those thirty seconds save this score from a below-average rating, but only just.