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Jesper Kyd – “Assassins Creed II OST” Review

Following on from the epic score of the original, Jesper Kyd returns for Assassins Creed II’s OST and this time we’re going back in time! Spread over two discs, the soundtrack features some lush and beautiful soundscapes and while there’s a lot of dramatic evolvement, its quieter moments can easily stand up to all the massive orchestras.

Opening with “Earth”, it starts off quite serene and soon takes an eerie feel with the falsetto vocal slowly getting more shrill and anxious before the song breaks into full flow with strings, guitars and rolling percussion chugging away. The calm and the unnerving side by side is quite unique. “Venice Rooftops” continues the guitar elements which rolls effortlessly alongside ambient vocals and strings giving you a sense of grandure with free flowing motion as the cycles never stop and each instrument riff perfectly circles round. “Ezio’s Family” completes the trio with another filmic downbeat interpretation of the previous two songs but more centred initially on swelling string and vocal elements of the same tunes. This version has a sorrow by the bucketload and is particularly heartfelt.

“Florence Tarantella” is more baroque for want of a better word! It’s got that country dance feel written all over with Irish gig undertones, its a joyous little track. “Home n Florence” however begins more ambient with keyboards and pianos plinking away in seemingly random loops before a calming choral pad soothes it all away. It reminds me of the Tomb Raiders original triology of game music for some reason before it transitions into a more orchestrated tense movement.

“Approaching Target 1” and “Approaching Target 2” are actually quite tense ambient sections. The second one definately has more clout than the first as the timpanis get into the mix with deep brass sounds but overall the sound of sneaking is downplayed yet complex with lots of sounds playing out in the background instead. Very clever.

“Venice Fight” is a good cross over of electronica and orchestrated and reminds me of a Shadow Hearts battle track minus all the vocals. The smashing percussion really ups the ante here and leads onto the more fraught “Florence Escape” which throws everything into the mix – massive drums, discordant vocals, bending strings and heavy basslines. The change of tempo in the last two tracks actually makes the soundtrack feel like its on a mission.

“Tour of Venice” is delicate. Almost like watching a town from a rooftop and then swooping down, the track has a slow-motion feeling of descent into the depths below. The ever present angelic vocals against an uncertain backdrop of strings makes for a haunting theme of despair. Great stuff. “Flight Over Venice” is much more uptempo but is like a folk rock battle ballad – its got a real sense of grandure and history but never really breaks into a sweat. “Back in Venice” is more of the same acoustic lute on strings sound while “Dreams of Venice” has an otherworldly sound of light harps and glockenspiels dancing behind archaic operatic rants.

“Home of Brotherhood” uses distortion to great eerie effect while tense downplayed strings twist over eachother and a lone guitar plays solomn riffs. “Leonardo’s Intervention Part 1” uses sparse piano, guitar and strings to great effect while an empty air sample hollows the song out. Finally disc 1 ends with “Venice Combat Low” which while is percussive, actually is quite fun to listen to with all the mini-riffs of different instruments baring through before “Venice Escape” ends of an anti-dance high with renaissance guitars and choral chants being placed over an electronic beat. It’s so different from everything else on the soundtrack to date, it really stands out!

Disc 2 returns to the lush orchestra with “Darkness Falls In Florence” which gives a tentative step into “Sanctuary” which is piano driven and very sombre. “Madam” is a short vocal ad-lib piece that leads to “Approaching Target 3” which to me has a magic mirrors room feel to it, a waltzing mad circus haze. Again while not exactly breaking out into a frenzy, it keeps the tension high before “Flight Over Venice 2” kicks in with its grande lutes, strings and vocals and this one kicks more butt than the first.

“Ezio in Florence” is a mixture of Metal Gear Solid sneaking ambience and the original Ezio track. It works quite well as the calm and the electric mingle. “Venice Industry” is a strange mix of choral arrangements and ambient persussive decays for the most part before “Stealth” tunes us into sweeping strings and out of time bleep shuffles which actually really don’t signify stealth to me at all! It’s not that its a bad track, its just…not very stealthy!

“Venice Combat” is another track full of electric emblishments over lutes, strings and big percussion. These tracks are unlike a lot of combat tracks and are a welcome distraction from all the other types of music. “Notorious” is a short track with a strange chugging percussive underbeat. “Night Mission in Venice” is suitable stealthy however with tick tocking strings in the background and sweeping low key strings.

“Chariot Race” is possible my favourite track on the soundtrack. It has a real beat and mixes electric guitars with Renaissance tuned strings and all kinds of percussive extras thrown in for good measure. It’s the most dramatic the soundtrack gets so far and really gets your pulse racing. In contrast “The Plague” is equally fantastic as its akin to a distorted fermented Silent Hill track. All kinds of reverbs and keyboard wizardry at in hand here and it all works perfectly.

Into the final chapters “Wetland Combat” ups the ante with percussions and strange voices you can make with a guitar for a great pulsing track which then takes a step further with “Wetlands Escape” which is equally as dramatic and these two tracks should be played back to back. “Leonardo’s Intervention Part 2” however takes you right back to music at the beginning of the soundtrack – swirling and neverending. The acoustic guitar work in this soundtrack while not always prominent, is sublime. “Hideout” is a tension riser into the final track “Animus 2.0” which is an eerie ambient bleeding of keyboards and whispers and is an ominous way to end the soundtrack.

Assassin’s Creed II OST is a strange one. It has no immediate hooks, riffs or come backs for most things. Yet for all it lacks its strangely compelling. More akin to a film score than a game score, it twists, turns and undulates through all kinds of time periods, genres and moods and gives you a great ride through them all. Jesper Kyd has weaved a complex thread of all kinds of greatness and it will take several listens before it really hits home just how understated in its brilliance this soundtrack is.

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