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Austin Wintory – “ABZU” Review

ABZU's soundtrack is one of the finest game audio experiences yet
Austin Wintory

Journey was simply one of my favourite musical soundtracks of all time. It’s emotive themes are entrenched in my brain for eternity and I adore it. With ABZU, a game made by some of the people whom made Journey, comes a soundtrack also by Austin Wintory. It’s lazy to draw parallels but it must be done because in many ways ABZU as a musical piece shares the same heart and soul. The way how Wintory gets you to musical euphoria though is very different.

ABZU’s soundtrack is as luxurious, mystical and fluid as the game itself. From the opening seconds of “To Know, Water” you are given the theme of water. Carefully layered choirs, strings and interesting percussive melodies are played out to give you a watery heaven. This soundtrack is far more celestial than Journey and the inclusion of a choir gives the human element to the sound of nature. There is pure elegance throughout too but also the music channels the animals you encounter during the game. “Seriola Lalandi” uses harps for small shawls of fish and the grand beauty of a manta ray for example. It also really reminds me of the very first Tomb Raider theme song with its opening bars. However, the music is complex and ever evolving and so motifs come and go as instruments fade in and out. Waterphones, hang drums and tuned percussion give the exotic vibe and whilst its a subtle shift – it feels underwater without even trying.

One of my favourite pieces on the soundtrack is “and the earth did not yet bear a name”. It is a gentle, reflective, peaceful and spiritual piece that is beautifully underplayed with its choral and string sections. It sounds full and luscious but never overpowerful even when its sweeping down the chords. Straight on the flip side is the amazing “Delphinus Delphin” which is pacey and complex as it gathers momentum and scale. You can pick out sounds and instruments but the whole piece is like a spinning web of audio beauty that I’m left in awe of it. With its dramatic finale, I really appreciate how ABZU as a soundtrack works as a standalone suite of music with shorter pause for breath pieces like “no field was formed” and even those melt your heart.

Frankly, if it sounds like I am gushing – I am. Many of the songs are named after really obscurely worded fish and are hard to say aloud. That is literally the only negative I can vaguely find in the whole package.

Not all the tracks go for pure beauty though and ABZU has a wider palette of sound than Journey does. “Chaos, The Mother” pushes into abstract ambience with twisted electronic synths, echoing female vocals and pulsating on/off throbs as the mood turns into an ominous industrial curiosity. It’s more cinematic than melodic but it certainly changes the tone and mood instantly. In fact synths are used extensively in the later half of the soundtrack as they merge with live orchestra. “Arandaspis Prionotolepis” specifically evokes a sense of loss with its almost random chord riff as you seemingly scale around with harps and keyboards to clumsily find your way.

Whilst I haven’t mentioned every track a special mention must be made to symphonic movement that is the ten minute epic “Their waters were mingled together”. If ever there was a piece of music that showcased emotion and scale across so many platforms – this would be a good suggestion for it. It reprises themes, creates merged new ones and merges voices together. In many ways it feels like the orchestra is the sea and the choir is the human as they rarely are in the same melody frame together and here they really do flow in sync by the end. Also the closing track “Then were created the Gods in the midst of heaven” is a lovely vocal only piece that reminds me of Anonymous 4 – but with way more than 4 voices!

As music alongside the game, ABZU is utterly spot on. As a standalone work it is nothing short of superb and any game or classical music lover should have this in their collection. For me it works best as a complete end to end listen but if you don’t have the time you can still be won over by its pearls of joy in seconds.

Recommended Track : Delphinus Delphin (for working out if you’re going to love its style)

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