Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor Soundtrack, Paul Romero, 1999
By the time of Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor‘s release, Paul Romero and Rob King had firmly installed themselves as the Might and Magic franchise’s go-to composers with Heroes of Might and Magic and its exceedingly ambitious sequel. They had also written the music for Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven. That score was curious if not entirely successful hybrid of fantasy and science fiction elements. However, it fitfully mirrored the game’s narrative. It also established Romero and King’s Might and Magic scores as the quirkier cousins to their steadfastly classically-inspired Heroes of Might and Magic works.
The Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack continued this inclination for experimentation and eclecticism. It turned out to be the best Might and Magic score, including the many Might and Magic console ports. Interestingly, Might and Magic VII ran on its predecessor’s engine and didn’t make many changes to the gameplay formula. For Blood and Honor‘s music, on the other hand, is a quantum leap over The Mandate of Heaven. In fact, in its seductive lushness, Romero’s score almost feels like a mismatch for the game’s blocky 3d graphics.
Music as sensual as the Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack lends itself to descriptions via imagery. To borrow a track title from Chance Thomas‘ Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire, labelling For Blood and Honor a dance of mystery and intrigue does a good job at summing up the music’s particular and irresistible appeal. Following Paul Romero down the dimly lit maze that is this score does feel like a journey. It’s a trip through a demi world of lights flickering on the decadently gold-encrusted walls of an ancient underground temple. Everything is cast in flitting half shadows – and then seemingly out of nowhere, blinding white light fills the halls and grants visions of a strange, great beyond.
Indeed, For Blood and Honor fuses two very different moods into a coherent whole. In the process, it allows Romero to display an expert’s judgement in the subtle manipulation of atmospheric tones. What’s more, the instrumental palette he deploys on For Blood and Honor is surprisingly different from the strictly classical content of his Heroes of Might and Magic scores.
No matter which of its manifold sides the Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack presents, what stylistically unites the album is the sense that Romero casts it all as one big expression of otherworldliness. There’s a real sense that this is adventurous music underscoring unknown realms, creating a unique musical world in the process. In this sense, For Blood and Honor is a more original work than Romero and King’s Heroes of Might and Magic scores. It is also more creative than hundreds of other fantasy soundtracks that largely take their cue from romantic classical music. As a result, their musical universe often feels less fantastical and far more earth-bound in its familiarity.
What will initially strike listeners most about the Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack is how glowingly seductive it sounds. As his foundation, Romero uses luxurious string textures and decadently chromatic melodies. Within this stylistic framework, he fuses the sensibilities of tonal early 20th century classical music with middle-eastern scales, waltz rhythms, tasteful hand percussion and drum kit inserts, and an occasional serve of electronica. The result is a heady brew that’s in equal parts mysterious and bewitching. Throughout its running time, For Blood and Honor bathes listeners in the elusive, golden glow of its compositions. In their chamber music-like orchestrations and surprising intimacy, these pieces play like a more luscious version of Secret of Evermore.
Among other things, it was the first three Heroes of Might and Magic scores’ gorgeous melodies that made these works so outstanding. Thankfully, Romero brings the same instinct for delectable tunes to the Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack. True, his melodies here are more repetitive this time around, but this only adds to the music’s hypnotic spell. On this foundation, Romero builds a colourful construct that’s impressive in its versatility and emotional effect. For example, acoustic guitar and wordless, siren-like solo soprano lines join the orchestra on “Bracada Desert, Deyja”.
The score’s beguiling rhythmic lilt is helped by the inclusion of light drum kit and hand percussion sounds. And the chromaticism of the melodies isn’t limited to the strings, but also extends to the woodwind soli. They often turn out to be mischievous, cunning creatures that destabilise the harmonic structure of a piece just enough to make the listener wonder where the composition might be headed next. Take “Tularean Forest” and its wild, jagged string figures. They interfere with the soft waltz rhythms and cheeky woodwind melodies, keeping the piece’s atmosphere fascinatingly ambivalent.
But at times, Blood and Honor‘s shadows retreat and allow for a surprisingly eerie vision of yet another world. That realm is brighter and more distant, gleaming with choir vocals and electronic sounds. What makes this music so fascinating though is that it’s too uncanny to be an elating image of celestial fields.
Take “Light Theme (Celeste, Castle Lambent)”, where tinkling and swooshing sound effects open up a vast spectral space that is filled with the electronically manipulated sound of a male choir and deep string chords. This ethereal soundscape is completed by a soaring violin solo and glistening violin ensemble textures. It all creates an unearthly atmosphere of impressive emotional fervour that contrasts with the soundtrack’s usually dark-hued atmosphere. On “Evenmorn Island”, the male choir’s material ventures into spiritual realms, coupled with a similarly-natured violin solo. Soon a light electronic beat kicks in while the choir retains its solemnity. The resulting mixture is a much more convincing Enigma-inspired New Age track than The Mandate of Heaven‘s “The Hive”.
As is often the case, Good Old Games’ album release doesn’t present the compositions in chronological order. This means for example that the Title Screen and Credits cues are sequenced back to back, opening the album’s homestretch. But wonderfully, that doesn’t interrupt the album flow at all. In fact, the Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor soundtrack doesn’t lose its spellbinding effect for a second. True, “Emerald Island” doesn’t feel like the show stopping album closer one might expect from a fantasy game score. However, its nervy string jabs and agitated melodies are brilliantly in tune with the mood of the entire soundtrack. “Emerald Island” ends For Blood and Honor on a tentalisingly open note. It hints at answers and allows glimpses, but ultimately retreats from view to preserve its mysteries, still hidden away in subterranean twilight – and entices listeners to repeat the trip.
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