Torchlight II Soundtrack, Matt Uelmen, 2012
To call one particular work the culmination of an artist’s oeuvre can be a risky maneuvre. It suggests linear development across works and prescribes an easily identifiable trajectory. But it’s hard not to fete a work like the Torchlight II soundtrack as the realisation of a particular musical approach. On this album, Matt Uelmen combines all elements that have characterised his scores so far and perfects them.
As always, his music deals in textures rather than melodies, suggestions rather than definitive manifestations. At its best, this approach led to wonders like Diablo’s “Tristram”. This game music classic was an instantly striking demonstration of how to score fantasy environments in new, idiosyncratic ways. However, taking the same approach, Diablo II and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction ended up veering between scintillating and meandering.
The Torchlight II soundtrack is a marked improvement and manages combines the languid, gloomy synth layers of Diablo II, the textural refinement of Diablo II: Lords of Destruction, and the increased melodicism of Torchlight, and blends all these into one of the best Western fantasy game soundtracks. Jump into a composition like “Enclave Morning” and it immediately becomes obvious that Uelmen can still score a faraway fantasy location like few other composers. Peaceful woodwind lines receive a gently otherworldly bent through shimmering violin crescendi and the composition’s echoey acoustics. The track’s impressionistic, constantly shifting textures evoke dazzling, majestic beauty of a very rare kind.
This textural focus is the key to Uelmen’s supremely accomplished feat of world-building that is the Torchlight II soundtrack. “Enclave Morning” doesn’t underscore particular characters, actions or narrative beats with an array of melodies or themes. Instead, the composition captures an elusive mood that feel frozen in time, yet is bound to fade away – the ephemeral beauty of a sunrise over a wondrous land and its slowly, subtly changing waves of gleaming colours. And “Enclave Morning” is far from the only composition on Torchlight II that revels in such exquisite tone painting.
Also, keep in mind that all these remarkable compositions play back to back without gaps. What’s more, all pieces proceed at a measured pace and consistent volume, rendered in a generally cavernous sound. Thanks to the small armada of instruments that Uelmen deploys, the resulting effect is not one of monotony, but consistency. It feels like gliding down a long river during twilight, marveling at the wonders that hazily fade in and out of view on the shoreline with dream-like logic.
The Torchlight II soundtrack is best summed up as a vast tapestry of sounds, built upon an extension of the orchestra/synth/rock ensemble that Uelmen has deployed on most of his albums. On Torchlight II, he brings together atmospheric instrumental lines and synth pads in even denser layers than before. The results are more subtle and creative, surpassing Uelmen’s previous work in this style. This sheer lushness of sound doesn’t come as a surprise if one looks at how Uelmen’s music has developed from Diablo to Diablo II: Lord of Destruction.
However, this tendency reaches new heights here, bolstered by a greater fondness for melodies that already characterised Torchlight. Indeed, while Uelmen is clearly most concerned with the detail-obsessed, immaculate layering and balancing of textures, Torchlight II also has moments of great melodic beauty. It’s the job of the live orchestra’s string section to deliver injections of fantasy-typical gravitas and sweep. Just sample “Zeryphesh Morning” and its beautiful, pensive string chord progressions. They are made even more intoxicating when merged with an exotic orchestral background that incorporates the sounds of a Guzheng. The album’s midway point is literally one of the album’s peaks, thanks to “Echo Pass” and “Camp Evening”. Their free-flowing string melodies capture every bit of wondrous majesty that flows from their mountainous locations.
The Torchlight II soundtrack’s kaleidoscopic orchestrations and melodic strengths don’t stop the album from traversing murky depths that Uelmen explored so well on his Diablo scores. As on Diablo II, the majority of the album’s last third is devoted to more sombre compositions. While the album loses some of its beguiling effect during these morose, more monochromatic compositions, the music retain captivating. Hollow guitars ring out over “Wasteland”’s bleak soundscapes. Feelings of despair reign supreme on “Desolation”, courtesy of horn cries and piercing woodwind notes set against relentless drum patterns. “Bog” maintains interest through its lone flute melody lost among howling deep synths.
Best of all is “Mummified”. The track moves its busy, disorienting string pizzicati just far enough into the background for them to turn into an unsettling, elusive source of sounds. Uelmen then layers deceptively cheeky pizzicati on top of dissonant sound effects and creepy percussion. It’s yet another feat of clever composing and studio engineering. Like the Torchlight II soundtrack as a whole, it’s an intriguing surprise and another fascinating facet of Uelmen’s stunningly successful world-building that elevates Torchlight II to the highest echelons of fantasy scores, alongside works like EverQuest II and Outcast.
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This playlist is a curated selection of music from the soundtrack album.
- 01 - Torchlight II Theme Matt Uelmen 2:43
- 02 - Enclave Morning Matt Uelmen 5:17
- 03 - Temple Steppes Matt Uelmen 6:24
- 04 - Defiled Matt Uelmen 3:10
- 05 - Ice Matt Uelmen 2:49
- 06 - Enclave Dusk Matt Uelmen 3:29
- 07 - Winterwell Matt Uelmen 2:13
- 08 - Glacial Research Station Matt Uelmen 0:49
- 09 - Slavers Matt Uelmen 1:11
- 10 - Zeryphesh Morning Matt Uelmen 1:47
- 11 - Sphinx Matt Uelmen 2:16
- 12 - Vulture Pass Matt Uelmen 2:29
- 13 - Djinn Matt Uelmen 1:38
- 14 - Curse of Ember Matt Uelmen 2:16
- 15 - Ever Deeper Matt Uelmen 3:02
- 16 - Echo Pass Matt Uelmen 2:13
- 17 - Camp Evening Matt Uelmen 1:15
- 18 - Zeryphesh Twilight Matt Uelmen 2:29
- 19 - Mycoses Matt Uelmen 1:29
- 20 - Wasteland Matt Uelmen 2:28
- 21 - Oasis Matt Uelmen 2:02
- 22 - Oasis Matt Uelmen 2:02
- 23 - Bog Matt Uelmen 2:29
- 24 - Vault Matt Uelmen 3:12
- 25 - Mummified Matt Uelmen 1:41
- 26 - Snow Falling on Bleeders Matt Uelmen 3:22
- 27 - Camp Dawn Matt Uelmen 5:08
- 28 - Killbot Matt Uelmen 1:27
- 29 - The Map Chamber Matt Uelmen 4:24