Azkend 2: The World Beneath Soundtrack, Jonathan Geer, 2012
One of the most satisfying experiences for music collectors is to come across a work that defies expectations and delivers something more involving, more satisfying than expected. Jonathan Geer’s Azkend 2: The World Beneath soundtrack is that sort of album. It’s music for yet another match-3 game – a genre whose popularity soared with the advent of mobile gaming. This is not necessarily the kind of game one expects to deliver a full-bodied, lush (synth)orchestral score. However, that’s precisely what Azkend 2 achieves.
In an interview, Geer stated that “this kind of big, lush, adventurous soundtrack is really right up my alley and probably my strongest genre as a composer. My goal was to just write something very romantic and big.” You only need to listen to opening track “Azkend 2 Theme” to realise that Geer achieved his aims. If you walked into this soundtrack not knowing what kind of game it was written for, chances are that you’d never guess this was music created for a puzzler. This is the kind of full-blown orchestral score that you’d expect to hear in a big-budget RPG. “Azkend 2 Theme” starts with a triumphant brass melody, filled to the brink with a swaggering sense of high adventure. Given the game’s protagonist is a pirate, the melody’s unabashed swashbuckling is entirely appropriate.
The theme then reappears in various shapes and iterations, including on sweeping strings and in a dignified, flowing cello rendition. It’s obvious that Geer has a firm grasp of how to make full use of the orchestra’s resources. What’s more, his dexterity at manipulating the timbre and dynamics of his main theme is outstanding. The result is a composition that is constantly in motion yet always melodically focused.
Indeed, if you are a fan of big melodies, the Azkend 2: The World Beneath soundtrack delivers all the way. Each of the score’s five longer tracks features at least one gushing melodic outburst that is a pleasure to behold. On “Discovery” and “Awe”, these moments come courtesy of reprises of the main theme. The melody doesn’t grow old even during these relatively straightforward recapitulations, as it maintains its indomitable, rousing spirit. And the theme is hardly Geer’s only striking melodic creation. “Explorers” and “Rain and Mystery” rely on new melodies which crescendo into broad statements that are just as splendid as the main theme.
While “Azkend 2 Theme” allowed Geer to build a boisterous roller coaster of a track, later compositions allow for more measured development of their ideas, beautifully balancing those build ups and melodic outpourings with moments of calm wonder and even playfulness and mischievousness. Take “Discovery”, which follows “Azkend 2 Theme”s romp with celesta and harp leads to set a beguiling mood of mystery. The main theme’s grand return celebrates the joys of discovering new worlds, but the following episode for gently driving violin ostinati and angelic female choirs combines the soundtrack’s impressive feeling of scale with a quiet sense of wonder and careful exploration. It’s a finely tuned balance that comes to mark the Azkend 2: The World Beneath soundtrack as a whole.
Other tracks keep tweaking the soundtrack’s lavishly orchestrated formula. “Explorers”’ big crescendo intriguingly doesn’t result in another big melodic statement. Instead, the composition returns to its opening figure, a flighty, Harry Potter-esque arpeggio idea. This unexpected development adds a touch of light-hearted whimsy to the music. Later on, one of the score’s best melodies sweeps the music of its feet and irresistibly carries it waltzing through the palace halls, anchored by confident timpani accents. With a climax that feels both romantic and enterprising, “Explorers” features the most intriguing narrative of this soundtrack’s pieces.
“Rain and Mystery” is the album’s most delicate composition, again changing the tone of the score. The track convincingly balances its expansive, slightly Gothic string melody with another delightful passage for harp and celesta. The composition also continues the album’s streak of whimsical wonder when it presents the cue’s main melody in a carefree piano rendition, set against violin pizzicati. At times, “Rain and Mystery” has the fairy tale charm of a vintage Disney soundtrack. It’s a reference Azkend 2 executes better than Cinders, an orchestral indie score with similar ambitions.
The only composition that falls short of the album’s high standards is “Awe”. Despite some noteworthy melodic moments, it ultimately relies a bit too much on its strident string ostinato rhythms. In the end, that’s only a minor blemish though and does nothing to diminish the fact that at the time of its release, the Azkend 2: The World Beneath soundtrack set new standards for orchestral Western indie game scores – and trumped the vast majority of its mainstream competition too.
Purchase on Bandcamp.
This playlist is a best-of selection of the Bandcamp soundtrack release.
- 01 Azkend 2 Theme Jonathan Geer 2:46
- 02 Discovery Jonathan Geer 4:09
- 03 Awe Jonathan Geer 3:54
- 04 Explorers Jonathan Geer 4:21
- 05 Rain and Mystery Jonathan Geer 4:06