Interplay Entertainment (2000)
1) The Tale of Icewind Dale (Movie 1)
2) Icewind Dale Theme
3) Easthaven in Peace
4) Hrothgar's Home
5) Temple of Tempus
6) The Lost Caravan
7) Drums of the Dead
8) Avalanche at the Pass (Movie 2)
9) Kuldahar Theme
10) Arundel's Home
11) Vale of Shadows
12) Lysan's Lair
13) Kresselack's Tomb
14) Kresselack's Lair
15) Temple of the Forgotten God Entrance
16) Temple of the Forgotten God Interior
17) Heartstone Shrine
18) The Dragon's Eye
19) Yxunomei's Lair
20) Severed Hand Entrance
View full tracklistings
- Composer website
- Special feature
- Ultimate Edition features the soundtrack
After the enormous success of the role playing Game Baldur’s Gate, developer Black Isle Studios created another title, this time set in the northernmost part of the Forgotten Realms called Icewind Dale. Using again the world, monsters and rule set of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), the game was focusing more on the action and the dungeon crawling this time around. Michael Hoenig, the composer of Baldur’s Gate, wasn’t available (probably already working on Baldur’s Gate II: The Shadows of Amn), so Black Isle Studios hired Jeremy Soule to do the score. No stranger to the video game soundtrack world (his score to the strategy game Total Annihilation made him quite famous), Soule immediately began writing and delivered one of the cornerstones of modern video game music.
With Icewind Dale being such a wild and untamed region, inhabited by barbarian tribes and their many powerful and dangerous foes, there isn’t much room for a composer to write lush, romantic or even very melodic material. He rather has to concentrate on creating an icy, cold and unfriendly atmosphere to stay true to the setting. The main theme offers a good example of Soule’s striking and thunderous compositions and the motif in the later part of the cue is mind-blowing with its huge choir arrangement. As a big as the opening of the album sounds, the score isn’t really loud or overwhelming, but rather low-key, atmospheric and ambient, yet highly thematic.
In the course of the adventure our heroes have to travel through many different dungeons and caverns. Each of these locations features its own theme resulting in a total of more than ten motifs in the score. Because of Icewind Dale’s gameplay that would basically let the player go through several levels in any given region, Soule got the opportunity to work with this thematic material and develop his themes in several different stages and he does that extremely well. Each one of these themes undergoes several changes in orchestration, so that one theme might sound menacing at one point and sorrowful at another depending on the on-screen situation.
Not all places of the game are harsh and unfriendly however and it’s in these regions that Soule’s score truly shines. The stunningly beautiful and melancholic theme for the town of Easthaven (“Easthaven in Peace”) captures the spirit of the heroic undertaking and creates a sense of wonder and beauty. It is certainly one of Soule’s best compositions to date. But the highlight of the album is arguably the Celtic influenced Kuldahar motif (“Kuldahar Theme”). You can close your eyes and just listen to see the wondrous and mysterious location.
Sadly, there is one downside to the score as well. Most of the tracks are incredibly short lasting no more than one minute or even less. This isn’t Soule’s fault of course for it works perfectly in the game, but it makes it nevertheless more difficult to listen to. It’s a score you really have to pay attention to and will not work as a background listen.
The score is completely done with synthesizers, but it comes very close to the sound of a real orchestra. There are many tracks you will have a hard time finding out that it isn’t performed by live players.
Icewind Dale was simply unmatched when it was released and it is still one of the best game scores around. And although it may not be the most accessible game score, with a little time and patience you will discover the wealth of themes and the enormous complexity that make it such a memorable and fascinating listening experience.