SKYRIM: Evolution Of A Theme

A little look at the evolution of The Elder Scroll Theme. Get your banners and footsoldiers ready, its gunna be epic.

The fifth game in The Elder Scrolls series is released tomorrow. You may have heard of it? Skyrim? No, ok maybe you missed it. Well in celebration of this I wanted to highlight one of my favourite aspects of the Elder Scrolls games since Morrowind, and that is the music of Jeremy Soule.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Soule came to the series in game III, Morrowind and created what has now become The Elder Scrolls Theme. A sweeping epic that stirs the soul and makes you want to reach for a shield and a sword, or a bow and an arrow. Or perhaps raise your hands in anger and shoot lightning from your finger tips. Yes it is epic, but listen to the opening melody, beautifully orchestrated with woodwind and slow strings that pluck at your heart like the harp that is picking out the melody. From there it builds into a heroic, triumphant anthem that is one of the best in gaming. Period.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Oblivion brought The Elder Scrolls to a new age, the age of Microsoft Vs Sony. While epic battles were fought on the economic battlefield, us lowly gamers were saving the world on behalf of Patrick Stewart. Taking his theme from Morrowind, Soule completely re-orchestrated it, changing almost everything. Where Morrowind's theme started started with soft woodwind and strings, Oblivion starts with stabbing cello and a fanfare of French horns. The theme is essentially the same but the effect is totally different. You are thrown in the deep end of a battle theme, but come the end of the track, the gentle and angelic themes come back and introduce the woodwind again. Even though Oblivion's theme is the same, it comes across as less generic and stereotypical of the fantasy genre.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Now, if technology enabled Oblivion to be a proportionally epic step up for The Elder Scrolls, the theme certainly reflected this. By that standard we will need to create a new word that is beyond epic. Like, epicer, or uber-epic. Epic+10. We will need this word to describe Skyrim if the theme is any indication of how much more epic Skyrim will be compared to Oblivion. It's as if Soule said 'screw the woodwind, screw the emotion. I only feel the adrenalin of battle in my veins.' Skyrim's theme is epic to the point of almost being funny, kind of like how all trailers are now stupidly epic (and similar) but it is saved by being really, really well written. What you may notice about most epic music nowadays is that it is actually very simple. Loud yes, but well written no. Big drums, loud brass, strings doing repetitive 3 note pasterns, choirs stabbing in with random Latin. Blah blah blah. It's like orchestrated rock music.

Soule's Skyrim theme is loud and proud but it isn't simple, the instruments are perfectly balanced to give a huge sound without loosing the details. The trills on the trumpets, the backing choir behind the main chants, the bombastic percussion. This is as good as any John Williams or Danny Elfman track. Ok maybe not ANY John Williams track, but it is of the same quality as his less amazing works.

Epic is in right now, mostly thanks to Hans Zimmer and friends. The problem is no one can seem to sound like anything other than a Zimmer clone, even Zimmer himself. For the most part it is over used and under baked. Soule has taken 8 years of music and created a titan out of it. Yes it is a bit vogue, yes it is almost too epic. Still we are talking about a game where you shout at people and they die. How else could you convey this with sound???



A video editor by trade and a lover of movies, games and manga.