Austin Wintory may only be 29 years old, but he has over 300 composing credits to his name already, including over 40 feature films, a dozen video games, and numerous concert works. His most popular score is probably that to the artful video game Journey which gained the highest ever Billboard chart position for a video game soundtrack as well as earning Wintory two BAFTA's and a Grammy nomination.
My personal introduction to his work came last year when I downloaded his soundtrack to the game Horn in a soundtrack bundle I bought. It was an exceptionally rich and beautiful soundtrack considering it was for an iOS game. So when I was offered the chance to review Wintory's score to The Banner Saga I jumped at it straight away, especially considering the genre of game suggested a similar offering to Horn.
Well, The Banner Saga soundtrack certainly matches to that earlier score. Once again Wintory delivers a mature, subtly epic fantasy/historical soundtrack which is very cinematic without sounding overly bombastic.
'We Will Not Be Forgotten' and 'How Did it Come to This' get things off to a classy start. The first is a very short, simple piece, but sets the tone and, with its follow up, lets you know you’re in for a high calibre soundtrack, not cheap, synthetic, knock-off video game music.
It has more of a medieval period feel than a lot of fantasy game/film soundtracks. Traditional instruments are put to good use to make you feel like you've been transported into the world whereas many other fantasy scores just aim to amp up the drama or throw in a few flutes/panpipes here and there for the ladies.
It's also refreshing to hear lutes and things like that used for more dramatic purposes rather than just jaunty folk dances and the like. The soundtrack in general sounds quite unique. It's not unusual or abstract necessarily, but it doesn't feel like another Lord of the Rings clone.
There is great use of marching drums and timpani throughout too. It makes you feel like you're going to war. These become more prevalent as things move on so the score gets bigger and more dramatic in the latter half although it's generally more haunting than . 'No Life Goes Forever Unbroken', 'Huddled in the Shadows' and a few other tracks contain some rather beautiful violin and flute/pipe melodies running aside and sometimes under the drums of war suggesting a heart and soul beneath the violence.
Vocals are utilised, although often just quietly underpinning the music as in the atmospheric 'Weary the Weight of the Sun'. There are some vocally lead tracks too though, like 'There is no Bad Weather'. Some of the male solo vocal sections like this sound a little weak/wobbly (down to the folky/traditional style possibly), but they only tend to feature in short bursts and the female vocal on 'Onward' makes up for it with a powerful and moving lead and some atmospheric backing vocals.
Overall this is a beautiful soundtrack, classily orchestrated and recorded, showing the high calibre of soundtracks now being made for video games. In fact I often find them trumping their cinematic counterparts these days. Austin Wintory is certainly one of the composers leading the pack (although he composes regularly for films too) and I'll be watching/listening to his work very closely from now on.
Alternatively, you can download the album directly from Austin Wintory's Bandcamp page which is cheaper, available worldwide and I imagine goes straight to the artist himself.