The Banner Saga

Austin Wintory is one of those rare composers that, rather than trying to be as prolific as possible, takes his time and crafts the scores to the point at which they become masterpieces. So months, even more than a year go by and you’ll only get one score from him…but that score will be stunning. This is how I want to be.

At any rate, The Banner Saga is just the latest example of this. In his own words:

THE BANNER SAGA was my first real experience with Kickstarter, and there is something very different about being “hired” by 20,042 backers instead of a single team. The sense of responsibility with this score felt hugely magnified by that. So I hope I have delivered something worthy because not one day passed in the year and a half of work that I didn’t think about that trust.

The first track on the OST, named “We Will Not Be Forgotten”, is the leitmotif of the whole show arranged for brass choir. It is chilling in its power, but also (as the composer states himself) contains an air of vulnerability. Some of my favorite tracks (aside from that one) are Cut with a Keen-Edge Sword, Walls No Man has Seen (when all of the story lines finally converge at the mighty Varl city of Einertoft, this cue is coupled with a pretty impressive reveal shot of the city), weary the Weight of the Sun, Long Past the Last Sigh, Of Our Bones the Hills (climactic final boss fight cue, with a particularly sad moment thrown in) and We are all Guests upon the Land. Many of those have the leitmotif sprinkled in (or arranged in full force). You’ll also notice a second recurring musical idea first heard (I believe) in the beginning of Cut with a Keen-Edged Sword. It is basically just a minor triad (played melodically) with a 4th at the end. Having played the game myself, I actually can’t be sure what this other theme represents. Perhaps it is the mystery breadcrumb theme Wintory talks about in the video below?

This score is a very interesting one, and not just because the noticeable absence of string sections. A little more than half of the album is devoted to either gorgeous, dynamic wind ensemble pieces or a combination of that and hearty solo instruments (largely fiddle). The other half is essentially just a series of nordic folk songs for each “godstone” the player comes across (which, interestingly, were determined by the heftiest backers in the kickstarter campaign). These folk songs are solo voice, usually with a smattering of other instruments as sparse accompaniment (most notably the Bukkehorn). Not only do these little folk tunes add variety to an already dynamic and expressive score…they are also sung in Icelandic, which lends a certain authenticity to the sound. Of course, the meaning of the songs were painstakingly developed as well, with the composer researching viking and Norse mythology for inspiration and a few of his colleagues helping out with the translation.

I also love the other aspects of the game. It’s not visually flashy and hyper-realistic at the expense of other elements. It simply contains a good story, good characters, mechanics that help you shape the narrative…a lot of things that are missing from big commercial games. I’ve noticed that these kickstarter-backed indie games that have been coming out lately (Bastion is another example of this) have been amazing in quality in all the right ways, especially score.

There’s plenty more to rave about here, but I don’t think I can do better than to offer you a link to the bandcamp page for the score, as well as a particularly fantastic interview with the man himself. That’s the thing about composers these days…they are really good at nerding out about their own work, so I have less room to do it without being redundant. 😛 So I’ll just say that this guy is another in what I hope becomes a long line of young, grade-A media composers for the next fifty years. I can’t wait for his next project!

Update 3/16: Look at this! I figured out the chord progression for the leitmotif and posted on Austin Wintory’s Facebook wall. He replied almost immediately with a beautiful response. What a class act! 🙂

Austin Wintory’s Facebook Page

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