I’ve never been apprehensive about listening to a soundtrack before. With video game music in particular, I always relish the thought of reliving my time with a game through its music, so tied to memory as our ears are. What nightmare thoughts might surface while listening to the soundtrack of the indelible Dark Souls? Fortunately, I have enough affection for the game to allow me to enjoy the soundtrack and not be petrified by it. Since Dark Souls uses music only when absolutely necessary, and since that almost always means a boss encounter, listening to the soundtrack is a rather… exhausting experience.
The few non-boss themes include the ominous “Prologue 1,” a fitting introduction to the world of Lordran. “Firelink Shrine” is instantly recognizable to any who have played the game as a brief respite from a harsh world. A masterful exercise in minimalist piano, this piece conveys not full-fledged relief, but relief tainted by the knowledge of eventual doom. This is relief restrained, unable to be enjoyed fully. “The Ancient Dragon,” another stand-out track, commands attention and demands reverence. “Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight” is a much-needed infusion of beauty and light in an otherwise dark soundscape. The OST’s final track, “Nameless Song 1,” offers a conclusion by way of summary of the game’s musical themes.
Some of the boss themes sound perhaps too similar, but all stay true to the terror at work in Lordran and highlight the game’s most scarring moments. “Taurus Demon” almost vocalizes the wise exclamation “RUN!” while “Pinwheel” suggests a sinister and eldritch power. Vocal arias dominate these tracks, which accounts for some of their similarity, but the disembodied voices are not unwelcome here. “Ornstein & Smough” is another great theme, as is “Gwyn, Lord of Cinder,” which stands as one of the most original final battle themes ever.
The Dark Souls OST is appropriately passionate, full of broad strokes of darkness occasionally penetrated by rapturous light. Although the profusion of boss battle themes makes this a less than casual listen, it is a fine work of art. And Dark Souls is anything but casual.