Behind the music of Darksiders 2: an interview with Jesper Kyd
There is much to like in Darksiders 2, and the music helps to put the player in the game. Jesper Kyd, who you may recognize as the composer behind the Assassin’s Creed games, spoke with the Penny Arcade Report to discuss his take on Death’s world.
“A score like Darksiders 2, it’s hard to say before I started writing it, how much of that kind of music could’ve been planned out to the detail. Once you go inside that world, all these things start happening, and you get ideas for how to make this world deeper and more atmospheric,” Kyd told the Penny Arcade Report. “It was very clear from the beginning that [THQ and Vigil Games] wanted something different from the Darksiders 1 soundtrack.”
Going back and listening to the original Darksiders soundtrack, the differences are clear. The original Darksiders theme is full of heavy, thudding war drums and epic chanting. There’s nothing wrong with it – I have it saved in a playlist titled “D&D BGM” – but it’s also very clearly not Kyd’s style.
“We could do something dark, exciting, and heroic and we can make it beautiful at the same time, even though it deals with something like death. It doesn’t have to be intense and uncomfortable,” Kyd said. “We talked a lot about the afterlife. This game takes place mostly in the afterlife, and so that was really a good starting point: scoring the afterlife.”
One of Kyd’s favorite tracks is called Corruption. It’s arguably the most similar to his other work, such as the soundtrack to the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games, but it’s the journey, not the result, that makes it stand out in his mind.
“When working on the Corruption theme, that was really exciting. We didn’t really have a place in mind for that music, but Corruption was such a big part of the Darksiders 2 world that we were thinking about ways to add it to the music,” Kyd said. “It’s such a strange thing to be scoring. You know, Corruption. I didn’t want it to be scored from the perspective of one character. There is a place in Darksiders where the Corruption comes from, it did start with one character, but I didn’t want to focus on that. I wanted to focus on the fact Corruption was everywhere, and everyone was able to be infected. So that was kind of a tough one to figure out. You know, what does all that sound like?”
I told Kyd that I found the track, particularly the back half, to be mournful, which was an unexpected sense to get from what is essentially the game’s primary antagonist force. “That was another conscious decision. Another thing I also think is that when you take that theme and re-arrange it in different ways, it can also be hopeful,” Kyd said. “That’s kind of what I was hoping the track would convey in some areas as well.” There are many such juxtapositions in Darksiders 2, both in story and sound: Corruption is as sad as it is threatening, Death fights to bring life, and Heaven is one of the most dangerous locations.
Early in the game, Death meets a race known as the Makers. They are the oldest race in existence, but their numbers are dwindling, their constructs have turned against them, and the land they lived on has fallen to darkness. “As you play the game, that situation starts to change. I think it’s a cool idea to have the music be hopeful so there’s still hope while you’re playing and you’re meeting all these characters in the Makers world, and it’s not all over,” Kyd told the Penny Arcade Report.
“The music keeps hinting, maybe it’s not over.”
The light and the darkness – in Darksiders 2, it’s all intertwined
“From my perspective, it was very much about light and darkness. That’s the reason I put the soundtrack together the way I did. The first disc is the light, and the second is the darkness. I tried to put it into a perspective of darkness doesn’t always have to be depressing,” Kyd said. “One of the challenges was definitely to try to not make the dark music depressing, how to keep that music exciting. But yeah, it was very much a light and dark scenario.”
“It’s not the kind of music that when you think about a game like Darksiders 2, and you hear the music, it’s not the obvious choice of music. I guess what I can say to that is it was very clear from the very beginning that Vigil did not want something that was a normal orchestral, fantasy-sounding score. From the very get-go, they were looking for something completely different. Something more unique,” Kyd told me.
Kyd’s credits range from the techno/trance choirs of Hitman to the synths in Borderlands, and of course, the hauntingly mystical Assassin’s Creed. The Darksiders 2 soundtrack is avialable now on physical media, or you can download it via iTunes.