Composed by
Tilman Sillescu (lead composer), Alexander Röder, Alexander Pfeffer, Pierre Langer and Markus Schmidt

 

Published by
Ubisoft (2009)

 

Tracklistings
1) When Cultures Meet
2) The Outpost
3) Ora et labora
4) Calm Before the Storm
5) Thousand Feet Marching
6) Golden Shores
7) Moneycounters
8) Sands of Dreams
9) Bow to the King
10) Behold the Sultan
11) Our Honoured Guests
12) Grandiose Magnificence
13) Monumental Cathedral
14) Monumental Mosque
15) The Black Death Arrives
16) Infestation
17) Our Daily Bread
18) Glittering Wastes
19) Dawn of War
20) Battle Hymn
21) Daring Flame
22) Blaze
23) Peril Is Coming
24) Disaster at Hand
25) Ravage

View full tracklistings

 

Extras
- Game website
- Composer website
- Interview

 

Availability
German Limited Edition features selections from soundtrack on bonus DVD

 

Review by
Oliver Ittensohn


Anno 1404

With Anno 1404, publisher Ubisoft and developer Related Designs continue the excellence of their strategy game series. As before, the gameplay formula stays true to the core concepts of its predecessors: the player sets sail to a world of islands in order to colonize them and build a thriving economy. To this, Anno 1404 added some changes. The most obvious being the shift back in time; while its predecessor was set in 18th century Europe, Related Designs turned to the Middle Ages in this installment. In terms of gameplay this shift in time translates into fresh challenges for the player: new goods to be produced, new production flows to be managed and new needs of the population to be fulfilled. Another prominent new element in the series is the introduction of the Orient as a new playable culture. It offers a wealth of new gameplay options including the construction one's own middle-eastern city. Critics in both Germany and abroad greatly appreciated this varied gameplay and sense of exploration the Anno series was again unique in providing.

The musical score to Anno 1701 is still one of the most critically acclaimed scores of 2006. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that the developers turned to the same composers for the sequel. Tilman Sillescu and his team consisting of Alexander Röder, Alex Pfeffer and Markus Schmidt were given the enormous task to accompany the game’s vivid and detailed visuals with an enriching underscore. Fortunately, the producers decided once again to record the score with a live orchestra and choir.

The score’s stylistic foundations rest on two pillars. On the one hand there's the musical canvas for the Orient with its assortment of exotic instruments and rhythms. On the other hand there's the Occident characterized by an ecclesiastic, choir-based soundscape. The first cue on the album entitled “When Cultures Meet” features both those pillars in an engaging mix employed to underscore the game’s opening cinematic. Here, the two main melodic phrases are introduced. The cue starts off with a choir passage reminiscent of early 15 th century motets. The theme itself is a pious and solemn musical phrase and stands in stark contrast to the more upbeat and rhythmically driven music for the Middle Eastern culture which forms the second part of the track. This thematic counterpart shines with a varied mixture of exotic instruments among them the Duduk, the Saz and the Djembes. The actual theme is a playfully descending phrase that is primarily rhythmically constructed. The result is a convincing interplay between both cultures that goes a long way in setting an appropriate tone right at the beginning. With the proper ingredients for both cultures firmly in place, the rest of the score now benefits from and draws heavily upon these initially introduced elements.

Clinging to this duality in tone, the score doesn't content itself however with being a simple sequel with a slightly wider musical scope. The composers' general approach to Anno 1404 is strikingly more serious and solemn than that to its predecessor Anno 1701. The richly melodic gestures of the prequel is toned down considerably; a shift which is most apparent in the ambient cues of the Occident. Pieces such as “Ora et labora” conjure a beautiful pastoral setting with a decidedly serious and melancholy edge to it. The music for the Orient too builds upon rhythmic innovation and convincing combination of ethnic instruments rather than fleshed out themes. The two thematic ideas of the opening cue are not completely abandoned but appear in some of the ambient pieces, most notably in "Sands of Dreams”, “Magic City” and “Glittering Waters”. However, as a whole, the score is far more concerned with musical texture than thematic material. The use of choir remains a prominent musical theme for the European culture throughout the score. As a matter of fact, the composers took great care in writing convincing choir pieces based on traditional melodies of the time. The same holds true for the Orient that impresses with its accomplished ethnic writing. Oddly enough, there are some cues that don't seem to fit the middle-eastern musical canvas. “Salt of the Earth” or “Magic Carpet Ride” with their simple orchestrations and Pop-ish sound seem out of place. At some points tough, the music manages to point back to the melodic, varied and thematically consistent soundscape of the predecessor Anno 1701. Good examples of this are the upbeat “Moneycounters”, the charming “Grandiose Magnificence” or the frightening “Infestation”. Similarly reminiscient in texture are the album's combat pieces, even though they remain the least enjoyable tracks on the score. Due to the game's needs for shorter battle cues, they consist mostly of short episdoes without development. They feature little variety when put out of context. The true appeal of the album continues to rest on the tension between Orient and Occident, which is consistently pursued, but regrettably lacks lasting appeal.

Overall, Anno 1404 is a score with a clear identity and lots of character. As a listener, you will appreciate the dense musical textures and ethnic diversity while yet longing for more extensive melodic richness. It's a great achievement and a very fine musical score that falls short, though, in comparison to its predecessor.