The man behind the masterpiece
It’s already been six years since we washed ashore for the first time on a beach somewhere near Tortage and started fighting our way to fame and glory in the MMORPG version of Robert E. Howard‘s legendary low-fantasy Conan world. From the very first moments of our epic adventure between the four continents of the Hyborian Age, our ears are blessed with the beautiful sounds of the original score, written for the game (and its expansions) by the Norwegian composer, musician and producer, Knut Avenstroup Haugen. And despite the ups and downs that the Age of Conan franchise has experienced over the years, its music still stands out so much that we decided it deserves immediate recognition in our new weekly XP4T.com series, as one of the best original soundtracks ever written for a game.
Working on the music for Age of Conan, Knut Avenstroup Haugen had to face several challenges. The biggest of these was, in our own experience, composing orchestral music for a game set in a world, the inhabitants of which enjoy significant ethical diversity, across multiple and diverse regions. Such geographical and cultural variation automatically calls for accurately themed music that would closely fit the on-screen world, no matter if it’s the largely green and sunny Aquillonia, the cold, hilly Cimmeria or the desert-like Stygia.
To provide Funcom with a musical score that matched these not-insignificant requirements, Haugen began studying medieval music and folk music from different regions of the world. He supplemented this with a study of romantic orchestras’ repertoires. It was worthwhile, because the effect of all this research is clearly audible in the score Haugen delivered. The music of Age of Conan combines epic orchestral themes with vocals delivered by both the renowned Norwegian singer and actress Helene Bøksle, as well as a live choir. One especially important and interesting fact about the lyrics in the AoC soundtrack is that they were written sung in old Norwegian, from the Völuspá which is the most important part of the Poetic Edda, the primary source of historical knowledge about Norse mythology. What this tells you about the soundtrack for Age of Conan is that it offers so much more than meets the eye (or hears the ear, in this particular case). The soundtrack’s flavour is utterly unique, and listening to all the tracks – in or out of the game itself – is nothing short of sheer pleasure, and a musical and cultural experience.
One of the most important tracks on the OST is “The Dreaming: Ere the World crumbles” (see the video below). This particular track was used by Anders Breivik, the notorious mass-murderer, in the personal manifesto he published before his rampage in 2011. The English language version of the Age of Conan Wikipedia page says the following:
The music accompanying the propaganda video […] comes from the Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures soundtrack. Breivik writes of (Helene) Bøksle’s voice that it is the perfect sound to listen to when one commits acts of martyrdom. During his trial he also testified that he uses this music, particularly the song “Ere the World Crumbles” when he meditates, as he did in preparation for his terrorist acts on 22 July 2011. Bøksle said in a press release in the week following the attacks that she distanced herself from Breivik’s use of the music. The music’s composer, Knut Avenstroup Haugen, has done the same.
Nevertheless, Haugen’s efforts were immediately awarded by the IFMCA with a 2008 prize for the Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media. And this year, Haugen received his fifth nomination for a prestigious IFMCA award for his work on Lords of the Fallen, a fantasy-themed ARPG by CI Games, released earlier this year.
Some of the songs from Age of Conan’s OST have also made it into the Norwegian public conscience following Helene Bøksle’s nomination for the annual Norwegian Spellemann Awards in 2009. Check out her performance on Norwegian national TV in the video below, then head to the comments to let us know what your favourite game music is.
Helene Bøksle performing “The Dreaming: Ere the World crumbles”