ICEBOUND Review: A Synthesized Crushing Debut

Album Artwork by Duckie

Album Artwork by Duckie

In a time where cinematic video games reign, we are blessed with AAA titles such as God of War, the action-packed and Norse-inspired adventure chronicling the tale of demigod Kratos and his boy. Naturally the game is accompanied, if not improved, by Bear McCreary’s powerful and choir-driven orchestrated score. To see its music re-arranged by a member of the video game cover/remix community would be a worthy challenge…enter ICEBOUND: A God of War Tribute by Dacian Grada and his collaborators Danilo Ciaffi and Psamathes.

Review

ICEBOUND is a fascinating EP, focusing on a variety of influences without losing its fundamental aggressive rock and metal base. Utilizing two fellow remixers and fantastic arranger/performers in their own right, Dacian Grada provides us with six tunes that blend the trio perfectly. While Danilo Ciaffi was able to “focus on frequency range” to avoid having any clashes between the orchestra and metal instruments, Psamathes gave chilling (pun-intended) vocal performances that could actively bring something new to each track.

It would be impossible to listen to the album and assume this is Dacian Grada’s first album, as every aspect in performance, production, and arrangement feels well-thought. Dacian does not hold back in his role as a performer, writing heavy metal riffs that are no-nonsense, balls-to-the-wall, and very heavy. Orchestration in songs like “Those Who Guide the Fallen” can be subtle and truly supportive, and more of a driving force in “Wicked Bonds” with stabbing strings and activity throughout the mix. One of my favorite tracks, “Elektrisk Drage”, balances sections with electric guitars and more clear orchestrated segments driven by Psamathes’ vocals—the experience obviously becoming something far more unique and remarkable. I couldn’t think of a video game cover album more fitting for climbing an ice mountain or smashing up giants to.

ICEBOUND: A “God of War” Tribute is a synth-phonic metal project from Italy-based producer Dacian Grada, honoring the music from the critically acclaimed title God of War (2018) and is distributed by Materia Collective. Available on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, and more: https://fanlink.to/IceboundDGM

I also reached out to the creators to get some insight on creating their debut album, ICEBOUND.

Interview

Thanks for speaking with me! So, what interested you about God of War's music, in a time full of many soundtracks?
Dacian:
I’ve been a huge GoW fan throughout the years. One of my first PS2 games was in fact the first God of War and I’ve loved the games ever since, so naturally when I heard of a franchise reboot I was very happy—after watching the first trailers and then gameplay, I noticed how the music was particularly good and similar yet unique enough compared to the previous installments. Bear McCreary did a fantastic job with the score, and I hope we did it justice enough!

I think you all definitely did! You've made a lot of music in the "Synth Metal" style on YouTube. There's much more than metal and synthesizers in ICEBOUND, including orchestra and choral aspects. What made you try these new styles?
Dacian:
One of my favorite music genres is the epic orchestral you hear on most movies and especially trailers. Some people may consider them “cliché” or “boring”, but I really like how they perfectly set the mood, especially for action scenes. My father’s a big sci-fi fan so I grew up with a lot of Star Wars, and from there, my love of big orchestral scores only grew over the years.

It definitely shows in the music! Now for your collaborators, how was it arranging with Psamathes and Danilo for an album instead of just covers?
Dacian:
I know Danilo, Psamathes, and Zohar thanks to the Pixel Mixers VGM Community, and I’ve collaborated with them on a lot of projects, so naturally I knew them and their music styles very well and they were the perfect candidates for what I had in mind with this album.

There are incredible moments such as in "The Unfeeling" where the vocals match the orchestra in its high-soaring melodies. What made ICEBOUND unique to sing for?
Psamathes:
ICEBOUND was unique to sing for because of its "subtle diversity". There's a consistent style throughout the album, but each track brings something new to the table, thanks to Dacian, Danilo, and Zohar. I really wanted to match that with my vocals, so I had to juggle a one-woman choir that ranged from ethereal in “Those Who Guide The Fallen” to low and heavy in “Kratos”, the operatic solos in “Elektrisk Drage”, folk vocalizes in a bunch of different styles, the raw metal energy in “Wicked Bonds”, and the intimate setting of “Memories”. All while still retaining my own identity as a singer. It was a lot of work! I love experimenting with my voice, and this experience was the perfect chance to test and overcome my limits. I was able to put together all the different skills I accumulated over the years and create something truly unprecedented, which is what made me enthusiastic about singing in the first place. I'd love to do something like this again in the future!

And Danilo, of course, played a big role in orchestration. How did you write your parts to blend well with such heavy styles?
Danilo:
Mostly the thing to pay attention was frequency range, because of course I didn't want the orchestra to be in the way of the metal instruments. They way I proceeded was to divide my parts into two distinct categories: one to deliver what wasn't already in the metal, like horns and spiccato violins, the second consisted of the lowest instruments and was more to support the band, to give more power to the guitars without being noticed too much on the foreground. This second part is where actually I had to work the most; it was quite challenging to not overdo and keeping it functional to the project, either by adapting the dynamics or taking away my favorite instrument because it didn't help the metal to shine.

Awesome. Altogether this EP sounds fantastic, unique, and balances you three very well. Last question: If you could have Kratos collaborate with you, what kind of music would you create and what instrument would Kratos play?
Dacian:
I may be biased here, but I’d make him an extreme metal drummer because he’s got a lot of energy and rage fitting for the style! Alternatively, his screams and deep voice could also make a great singer in the same genre!