Elsinore Soundtrack Review: Beautiful and Haunting
Before I begin the review proper, let’s first address the elephant in the room: I haven’t played this game yet.
Elsinore releases in three days (July 22), so I had some difficulty with this review because I wasn’t sure how to assess this soundtrack independent of the game. After some careful consideration, I resolved to do two things:
Make a disclaimer that I hadn’t played the game. Check.
Compare the soundtrack with the game’s description.
Here is a description of Elsinore from the game’s website:
Elsinore is a time-looping adventure game set in the world of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Elsinore combines strong social simulation elements, a dynamic story that reacts immediately to player decisions, and a world full of diverse characters with secrets to uncover. Can Ophelia prevent the tragedy that lies before her?
Intriguing, no? So, from the description, I can assume that the soundtrack will have a folk or Medieval sound (Shakespeare's Hamlet). There will be a variety of music (world full of diverse characters), and the soundtrack should convey some kind “tragedy”. With that in mind, let’s move forward with the review.
I’m happy to report that Adam Gubman’s soundtrack accomplishes everything that we identified in the game’s description. It’s not often that you hear folk accompaniment in a video game, especially some of the instruments found in this soundtrack (I love me some harpsichord). The variety of the soundtrack is also astounding with everything from a lively tune that’s perfect for a jig (Donne the Boat Boy) to more haunting tracks that sound straight from the Midsommar soundtrack (Twisting, Turning). Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the insane pedigree of people that performed on the album. For a full list, please visit the album’s page at https://www.materiacollective.com/music/elsinore-original-game-soundtrack
As an admitted Renaissance Fair junkie, this soundtrack was a treat for my ears. As I listened to the Elsinore soundtrack, I pictured shimmering ballrooms, grimy streets, crowded taverns, and a whole host of other locations. What’s more, the featured artists on this soundtrack shine in every single track. In “A Mark, A Hole, A Hand, A Heart, A Scar”, Christine Hals breathy Danish vocals perfectly complement the dynamic, melancholy instrumentals. In “Fair as a Rose”, Cain German (Guitar), Jeff Ball (Violin), John Robert Matz (Vocals), Michelle Jade (Violin), and William Arnold (Winds) create a track that is sublime as it is haunting, but I’ll come back to that track later. Suffice it to say that Adam Gubman knows how to create excellent folk music.
As mentioned before, the Elsinore soundtrack features a variety of sounds, moods, and instruments, but I haven’t mentioned the music box covers or the instrumental covers. Several tracks (four in total) have “Ophelia’s Music Box” covers which distill the original track into a simplified tune. These music box covers serve as interludes between the larger, more complex tracks. Finally, many of the vocal tracks have instrumental covers, sometimes with the words “Empty” or “Cavity” attached to the title. Given that this game features time travel, I can only assume that the same scenes might play out several different ways, hence the need for multiple versions of the same track.
As the album progresses, a melancholy ambiance settles in like a chill breath on your neck. The “Empty” or “Cavity” covers lend an ominous air as the adventure progresses and Ophelia (the main character) faces her fate. Without playing the game, I can only guess at the ending(s), but the final track “Carry On” implies that despite the overwhelming odds, all is not lost for Ophelia or the player.
Adam Gubman’s Elsinore soundtrack conveys story, character, and setting incredibly well. For a perfect example of this, I’ll discuss my favorite track on the entire album, “Fair as a Rose” (I told you I would come back to this). John Robert Matz’s soft vocals and the sweet musical accompaniment belie the dark lyrics:
With feet like branches, her touch aloof
The Maiden, fair as a rose
The leaves and dirt frame her perfect youth
The Maiden, fair as a rose
Beautiful and haunting. In other words, a perfect description of the Elsinore soundtrack.