As has been the norm for years, Assassin’s Creed expansions get their own soundtrack release and, sometimes, maybe even their own signature music style within the greater framework the base game has formed. Traditionally, Ubisoft mixes and matches composers in such cases. Sometimes we get the composer that just so happens to also be working on the next major release. Sometimes we get someone that just shows up for this particular job or an encore of the main composer. Other times it’s some kind of mix. If I had to slot Wrath Of The Druids somewhere, I’d go with the latter case.
It’s a mix then. In practice this means that we get another dose of Einar Selvik that most certainly defined the base game’s sounds (more on that here) but also a couple of twists. For one we get Julie Fowlis that injects some Scottish Gaelic in the folk tracks Selvik came up with. Prior to this I had no idea what Scottish Gaelic was and, for all intents and purposes, I’ll concede that I still have no idea what it is. What I do know is that Scottish Gaelic in the form used came after the time the expansion is concerned about but surely Scotland and Ireland used the same language at the time more or less and that form eventually evolved was later termed Scottish Gaelic. Assuming I didn’t murder this general idea, I can move on to the surprising fact that Scottish Gaelic speakers in modern day Scotland are on the rise, something that surely sounds like it takes some doing. Long story short, the language Julie Fowlis sings in for the Wrath Of The Druids soundtrack might not be the (mix of?) Old and Middle Irish the region would default into towards the end of the 9th century (which is when the game takes place) but it’s as close as it was practical. Maybe we all learnt something here?
Out of 18 tracks in this soundtracks, 6 are from Einar Selvik and of those 6, 5 are basically Julie Fowlis’s tracks as well. “Basically” as I’m counting instrumental versions of Fowlis’ song as well, seeing as she’s credited in those versions too. The remaining 12 tracks are Max Aruj’s work. Aruj is no stranger to Ubisoft, the Assassin’s Creed franchise or video game scores in general. Wrath Of The Druids certainly is his first video game score in which he gets main credit though. His previous entanglement with the franchise was with the Tyranny Of King Washington expansion of Assassin’s Creed 3. There, as in most other cases, Max Aruj has been providing “additional music”, as the term goes, meaning various support tracks, regardless of whether they end up as part of the score album that reaches consumers or are only ever heard when playing the game. He seems to be at the stage where he’s trying his hand in getting the proverbial big break. Other the main credit in Wrath Of The Druids, he’s done more work for Lansky and Ice Road. Certainly though, his newest stint in Assassin’s Creed seems to be the commercially most high profile production he has gotten first credit in.
The point is… all of the above can be felt when listening to the score album. I do my listening before researching composers, unless of course a composer is a known quantity and it’s impossible for me to approach the music without any prior knowledge. I definitely didn’t know of Max Aruj. I’ve written about all Assassin’s Creed scores but I never run into his work specifically as no publicly released tracks were visibly credited to him.
The end result is that out of 18 tracks in the album, only 7 made the cut for the playlist I built for this expansion (tracks will also be added to the main Valhalla playlists), just 2 are Aruj’s, the rest as Selvik’s and even there 2 are variations on original tracks that also ended up in my playlist.
The vocal tracks are very, very good, effectively setting the tone for the expansion, while also distinguishing it from the main score. There might be Vikings on Ireland but not just Vikings and the locals certainly see themselves seep through to the music, as it would of course make sense. Most of Fowlis’ (and Selvik’s) tracks are used for dramatic effect during important cut-scenes and they certainly hit the spot in virtually all their variations, bringing in that mellow gravity that’s inevitable in folk music of all sorts. Of those, the fully orchestrated version of Canaid Lia Fáil is my favourite. Great vocals eventually come together with the determination of percussion and it all works beautifully.
The Children Of Danu is a Selvik track through and through and certainly a highlight here. It feels like it came straight from the main game, though as the track goes on more “tribal” flourishes, along with some choir vocals, are added to make that Valhalla taste put some roots on Ireland.
Max Aruj’s work doesn’t fare as well. It is very workmanlike in nature, hence my including just 2 out of 12 of his tracks in my High Notes playlist. Many previous Assassin’s Creed expansions have presented us with more interesting work, even when the point was to be workmanlike in nature, and I just don’t feel it here with Aruj. This does not mean nothing came out of the energy he put in this, but let me elaborate a bit more. Shores of Inis Fáil is great, highlighting the landing on a different land, while insinuating danger, the unknown and great potential. That track is also based, in part, on Canaid Lia Fáil though so… you get the idea. I admit the latter half of this track feels more original and is also the more interesting half. Another Aruj track though, Whispers of Dark Spirits is also good and very good as a battle theme, certainly with darker undertones that are built on percussion as well. And these are all the highlights I could muster for Aruj’s part of the work here.
Based on the typical quality of Assassin’s Creed scores, Wrath Of The Druids maybe undershoots but definitely underdelivers. I don’t know enough to point my finger somewhere specific but if it weren’t for the few vocal tracks in the score, this could have ended up as the most underwhelming score release in the franchise’s history.
Not all experiments works, of course. And the The Siege Of Paris score is another experiment for sure. One I’ll be writing more about shortly. Till then, you get an expansion specific playlist on Apple Music and Spotify. Mind you, I keep playlists for each main game release as a whole, which is why you’ll see way more tracks in the lists embedded below. I also add any new tracks, from new games and expansions, to my single, truly huge High Notes playlist for the franchise as a whole, which you can also find on Apple Music and Spotify.