2008’s Rise of the Argonauts sought to recast the ancient story in the dark and gory tone set by recent sword-and-sandal epics like 300 and Gladiator. While it met with mixed reviews, the game did deliver high production values, including a score by Tyler Bates who had written the music for 300. While Bates has been controversial among movie score fans due to his reputed plagiarism of Elliot Goldenthal (which led to at least one lawsuit), his music has defined the sword-and-sandal genre for modern ears for better or worse.
Bates, following the trend of many Hollywood composers who have moonlighted in games, brings his established sound and renders it with live vocals and a mix of real and synthetic instruments. Wordless Middle Eastern style vocals are present in many of the songs, whether as an accent or a lead, and your tolerance for them may in many ways dictate what you think of the music as a whole. “Broken Union” uses the vocals very effectively, establishing a sad, almost Celtic melody that sadly goes undeveloped in the rest of the score.
“Undeveloped” is an apt descriptor for most of the music Bates presents. There’s very little thematic music here, with the most prominent mode being a rather ambient mix of drums, duduk, and vocalist that matches the scenery well enough but isn’t really anything that lingers in the mind. A few moments of mystic beauty blossom forth here and there, as in “The Argo,” the second-longest track on the album, and the concluding, triumphant “Myth Makers”. Some of the battle tracks are effective at establishing a cacophonously entertaining mood, notably “Sanctuary of Medusa” and “Battle for the Fleece.”
But most of the music is sonic wallpaper, establishing a mood and doing little else. Aside from the overall ethnic feeling of the music, there isn’t a lot of continuity — and the short tracks (only 7 of the 33 tracks break the two-minute mark) don’t help. The overall feeling it that of a wasted opportunity — Bates teases listeners with the promise of epic and beautiful music for barbarians, but mostly fails to deliver.
Somewhat oddly for a composer as high-profile as Bates, Rise of the Argonauts is only available as a bonus with the collector’s edition of the game, though both are readily available on the secondary market. The disc, with about an hour of music from the game, is worth picking up if you’re a fan of the composer or vaguely Middle Eastern sounds, but the few highlights aren’t really worth going out of your way for.