Released in 2008 to mediocre reviews, Viking: Battle for Asgard followed an evolving trend in Western VGM and accompanied its Norse heroics with an orchestral score. Composed by Richard Beddow, Simon Ravn, and Walter Mair, the music seems promising at the outset — it’s performed by a real flesh-and-blood orchestra and fits squarely into a genre that’s inspired people like Basil Poledouris and Howard Shore to write some of the finest music of modern times.
The use of a live ensemble is always a plus, often giving a depth of sound that’s impossible even with the finest synths, and Viking: Basttle for Asgard has one of the best orchestral ensembles in the world at its disposal. The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra has been active in re-recording film scores for decades, and has always produced a lush sound.
One has to wonder, though, whether the money was well-spent in hiring the group, for even with the added depth of a world-class orchestra behind it, much of the music is flat, shallow, and uninviting. All the orchestral magic in the world couldn’t breathe life into many of the passages, which tend to meander along more as sound design than music. There’s a lot of uninteresting ambiance to be found, and even the large-scale cues tend to ramp up the noise without much substance.
The music is rather barren thematically, without memorable leitmotifs or figures. It’s desperately missed, as many cues have little tying them together, and would help rein in the rather generic bombast that frequently surges forward. This is exacerbated by the fact that much of the music seems to have originally accompanied cutscenes: surging forward and abruptly cutting off as control is presumably returned to the player.
When it’s at its best, as in “The Battle for Caldberg” and the concluding “Choir of Valkyries,” the music has a lush choral sound that’s not too dissimilar from Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings (which was clearly a major influence on the music). It may not be wholly original, but these gigantic choral pieces are easily the highlights of the album.
Perhaps it’s because, as a collaborative effort between Beddow, Ravn, and Mair, each of the composers is forced to water down their style to fit in with the others. Or perhaps the trio simply provided what was asked for. In any event, Viking: Battle for Asgard is a disappointment, wasting its performers’ time and its creators’ money on a score that would have sounded pretty much the same with only the highlights performed live. There are several other superior takes on symphonic video game music for barbarians; Viking is recommended only to fans of the game and choral fans who may enjoy the 5-10 minutes of Shore-style highlights.