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REVELATION – Neal Acree

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

revelationGAME ZONE REVIEW

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Revelation is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) from the Chinese video game studio NetEase. I really don’t know much about the game itself; it seems to be one of those fantasy-based games where players create and design playable characters in a variety of classes and embark on various quests against a backdrop of beautifully-designed landscapes. The game apparently has a major focus on the concept of flight, using wings that characters have as well as flying mounts such as dragons. It’s also only playable in Chinese, making it a somewhat obscure title to western audiences, and it would likely have remained so had it not been for the fact that the score is by the superb young American video game composer Neal Acree.

I have been championing Neal Acree’s music for years. Back in 2005 I wrote a feature on him for Movie Music UK, charting his career to that point, which began with him working in cartage (literally moving equipment around, setting up recording studios prior to a session), before he got a job working as an assistant to Joel Goldsmith on the Stargate TV shows, and eventually started writing scores for a slew of low budget horror and thriller movies, many of which got much better scores than their films deserved – if you ever get the chance to hear them, the scores for They Crawl, Gale Force, Project Viper, The Curse of the Komodo, Deadly Swarm, Method, Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness, E5, Crash Landing, and 7 Seconds are all worth exploring.

At the time, I confidently predicted that he would soon start to get more significant and high profile film assignments – “it cannot be long before this exceptionally talented young composer gets his shot at the big time” – but I was wrong, and what actually happened is that Acree made a sideways move into the world of video games, and over the past decade has established himself as one of the most exciting and successful composers in that world. Through his association with the Blizzard Entertainment company Acree has contributed music to six World of Warcraft games, three Starcraft games, and two games in the Diablo series, and has traveled the world performing and conducting music at video game conventions and concerts. However, Acree’s Asian-themed score for Revelation may be the best thing he has ever written.

Performed by the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle, and featuring a host of Oriental instrumental soloists including Karen Han (who played erhu for John Williams on Memoirs of a Geisha), Tina Guo on cello, Bei Bei on the guzheng zither, and Jie Ma on the pipa Chinese lute, Acree’s score is lush and evocative, conveying numerous emotions and containing a rich tapestry of orchestral and instrumental melodies that are truly beautiful. Everything builds from the stunning 5-minute “Main Title,” a soaring piece that grows out of a gentle, yearning erhu solo to encompass the full orchestra, backed by bold and dramatic percussion, evocative ethnic woodwinds, and showcasing a broad, expansive central theme that reaches boldly for the horizon. When the choral accents and heroic brass triplets enter during the piece’s second half, the result is magical.

After this spectacular opening, Acree settles down into the score proper, presenting a series of creative musical vignettes which capture the various different locations the characters can find themselves during game play. The ethnic woodwinds play a large part in the meat of the score, as do the metallic tinkling sounds of the guzheng and the pipa, evoking the traditional sounds of Chinese music without being grossly stereotypical or clichéd.

“Entrance to the Capital” has a sense of mysterious grandeur. Both “Palace Area of the Capital” and “Capital Living Area” are oddly seductive, with a more prominent percussion underbelly and a series of warm, rolling glissandi from the guzheng, enticing the listener in. The melody that emerges during “Capital Living Area” is especially appealing; not quite a love theme, but certainly one that evokes images of romance and tenderness. Later, “Jade Maple Paddock” is a lovely back-and-forth duet between the erhu and the cello, playing a tantalizing theme bolstered by bamboo percussion and a warm, lush wash of strings. This leads into “Jade Maple Villa,” a heart-melting erhu theme that cannot fail to stir the emotions.

The feeling of being surrounded by nature is especially strong in “Stele Forest,” a pastoral piece for flutes, pipa, and light metallic chimes that is calming, like water trickling over rocks. There is action music, with cues like “In to Battle,” the majestic “Hall of Dragon Flame,” and the aggressive “Lair of the Wolf” adopting a more abrasive attitude through war-like percussion hits, more abstract and ethereal use of the woodwinds, a more prominent and hearty brass section, frantic string runs, and even a chanting choir . Acree even ventures into slight horror music territory with “The Spider Queen,” which features creative string dissonances and urgent, violent rhythms to create an unnerving atmosphere, before ending the score on a playful note with the light, mischievous “Spirit Town,” an homage to Joe Hisaishi if ever there was one.

Perhaps the only disappointment within the score proper is the fact that Acree never really returns to the theme from the opening cue, leaving the score without an overarching thematic identity that develops through the length of the work, but this is nit-picking of the highest order. In addition, from the point of view of the consumer, it’s also disappointing that Acree’s score has not received a traditional album release that fans can purchase – other than this promo which Acree prepared for awards consideration, the only places you can hear this music are on Acree’s website, on his Youtube and Soundcloud channels, and of course within the game itself. Rumors of a forthcoming commercial soundtrack album release have been circulating for several months, but at the time of writing have not been confirmed.

I’ve always been a sucker for scores which blend Western orchestras with Eastern instrumental soloists, as evidenced by my love of scores like Rachel Portman’s The Joy Luck Club, Klaus Badelt’s The Promise, and Conrad Pope’s Pavilion of Women, among others. Neal Acree’s score for Revelation, despite being written for a video game, is more than the equal of these other fine works, and goes to show once again that there is just as much musical excellence to be found in video games as there is in films. In fact, in many instances, game music outshines its cinematic counterpart these days, due to its greater music budgets, penchant for large orchestral scores, and undiluted emotional content. It also hammers home the point I made more than a decade ago: that Neal Acree is one of the best young orchestral composers working in the entertainment media today, and his music deserves to be heard – and celebrated – much more widely than it is.

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (5:00)
  • Entrance to the Capital (1:20)
  • Palace Area of the Capital (2:04)
  • Capital Plaza (1:20)
  • Capital Living Area (2:01)
  • Stele Forest (1:17)
  • In to Battle (2:03)
  • Oracle Academy (1:26)
  • Jade Maple Paddock (2:16)
  • Jade Maple Villa (2:09)
  • Forever Gone Desert (1:44)
  • Hall of Dragon Flame (2:12)
  • Endless Night (1:55)
  • Spirits (1:51)
  • Lair of the Wolf (2:46)
  • The Spider Queen (1:59)
  • Spirit Town (1:34)

Running Time: 34 minutes 57 seconds

Promo (2015)

Music composed and conducted by Neal Acree. Performed by The Northwest Sinfonia. Orchestrations by Neal Acree. Featured musical soloists Karen Han, Tina Guo, Bei Bei and Jie Ma. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Album produced by Neal Acree.

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