Musical Reminiscence

I have had several experiences in the past few days where different pieces of music have reminded me of other music. One of them teased at my mind for days – I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it reminded me of. The other was immediately clear as day. And less than an hour ago, as of writing this post, it happened again!

Let me start with the most recent one. I read an article on a Swedish gaming news site about a just-released trailer for an upcoming Star Wars video game, Star Wars Outlaws developed by world-renowned Swedish studio Massive Entertainment. I have been following the game’s development at a distance, but have not paid too much attention to it so far. Watching this new trailer, the music sounded awfully similar to a composer I know, in fact, one I even have the pleasure of having met personally several times.

After a bit of internet sleuthing, I discovered that yes – indeed! – the composer is none other than the fantastic Wilbert Roget, who has written music for a diverse set of games including the also recently released and ridiculously highly acclaimed Helldivers 2 (another Swedish-developed game, I’d like to add), Call of Duty: WWII and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.

Roget also composed music for an unreleased Star Wars game that showed much promise, yet was cancelled mid-development. Some finished tracks have since surfaced online and are, in my opinion at least, brilliant reinterpretations of the classic John Williams sound that stay quite true to his sound while still breaking off into something distinct. Not at all dissimilar to how I feel about John Powell’s also quite good soundtrack to the film Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Here is one of Wilbert Roget’s tracks to the cancelled game Star Wars: First Assault, for your enjoyment.

Last week, I joined the panel of last Sunday’s episode of the weekly Swedish radio programme Musikrevyn (”Music Review”), where recent classical music album releases are discussed and, well, reviewed. One of last week’s albums, and my personal favourite of the three up for discussion, was Nordic: A Fragile Hope featuring the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christian Karlsen.

The album featured one brand new orchestral work each by Mats Larsson Gothe, Maja Ratkje, Outi Tarkiainen, Miho Hazama and Daníel Bjarnason, representing the five Nordic countries. Hazama’s piece, What the Wind Brings, features a prominent melodic theme that immediately reminded me of one of the recurring themes in the music to the Mission: Impossible films. You can hear it, for example, in this track by Michael Giacchino from Mission: Impossible III:

The similarity is made even stronger by the way in which Miho Hazama has written the orchestral accompaniment when her melody is first introduced, with restless tremolo strings and snare drum setting a mysterious mood. (However, considering the name of her piece, I assume that rather than a sense of mystery she is trying to evoke images of wind blowing.)

Listening further into Miho Hazama’s piece set my brain down one more path of memories. The way she modulates her melody made me think of another piece of music entirely, one that eluded me for a little while until I realised that the missing piece of that puzzle was lyrics. In fact, What the Wind Brings also brought to my mind The Barber and His Wife from Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s legendary musical, Sweeney Todd. Here, as performed by Josh Groban in the acclaimed 2023 Broadway revival:

Now you’re hopefully quite curious about Miho Hazama’s music and whether the similarities really are that clear? Well, have a listen and make up your own mind – the first entry is at 0:53, played by bassoons and (I think) horns:

What about the third – chronologically, the first – example? Well, for that one we return to the world of video games, but remain in the Nordic region. The Finnish video game developer Remedy Entertainment is famous for, among other games, its Alan Wake series. Last year, it released Alan Wake 2, a sequel to the first game in the series.

Among several unique and memorable scene, Alan Wake 2 includes a surreal heavy metal musical performance that you as the player have to navigate in real-time, avoiding nightmarish enemies trying to make it to the end of that particular episode.

The music for this part of the game is written and performed by Finnish metal band Poets of the Fall, who have also contributed to past Remedy games, not usually under their actual name but a pseudonym: Old Gods of Asgard, a band that is acknowledged as existing within the in-game universe of Remedy’s games! Here you can watch a special video edit of the scene, with a slightly abridged version of the song, Herald of Darkness:

(Don’t worry if what happens in the video makes little sense to you – you might need to know a bit about the plot of Alan Wake and its sequel to understand why most of the things in the video are happening and the meaning behind the otherwise nonsensical lyrics.)

The song’s third major melodic theme, first heard at 1:29, almost drove me insane trying to figure out where in the world I had heard that little ditty before! It racked my brain for days on end, feeling like the answer was tantalisingly close to the tip of my tongue but always a little more than just out of reach.

I couldn’t even figure out if what I was reaching for in my mind was an instrumental or vocal composition. I figured that if I could at least figure that out, it might help jog my memory. But alas.

Until, finally, it came to me. It turned out to be something amusingly banal, a song that I have not listened to in years.

The tenth track on Martin ”E-Type” Eriksson’s debut album (released exactly 30 years ago this October!), the very of-the-time-stereotypical Russian Lullaby must surely have been rattling around somewhere in the back of the minds of Poets of the Fall’s songwriter when he penned Herald of Darkness, because its third major melodic theme is damn near identical to the verse in Russian Lullaby.

Mystery solved. Finally!

Composer, arranger and songwriter for performance, recording, broadcast and interactive media.