Battlefield 3 has a very different sound to this year's other major first-person shooter soundtracks, for example Modern Warfare 3, Homefront, and Crysis 2. There's not a single orchestration to be found and instead absolutely everything is made of electronics. And these electronics are generally of the slow adaptive sort the soundtracks for the in-game are not music, but rather sound effects. Electronic Arts avoided hiring any big-name cinematic composers and instead went for Johan Skugge, a former member of Swedish band Yvonne, and Jukka Rintamaki, a contemporary art music composer. The iconic main theme has already received much attention from fans, but does the rest of the soundtrack live up to expectations?
The soundtrack opens with an adrenaline-pumping remix of the iconic main theme for Battlefield. It's the first time the track has been presented completely in electronics, but any Battlefield fan will immediately recognise the classic melodies. The shift from Joel Erikkson's bombastic orchestration for Battlefield 1942 to Johan Skugge's dark electronics for Battlefield 3 is a major one. But thanks to some expert arranging including the inspired transformation of the military bass line into a dubstep backing it works excellent. "Battlefield 3 Dark Theme", the track which I believe inspired the rest of the soundtrack, also features a very gritty rendition of this motif. It's the track that is played in a wide range of trailers and has been well-received by fans. If only it were extended beyond 32 seconds here...
Skugge and Rintamaki's unconventional approach to scoring can sometimes be very refreshing. Take "Choked", for example. It's a very simple combination of electronic beats, yet its eerily satisfying to listen to, due to the distinct and ominous nature of each of them. It really captivates the attention of the listener or gamer. "Frostbite" is another amazing tapestry of samples incorporating sirens, distorted voices, and pulsating beats to create the illusion of a post nuclear city in ruins. Similar tracks, namely "La Bourse" or "Operation Metro", are used during loading scenes just like "Snowy Mountain" was used in Bad Company 2. These tracks contain some radio chatter and sound effects that all combine to portray a live and busy battlefield. "Operation Metro" is one of my personal favorites in this soundtrack, thanks to its robust electronic kick melody.
What the soundtrack really lacks is distinction and variety. As every track is of the dark electronic ambient type, it does tend to tire as a collective stand-alone listen and works far better in the game. Some tracks are especially shallow and should not have been incorporated into the soundtrack. For example, "Interrogating Blackburn" and "Tremors" just have whispering sound effects playing from start to finish, and the latter remains this way for more than five minutes something I believe could have been avoided with more careful album production. Other tracks, for example "Thunder Run" or "Operation Metro", feature deliberately distorted electronic samples. This has a striking effect in context, but will be highly unappealing for many on a stand-alone level. It seems more went into these tracks technically than compositionally, and they're definitely not the type of ambient tracks that will appeal to deeper listeners.
The soundtrack is also a mixed bag in terms of how functions in context. For instance, "Death of Vladimir" is one of the most enjoyable tracks on a stand-alone level, due to its soft and enigmatic samples. However, it absolutely fails to emphasise any emotions in the game due to its aseptic sampling approach. The context may have been more suited for a hybrid of electronic and orchestral elements. The most outstanding track in my opinion is "Solomon's Theme", which has a certain coolness and jazziness to it that somehow reflects the diabolic and ingenious personality of the antagonist Solomon. The track is really memorable and stands out distinctively from most of the other tracks in this soundtrack.
The soundtrack for Battlefield 3 is definitely an interesting and refreshing break from Hollywood-inspired soundtracks, but it's not entirely likeable or effective. There are a lot of aspects of the soundtrack that I find shallow and could have used more work, such as the action themes, while others don't entirely match their context. Still, soundtrack listeners might wish to download single tracks from this game notably the "Battlefield 3 Main Theme", "Choked", and "Solomon's Theme" to taste the stylings the soundtrack has to offer and appreciate some of the individual highlights.