Kaos Studios' Frontlines: Fuel of War is a first-person shooter set at the outbreak of a third World War. The in-house composer at the developer, Matthew Harwood, made his major video game debut on this title. Aware of the stagnation of military orchestral scores, he decided to incorporate some experimental approaches to his score. Following an incomplete physical release, a 25 track digital soundtrack was made available for the game.
Matthew Harwood quite effectively represents the scenario of the game with the "Main Theme". The composer captures the military tone of the soundtrack with typical staples like serious strings and heroic brass. He hybridises these orchestral samples with moody electronic beats that reflect the futuristic setting. While this combination is fitting and skilfully handled, it has been done to death in other cinematic scores. Thankfully, the creativity of this otherwise vanilla theme is lifted by the late addition of ethereal chorus and thrashing rock riffs. Such additions give a taste of the deviant stylings that come to dominate the score.
It's with the more atmospheric tracks that Harwood starts to express a unique voice on the soundtrack. Most notably, "Heat" rejects all orchestral instruments in favour of cutting-edge beats and percussive forces. Harwood still manages to hook listeners with a web of polyrhythms, while creating a raw and immersive environment in the game. In fact, it reminds me somewhat of Amon Tobin, but it is a bit less wild. Though somewhat misplaced at the centre of the track, "Main Menu" is also excellent as a secondary theme on the soundtrack. During its three minute development, Harwood elegantly mixes orchestra samples and electronics, bright and reflective parts to subtly immersive effect. The final result is quite an encompassing and refreshing theme.
Among the action tracks, Harwood continues to reflect his talent for dramatic electro-orchestral scoring on "On the Offensive" and "Armored Cavalry". Both combine the trademarks features of other military soundtracks with aspects representing the detailed scenario and Harwood's personal fingerprints. Of the more transient entries, "Road Block" is also exciting with its use of fast-paced beats and disorientating panning, while "Industry" takes the distortion and percussion up a notch. There are also a few orchestral action tracks, "Temper" and "Jumping In", used during the most intense scenes in the game. While they don't quite parallel those of Homefront, they're still enthralling listens and the brass melody, in particular, achieves amazing heights in the former.
There are also two lyrical songs present on this release. A collaboration between Matthew Harwood and Scott Cresswell, "Closer to Home" is an original rock anthem to capture the commitment of a soldier. The vocal parts emphasise the a major contrast between the soft and contemplative verse, with the heavy and motivating chorus. Some may also enjoy the social commentary, which is still relevant for today. The other track, "Solid Objects", is by brotherly duo Skunk Tux. It's a motivating rock song with heavier instrumentals and a greater country influence. However, it is less tailored for the game itself and seems more inspired by the band's life in Texas. It will be an enjoyable addition to the soundtrack for most nonetheless.
Overall, Harwood's soundtrack for Frontlines: Fuel of War manages to offer a solid mixture of typical military influences with experimental electronic stylings. It isn't quite as encompassing or well-produced as Homefront, but it is a mostly an entertaining and fulfilling listen. Still available through THQ and Sumthing Else, this digital release is worth a listen for those looking for a mix of old and new.