I think everyone who has played Darksiders: Genesis will agree that the soundtrack, composed by the marvelous Gareth Coker, and especially the main theme, is a masterpiece. But I wonder how many have noticed the appearance of musical themes from the soundtracks for Darksiders 1 and 3 (both composed by the awesome Chris Velasco) in it! I was delighted to discover these, and I’m thrilled to finally share the discovery.
Here’s the Darksiders: Genesis (DSG) main theme in all its glory:
The tonality of the piece is F minor and the tempo is 80 beats per minute (bpm). It consists of two themes: the vocals theme (that’s the first thing you hear) and the strings theme (which appears the first time at 00:48). Both themes repeat twice, so there are four parts of the piece:
In what follows, I’ll isolate various motifs from this music and play them on a synthesizer for demonstration. Don’t expect these extracts to sound anywhere near as good as the original piece! The game credits include violin (the centerpiece of the strings theme), cello, orchestration and vocals. Sadly, all of these are difficult to emulate on the beginner-tier synthesizer that I own. So, I’ll use the flute instead of the vocals, the guitar instead of the violin, the organ instead of the choir, and other adaptations that I’ll mention when due.
The vocals theme is a duet in take 1, and a trio in take 2. Take 2 also features a guitar track and choral accompaniment, but I won’t go into these now. What I do want to show — if only because it took me days of focused efforts to figure it out — is the two voices of the duet.
Here they are together with the third (which plays while the first two take air, so there’s no overlap):
That’s basically all there is to the vocals theme. I think of this as the actual DSG theme: it’s unique, straightforward and singular, whereas the strings are loaded with additional content.
Strings, Take 1
The strings theme (take 1) consists of two repetitions of the violin part, which I think about as Strife’s theme. Here’s the first rep:
In the background is the most basic accompaniment on the piano, consisting of four notes: F (from the F minor chord), E♭ (from E♭ major chord), D♭ (from D♭ major chord) and C (from C dominant seventh in the first, and C minor chord in the second repetition). This loops throughout the strings theme in both takes.
The violin part is the same in the second rep, elevated by an octave. But now we come to the interesting stuff. The second rep is where we first meet a motif from the soundtrack for another Darksiders game: in this case, Darksiders 3 (DS3). In the DSG main theme, it starts at 01:12 and it is performed by vocals. Here’s a demo:
You might or might not recognize the heartbreaking motif from the track titled “Haven City” of the DS3 soundtrack. This track plays during exploration of Haven, but also during crucial endgame moments: while Jones lectures Fury about “having lived” and later, as background for Strife’s appearance. The part that appears in DSG main theme starts at 00:54 and ends at 01:28:
The tonality of this motif is E minor and the tempo is a very slow adagio, something like 64 bpm. To compare with DSG soundtrack, I’ll replay it on the piano in F minor and at 80 bpm:
It consists of a solo part (piano in the demo) and a slow string accompaniment which made it to the DSG main theme. Here are the DS3 strings (from Demo 6) together with the DSG choral (from Demo 5):
Need I tell you that it’s the exact same music? There’s no chance this was accidental, especially given the connection between this DS3 motif and Strife. It’s the same chords I enumerated before, that repeat throughout the strings part of DSG main theme: F-minor, E♭ major, D♭ major and at last, C major (DS3) or C minor (DSG). The difference in this final detail can be heard as a brief dissonance in the last measure of Demo 7. C major is the most natural/intuitive end of the chord sequence above, but in DSG it’s replaced with C minor so it wouldn’t clash with the E♭ note the violin solo touches in the end.
In case you need further convincing, here’s Strife’s theme (second rep) together with the solo part from the DS3 motif in “Haven City”:
Finally, here’s the entire strings theme, take 1:
Strings, Take 2
Take 2 again consists of two repetitions of Strife’s theme, but here, the DS3 choral part plays throughout, plus we finally get to the crown jewel of this post: the appearance of a crucial musical motif from Darksiders 1 (DS1). It’s not any random thing. It’s a variation on the actual main theme from DS1 — the music playing in the main menu and featuring in many other tracks. In the DS1 title track, the motif of interest plays between 00:00 and 00:22 (tenor soprano solo) and again between 00:52 and 01:02 (male choir):
The tonality of this motif is D minor. The tempo of the solo part is messy, but the choral part (and the rest of the track) is a brisk 92 bpm. Here I play it in F minor:
In the context of DSG, this motif is without a doubt War’s theme.
Let me prove it.
Here’s a demo of the strings part, take 2, from DSG main theme (starting at 02:48 in the original piece). It’s the same as take 1 (demo 9), only I took out the DS3 motif (for clarity), and added cello (slow strings in the demo), playing War’s theme:
For clarity, here’s War’s theme on the piano, on its own:
Unlike the DS3 motif, the DS1 main theme is incorporated into DSG main theme as a variation; meaning, it’s not exactly the same. But it’s still unmistakable! Here I play the original (like in demo 10, but at 80 bpm) together with the variation (demo 12):
Now let’s hear the entire strings theme, take 2, with the DS3 motif that I took out of demo 11 added back in:
This is the culmination of the DSG main theme and hands-down my favorite piece of music right now. The thing that delights me the most about the interplay of Strife’s and War’s themes is how well they fit with the characters themselves. Strife is fast, contemporary, restless and tragic, just like his violin part; War is slower, but stronger, traditional and dramatic, just like his cello part. Not to mention that the size difference between War and Strife (a friend of mine aptly calls them Chonk and Slim), is about the same as between a cello and a violin.
Jokes aside, I regret to say that I’m not 100% sure that Strife’s theme is in fact played on the violin and War’s on the cello. Both themes are within the range of both instruments, and while faster than War’s, Strife’s theme is certainly not too fast to play on a cello. But! Until proven otherwise, I stick with my reading and the incredibly appropriate size analogy.
This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. I probably first noticed the appearance of motifs from DS1 and DS3 in DSG music about half a year back while, after playing DSG and falling thoroughly in love with the franchise, I watched recorded playthroughs of the three games of the main series. By that time, I already knew much of the DSG soundtrack by heart, especially the main theme, which is phenomenal in and of itself, but the discovery of the musical overlap between the games elevated it to the divine status in my eyes (or should I say, ears).
Identifying soundtrack themes, following them across different tracks, recognizing and recalling them on demand, is a bit of a fetish of mine. While I assume many other people can do this, I’ve only met a few who can do it as reliably as me; this was when I was a youth, and they were all on the music professional track.
I never had ambitions in this direction, but I do have some experience: five years of singing in a children’s choir as a kid, six years of formal, extracurricular music education (music theory and piano lessons) during primary and secondary school, and about three years of singing in an academic choir during college. Sadly, I quit playing the piano completely when I entered undergraduate studies, and quit singing too when I entered postgraduate studies. My memory of music theory is vague and incomplete, my piano/keyboard skills are basic at best, and my vocal range is so poor that the DSG main theme doesn’t fit inside it.
This is relevant because, in my excitement over the discovery of DS1 and DS3 motifs in DSG main theme, I wanted to share this with the handful of friends who are also fans of the series, and the easiest way to do it is to sing it! I could isolate the motifs by signing them with the soundtrack in the background, record it, and show the genius of my favorite composers to the world! But I quickly realized that I
suck can’t do justice to the music that way.
Which is why this post had to wait till 1) I obtained a keyboard! All of the demos were done on the Yamaha PSR E373 61-key keyboard which I bought pretty much for the purpose of making this post (I did say this stuff is a fetish, right). And then, till 2) I learned how to use its 1000 functions, how to connect it to the PC, how to record and arrange tracks using Cakewalk and last but not least, how to make it all sound decent. Obviously, I’m still working on that last part. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I realize that the proper way to conclude this post would be with a full cover of the DSG main theme, but I’m not quite ready for that yet. Between the parts that I isolated for analysis, the original piece has elaborate transitions, not to mention the guitar and percussion tracks and various special effects. While I don’t have the ambition to attempt recreating all of that, I do plan to try a complete piano or guitar cover at some point, when I level up a bit more.
(Edit: I did the piano cover! Here it is!)
I leave you with the speedier rendering of the DSG main theme in the credits/trailer piece, where you’re now bound to recognize the vocals and strings and Strife’s and War’s motifs with some variations over the first minute and a half and again near the end.