After producing two home run hitting scores for The Social Network and David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor was approached with the idea of creating the theme for Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It’s not his first approach to the video game world as Doom 3 and Quake also contains soundtracks created by the Nine Inch Nails frontman, but the CoD five minute epic shows considerable amounts of growth and willingness to fuse emotional arrangements with the grit and dirtiness which has shaped the music of his career.
A reverberated piano melody begins the theme as pad and filtered guitars set an ambient drone in the background and a pulsating bass and manipulated kick work its way into the mix by use of automation. It’s a delicate eight measure structure that beautifully builds a tension filled landscape that ends with half-note brass instrumentation that leads into the second movement of the piece.
A cymbal which pans between the two channels sets off a firestorm of an aggressive rhythmic section that’s relevant to the way most Nine Inch Nails songs are structured. While the rhythm itself is steady, it’s heavily effected and brilliantly produced. The snare drum is sometimes a bit lost throughout the more denser portions of song, but it seems intentional as white noise hits fill the mix on the same parts of the measure as the snares and creates a more layered off-beat world, but only come in when necessary. The kick drum, which is heard throughout the track is equalized to display the most low-mid frequencies and doubles up with a synth-bass stab, giving the track a heartbeat feel to it at times.
The low frequencies and high mids are given mostly to the dozens of guitar layers inside the Call of Duty Theme. Some of them drone, some contain melodies, some are filtered and then those filters automate when the track begins to build more, and there’s of course a bass guitar layer, which is where most of the low energy is focused. Regardless, the meat of the track is contained within these guitars and at times, especially during the climaxes of the song, will take up mid and high sonic field. They’ll also abruptly end toward the middle of the track.
A really creative approach to the theme song lies within one of the final quiet movements of the track. Reznor’s voice suddenly appears and applies itself to the beautiful ambience spoken about in one of the aforementioned paragraphs, but also pulls listeners in as a way to distinguish through voice that this is in fact a Trent Reznor production. The calls and screams contain more reverb than the piano because they’re not meant to have a main place inside the song, but will also automate themselves, much like a lot of what goes on in this song, to bring themselves up in volume during the rise before the final climax of the track.
Strings present themselves in cinematic fashion and mostly follow the piano line and use up the high energy of the theme song and while earlier in the song the cymbal brought in the initial heavy part of the theme song, it also breaks its way out and brings in the last come down. The final forty seconds of the Black Ops II theme follows an interesting, standard industrial-electronic outro, with a synthesized bass playing both a melodic and rushed rhythmic structure, while pad and piano play off of their original openings, then end on a faded whole note.
The Call Of Duty Black Ops II Theme is a solid effort from Trent and displays his willingness to explore different musical territories while finding ways to stay true to the sound that’s been true to himself since the Pretty Hate Machine debut in 1989.
Stay tuned to 2020k for an upcoming review on the new How To Destroy Angels EP, An Omen_!
Purchase Call Of Duty Black Ops II Theme (and an orchestral version, as well as the full soundtrack by Jack Wall) over at iTunes.