The Nordic Folk of 'God of War': Composer Bear McCreary on Making the Next Iconic Video Game Score

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Sony Interactive Entertainment
A still from 'God of War.'

Emmy-winning composer-musician Bear McCreary has scored everything from The Walking Dead to Battlestar Galactica, but it took nearly four years for his most daunting project to come to fruition: crafting the music for Sony’s new action-adventure video game, God of War.

Featuring Faroese vocalist Eivør Pálsdóttir and an orchestra of 50 strings, 17 brass instruments and six low woodwinds, plus Iceland’s 22-singer Schola Cantorum choir and a 48-singer choir from Prague, God of War may join the Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda franchises in the pantheon of titles with gaming’s greatest scores. God of War is a sequel-slash-soft reboot of 2010 franchise best-seller God of War III; PlayStation will release the newest installment in the long-running flagship series (which surpassed 21 million units sold worldwide in 2012, according to Sony) on April 20.

“Bear is a gamer, and when it comes to creating music for video-game fans, he gets it. [And] he’s an expert at creating memorable melodic themes,” says Sony senior music producer Peter Scaturro.

McCreary announced the game’s release back in 2016 at the E3 trade show, opening Sony’s press conference. “It started with me walking out playing an unannounced piece of music,” says McCreary, who proceeded to join a full orchestra to perform God of War’s main theme and gameplay music live to picture. “That allowed this feeling of being embraced by the fans before the game even came out.”

God of War pivots from the prior games’ emphasis on Greek mythology to Norse lore. “I researched Nordic folk music -- the way it sounds,” says McCreary. “I wanted to communicate something authentic. Rather than using traditional choirs recorded in London or Los Angeles, we went to Iceland. That’s as immersed as I can get into the world of God of War -- going onto these glaciers and experiencing it.”

There was a more concrete reason for the trip, too. There’s text in the game that a scholar translated into Old Norse, a dialect that doesn't exist today, but is closest among current languages to Icelandic. “What this meant was that by recording with an Icelandic choir, they could read the text and it would be pronounced correctly,” says McCreary. “This gave us an incredible edge.” Ultimately, the composer hopes that this “really rich, textured orchestral score in a video game that young people listen to [will inspire them] to go and explore that kind of music. That would be amazing."

This article originally appeared in the March 24 issue of Billboard.