We're celebrating video game music this week at Windows Central and iMore, from the tracks to the composers that created them. For more music appreciation, click here.
Like the game it's backing, the Alan Wake soundtrack is an eclectic mix. There's hardcore rock 'n' roll, swooning melodies, and piano-based lullabies. It's a combination of a gorgeous score composed by Petri Alanko and a roundup of music from artists like Roy Orbison, Poe, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and David Bowie. It’s the kind of soundtrack so full of great artists that almost threatened to have Alan Wake removed from stores due to licensing issues.
One noteworthy band that pops up on the soundtrack is called the Old Gods of Asgard. It's a band with only four songs in its repertoire, according to Spotify, but six albums from the 1970s, according to oldgodsofasgard.com. This fansite also explains that the Old Gods of Asgard is "the best band in the history of mankind" thanks to hits like Children of the Elder God. But a music act with such a short catalog doesn't seem like the best candidate for best band. Or does it?
Children of Remedy
If you haven't heard of them before that's because it's actually a band created by Remedy Entertainment that began with its 2010 title Alan Wake. It has since crossed over into Control, which as we found out in the latter take place in the same universe.
In the Remedy universe, the Old Gods of Asgard is a group comprised mainly of two siblings: Odin and Tor Anderson. When we as players first meet them, they're old men with dementia who've been committed to the Cauldron Lake Lodge, a sort of institution or rehabilitation center for struggling artists run by the corrupted Dr. Emil Hartman. They not only help Alan escape the lodge but also tell him that they have a song that can help him find his wife and fight the Dark Presence that lurks in Cauldron Lake.
As anybody that has played Alan Wake understands, artists have the potential to shape the world with their creations, and the Old Gods of Asgard was no exception. They obtained moderate success in the 1970s, but were ultimately local folk who lived on the Anderson Farm and made moonshine from the water from Cauldron Lake. At some point, they did come into contact with the Dark Presence and defeated it, but at the cost of their own mental faculties.
Despite this, their songs still have power for Alan. Children of the Elder God is a certified headbanger that shrieks out from giant speakers on an old stage in the middle of a field as the player fights against a sea of Taken. Meanwhile, the Poet and his Muse is a softer ballad that flat-out details what Alan needs to do.
"And now to see your love set free / You will need the witch's cabin key / Find the lady of the light, gone mad with the night / That's how you reshape destiny."
The band seems to have a knack for correctly identifying key plot points throughout the Remedy universe. In Control, the band makes an appearance as one of hero Jesse Faden’s favorite bands from her childhood and in a blink-and-you-miss-it album cover in the Ordinary section of the Oldest House. There are many connections made between Control and Alan Wake made in the later game, but the revelation that the Old Gods of Asgard exist across a multiverse is one of the most fun.
The Old Gods also get to show off another one of their songs, called Take Control, which most people might recognize as the Ashtray Maze song. The tune itself goes hard, making the heart pump and blocking out the sounds of the Hiss as Jesse makes her way through an ever-changing maze. It’s one of the best levels in the game, and a lot of it is due to the sound design.
The Ashtray Maze is a stop gap as you traverse throughout the Oldest House. It’s very likely a player will stumble across it too early and not be able to continue, instead getting redirected back to the beginning of the level. It’s only after you get a cassette player from janitor Ahti that you can get through. As Game Director Mikael Kasurinen said in an interview with GameSpot, “Music is the key to getting through the maze.”
Most impressive about Take Control, the track that plays through the headphones, is how it seems to go on forever. No matter how long you take in the maze, the song continues to play with no obvious breaks, skips, or repeats. In a way, it sounds almost as impossible as the maze itself feels.
Meet the band behind the gods
A lot of the success of the Old Gods of Asgard comes down to the partnership between Remedy’s audio team and Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall. Whenever you hear the Old Gods of Asgard, you’re actually listening to this band rocking out in time with a surreal Remedy story.
This collaboration goes all the way back to Remedy’s time with the Max Payne series. Frontman Marko Saaresto told Gamereactor that he and studio creative director Sam Lake are childhood friends, and that he was brought in to write music on Max Payne 2. Thankfully, he had also just formed a band, Poets of the Fall.
Lake and Saaresto worked closely together to create tracks for the game, one of which resulted in the end credits song Late Goodbye, which at this point as much a part of Max Payne lore as Max Payne himself is. The tune can be heard intermittently throughout the game, but players get to hear the full version at the end. It's a beautiful acoustic tune, bringing to life the feeling of loneliness on a dark, winding road in the middle of a desert.
Saaresto told PC Gamer that Lake wanted an original track for the game, but hadn't written lyrics before. Lake gave Saaresto one of his poems, which became the basis for the song.
Like many of the songs that would go on to define the Poets of the Fall/Remedy relationship, Late Goodbye is tied in with the world and the characters as much as it is just on the soundtrack.
“Coming up with these stories is a winding road,” Lake told PC Gamer. “You try something, it doesn’t work, and then you go a different way. Early on, the idea was that Max would be involved in some kind of traumatic event and forget all about it — except for a snippet of a song called Late Goodbye.”
Poets of the Fall and Remedy’s long history has certainly contributed to how well the two entities mesh together, but Saaresto said that Remedy also gives the band a lot of freedom to create, with the latter often adapting the game to the songs.
“Apart from having a brief for the story and musical style, we've had every creative freedom while working on these songs. The creatives at Remedy understand that it's usually best to allow creative minds free rein to get the best results,” he said.
For Take Control, Poets of the Fall had a slightly difference experience and had to work directly with the audio team to create a song that could be broken down into pieces that the team could then rearrange and use throughout the level. It actually adapts to the player’s actions, which is why it sounds infinite.
“Basically, we had to make sure the song follows in a kind of arc, through certain kinds of motions,” Kasurinen said of Take Control. “At the same time, we need to be able to react to whatever the player doing. He or she might stop at any given time and the song has to just kind of work with that, whatever happens. Yet, at the same time, it needs to sound natural like a normal song we expect to hear in a club or somewhere. So it couldn’t break that immersion, couldn’t break that sense of illusion of what we are creating.”
A studio and its muse
Luckily for Remedy or other horror game fans, it looks like this collaboration might continue. While it hasn’t been confirmed that the band will be returning, Poets of the Fall was very excited about the Alan Wake 2 announcement, and new Old Gods of Asgard merchandise dropped in 2021 (along with a new Twitter account). While this could’ve been timed to the release of Alan Wake Remastered, it also could indicate the studio isn’t ready to let Odin and Tor go wandering off into retirement just yet.
The Old Gods of Asgard mythos is one that fits in so well with the Remedy universe, it feels almost made by the Oldest House itself. A duo of seemingly unhinged Viking nerds make some metal music in the 1970s and go on to confront a supernatural, unknowable force. Then, they help a struggling author and a new bureau director take out some bad guys. The fact that they’re the result of a successful pairing of game studio and rock band feels all the more appropriate and expansive. Poets of the Fall is just as much a part of the Remedy style as anything else.
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